$100 Cheap Food Project – Week 2

This post is long over due. We’re talking ridiculously long. The week 1 post was almost ancient history, but thanks to my readers who have pushed me to get the rest of this series out, I kept going. Cheap Food Here is showing our readers that it is possible to spend just $100 per person per month on food. Our week 1 post was created when we were living in Costa Rica so certain foods were cheaper (most produce and fruit) but certain other foods were more expensive (specialty items, imported foods, cheese, meat, seafood, etc) so it has surprisingly balanced out now that we’ve completed week 2 since moving to St. Petersburg, Florida. Continue reading

Empanada Dough Recipes

Making empanada dough correctly is the hardest part about the whole process of putting together the perfect empanada. I spent some long hours trying to get the dough just right; looking at every recipe on the internet I could find, and then some. I tried recipes with yeast, baking powder, corn flour, butter, shortening, spices, eggs, etc. None of them turned out the way I wanted. To save you time, I have put together a list of empanada mistakes so you can read them without actually experiencing the same problems I had.

Then, it just so happened that I spent some time with an Argentinean chef at one of the beaches here in Costa Rica that we know. I don’t know why I didn’t call him first without bothering with internet recipes. Once I talked to him about my recipe woes, my whole empanada world changed. If anyone knows about preparing those little pockets of heaven, it’s an Argentinian.

He explained a few things to me. First, depending on whether you’re going to bake or fry them, you need to prepare them differently. Fried dough should use solid shortening while baked dough uses butter. If you use butter in a fried dough recipe, you’ll most likely end up with it opening in the hot oil and making a crumbly mess. Shortening works okay in a baked dough, but it changes the consistency of the dough once it’s cooked so it’s best to stick to the rule of cold butter for baked and shortening for the fried variety.

The next key to the baked version of empanada dough is to keep all ingredients ice cold. So, use all purpose flour that has been kept in the freezer, butter that is fresh out of the fridge and ice water to mix. After it’s all mixed it’s crucial to keep the dough in the fridge for at least three hours before using it. This insures that the dough is the right texture and doesn’t become too elastic to work with.

Once you master the empanada dough recipe, you’ll want to explore the filling options for your taste. We have chicken empanada filling recipes, beef empanada filling recipes, pork empanada filling recipes, fish and seafood empanada filling recipes and vegetarian empanada filling recipes.

Here are the two no-fail recipes I use to get the restaurant-quality empanadas you can find at Argentinian steakhouses.

Baked Empanada Dough Recipe


  • 3 Cups of Flour
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1-3 Tbsp dried herbs and/or (non-salted) spices as desired
  • 1/2 Cup cold butter
  • 3/4 Cup ice water


  1. In a medium-sized bowl mix flour, salt and 1-3 tablespoons of herbs/spices to taste.
  2. Cut the butter into small squares and place in bowl with flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter until you have a cornmeal texture. If needed break up large pieces of butter with your hands, but don’t bring up the overall temperature of the mix.
  3. The mixture should be slightly lumpy and look like a coarse cornmeal with the butter well incorporated.
  4. Slowly incorporate 3/4 cup of ice water, adding a little at at time until a dough ball forms. The dough should not be sticky and should be kneaded about 10 times. If needed, add more flour or water to reach the appropriate consistency.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least 3 hours).
  6. When you assemble and are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden, but not brown on the underside or the edges.

Fried Empanada Dough Recipe


  • 3 Cups of Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Salt
  • 1-3 Tbsp dried herbs and/or (non-salted) spices as desired
  • 1/2 Cup room temperature solid shortening
  • 3/4 Cup luke warm water


  1. In a medium-sized bowl mix flour, salt and 1-3 tablespoons of herbs/spices to taste.
  2. Cut the shortening into small squares and place in bowl with flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut in shortening until you have a cornmeal texture. If needed, break up large pieces of shortening with your hands.
  3. The mixture should be slightly lumpy and look like a coarse cornmeal with the shortening well incorporated.
  4. Slowly incorporate 3/4 cup of water, adding a little at at time until a dough ball forms. The dough should not be sticky and should be kneaded about 10 times. If needed, add more flour or water to reach the appropriate consistency.
  5. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.

Vote For Us Now on Project Food Blog

Well, the day has finally arrived and Cheap Food Here has put themselves out there for the world to critique in Week 1 of Project Food Blog put on by Foodbuzz.com. This first entry is being judged on how true it is to the very heart of the site, and in our case we’re obsessed with saving money and making delicious food at the same time.

When you vote, click the banner below and when the Project Food Blog header comes up on top, click on the Heart that says “Vote for this entry”. You can log in with your Facebook account in order to cast your vote.

