Shopping on a Shoestring

Shopping on a Shoestring is a new blog we’re doing that challenges members from our community to create a meal for four people based on a $40 budget.  Bloggers are given a $40 gift card and asked to document their experiences from start to finish.

Our first guest blogger, Cheryl Herrick, is a mom, writer, food-lover and marketer who lives in Burlington and writes about food-love and mom-life at

Rather than simply creating just one meal, she decided to take this task one step further and challenged herself to create five days worth of dinners for two adults and two children for $40.  Thanks for welcoming the challenge Cheryl!

When I was asked to do the kick-off post for how I’d spend $40 at Healthy Living, I was excited for a challenge.  I’ve been reading a lot about families having to make do on a food-stamp budget, and was curious about whether I could create 5 dinners for 2 adults and 2 children for that $40.  It seemed worth a try.

Of course we could do a week of pasta with sauce, but I wanted to do something interesting and good and fresh.  I cook for 2 grown-ups and 2 young boys.  While the adults in the house are fairly easy to please, my sons are less so.  One of them simply doesn’t care to try new foods.  His brother is about 80% vegetarian, and there’s no telling which preferences will surface on a given day.

It is my belief that my job is to provide healthy foods, but not to force anyone to eat anything.  I like to have some fruit and some kind of whole grain bread on the table so that everyone has a fighting chance of eating from 3 food groups at any given meal.  Beyond that, my meal-planning criteria are fairly basic:

  • I don’t make family dinners that have zero chance of being enjoyed by the children.
  • An acceptable meal incorporates some form of protein, some brightly colored produce, and an optional starch.
  • Simple for week-nights
  • I buy everything local and organic that I can afford, relying on these lists that have the foods most and least affected by pesticide use.

While we’re always on a budget, the $40 goal made it necessary to really keep it cheap.  Which meant:

  • Bulk foods
  • No red meat
  • No super-premium ingredients

So this was the week’s menu.  You’ll see that ingredients are repeated day to day.  The chicken and asparagus were frequent stars, but transformed in their different dishes.  On a couple of the days, the boys only ate that bread and fruit, but that’s just how things are around here.  We all ate, and we all were happy, and I think we showed that a good week of eating is certainly possible for $40 at Healthy Living.

  • Monday: Roast Chicken with Mashed Chick Peas & Wilted Spinach
  • Tuesday: Pumpkin Waffles with Fruit
  • Wednesday: Amped-Up Avgolemono Soup
  • Thursday: Chicken & Vegetable Wraps
  • Friday: Salmon Cakes, Roasted Asparagus

Shopping List:

  • 1 lb. dried chick peas
  • 2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 c. orzo
  • 1 c. olive oil
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • dozen eggs
  • 2 kinds of fruit (we got organic cantaloupe and watermelon)
  • whole grain wraps
  • 1 loaf bread
  • 2 cans of salmon
  • 8 – 10 pieces of chicken
  • 4 lemons, or bottled lemon juice

Pantry items:

  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • ~1/4 c. jam or maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise
  • baking powder
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • garlic
  • hot sauce
  • butter

Shopping in Healthy Living’s bulk section

First rule of bargain shopping: be open to substitutions when there’s a good sale!

Whole grain wraps with warm chicken, roasted asparagus, tomato and olive salad

Pan-Fried Salmon Cakes with Roasted Asparagus & Tomatoes in Vinaigrette

Whole grain pumpkin waffles –

(All photos are courtesy of Cheryl Herrick).

Read more for her recipes of these tasty dishes!


Monday:  Roast Chicken with Wilted Spinach & Mashed Chick Peas

Oven-Roast Chicken
Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together:

  • 2 lemons, organic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh with leaves removed
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 T. olive oil

Rub mixture over

  • 8-10 bone-in pieces of chicken (make 2 more than you want to serve for this dinner as you’ll use the leftover meat for wraps)

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear.  Serve with chick peas & spinach

Mashed Chick Peas:
(I made this with cooked dried chick peas, which I put into a crock pot on high for about 3 hours, but you could use canned.)
With a potato masher, mash until fairly smooth:

  • 3 cups (2 cans, if you’re using) chick peas
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 T. olive oil

Heat additional teaspoon of oil in a medium sauce pan with:

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

Cook just until lightly golden, add the chick pea mix, heat through, and keep warm.

Wilted Spinach:
Wash 1 lb. spinach very well.  Drain somewhat, but it’s okay to let some water stay on the leaves.
Heat 2 T. extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet until just rippling, then add spinach and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat until just wilted.  Serve immediately.
When Monday dinner is over, place the chicken bones in a pot with 8 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt.  Simmer for 2 or 3 hours, then strain, cover, and put in refrigerator.

Tuesday: Pumpkin Waffles with Fruit & Jam

12 6-inch waffles

Preheat your waffle iron.

Whisk together in a big bowl:

  • 1 3/4c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt

Whisk together in a second large bowl:

  • 3 large eggs, well beaten
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 3/4 c. pumpkin or squash puree

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in wet ingredients.  Mix with a few vigorous strokes until liquid is incorporated, but still pebbly looking (like a muffin batter).
Cook according to waffle iron’s instructions, and serve with fresh fruit, and jam or maple syrup.

Wednesday: Amped-Up Avgolemono Soup

Bring to a boil:

  • The leftover stock or 8 cups of chicken broth


  • 2 cups of long grain rice (traditional) or 2 cups of orzo (my preference)

Simmer until cooked.

  • 2 eggs

In a mixing bowl, beat or whisk the egg whites until foamy.  Beat in egg yolks and:

  • 1/4 c. lemon juice

Add about 1/2 c. of hot soup broth very slowly, whisking continuously. If the hot liquid is added too quickly, the mixture will curdle. When the mix is fully blended, stir the soup and pour in the egg-lemon mixture slowly.
Gently stir in:

  • 2 cups chopped fresh spinach, well washed
  • 1 1/2 c. cooked or canned chick peas

Serve with bread & butter.

Thursday: Wraps with Warm Chicken, Tomato & Olive Salad & Roasted Asparagus
Warm in a 200 degree oven for just 4 or 5 minutes:
Roast asparagus:
Clean and snap the ends off each stalk of asparagus.  Rub with:

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • pinch kosher salt

Broil for 5 – 8 minutes or until bright green.  Turn off oven, set aside.  Place on a small pan in the cooling oven for just a few minutes:

  • 4-6 wraps
  • meat from the leftover pieces of chicken

Mix together:

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3 chopped plum tomatoes
  • 8 oil-cured olives
  • chicken, when warm

Place 2 asparagus spears, a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato-chicken mixture inside each wrap.
Serve with any leftover soup.
Save remaining asparagus for Friday dinner.

Friday: Salmon Cakes with Roasted Asparagus & Tomatoes

Mix together very well in a medium bowl:

  • 2 6-oz. cans salmon
  • 1 1/2 c. bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T. chives, chopped

Heat in a large skillet until rippling:

  • 2 T. olive oil

Form salmon mix into patties and pan-fry until crisp and golden on each side.
Mix together:

  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 2 t. hot sauce
  • 1 t. white wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt


  • 2 plum tomatoes

Place 2 salmon cakes, 2 asparagus spears and some chopped tomato on a plate with the spicy mayonnaise and serve.