HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


The eating healthy for $3 a day challenge … help

I need ideas for eating healthy for three dollars a day.

The healthy part is the challenge.

No salt-laden cream soups in casseroles, fatty cheap cold cuts like bologna, hot dogs, dishes bulked up with lots of potatoes or lots of rice, cheap cookies, no Kraft mac n cheese, no Jiffy muffins, etc … can you tell I’ve eaten low on the hog before?

Two things are driving this (more in another link) …
- The SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market … it is NOT only for the wealthy
- Dumb reporters / politicians who take on food stamp challenges

The thing is I don’t often cook. I eat out a lot and what I do make at home is in its pristine state … veggies raw or microwaved, fresh fruit, roasted meat, microwaved fish.

So left up to my own I’d roast a chicken or turkey and live off of that and the soup made from it. I’d boil up the eggs or scramble one in the microwave with some tomatoes or cheese. I’d microwaved sweet potatoes.

I’m hoping for some recipe ideas to make things more interesting … ideas for healthy casseroles, soups, stews, bean dishes like chili given my limited skills.

If there any good websites for healthy recipes, like the Healthy Hillbilly Housewife, that would be a help.

Don’t need any new cookbooks. Don’t have the room. Don’t want to spend the money for a short-time thing. But sure … go ahead … someone else might find those helpful. Keep the healthy in mind. There are tons of starchy casserole books using canned soup. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d like to look at this from a healthier viewpoint.

Will report back in August with the results.

The first link in this post will have the ingredients available for this. The second link the why.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Here are a few of the items that I’d need recipes for.

    Breakfast is set (55 cents)
    Oatmeal with cinnamon & raisins (20 cents)
    Cup of coffee with milk (20 cents)
    Orange (15 cents)

    Unless I eat out, that’s pretty much the only thing I eat now. The fruit changes depending on season.

    Items definitely available:

    - Quaker Old-Fashioned oats ($3 for 42 oz … about 8 cents an oz)
    - Raisins ($1 for 7 oz … about 15 cents an oz)
    - 100 percent fruit juice … apple, strawberry, berry (20 cents cup)
    - oranges (can get 10 lbs for $4 … 35 – 40)
    - summer stone fruit ($1.50 lb)
    - lettuce (60 cents a head)
    - tomatoes (60 cents lb)
    - cucumbers (2 for $1)
    - sweet potatoes (59 – 79 cents lb)
    - red or white potatoes (59 cents lb)
    - limes (10 for $1)
    - onions (50 – 99 cents lb)
    - cabbage (59 cents lb)
    - carrots (59 – 99 cents bunch)
    - misc leafy greens (79 – 1.29 bunch)
    - organic eggs (18 for $1.99)
    - butter (1/2 lb $1.29)
    - red or white wine ($1 - $1.50 per liter)
    - sardines (50 – 75 cents a can)
    - Powdered milk (60 cents a quart)
    - Knox gelatin (25 cents a pack)
    - popcorn ($1 - $1.49 lb)
    - 6oz cans tuna 50 cents - $1.25
    - yogurt - $2 for 32 ounces … decent yogurt on sale like Mountain High.
    - tomato paste – 8 oz 4 for $1
    - Powdered milk – 20 quarts for $13. It just doesn’t matter to me. I don’t drink it straight but use it in cooking and coffee. It saves time going to the market weekly. I can buy it once a month and I’m set.

    Some possible protein options (besides eggs and milk)
    - dried beans (about $1 lb)
    - turkey parts … I saw a nice package of three nice-looking drums for $1.79
    - cottage cheese (16 oz for $1.50 - $2)
    - There are usually meat sales. This week boneless pork loin is $2.47 lb … loin chops $1.79 lb … boneless rump or bottom round $2.99
    - skinless chicken breasts or thighs $1.99
    - whole chicken 99 cents lb.
    - various cheese on sale for about $1.50 for 8 oz. Don’t want to go heavy on the cheese

    52 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Beans & rice, my brother (or sister), beans-n-rice. Assuming that you already have some spices on hand, you need lentils, chickpeas, black beans, red beans, etc. Virtually every culture around the world has some form of bean cookery. And you can get beans way cheaper than $1 pound, if you shop carefully.

      Stop thinking of meat as a protein source, instead use it as a flavoring. Personally, I'd skip the pork & beef sales and buy some good sausage. A little bit of "seasoning meat" goes a long way--just 1/4 pound of good smoked sausage or ham or tasso will flavor a pound of red beans. And well-seasoned lentils need no meat at all (though a dab of butter/ghee is nice).

