Here's How MasterChef Alum Lexy Rogers Fed Her Family on $40 a Week

In her new cookbook, Break Bread on a Budget, the celebrity chef spills the (store-brand) beans.

Person stirring a bowl and smiling
Photo: Dotdash Meredith / Sabrina Tan

When season 11 of Gordon Ramsay's reality cooking show, MasterChef, aired, viewers immediately connected with Lexy Rogers. The mother of three (with another now on the way), immediately stood out from the crowd with her budget-friendly recipes that tasted anything but cheap. Viewers also had a lot to say about the austere $40 per week grocery budget she maintained at home, but for Rogers, it wasn't an act.

"I wasn't trying to be relatable, or play into a stereotype. This is my life. This is really the way that I grocery shop and cook for my family," Rogers told us recently on a video call. Although she now has more wiggle room in her grocery budget, she realized that fans of the show were constantly reaching out with questions about budgeting and cooking. Fast forward a few months, and her cookbook debut, Break Bread on a Budget, was born (it will be published in April 2023, but you can preorder it now).

The cookbook, which has recipes for everything from regular meals to snacks and dessert, is also a manual for aspiring budget shoppers. The pages are filled with Rogers' personal tips for money-saving success (for example, never grocery shop on an empty stomach) and cooking secrets (it's impossible to read the book without becoming an expert at making perfect eggs, any way you like them). And with dishes like Mozzarella Monkey Bread and Smothered Pork Chops and Rice, Rogers proves she knows what's up when it comes to big flavors on a shoestring budget.

We asked Rogers to share some of her top tips for shopping, organizing your kitchen, and, of course, cooking. Happily, she spilled the (store-brand) beans.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In the introduction to Break Bread on a Budget, you mention that college was when you learned you can throw down in the kitchen. What does it take to be able to throw down in the kitchen? What skills — or passions — do you need to have?
Anyone who has a genuine love for food can do it. If you're someone who has critiques when you go out to restaurants like, 'Oh, this doesn't look right,' or 'It wasn't cooked well,' you already have that baseline. You're someone who knows what's good, and what you like. After that, it's building the confidence to create it at home, for yourself.

How did you and your husband Lewis settle on $40 a week for groceries? Did that number seem shocking to you at the time? Does it now?
I was pregnant with my daughter, and we already had our son. I wasn't working, and we went over how much money we were taking in, then how much we had to spend on rent and everything else. What was left wasn't very much at all. I said, 'I think I can make it work with $40 [a week],' and he said, 'If you think you can, let's do it.'

That number was birthed out of necessity. I wasn't trying to shock people; it was what I needed to do to pay my bills and feed my family. It didn't feel crazy at the time — nothing feels crazy when you're in it. But now that my kids are growing and eating, it's different. When we had that budget, my husband and I were fine with having oatmeal for breakfast and pinching everywhere. Now, no. Everyone needs snacks; [my kids] eat all the time… $40 does seem crazy to me.

In the book, you suggest a weekly grocery trip, rather than daily or monthly. What works best about that schedule for budget shoppers?
I've tried all of it. There are a couple of problems with daily shopping. Going to the store every day, when you're tired from work or taking care of your family, feels like another job. There's also the cost of gas. I didn't feel like that was sustainable at all. The issue with bulk shopping is you need to buy and have space to store big chest freezers. So maybe you don't have room for that, or the money to even invest in it. Plus, things get lost when you overstock. You have to search through everything to find what you're looking for.

A weekly grocery trip is manageable. You can make a plan for the week and consider what's left over from the week before. It's easier to manage a weekly budget; you can make small shifts as needed, like saving more one week, or splurging a little the next on those really nice grape tomatoes.

Speaking of freezer space: In the book, you have a handy guide for how long different meats and fish last in the freezer. Do you have any tips for organizing that space?
Don't put too much in. I only have two layers in the freezer. I keep my veggies on the top; meat and boxed things like pizza go on the bottom. I also label every package with the date I have to use it by. So when I'm looking for something, I know which one I should cook first. I'll also move older things from the back to the front, so I don't miss them.

Will you share your tips for making leftovers go the distance? Any advice for the leftover-haters out there?
That's actually me. I'm not really a fan of leftovers. I like to make one thing new with one thing old. For example, I recently had some leftover mac and cheese, and I made tomato soup. I poured the tomato soup around the mac and cheese, and ate it together. It tastes like a completely different dish, but you're still utilizing your leftovers. I hate eating the same thing over and over again.

Can you name your top 3 budget ingredients that make homemade meals seem more luxurious?
I love cheese. It makes everything better. I'll add a little Parmesan to a sauce to add extra fat and richness, or crumble cheese on top of bread. It's like, "Ooh, now it's fancy bread." Cheese is more affordable when you buy it in a brick instead of pre-shredded, and it lasts longer in the fridge.

One of my favorite things at Walmart is this dollar loaf of French bread. It's the best thing in the world. It's so big, and you can do so many things with it. You can use it in sandwiches, make garlic bread, dip it in soup… I use it all the time.

The last is my all-purpose seasoning: a Creole seasoning blend from Tony Chachere's. I put that in everything. It doesn't taste like you're adding the same thing to every meal; it enhances whatever's already there. It just brings everything together, and the big bottle of it lasts me three to four months.

Processed/packaged food tend to cost more than raw ingredients, but buying 100% raw and unprocessed is just not doable. What prepared items make the cut on your grocery list?
My cookbook has two monkey bread recipes made with canned biscuit dough; one for breakfast and another as an appetizer. Some people say, 'What? You don't make your own bread for that?' No! Absolutely not. I go and buy the cans and I use those. I turn them into something special. I know you can buy yeast packets and make your own dough, but that process is frustrating for me. Any store-bought bread or dough is worth it for me.

When shopping on a budget, what are the things that (unfortunately) have just gotta go?
When I was on the $40 a week budget, we sacrificed desserts and juices. Obviously alcohol — there's nothing budget about that. And although I love going to really nice, organic, aesthetic grocery stores, those are the first thing you gotta throw out when you're on a budget. Go to Walmart or ALDI; a store that's less expensive.

You might not be able to buy name-brand stuff. I buy Great Value products all the time. I actually tested every recipe in the cookbook with store-brand ingredients. It is a sacrifice, but that's when the nice seasonings, or the little things — like that dollar loaf of French bread — make your cooking feel special.

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