Caitlin Shetterly, 36, knows how to eat on the cheap: In 2009, her husband, Dan, lost his job and the couple and their newborn baby moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, to live with Shetterly's mother until they could get back on their feet. Her new book Made For You and Me chronicles the family’s journey, including how they managed to eat well—and organic—on very little. (Their grocery bill, including feeding two adults, a baby and two pets, was about $88/week.) Here's how they did it.
What were some of your favorite low-cost recipes?
One of my all-time favorite low cost recipes (and was also the first meal I ever made for my husband, Dan) is my "Date Night Creamy Polenta with Crispy Kale." It's so easy, it's criminal! Just kale leaves with a little olive oil drizzled over them and a sprinkling of salt and pepper cooked in a hot oven until crispy and piled on top of some polenta that's got a generous amount of butter and Parmesan mixed in. You can gussy up this recipe with some beans (I like black eyed peas), fish or chicken piled in between the polenta and the kale, making a little delicious tower of food. But by itself, just the kale and polenta, it's very nourishing and satisfying...and a very cheap meal.
What's the one switch people can make to save money on groceries?
Be willing to make large pots of things for the whole week. To eat cheaply you should always have cooked beans and a cooked grain waiting in the fridge. I prefer to have black beans (I start with dried—because they are cheaper and I buy in bulk 25 pounds every few months), which I've soaked and cooked and piled into a big container for whenever I need them. I also make a big container of rice. I can then fry the rice and beans together and serve with salad, or mix them and add some chicken or ground meat for burritos.
Can you give me a sample day's menu?
When we were really broke and trying to make every dollar last, I made big pots of soup—usually lentil or turkey chili. My turkey chili used very little turkey and mostly was full of beans and vegetables. I considered the turkey "flavoring" rather than the main event. At any rate, I'd make all our bread and we'd eat these soups for lunch and for dinner every day. For breakfast we'd have fresh bread and eggs or fried rice and eggs.
What do Americans waste the most money on, food-wise, in your opinion?
Stuff that's packaged. Pre-made foods, especially snacks. Bread, for instance, is so expensive compared to if you make it at home!
What's your situation now?
A. I live in Portland, Maine, in a little rented apartment with my husband, son, dog and cat. I am about to start teaching creative writing for the year and I'm working on my next book. Dan graduated from grad school in May and is looking for a full-time professorship and he's doing odd jobs like catering and carpentry. We still keep it simple: We bake all our bread; we make our own granola (just oats, a little maple syrup, a dash of sea-salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a few crushed nuts—not a lot because they are pricey); we make big batches of beans and rice or quinoa; we buy local veggies and buy meat in bulk from local farmers. We eat well, but are willing to work a bit to eat well on a budget.