      Boneless, skinless is a luxury you should skip...buy whole chickens and debone yourself, or roast whole. Those bones & skin make for good stock/soup base. Learn to like dark-meat chicken, as bone-in dark leg/thigh quarters are almost always the cheapest chicken at the grocery.

      My budget grocery list wouldn't include fruit juice (too pricey--just buy fruit & drink water), canned tuna, sardines, tomato paste, or powdered milk. I couldn't live without bacon (used for seasoning, buy by the lb from the deli or shop on sale), fresh garlic, the aforementioned beans, and rice (cheaper than potatoes).

      Is there a salvage grocery store near you? My local salvage grocery sells items rejected by other stores...slightly damaged packaging, incomplete lots of items (one or two cans dented in a whole case of cans will get it rejected by some stores), and closeouts. These salvage places can be a real bargain, but don't wear your nice shoes. The floor is always sticky from some leaking can of something! Ditto for the day-old baked goods store...if you toast the old items, the taste improves greatly.

      1. re: Hungry Celeste

        HC is right about the beans...beans and corn are the components of a perfect protein, article link with recipes below...you might want to make some cornbread to eat with any bean dish you cook up from the cheaper dried beans--cornmeal is ridiculously cheap; heck, you could even make polenta.


        1. re: Hungry Celeste

          Double ditto on the boneless chicken parts. This is one of the biggest scams in all of meatmarketdom. Deboning and skinning breasts is a cinch and thigs are easy to skin but more promblematic to bone....doable, though.

          Also ditto on the sausage. Ham hocks, smoked turkey parts and sausages are GREAT for flavoring beans or barley or pasta - soups, sauces, etc.

          Making your own LayBittbread will also save money and take hardly any time.

          1. re: Hungry Celeste

            Good call on the Salvage stores... There is a Grocery Outlet in Berkeley... keeps many a starving student alive...



          2. re: rworange

            Dried beans are much cheaper than canned beans. Pick up some garbanzos, navy beans, and cannellini for soups, stews, salads and purees.

            1. re: yehfromthebay

              Homecooked beans also freeze VERY well...


              1. re: yehfromthebay

                Go to a Mexican mercado and get a bag of black beans, a big cheap package of corn tortillas (keep in the freezer) and a bottle of Tapatio salsa picante. You can live off of tacos and beans as cheaply as just about anything.

              2. re: rworange

                I'd suggest taking the red or white wine off your 'definitely available' list. When I was on a tight budget that was the first thing I dropped and, since these are our theoretical tax dollars you're spending, I'd personally rather see you use that couple of bucks to upgrade your head lettuce to spinach. ;>)

                1. re: creativeusername

                  You know, I'd definately take it off if it wasn't $1 a liter.

                  I made some wonderful merlot fresh peach jello ... 1 fresh peach (25 cents), Knox packet (25 cents), berry juice (20 cents) 1 cup merlot (25 cents) ... four servings at less than 25 cents a serving.

                  Also, for 25 cents a glass with dinner ... and the supposed health benefits of red wine ... seems wothwhile.

                  Also, it would be a nice addition to a stew to punch up the flavor at a minimal price.

                  1. re: creativeusername

                    Ewwww! This is a pretty harsh attitude. Poor folks shouldn't have wine cause we're paying for it. Since RWO is a regular contributor to Chowhound boards, I figure she's not going to skimp on nutrition so she can have a few swigs of Night Train.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      You can't use food assistance money ("food stamps", which are really $$ on a plastic debit card these days) to purchase alcohol.

                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                        Yep, I'm not really trying to do foods only allowed by WIC. I just want to keep it in the price-range of $3 per day. Someone limited to food stamps would have to substitute some other bererage or pay for it out of pocket.

                      2. re: oakjoan

                        Night Train? No, I think I'll stick with my "budget mamosa".

                        Tang and Champale.

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          Couldn't agree more, the audacity! Have they not even considered 'la paradoix le francais'?!

                        2. re: creativeusername

                          Though I sometimes skip the wine myself if I'm watching my grocery spending, I find a small glass of wine with dinner really helps make the meal satisfying and discourages me from going for seconds--instead I finish my wine. So from that standpoint, I would keep it ...

