As I was doing my monthly budgeting, I realized how much I'd been spending on groceries. It seemed sorta crazy that all that money could go to much better things. I decided to try and challenge both my self-control and my cooking skills by spending $40 on groceries for the whole week — which averages out to less than six dollars on food a day! Take that, McDonald's.

I left my local grocery store with chicken sausage, tinned salmon, basa filets, a carton of eggs, an onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots, a bag of spinach, pesto sauce, tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, rice, pasta, and cucumbers for $39.81 AUD (about $30.53 USD) — leaving me just under budget. I have soy sauce, tabasco, vinegar, oil, honey, brown sugar, salt and pepper in my pantry already so I don't include those in my grocery costs.  

Day 1

vegetable, salad, rice, carrot, meat
Tessa Domzalski

Breakfast is a spinach, cucumber, tomato and spiralized carrot salad with a fried egg on top. I attempt to use the pesto as a dressing, but the pre-made stuff is much thicker than the pesto I usually make — not the best for salad.

For lunch, I test out the pesto with some pasta and it turns out great. I mix in sauteed mushrooms, sausage, garlic and onions along with tomatoes and spinach. Superb. It's so tasty I wind up making the same thing for dinner (with only spinach this time — gotta save those groceries, y'all).

By the end of the day, I'm down one tomato, half a bag of spinach (whoops), half an onion, two carrots, half a cucumber, half a jar of pesto and half a package of spaghetti. Since I didn't have class today, I wound up cooking more than I usually do and it really dug into my provisions. I'll have learn how to manage my goods better. 

Day 2

rice, vegetable
Tessa Domzalski

Half a cup of rice, two small potatoes, a sausage, two eggs, two carrots and a cucumber were my lunch. I know, it's a lot. I was making a "few" side dishes for another article and made the very dumb choice to try to eat them all for lunch. My stomach feels like it's going to burst but I do feel productive for having cooked so many new things.

After class, I get drinks with some girlfriends (booze wasn't included in this challenge) and my lunch manages to last me through the excursion, but by the time I get home at 2 am, my stomach is grumbling — so it's fried rice time.

I use my leftover rice from this morning (fun fact: old/dried out rice is great for frying up, it doesn't get mushy) and throw in eggs and some garlic. I add a dash of soy sauce and some tabasco and I've got myself another easy meal. 

Day 3

rice, chicken, salmon
Tessa Domzalski

For breakfast, I have rice with sautéed spinach and teriyaki basa on the side. It's honestly delicious. I'd never tried to make my own teriyaki sauce before, but I found that cooking my fish in soy sauce and brown sugar was just as good (if not better) than the pre-made stuff. I would've liked to have kept these ingredients for longer and really stretched out their use, but the spinach had gotten soggy and the fish was dangerously close to its expiration date. Bummer. 

I have classes from 11 am to 6 pm so I also make a lil' something to take to school: fried rice, some of the leftover fish and some carrot slices. When I finally dig into it at 3 pm, it still tastes delicious — even cold! Way better than forking over 15 bucks at the on-campus café for a sandwich. On my way back home, my ovarian cyst starts acting up so I take a few painkillers and call it a day. 

Day 4

rice, cereal, oatmeal, brown rice
Tessa Domzalski

I wake up pretty early but I'm not feeling motivated enough to cook something creative. I scarf down some plain ol' scrambled eggs and get started on a few assignments. As it nears lunchtime, I have rice, sliced cucumber and attempt to recreate my grandmother's salmon croquettes.

Her version called for breadcrumbs — which I didn't have — so I used used mashed potatoes instead. It did not work. The croquettes wouldn't keep their shape and in the end, I wound up with something that looked eerily similar to cat food. It did taste good though, so that's a relief.

For dinner, I make spaghetti. I brown some garlic in a hot pan then throw in chopped sausage, diced tomatoes and sliced mushrooms. I crack open the jar of tomato sauce and toss most of it into the pan before adding the cooked pasta. Unfortunately, it tasted better before the jarred sauce — lesson learned. 

Day 5

cereal, rice, brown rice, risotto, wheat
Tessa Domzalski

I'm more than halfway done and I've hit the point where I really have to be creative — there isn't much food left. For lunch, I use the last of my rice and decide to make a fauxtto (faux-risotto) with the final bits of pesto I had. I cook off some garlic and mushrooms and top the potatoes with that. It's not bad, but I can't help but wish for some greens, or better yet, a nice juicy steak. 

Day 6

soup, cream, parsley, bread, broth, vegetable, garlic, coffee, lobster bisque, espresso
Tessa Domzalski

I feel a bit under the weather and decide soup is the answer. This whole week I've been saving my veggie scraps — onion peels, carrot tops, mushroom stems — because I knew I could use them to make a stock.

I start off by lightly roasting the veggies in a pot with lots of salt (which brings out more flavor) and some random seasonings. Then I add water. I let this simmer on med-low for about an hour and when I come back, I take out the old veggies and throw 'em away — they've done their job.

I add some roughly chopped carrots, potatoes, tomato and onion and by the time they're cooked through, I have a flavorful soup for both lunch and dinner.

Day 7

lemon, spaghetti, pasta, oil, olive
Tessa Domzalski

It's the last day and the timing couldn't be more perfect — I am completely out of stuff to eat. I make simple scrambled eggs with a bit of garlic and tomatoes for breakfast and for lunch I make some spaghetti with my remaining garlic, sausage, tomatoes and I beg my roommate for a handful of spinach (cheating, I know, don't hate me!). These weren't the most delicious meals I've made this week, but it's something — and beggars can't be choosers. 

All I have left now are a few carrots, and there's not a lot I can do with those except gnaw on them like a bunny. I think it's time to call it. Experiment: over.

What I've Learned

This week-long challenge showed me how easy it is to cut back on grocery costs without having to resort to fast food or canned junk. I was able to experiment in the kitchen, figure out what groceries were actually necessary and also get a closer look at how much food I was wasting — which was a lot.

If you're a fellow college student struggling with your grocery costs maybe you should try this challenge because who knows, some day you could get down to 20 bucks a week!