Q. Thanks for having this site.
About the food - How do you spend an average of about $200/mo including food and miscellaneous when we spend about $600 for the same? Thanks.
Marianne's Reply. Someone has been encouraging me to do a "recipes for on the road" segment but I've resisted because I figure there are far too many cookbooks and recipes already out there and we prepare and eat basically the same foods when we're on the road as when we're at home anyway.
Without describing every meal I can briefly tell you that we eat well but we also shop well. We know the prices we pay for the staples we keep in our cupboards and fridge all the time so that when we see them for a better price we "stock up" a bit. We aren't brand-loyal. We buy almost no packaged, prepared foods. We cook simple dishes from basic ingredients. And when something on our grocery list is far more than we usually pay, we don't buy it; we eat something else instead.
Here are a few food-group specific tips:
Fresh Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges are usually the cheapest and keep well without refrigeration. Buy others in season (at roadside stands) when possible or when they're on sale at the supermarket.
Vegetables: We eat lots of salads consisting of whatever combination of vegetables we can get. We like romaine lettuce but will buy other lettuce if it's a better buy. Cooking onions are fine in salads if used sparingly. Onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips or yams are usually inexpensive and keep well without refrigeration. Frozen peas, corn, and spinach are inexpensive and can substitute when you don't have fresh veggies.
Milk: We use only powdered skim milk and make it up as we need it. Usually only for cooking. We're not big milk drinkers but, if you are, powdered is an acquired taste but there's no waste and saves on fridge space.
Starches: Brown rice and pasta are cheap and form the basis of a variety of cheap meals. Add curries, a wide array of simple pasta sauces, or stir-fries.
Meats: Buy on sale and freeze. Use recipes that allow you to use less meat per serving. Eg; vegetable stir-fry or pasta with chicken, beef, or pork served over rice. A stir-fry uses one sliced chicken breast to feed two people rather than a breast each.
Fish: Keep canned tuna, salmon (small cans) which can feed two on a sandwich or in a burrito wrap with some salad veggies. Sardines on crackers are a cheap snack and good source of calcium. Imitation crab meat is actually fish (mostly pollock) that's made to look and taste like crab and is tasty in an omelette, or pasta dish. One 8 oz package (frozen) is cheap and will serve us two meals this way.
Breads: Look for day-old bread in the stores. At home we can freeze and stock up but on the road finding decent, cheap bread is one of our biggest challenges. With no oven, we can't bake our own. We prefer whole grains and don't buy what we call air-bread (eg: Wonderbread) unless there's absolutely no affordable substitute. Burrito wraps are a little more expensive but keep well, don't crush, and don't take up much space in the fridge.
Canned goods: Beans of all kinds (we make burritos, chili, or beans with rice, etc.) Canned soups are one exception to prepared foods. They're a great quick meal on a cool day. Add a few fresh veggies to extend and enhance taste and nutrition.
Butter: We don't believe in margarine but we extend our butter (and make it healthier for us) by leaving it out at room temperature til soft, then add 1/2 cup of a good (but tasteless) oil such as safflower, soy, or sunflower oil to 1/2 lb of butter. Whip together and refrigerate. An added benifit: your butter will be spreadable right out of the fridge.
Snacks: Avoid individually wrapped pre-packaged snacks such as granola bars; they're too expensive. Make your own trail mix: Peanuts, raisins, dried apricots and figs are usually inexpensive or add whatever you find on sale. For an excellent treat, buy raw peanuts or almonds (cheaper than toasted) and then toss them in a frying pan with a slight dab of oil to toast them freshly before serving with a sprinkle of salt. mmmmm.
Dessert: Need something sweet once in a while? Licorice rope is cheap, keeps well and does the trick. Need chocolate? Stock up after occasions like Christmas, Easter, or Valentines when prices are all reduced. Who cares if it's shaped like the Easter bunny?
To cut down on prep time and propane, we cook enough for two meals and plan for left overs later in the week. This also helps eliminate the temptation to buy more expensive ready-made meals if we get tired of cooking daily.
Those are just a few tips. In retrospect, perhaps I should write the cookbook.
One final note about the food budget shown on my web site: We do like a glass of wine with our meal, and a beer after a hike but, because not everyone drinks, I kept the cost for all alcohol out of the food budget of the trips. It's reflected, instead, in our entertainment costs.
Hope this answers your question.