CFH VoteForUs1 Cheap & Healthy Food under $100 per month

Our post highlights a challenge to ourselves and everyone out there to live off of just $100 per person per month for food. Some people think it’s downright impossible to do and others know it’s possible but think they’ll be eating only rice and beans for the month. We’re out to prove everyone wrong and at the same time enlighten everyone, no matter what country you live in, that with the right planning, menu and shopping, you can significantly cut your food costs, all the way down to $100 per month.

We were inspired by the many people we saw and spoke to daily that spend a ridiculous amount of money on food because they go out to eat too much or just buy things frivolously in the grocery store. Creating a food budget is hugely important when you’re trying to pay down your debt and truly begin building wealth. It’s a major part of your monthly expenses and you don’t have to give up delicious food in order to save money.

Cheap Food Here is providing the menu, tips and support you need in order to cut your spending. We’re passionate about food and more passionate about saving money. So, if you have the time today, please vote for us so we can move on to Week 2 of Project Food Blog and check back here every two weeks for the next entry. Thanks to all of our readers and those enthusiastic about the same things we are.

Cheap & Healthy Food under $100 per month

Shop Amazon Kitchen – Save Up to 40 Off Cuisinart Tools

Project Food Blog Week 1 – The $100 Challenge

VIDEO: Can you live on $100 per month for food?

What’s A Healthy Food Budget?

Now, a little background: the Cheap Food Here family follows the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover very closely and have worked hard to get to Baby Step 4. Our food budget for two people is currently $500, which includes $300 for groceries and $200 for eating out. This is our comfortable point now that we are no longer paying off debt, however, when we were doing the debt snowball and attacking our consumer debt and student loans with ‘gazelle intensity’, we we were spending around $250 per month in total food cost (groceries and eating out).

Down here in Costa Rica we have found that some families spend over $1,200 per month on food for a family of 3 adults and 2 children. This number may not seem too shocking, but know that they, on average, earn less than $2,000 per month in total household income. The percentage of their income spent on food is over 60% when it should be around 5-15% or roughly $300. However, most argue that this is impossible.

The key to reducing food costs each month is research and planning. Most people don’t think about needing to do research before hitting the farmer’s market or grocery store, but it’s imperative to keep from overspending. The food budget can be a large part of your spending each month, but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you are in the early stages of paying off debt.

So, the quest for a food budget under $100 begins. First we’re going to look at cheap and healthy recipes that are tried and true for our family and make a menu for each week. With this menu, we’ll focus mostly on fresh, local food that’s in season that we can buy at the farmer’s market. First, let’s take a look at what we’ll have to give up or change about our current eating habits, some of which were mentioned in the video.

Cost Cutting Necessities

  1. No Eating Out
  2. Meat Consumption reduced
  3. Limiting processed food consumption
  4. Sticking to a grocery list
  5. Homemade snacks
  6. Drink water with or without lemon instead of bottled juices, sodas or other sugary/sugar-free drinks.

Week 1 Menu

Below is the cheap food menu I’ve put together to get you started and prove you can eat healthy and fully on $50 per week for two people. Some of the recipes in the list below are from Cheapfoodhere.com and some are from our favorite foodies. Please refrain from using canned goods unless you have them already, but know that you are getting less than half of the nutritional value from canned goods that you would from fresh or frozen produce.

With a lot of the recipes, it’s good to reduce the amount of an ingredient that is expensive (example: cheese or meat) or substitute it for something less expensive and perhaps more healthy.


  1. Red Bell Pepper Frittata & fruit
  2. Pressed Egg sandwich & fruit shake
  3. Almond French Toast with maple syrup and a side of fruit
  4. Soy Milk Waffle (or regular milk is fine too) w/fresh fruit topping
  5. Oatmeal w/frozen blueberries and flax, fruit shake and side fresh fruit
  6. Jalapeño and Onion Frites w/fried eggs, bacon and a side of fruit


  1. Grilled Veggie Wraps
  2. Tuna pasta salad
  3. Mini pizzas with apples, onion, garlic  and bell peppers
  4. Leftover Cobb Salad
  5. Leftover Chicken Stir Fry
  6. Leftover Eggplant Parmesan


  1. Homemade Pizza
  2. Eggplant Parmesan w/spaghetti
  3. Chix Stir Fry (cut recipe in half)
  4. Cobb Salad (onion sub for shallot; blue cheese omitted)
  5. Fish Tacos w/cilantro slaw
  6. Seared Sesame Tuna w/tempura vegetables


  1. Raw veggies with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
  2. Fruit (banana, apple, or tangerine)
  3. Nuts, w/raisins
  4. Homemade Crackers w/Sage and Cayenne
  5. Yogurt with berries and a side of fresh fruit


Week 1 Grocery List: Download Here

Growing your own produce and herbs is a great way to save money and it can be done in planters too if you don’t have a back yard. If you’re not growing, try to support your local farmers first, but sometimes their prices are just too high. Some stuff you have to go to the grocery store for, but there is a great resource to check pricing before ever venturing out; www.mygrocerydeals.com keeps you in-the-know when it comes to checking cheap grocery prices in the United States.