                          When I was in college, I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I would buy raspberry jam, chunky peanut butter, and tasty whole grain bread. Also ate a lot of turkey sandwiches from a whole smoked breast. (I won't mention the ramen since you are eating healthy ... :) Spaghetti is a good option, tuna noodle casserole ... the bulk section should be your friend for all kinds of things. Fried rice is good, vegetarian or with a bit of meat ...

                          1. re: foiegras

                            I almost hate to recommend them, but you can actually do lots of stuff with ramen noodles. Watch for the sale where you can get ten packages for a buck. You can make a pizza on top of ramen noodles--put the noodles in a greased cast-iron skillet and top with tomato sauce, cheese, and veggies or whatever else you want to put on there. (But you have to wait till the sale, because quite frequently--at least here--you can get Jiffy pizza crust mixes for 50 cents apiece.)

                            1. re: revsharkie

                              Yeah, I want to skip the usual fill-up on the cheap unhealthy stuff like ramen. I'm really debating about the whole pizza issue. I guess the thing is that one doesn't have to eat high-carb, high-fat, high-unatural ingrediants to eat inexpensively. I'm trying to decide about including sandwiches, though I probably will since I can get high-quality bread 1/2 off at the end of the day at a few bakeries. I guess everything in moderation is ok so a sandwich every now and then would fit in well ... as long as it is not a bologna with mayo type of thing.

                              1. re: rworange

                                I think an occasional pizza is a good thing: it's healthy, done right, and it's fun--and it seems to me that for a person who's trying to get by in grinding poverty, a little inexpensive fun now and then can't be a bad thing. IMHO, that's one thing that folks who set up programs to help people in poverty don't think of: human beings need food and shelter to survive, but we also need beauty and laughter.

                                1. re: revsharkie

                                  That's so well put, revsharkie. As someone who adores food yet needs to live thriftily, I couldn't agree more with that statement -- "we also need beauty and laughter."
                                  Plus, you're so right -- there is something so delightful about pulling a steaming, golden-crusted home-baked pizza from the oven and sitting down to savor each bite. I watch my grocery bill like a hawk, and I delight in preparing pizza (from scratch! - dough, sauce, and all) about once a week. My sweety and I love our pizza nights. rworange, you can bake a healthier crust by adding some cornmeal or whole wheat, and pile the veggies atop. You could make a pesto (from basil, arugula, spinach) or a light fresh tomato sauce, or a drizzle a little garlic oil atop. Try eggplant and tomatoes with just light cheese and the garlic oil.

                                2. re: rworange

                                  The ramen that is loaded with fat, particularly hydrogenated vegetable oil, should definitely be avoided, but I have been lucky to find healthier options, including organic ramen with no added fat. I like to cook some kimchi, cabbage, mushrooms, zucchini, garlic, etc. in a pot, sometimes adding a can of tuna or some smoked ham, and then boil some ramen with it for the last couple of minutes of cooking, which makes a much healthier and also more enjoyable noodle soup.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Can you afford wheat flour?

                                    TJ's has a whole wheat pizza dough for $1. I usually split it into 2 pizzas big enough to feed my husband and I sometimes with a salad on the side. I really don't think it's that unhealthy, esp. if you moderate the cheese. In my situation I add a small amt of hard cheese like pecorino for flavor, not sure if you can afford it..maybe some pepper or good tomatoes to sub.

                            2. re: rworange

                              Where the heck do you find red wine for $1 a liter? In MN, even the cheapest most awful wine is stil at least $5-6 a bottle....Or I'm shopping in the wrong places....
                              I'm not a wine snob, but sure would like to try that $1 bottle just to try it.

                              1. re: nieves

                                Yes, WHERE are you buying such inexpensive wine? Unless making your own, perhaps?

                                  1. re: choctastic

                                    amazing! Thank you! We have Albertson's here in SW Florida but I don't think I've ever seen boxed wines there...will have to check it out just to see!

                                  2. re: Val

                                    Grocery Outlet. Recently they had Fish Eye and King Fish for that price. Actually one of those was 75 cents a liter.

