Meatless Sloppy Joes

Today, I’m one of many food bloggers participating in a special awareness event — Food Bloggers Against Hunger. This is a topic that is personally very important issue to me. Did you know that someone on government food assistance (SNAP) will typical receive only $3-$4 a day to purchase food for themselves? Could you imagine spending only $1 for each of your meals? I recently watched the new documentary, A Place at the Table, and it left me wondering if I could buy food to make a healthy family meal for 4 on just $4. I went shopping to find out if it was possible with one of my most frugal meals, Meatless Sloppy Joes.

Meatless Sloppy Joes
I looked over sales ads to various stores, but I wasn’t seeing any deals that would help me keep to my $4 budget. So, I decided to shop one of the grocery stores I shop at frequently. They don’t have sales ads, but I shop there so often that I know that I can get some of the lowest grocery prices in Las Vegas.

I created my shopping list and headed out to see how I would do. You’ll notice that I I listed two items on my list with question marks. See, when I was doing the math on this meal, I felt like I might be cutting it way too close. I wanted to get the sweet potatoes for homemade sweet potato fries, but I was unsure if they would fit in the $4 budget. The same thing with garlic. I figured it would be about .50 cents a head, but I also know it can be skipped in this meal if necessary.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Meatless Sloppy Joes

One of the first stops was produce. I needed 1/2 of an onion and I found them for .58 cents/lb. I found the smallest one and ended up paying .30 cents for it, which will have me spending just .15 cents for the portion I will use in this meal. As I suspected, the garlic was close to .50 cents each. Not a  bad deal, but I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it, so I’m going to skip it.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Onions and Garlic

My plan is to make sweet potato fries for a side dish, but my dilemma came in when I saw both sweet potatoes and red garnet yams. I really don’t know the difference, but I do see the difference in price: $1.18/lb for sweet potatoes and .78 cents/lb for yams. It seems crazy to think that I have to worry about .40 cents, but having only $4 to spend on dinner does that to you. In the end, I decided to go with the red garnet yams and I bought 1 3/4 lbs for a total of $1.37.

The carrots were a good deal. I picked up a bag of carrots for .88 cents for a 2 lb bag. I only need 2/3 cup grated carrots, which will be about 2 1/2 ounces.  This puts my carrot cost at about 8 cents for this meal. The rest of the carrots will be great for other meals or for snacking.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

Canned kidney beans are a main part of the meatless sloppy joes. I will need two cans and, at first, I grabbed the ones that were .68 cents per can. This was for a name brand and was the same price as the store brand. However, as I turned to put them in the cart, I saw that there was another brand for .65 cents per can. I debated…does .03 cents per can really make a difference? I decided that every penny counted, so I put back the .68 cents ones and bought the .65 cents kidney beans.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Kidney Beans

For the crushed tomatoes, I had intended to buy the store brand for $1.02, but it was out of stock. The only other variety available was $1.88. I decided to buy that, but I knew that this would now impact my budget quite a bit.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Tomatoes

Sandwich buns were my next challenge. The least expensive option was white hamburger buns for .98 cents. I wanted to buy 100% whole wheat buns, but this would mean paying $1.65. It’s a good price, but more than the white buns. In the end, I decided to take the whole wheat buns, but I was frustrated because I knew that the healthier option was going to have me going over budget.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger: Buns

Here was my totals:

Kidney Beans: .65 cents/per can x 2 = $1.30
Crushed Tomatoes: $1.88/can (will have 1 1/4 cups leftover from 28 oz can that can be used on another meal)
Carrots: .08 cents for 2/3 cup grated
Onion: .15 cents for 1/2 of onion
Sandwich Buns: .83 cents for 4 buns (half of 8 ct package — remainder can be used for another meal)
Sweet Potatoes (Yams): $1.37
Not included: spices and seasonings (chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper) and oil

TOTAL:  $5.61

There is no doubt that’s a cheap meal, but it’s still over the $4 budget. And, all this is going on the hope that the person has the spices and oil on hand, but if they didn’t, the total would have been a bit more. If the store had the store brand crushed tomatoes in stock ($1.02) AND if I had chosen the the white hamburger buns (.49 cents for 1/2 pkg), the total would have been $4.41 — still over the budget.

Here is the complete recipe — ready for printing or to save to ZipList:

Meatless Sloppy Joes
  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans (15.5 oz - rinsed, drained, divided)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ small or medium sized onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅔ cup grated carrot
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 4 sandwich rolls or hamburger buns
  1. In a food processor, pulse half of the kidney beans until all mashed up.
  2. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper to pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.
  3. Add the grated carrots, chili powder, sugar, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the onion mixture. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for 10 minutes or until thickened.
  4. Stir the mashed beans and the remaining whole beans into the tomato mixture.
  5. Heat thoroughly and serve mixture on the sandwich rolls.
--Don't have a food processor? Just mash the beans in a bowl with a fork or potato masher.

--If necessary, substitute white granulated sugar for the brown sugar if you don't have brown sugar on hand.

--If you wish, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic with the onion

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, May 2010 

I’m a frugal shopper, this meal was inexpensive, and I shopped at one of the stores in Vegas with the lowest prices. I couldn’t make this meal — that didn’t even include meat or cheese — for $4 or less. How likely is it that anyone can do it? It’s no wonder why there are Americans going hungry — the help they are getting isn’t enough. It’s 2013, and 1 in 4 U.S. kids still don’t know where their next meal will come from. It’s just not acceptable to me.

I believe that the only way for hunger to be eliminated in America is by a change in policy. Current government assistance, and the additions of food banks and soup kitchens, are not enough. I urge you to join me in making your voice heard. Please considering taking 30 seconds to fill out this form and send a letter to congress asking them to support anti-hunger legislation.

I also encourage you to watch the documentary, A Place at the Table. I rented it instantly through Amazon and watched it on my computer, but you could also see it in theaters if it’s playing in your city (check here for locations) or on demand through iTunes.

A Place at the Table

I’m just one of many Food Bloggers Against Hunger — to see how other food bloggers shared this message, check out The Giving Table.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger

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  1. says

    I’m so glad to see food bloggers bringing awareness to this very important cause. I love this budget-friendly recipe for meatless sloppy joes. And I love shopping at Winco for their low prices and the bulk foods section is really helpful as well!

  2. Terra says

    Our family uses snap. To get by, I buy dried beans and soak them overnight, or cook in the crockpot. I also make ALLof our bread including buns and pizza crusts, etc. thanks for the great frugal recipe!

  3. Samantha says

    I assumed with seeing 4 hamburger buns that this was a recipe for 4 servings. I just finished making these and I have enough sloppy joes to feed my the other 4 families in my apartment!

    Anyway, these were delicious, but definitely more sloppy than I think planned. I ending up eating with a knife and fork, but they were tasty!

  4. Tami Bowsher says

    I have a large family and although my husband has always worked, we have lived with SNAP. I can tell you right now it is a struggle every meal! I have sacrificed nutrition to get everyone full and stretch the budget for years and now my health is paying the price. Hopefully things will improve soon!

  5. says

    Wow, I really enjoyed this post. Not only did the food look great for a cheap family meal, but how incredible that such a simple “cheap” family meal still cost more than $4 a day. It’s quite frightening really.
    Thanks for sharing, and for reminding us to all be grateful for the abundance of food available to those who can afford it.

  6. Morgan Buchanan says

    For a family a three – I was able to make two meals out of this recipe! Which puts my cost as $2.81 per meal! That is awesome! Love this recipe! Thanks so much for sharing!

    The only thing I did different was mash up all of the beans instead of just half because my son will not eat a single bite if he sees a bean. haha!!


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