Do you or a family member have special dietary requirements that seem impossible to meet on a tight budget? Are you trying to reduce your weight and experiencing sticker shock at the absurdly high prices of special health-foods?  Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to meet your dietary goals while still maintaining a thrifty lifestyle? As we age our habits catch up to us. Many of us are confronted with the need to improve our diets, and to find a way to maintain these improvements for the rest of our lives. Some of us are doing this on fixed incomes.  Others are struggling to pay off debts that don’t seem to be shrinking any time soon. Hi, I’m Maggie, the owner and creator of the Hillbilly Housewife. I’m here to reassure you that YES it is possible to meet these goals, even on a limited budget.

If you’ve been grocery shopping recently you’ve noticed that prices are climbing again. Since the cost of oil has risen so dramatically, transportation and packaging have influenced the cost of food too. Most of us are facing the fact that our weekly paychecks aren’t rising as fast as inflation. This forces us to run a tight ship when it comes to expenditures. The grocery budget in most households is usually open to a bit of adjustment in order to free up funds for more pressing needs like prescription drugs and new shoes for a child’s ever growing feet. But what about those of us on medically prescribed diets, or who are managing serious health issues? What are we supposed to do when the kids need shoes, but we still have to meet our dietary goals? Stretching our income to cover so many needs can seem difficult if not impossible. That’s where this website comes into play.

The recipes you’ll find here are designed to provide healthy, good tasting foods, that are made from easy to find, low-cost ingredients. Being on a budget does not mean that we must resort to macaroni and cheese every night. We may not be able to stock our pantries with expensive specialty foods, so instead we trade our time in the kitchen for savings in our wallet.  The recipes and strategies suggested on this site will give you the insight you need to make the best use of your time and your money. Many of these recipes are healthier versions of similar ones on my other site, the Hillbilly Housewife.  Some recipes have been designed especially for this site.  All of them taste good and will help you serve your family nutritious, yummy meals while still balancing your grocery budget.

If you are trying to lose weight then be sure to examine the Exchange Plan Diet we provide. It ‘s based on the diabetic exchange lists that have been helping people lose weight and control their food intake since World War II.  It isn’t New & Improved, but it is well-tested and reliable. Plus it can easily be adapted to any grocery budget.

Dietary information is provided for most of the recipes, including their exchange values. Nutritional information is calculated with MasterCook 9. It’s recommended as a guide, but is not infallible. Use it at your own risk. If you are on a very strict diet then it’s best to have a dietitian recalculate the information for you, or do it yourself using your favorite nutritional calculator.

About the Ingredients

Food rumors abound on the Internet. If we believed all of the information out there, then we’d box ourselves into an expensive corner where all we could eat would be raw, organic, vegan products, with everything else in the category of potentially poisonous. After a great deal of research into rumors about products such as Canola oil, margarine, aspartame, corn syrup, white sugar and bleached white flour I have decided not to put too much stock in any of them. Instead I practice moderation in my kitchen and put my faith in God, trusting his divine power to supply my needs. Since economy is a high priority for this site, food snobbery is out of the question. We pride ourselves in maintaining a less sophisticated and more realistic point of view.

1.  I use margarine.  When I have lots of extra money, I prefer to use butter.  Because I am on a strict budget, butter is a luxury that I cannot always afford.  For this reason margarine is used almost exclusively in these recipes.  Only one or two recipes call for real butter, and then it’s expressly stated in the recipe. The nutritional information is calculated for margarine unless specifically stated to the contrary. Margarine is 50¢ a pound and butter is $3 a pound, so let your pocket book and personal convictions be your guide.  If you prefer, butter may be used instead of margarine in all of the recipes with good results.

In case you’re interested in the health benefits and risks of margarine, allow me to share some of my research with you.  It turns out that margarine is not only the least expensive spread, evidence suggests that it’s also the healthiest.  “But what about trans-fats?”  you may be asking.  The chart below should give you some reassurance.

Based on 1 level Tablespoon Trans Fat Saturated Fat Total of “Bad” Fats (The ones that raise LDL cholesterol levels)
Margarine 0.4 to 2.5 grams 2.3 grams 2.8 to 4.8 grams
Butter 0.3 grams 7.2 grams 7.5 grams

As you can see margarine is much lower in the types of fats that can raise LDL cholesterol levels. Because of this the American Heart Association (also here), the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute,the American Dietetic Association, and the Mayo Clinic all recommend margarine over butter as part of a healthy diet.  Since it costs only a fraction of the price of butter, it is definitely the best choice for a challenged budget. The FDA puts it this way:

“Although some margarines contain more trans fat than margarine or butter, the total of trans and saturated fat (the LDL-C raising fats) is always less than the total for butter. The total for butter is much higher because of all the saturated fat that it contains.”  — Quoted from the FDA. Click here for the whole page.

