Eating Well on $4 a Day?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Could you eat well on $4 a day? Your immediate reaction is probably, "No way!"

Last week I read about Good and Cheap, a free downloadable cookbook for people on tight budgets. The book is a project that started when Leanne Brown, then a graduate student at NYU's Food Studies master's program, realized that government-sponsored food stamps benefits are just $4 a day. Yes, food stamps are meant to be a supplemental benefit, but it got Brown wondering, "What could you eat for $4 a day? Could you eat well?" Curious, I downloaded the ebook.

While the recipes were very basic, Brown's book got me thinking: Could my husband and I reduce our food bills to just $8 a day for the two of us? Looking at my last credit card statement, the answer would be a resounding "no." I spent $422.60 on groceries last month, which admittedly included household items like paper towels and dish soap, but it also encompassed a week we were out of town, and does not include anything my husband spent on food (I do, do most of the shopping though). On the other hand, it didn't sound totally out of reach, if we were smart about spending.

So, I decided to try it as an experiment. This week, I'm going to try to keep our food costs down to $56 ($4 a day, per person). I'll do my best to calculate the value of items we already have on-hand, but I won't calculate the costs of each tablespoon of olive oil that we use. Here's a rough idea of what I'll shop for and what I'll cook:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with fruit and almond milk (I'm not sure if coffee fits in the budget, but we're not giving it up)

Snacks: Fruit, yogurt, homemade popcorn, hard-boiled eggs

Lunches: Leftovers and my usual packed lunch (a container of cooked grains, veggies and whatever's handy in the fridge).

Dinners: Chicken, potatoes, and greens; chicken and black bean tacos; frittata; eggs, avocado toast and salad; homemade pizza with greens and sausage and salad; black bean soup

Next week, I will report back on what I spent and how it went.

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