                                    There were two posters ... Just Larry ... Bernardo ... that did reports about 99 cent stores & wine where they lived

                                    I never even knew those stores sold wine. But the point is that checking out those bargain stores might actually yeild some bargains.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      99 cent stores in the Los Angeles area have an amazing variety of canned and at times, fresh food in addition to the wines that are sold at some stores as Just Larry has often given us the Heads Up. Good source of cheap food too is the Mercado in East Los Angeles (East Los) in the Target shopping center on Whittier east of Atlantic - amazing prices on vegetables. Same goes for other ethnic markets, 99 market and Korean markets.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Ditto on the 99Cent store recs, assuming you have one reasonably close by.
                                        No need at all to give up on red wine, at this moment they have some Tavernello (Italian) box wine (1 L merlot, sangiovese, nero d'sumpin) and Queen of Hearts (1.75L merlot). A review would probably use the phrase 'one dimensional' but you get what you pay for...

                                  3. re: rworange

                                    Orange mashed sweet potatoes. Just google it and pick a recipe.

                                    Carrot-raisin salad is a southern staple.

                                    Make salsas/picos with tomatoes or tomatillos. Dress up eggs. Make stacked enchiladas with leftover meats and use blendered salsas as a sauce.

                                    Make the yogurt into a sauce with lime and spices (tumeric, coriander, cumin) for meat or grated potato and pea pancakes.

                                    Crisps with your stone fruit, orange juice, reduced sweet fruit juice and a crumbled oat topping. The next couple of days mix with yogurt like fruit at the bottom yogurt.

                                    Also try frozen veggies - they are super cheap, easy and healthy. Corn and peas are always in my freezer for adding to stuff.

                                    At the farmer's market right now squash is really cheap. Try zucchini bread with orange and carrot in there too, heat it a little in the microwave 20 sec and top w/low-fat cream cheese. You could alternate that for breakfast with the oatmeal - it freezes.

                                    Powdered milk is good for making hot chocolate, saw Alton do it on FN.

                                    1. re: LaurenTX2CA

                                      Great hints ... thanks !!!

                                      Given it is summer, I'll probably pass on the frozen veggies, though I would take advantage of them in the winter. Green Giant or someone has some new veggies that are pure veggies ... I have a coupon.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Frozen peas, I'm telling you...and maybe frozen spinach too (quiche is a good way to use eggs). They're really cheap. Corn is a summer crop, true.

                                        Some other stuff I remembered...

                                        use the cheap wine:
                                        coq au vin (can modify to use just dark meat)
                                        braised beef shortribs
                                        white wine poached fish (add halved grapes if you have them - yum)

                                        think cajun:
                                        red beans n rice
                                        bread pudding
                                        rice pudding

                                        think texan:
                                        chili and cornbread
                                        homemade tamales...if you have all day...

                                    2. re: rworange

                                      Definitely sweet'n'sour cabbage with either sale meat meatballs or lentil and rice meatballs.

                                      I love stewed lentils w/ spice over brown rice.

                                      Sweet potato fries w/ a spiced chili-lime yogurt sauce.

                                      Cottage cheese mixed w/ salsa


                                      Oatmeal pancakes... oatmeal, eggs (whites), cinnamon... cook

                                      Frozen fruit smoothies (freeze fruit and mix w/ ice and a little yogurt and/or cottage cheese for protein)

                                      Buy dried beans and soak to reconsitute, the make bean salads

                                      Look for tofu on sale as well

                                      Popcorn with cajun jerk seasoning on it; or, mix it with some fruit and yogurt, then freeze for ice creamy popcorn balls (so unrefined, but I love 'em)!

                                      Sometimes the 99 cent store has some great surprising stuff... like Butterball Turkey or other name brand stuff

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Buying oatmeal in bulk is also cheaper than your listed price. If you buy steel cut oatmeal in bulk, its cheaper than the more processed oatmeal, better for you and you seem to get more bang for your buck. I've bought steel cut oatmeal for 39 cents a pound before, and cooking 3 cups of dried oatmeal will last you at least a week. Also freezes well.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          Hey K,

                                          A couple of ideas.... make sure that you get organic produce for things high up on the pesticide scale like stone fruit, and make sure you get some deep green colored vegetables as there aren't much on your list. Frozen spinach can be a good deal... you can make a curry of onions, tomato, yogurt & spices and simmer the spinach in it.... and make enough for several meals.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            hey but cheap, frozen spinach is really high on the pesticide scale-- should buy fresh/organic spinach if pesticides are a concern.

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              Pesticide residues in frozen foods are well monitored. You'd have to be in China, i guess, to get frozen pesticides.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                i'm not trying to get too off topic, but there is a lot of evidence that despite the regs, there is quite a bit of pesticide residue in frozen foods:

                                                see the seven highest TI values in frozen foods, including frozen spinach, 6th paragraph down


                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  People who have $3 a day just care about filling their bellies NOW, not getting cancer later.

