$20 Grocery List: How to Eat on Nothing


Whether you just moved into a new house and need to buy a few emergency groceries or you’re trying to scrape by between pay checks, it’s always good to know how to feed your family for as little as possible. While you can certainly survive for a few days on Ramen noodles and canned ravioli, it’s cheaper and healthier to eat from scratch. Here are 10 items you can buy for less than $2 each; for the cost of one night at Taco Bell, you can feed your family all week.

1. Eggs

A real wonder food, eggs are filled with protein and they’re extremely versatile. You can eat them fried or scrambled for breakfast, make omelets for dinner or hard boil them for a nutritious snack.

2. Ground beef or turkey

You can buy a single pound of ground beef or turkey for under $2. Divide the pound into four equal parts, and use these to make meat sauce, casseroles, chili or other dishes.

3. Dried beans

Much more economical than canned, dried beans are one of the cheapest sources of protein available. You can make up a batch early in the week and use them in soups, burritos, tostadas and more.

4. Rice

There’s a reason that rice is a staple for so many countries. It’s cheap, tasty and easy to make. You can buy a pound for less than $1 and use it as a side dish or binder for casseroles. You can even make rice pudding for breakfast by heating a little cooked rice with some milk and sugar.

5. Canned tomatoes

You can usually buy three cans of tomato sauce for around $1, or you can spend slightly more for crushed or stewed tomatoes. These make a great base for sauces and soups, and canned tomatoes are just as nutritious as fresh.

6. Corn meal

If you buy it on sale, you can buy an entire five pound bag of corn meal for under $2. You can mix with eggs, milk and water to make cornbread, or you can cook the grains in a pot for polenta. Serve savory polenta with pasta sauce, or sweeten it for breakfast with sugar and syrup.

7. Potatoes

If you’re lucky, you can catch potatoes on sale and buy several pounds for just a few dollars. Otherwise, you should be able to get a couple of decent-sized spuds for a dollar or less. Potatoes can be baked, mashed or fried and they’re a great accompaniment to nearly every food.

8. Frozen vegetables

Although not as inexpensive as canned, frozen vegetables are more nutritious and hold up better to most cooking methods. You may be able to buy several bags for under $2. Try to get a wide variety so that you can use them for stir-fry, pasta dishes, soup or other dishes.

9. Pasta

You can get a great value on pasta by shopping on the Mexican food aisle; you can buy a bag for around $0.33 instead of $1 on the pasta aisle. Noodles can be served as the base for casseroles, soups and stir-fry.

10. Milk

A half-gallon of milk should cost around $2 or less depending on where you live. If you’d like, you can pay slightly more for a large box of dried milk and mix it yourself as needed.

This grocery list is just a starting point for filling up an empty pantry or getting by between checks. By taking stock of your needs and building a menu around your tastes and skills, you can make the most of any budget.