Make sure when you go shopping, you stick to the list, and only to the list. It is your map, your guide, your blinders. However, if you see an item that could make a perfect substitute (example large tomatoes instead of Romas) but is cheaper, buy those instead. We’re looking for deals here, so keep your eyes peeled.

Some of the items on the list you’ll see don’t have prices, which indicates it’s something I already had. You can use this sheet to fill in prices on your own to help you better prepare for the upcoming week of meals. The sheet is organized by meal, however there is a lot of cross over, so if it was on the breakfast list, you won’t find it again under lunch, dinner or snacks. You can also organize the list by aisle if that’s easier. The basis of how I chose the meals for the week was looking first at what I had and could then in turn spend less on groceries. It’s best to use all of the items you already have to make sure they don’t go bad and end up getting thrown out anyway. You’ll notice that the Week 1 Shopping List goes well over the designated $50 per week budget for two people, however, a lot of items will be left over for future weeks. Stay tuned for follow up posts for the remaining 3 weeks of the month. Good luck and I’d love feedback from those who are accepting the challenge.

Calling all cheap foodies

In an effort to mingle with my fellow foodies and generate a collective set of blog posts, I am requesting all cheap food hints, tricks, recipes, gadgets, etc that help reduce your cooking budget from all corners of the world. Please send info to me at “ashley(at)cheapfoodhere(dot)com”. With the info, I will create a series of blog posts that link back to the source blog (your info doesn’t have to be a formal blog post, but just make sure to include your food blog URL). The series of posts will be named Cheap Food Blogosphere and will include everyone’s content and credits. I’m excited to see the variety of information and insight I’ll receive from my fellow foodies.

As a backstory, I have been actively involved with the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover to plan my budget and pay off all my debt. I finally conquered Baby Step 2 this month and am consumer debt free! No more student loans, no more credit cards, no more car payments; just the mortgages are left. It was painful, but one of the most helpful parts was creating a food budget and planning out my meals.

I got anal with it and started shopping lists, spread sheets, figured out costs per portion, where to find the cheapest groceries, etc. I’m documenting everything for my first book to be published. It’s a huge help just to be conscious of the money being spent each month, especially on food. As I explained in my recent post about shopping at farmer’s markets, pricing items can be tricky and vary significantly from place to place. It pays to be diligent.

So, what I’m asking for are submissions of all the unique ways to cut corners on price but not on flavor. We’re not talking just spaghetti dinners and boring potato casseroles here. I am truly passionate about designing meals on a creative budget, and I’m sure there are others out there. Thanks for everyone’s feedback, small or large.

Organic Food Delivery – Costa Rica

Since moving to San Jose, Costa Rica in January, I’ve found a limited amount of all-natural or organic items (mostly produce) in the grocery stores with an adequate label identifying it as such. There is a great company called BioLand that has great snacks, cereals, and other all-natural and organic products, but they are still limited. There isn’t a natural food store with solely organic products, which is disappointing. However, I have since discovered a (tentative) miracle company called NaturaStyle, who will deliver organic and all-natural products to your door. Awesome. The list of items is endless and I’m sure if you request something obscure that they don’t have, they’ll find it. I can’t wait to get going on this and oh how it will be a welcomed change from scouring the grocery stores.

When I was living in Charlotte, I had organic produce delivered to the house every other week. The service was called Absolute Organics (the Web site leaves a lot to be desired, but the products are great) and they have several different packages you can sign up for, but the gist of it is that you get a box of produce either every week or every two weeks left on your doorstep. Wow, how convenient. I definitely ate better while receiving boxes every other week.

I will be placing my order with NaturaStyle this week and will let you know once it gets here how it turns out. I do need to make sure it fits within my monthly grocery budget. If you would like to see a list of organic food delivery services near you, see my page about it. If there is a company not on the list just shoot me a comment and I’ll get it posted.

Should I Eat Meat?

I am still thoroughly struggling with if, how, where, why I should or shouldn’t eat meat and here are my thoughts so far. I love food, including meat, and it’s not that I’m missing it after only a week or so, but I’m not convinced I ‘shouldn’t’ eat meat (there are various arguments proposed in Skinny Bitch such as our bodily design, digestion enzymes, shape of our teeth, etc.) but there are valid arguments. However, in considering my potential success in life (blogging, writing articles, publishing cookbooks, etc) I should either go one way or another.

Well, I think I’m going to reconsider the anti-meat and animal products routine. I know there are substitutes, and I plan to use them when I can (soy milk, veggie burgers, etc), but in general I love being creative in the kitchen without hesitating to use certain ingredients because a book said not to. Now, I do plan on being as responsible as possible in choosing all natural ingredients (MSG and pesticides-ew!) and knowing where the animal meat came from. Being in Costa Rica, this is fairly easy, as most farms and markets are very accessible.