If you are still fearful about using margarine, but can’t afford butter then I recommend you choose one of the trans-fat-free buttery spreads now on the market. Promise and Smart Balance both make good products. Both of these spreads are less expensive than butter and they are much better for your cholesterol too.

If you must have butter then look for store-brands and local-brands. Sometimes you can buy it in pound-sized blocks that have not been cut into quarters for a much smaller price than butter with individually wrapped sticks. Another option is to look at warehouse stores. They often have 4 or 5 pound packages of butter for much less than supermarkets.  Finally, when you see it on sale, stock up. Butter freezes nicely and keeps quite well in it’s original package. For longer term storage, wrap it in foil or place it in a freezer bag before freezing.

The debate that some people have between margarine and butter is one of a luxurious nature.  If you are wealthy enough have a choice between butter and margarine, then by all means choose the one that is best for you. Have compassion upon those of us with smaller incomes and fewer choices. Margarine is an acceptable and practical choice, especially for folks like me, on an itty-bitty budget. 

2.  The recipes on this site are all tested with reconstituted nonfat dry milk. It’s easier to store, convenient to prepare, and lower in calories than fresh skim milk. If you do not have an economical source of powdered milk then you owe it to yourself to shop around until you find one. Warehouse stores and super centers are my favorite low-cost suppliers.  Dry milk is one of the handiest items to keep in a frugal kitchen.

3.  I use medium sized eggs because where I live they are the cheapest.  Most of the recipes have been tested with both medium and large eggs and have turned out fine either way.  Sometimes I use store-bought egg-substitute, like Egg-Beaters or pasteurized egg whites.  Usually egg whites that you separate yourself are cheaper than egg-substitutes.  They don’t scramble quite as nicely for an egg-white omelette, but they are excellent in baking.  For each 1/4-cup of egg-substitute called for in a recipe you may substitute 2 medium or large egg whites. 

4.  I have avoided most specialty diet ingredients, but there are a few of them inexpensive enough to make it into my grocery cart.  Among these items are nonfat dry milk, non-stick spray, light-mayonnaise, non-fat yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, and 2 or 3 fat-free salad dressings. Additionally, when purchasing canned and frozen goods I look for items packed without sugar or salt. This isn’t always possible, but many canned goods without added salt or sugar are now available in store-brands making them more affordable than they once were.

5. Artificial sweeteners and products containing artificial sweeteners are less expensive than they used to be.  I can buy diet gelatin and pudding mix from my local Dollar General at the infinitely reasonable price of 3/$1.  This is equivalent to 8¢ per serving.  Add in the cost of reconstituted milk and it’s 12¢ or 13¢ per serving.  When made at home from scratch, using reconstituted milk, cornstarch, and sugar or a low-cost artificial sweetener, I cannot make homemade pudding for much less than this.  For this reason, I have chosen to make a few artificially sweetened products a small part of our grocery budget.  We do not rely on them extensively, but we do welcome them in small amounts. For the most part we prefer to use low-sugar items instead of artificially sweetened items because of the expense and because the jury is still out on the long term safety of artificial sweeteners. However neither Fred nor I are ready to close the door completely on these products.

6.  My budget is so small that we cannot afford a lot of lean meats.  Instead we buy regular meats and do what we can to reduce their fat and calorie content.  The recipes on this site call for regular ground beef that has been drained and rinsed to remove most of the fat.  You can read more about it in my article “Draining & Rinsing Ground Beef“.  Nutritional information is calculated using the most up-to-date information on drained and rinsed regular ground beef. Most of the chicken we use is from leg-quarters, which can still be found for 49¢ a pound or less, or whole chickens that are on sale.  When chicken breasts, with or without the bone, are drastically marked down, I stock up on them, but they aren’t something that we keep around all the time.  Ground turkey, turkey sausage, turkey ham, turkey bacon, frozen and canned fish, and a few inexpensive lunch meats are the other meats we use most often.  It’s humble food, not gourmet, but it can be a delicious and nourishing part of a healthy diet.

Your needs and your goals will be different than mine. No one expects you to make all the choices I have. In case you feel tempted to condemn me for my choices, please remember, folks with limited funds do not always have the options available to others. Instead of judging us, allow your budget, personal philosophies and dietary goals direct you to the best choices for you and your family.