The Hillbilly Housewife answered this question twice, once with her $45 menu in 2006 and again with the $70 menu. In fact, her entire site is a fabulous resource because it has all the recipes you need to cook the menus and has all sorts of ideas for how to cope with hard times.
But I wondered, how has the costs of her menus changed with the higher food prices we've been dealing with lately? In July, Living Almost Large did a comparison with the $70 menu in a high Cost of Living Area, and last week I compared prices at my area (Texas - a medium cost of living area I think) grocery store for the items on the $45 menu.
|Item||HH's Price||My Price|
|10 lbs all purpose flour||1.92||3.76|
|3 pack yeast||0.62||0.89|
|3 lbs long grain white rice||0.99||1.95|
|2 lb bag of cornmeal||0.88||0.99|
|5 lb sugar||1.88||1.99|
|2 cans frozen o.j.||1.76||2.68|
|20 qt box instand nonfat dry milk||8.87||13.99|
|2 lb lentils||1.20||1.38|
|2 lb pinto beans||1.20||1.38|
|1 lb black beans||0.60||0.89|
|1 lb lima beans||0.60||0.99|
|3 boxes Macaroni & Cheese||1.00||1.08|
|3 packs Ramen Noodles||0.30||0.51|
|2 dozen eggs||1.38||2.14|
|2 lb margarine||0.96||1.28|
|1 lb hot dogs||0.89||0.73|
|1 28oz can tomatoes||0.89||1.09|
|1 15oz can tomatoes||0.50||0.75|
|1 15oz can green peas||0.42||0.69|
|1 15oz can corn||0.45||0.50|
|1 15oz can greens||0.40||0.49|
|1 15oz can spinach||0.42||0.49|
|5 lb bag carrots||2.00||3.95|
|3 lb bag onions||2.00||1.50|
|1 bunch celery||1.20||1.59|
|6oz can tuna||0.44||0.66|
|18oz jar peanut butter||1.50||1.39|
|100 Count Box of Tea Bags||1.00||1.69|
Notes on my costs: On several items, HH didn't specify what size or amount she purchased, so I made my best guess as to how much we would use in a week and priced accordingly. Also some packaging had changed (i.e. my store sells 4 lb bags of sugar, not 5 lb), so I adjusted my prices to reflect purchasing the amount HH specified.
Mostly our prices were a little higher due to rising prices, but on a few items (hot dogs) I got the better price -- I don't know if this is a discrepency because I priced the cheapest, but overall, I think the menu and grocery list are a good starting point.
Certainly, following this menu would be a good idea if you were completely out of food and were frankly a little panicked about what you were going to buy and feed your family that week. It doesn't require a lot of thinking or worry about what to fix when. It even has a to do list attached for each evening to prepare for the next day.
However, I don't think I would follow the list blindly for my family. Some of the items on the list I don't think I would buy or I would change their amounts. We have plenty of cinnamon in the cupboard and I don't think we'll be running out anytime soon. We also don't really eat canned peas or greens. And I think we'd use the 13.99 cost of dry milk to buy 2 or 3 gallons of milk and use the remaining money on some fruit, such as bananas, or some fresh veggies or potatoes.
Also since we've been stockpiling things as they go on sale, we've gotten some of these items at better prices in the recent past, and stocked up on the items we would use.
But this does help make a valid point. If your resources are strained, a plan like this would most likely be within your budget with maybe a few adjustments (don't buy things you won't eat).
Then the next week, you will have a little extra in the budget because you won't need to repurchase salt, spices, and whatever else you have leftover. You can purchase other items to supplement the basic list and stock up on a good sale if you see one. Even on a strained budget, it's possible to start a stockpile and start reaping the benefits of eating foods bought at the lowest possible price.