I just can’t let go of delicious foods like Parmesan and feta cheese, bacon bits, etc. And I shouldn’t have to. I will do what I can to avoid the mass-produced products (also easier to do in Costa Rica) and get organic products delivered to my house. That’s right, I am about to be a proud subscriber to NaturaStyle.com, who has all the natural products you could think of including meats such as fish, chicken and beef. There are a ton of home delivery options all over the US, UK, Canada, Australia, etc you just have to look for them. I have created an organic food delivery directory that will help you find what you need. If you know of something out there that’s not on the list, please comment and I’ll add it.

It’s hard to get a handle on the animal cruelty that happens in slaughterhouses all over the world, and not knowing if the hamburger your eating came from a screaming cow before it got to your plate is something I’ll have to consider. But, I’m feeling better about just doing research and knowing the conditions in which my food is coming from. Don’t trust government agencies to protect you, they only have dollar signs on the brain. Where there’s money, there’s corruption, so don’t think for a second they care about what you are ingesting. You need to be responsible for yourself and protect your health by eating all natural foods and organic products.

Cheap Organic Food – San Jose, Costa Rica

(borrowed from www.skinnybitch.net)

(borrowed from www.skinnybitch.net)

I just read the book called Skinny Bitch this week, and I think it has ruined me. Well, in an eating-junk-and-meat sort of way. It’s a good book with mostly good information, but written in an over-the-top California snobby super-model style. What I mean is, there is a lot of cussing and inappropriate language, for shock factor and humor, but it starts to grate on your nerves after a few chapters. Anyway, it reveals some pretty eye-opening statistics (cited and verifiable, of course) about animal cruelty in slaughterhouses; chemicals, hormones and pesticides that get into the meat, cheese, and eggs we eat; and how the FDA is a corrupt government agency that is being led and persuaded by the farm associations doing all the harm.

So, as a result, I am grossed out by meat, and more careful about the eggs and cheese I eat. Luckily (I think), I am in Costa Rica and there are many little farms here that are organic, humane, and healthier than the mass-produced animal farms elsewhere (although, I can’t speak for the cattle, most is sold to the US/Burger King companies). So, I am on the search for organic, healthy foods that exclude meat and it’s tougher than I thought, especially being in Costa Rica. Although, I am living in San Jose, which will have something even if the rest of the country doesn’t.

I found a great website for vegan/vegetarian recipes developed by the International Vegetarian Union (IVU). It can’t guide me on where to find items in Costa Rica, but I am determined to comb through all the local grocery stores. Each one has their own great features, which will be in a different post, but the organics sections are small! And so, the hunt for cheap organic food in Costa Rica begins.

Sustainable Food

Sustainable. Green. Eco-friendly. Energy efficient. These are the buzzwords of today and have become mainstays in the burgeoning culture of new eco-minded individuals. However, the views of how to best achieve carbon neutrality and what constitutes “true” green products are in constant flux. The way we view the food we eat is especially changing. Being more aware of how the foods we eat are affecting the environment is crucial to being responsible and living a green lifestyle.

A quick and striking example of how food production impacts the Earth includes a Michigan State study. This study shows eating a pound of beef is about seven times worse for the environment than chicken and 200 times worse than potatoes. To put it into context, it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef (per Dr. Georg Borgstrom, Chairman of Food Science and Human Nutrition Dept of College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University) which is about the same as a year’s worth of showers for one person.

So, you could essentially stop showering for a year or skip 4 hamburgers to save the same amount of water. I think I’ll choose a veggie burger next time. Think spicy black bean burger at the Penguin (if you’re reading this in Charlotte).

On a more positive note, sustainable food is easier than you might think to incorporate into your daily diet. It could be as close as your back yard, in a patio planter or around the corner at the farmer’s market. You can be sure you are eliminating as much transit, handling, processing, and pesticides as possible by looking in your own garden. In case you are an urbanite and don’t have a yard, there are simple questions you can ask at the farmer’s market and grocery store as well. Just simply noting where the fruit or vegetables come from (I think they require a sticker with country/state of origin now) is a good way to gauge how far they had to travel to get to you. Some farmer’s markets have imported goods as well as local, so it’s good to ask. This also helps support your local growers.

So, all you men out there responsible for eating 75% of the beef in our country, maybe opt for an alternative to your regular quarter pounder with cheese. We all have a responsibility to our environment and our bodies to be healthy and conscious of the overall impact we each make in every aspect of our lives. Especially the ones we have the most control over, like our diet.

(This article was written and published in the April 2009 issue of Charlotte Health and Fitness Magazine)