Ways to stretch your food dollars — and help others facing hunger

More than one in every four children in Georgia (26 percent) live in food insecure households — meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from.

And each year, about 755,400 (or one in seven) people in metro Atlanta and North Georgia turn to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and its partner agencies, including food pantries and child care centers, for food and other essentials such as toothpaste and soap, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks.

In Georgia, the need continues to grow. The Atlanta Community Food Bank distributed a total of 69.3 million pounds of food and other essentials in the 2015-16 fiscal year, up from 61.7 million during the previous year. (See box for five ways to help.)

During the month of September for the past nine years, Feeding America has organized a call to action known as “Hunger Action Month” designed to inspire people to take action and raise awareness to the startling fact that 48 million Americans, including 15 million children, are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Joy Goetz, nutrition and wellness program manager at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, leads hands-on nutrition and cooking workshops to help families learn cooking skills, menu planning and ways to stretch their food dollars to make low-cost, nutritious meals.

Goetz recommends the following five tips to help make healthy meals on a tight budget:

1. Make a menu for the week and then look in your pantry and refrigerator to determine what you really need. When you get to the grocery store, stick to your list. Impulse buys can add up quickly.

2. Use unit prices at the grocery store to compare the price for foods from different brands or in different sized containers. The unit price shows you the price per ounce or price per pound, and makes it easy to determine which item is the best bargain.

3. In the produce section, stick to fruits and vegetables that are in season and in their most whole form. Pre-cut produce may be convenient, but can cost two to three times as much.

4. Use meat sparingly. Meat is often one of the most expensive food categories, so you can save a lot of money by using vegetarian proteins such as beans, lentils, eggs and tofu. Also, dishes like a casserole or stir-fry, where meat is mixed in with other ingredients, can make it easier to use less meat and bulk up the dish with less-expensive, healthy ingredients like beans, veggies and whole grains.

5. Keep a well-stocked pantry to make quick and healthy meals. Stock up on brown rice, pasta and oatmeal. For proteins, keep canned chicken and canned beans on hand. Canned produce like pineapple, applesauce, corn and green beans make quick and easy side dishes, or use them to stretch a main dish. Other ingredients to keep on hand include low-sodium chicken broth, olive oil, canola oil, apple cider vinegar, flour, sugar, dried herbs and spices.

Here’s some recipe from Goetz that are inexpensive and healthy

Apple Glazed Sweet Potatoes

cost to make: 64 cents per person

2 1/2 cups no sugar added 100 percent apple juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 small potatoes), peeled or unpeeled and thinly sliced

Combine apple juice, cinnamon and salt in a large skillet. Add sweet potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat slightly and simmer potatoes, stirring occasionally for 20 to 25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and juice has been reduced to a glaze. Serve hot.

Mediterranean Chicken and White Bean Salad

Cost to make: $1.15 per person (using canned chicken)


1 cup cooked (or canned)
chicken or tuna, drained and rinsed

1 can (15.5oz.) white beans such as Cannellini or Garbanzos (chickpeas), drained and rinsed

1 cucumber, diced (peeled or unpeeled)

1/4 red or white onion, diced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 Tbsp. dried basil or parsley leaves

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper


If using cooked chicken, shred or chop to bite size pieces.
Leftover chicken works great.

Put everything in a bowl and gently toss to combine.

Serve right away or cover and refrigerate.

Pumpkin Chili

Cost to make: 98 cents per person


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic or 1 tsp. of garlic powder

4 fresh sage leaves, chopped or 1/2  tsp. dried sage

1 large jalapeno, seeds removed and diced (optional for heat)

32 fl. oz. vegetable or chicken stock

1 can (15oz.) diced tomatoes, no salt added

2 cups kale, chopped

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 can (15oz.) black beans, no salt

added, drained

1 small (6oz.) can tomato paste

1 can (15oz.) plain pumpkin puree


In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in oil until onion is soft. Add sage and chopped jalapeno to skillet. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.

 Remove cover and add stock, tomatoes, kale, and all spices. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer with cover on for 10 minutes. Remove cover and stir in tomato paste, black beans, and pumpkin puree. Stir frequently for 3 minutes.

MORE: Best food and dining deals in Atlanta

MORE: 7 day menu planner

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.