                                                  Pesticide residues, GMO's and trans fats are worries of the world's rich.

                                                  1. re: LaurenTX2CA

                                                    wow. i live below the poverty line but i keep myself well informed about the effects of pesticide residues. i also care about many things besides filling my belly. when you are poor and the bills are due, it is true that you have a different set of priorities; but i think it's a mistake to say that there are health related issues unique to any social class. it's also a mistake to think that because people are poor that they are also ignorant or uneducated.

                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                      I'm sure you're right in lots of cases soupkitten, especially in America where people are less prone to actually go hungry.

                                                      I guess what I meant was that on a worldwide scale people are not always going to be ABLE to care about these things...GMO's are really popular in developing countries, and increasing yields from pesticides is important to the bottom line, etc.

                                                      1. re: LaurenTX2CA

                                                        some people are very informed about food and they are poor, some are shockingly ignorant and they are rich, it's funny, really.

                                                        i can often get organic spinach and other greens very cheaply in the summer. if it is winter, if my options are between pricey organic greens or frozen spinach that i may not want to feed to my family, i'll often make a decision to go for a third option-- buy some conventionally grown, low ti count kale or bok choi greens, for example. again it depends on priorities, and there is often a third option between the so-called "ideal" of organic and the mass-produced mass consumed "froze-food." it helps if you have some basic cooking skills and can change your meal plan based on what is available/what you will settle for/what is in the box the nice lady at the church gave you.

                                                        as for sustainable, clean food for people of all social classes, an awful lot of people are working on that, & there are a lot more urban youth learning about gardening and farming these days as opposed to 20 years ago. i remain optimistic.

                                                        i really like this website/book, with recipes and shopping lists for people with tight food budgets to eat well (fresh & from scratch) & sustainably. maybe the op can find a copy of the book at the library, it's quite informative and well researched and the recipes are good.


                                          2. re: rworange

                                            Don't laugh- pizza dough. I knew some starving artists who lived on pizza dough in the 60's You can buy dough at most markets or from pizza places and it's cheap. Roll out a pie, paint with some tomato paste, arrange some sliced tomatoes and maybe some cooked onions and sprinkle with cheese (and herbs) and bake.
                                            Italian sausages are a good buy here in southern New England- a little goes a long way on pizza, in pasta sauce or cooked with cabbage, potatoes and onions.
                                            good for you to do this - we probably all should spend less on food. Every time I go into a Whole Foods I go into sticker shock

                                            1. re: ginnyhw

                                              Pizza Dough also freezes really well...


                                              1. re: ginnyhw

                                                Trader Joe's has a very good Whole Wheat Pizza dough for $0.99... it yields a pie of generous proportions.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  The plain is $0.99, The wheat is like $1.20 or something-and it isn't totally whole wheat.

                                                2. re: ginnyhw

                                                  Pizza dough is flour, water, yeast, salt, and oil. I'm sure you can make it yourself for less than the cost at Trader Joe's.

                                                  If you plan to use yeast regularly, buy from Costco. 2 lbs (!) costs ~$4. Share with friends.

                                                  1. re: mattm

                                                    1 lb of SAF instant yeast is $2.59 at Smart & Final. Even 1 lb is way too much for one family especially with the no-knead pizza dough which uses 1/4 tsp per batch.

                                                    I still think the Trader Joe's pizza dough is a great deal though esp if you do pizzas rarely or just want to try it out.

                                                  2. re: ginnyhw

                                                    Why buy pizza dough when you can buy flour & yeast? The whole trick to living well on $3 a day is to make everything yourself. Stop paying for the labor of others and $3 won't be such a challenge. 5 lbs flour = $3.00 packet of yeast = $.50. You can make two months' worth of pizza dough for the $3.50 investment.

                                                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                      That's why there would be economies of scale doing this for longer than a week. If you buy flour, yeast, etc. it would add up but you'd be all set for a long time as bread, pasta, pizza dough, etc. go.

                                                  3. re: rworange

                                                    all the replies i've read so far offer great ideas, but make sure you think outside the box. find ways to use some of the ingredients for more than one meal type.

                                                    rice is the perfect example. if you don't want to eat oatmeal for breakfast EVERY day, you can make yummy breakfast dishes [hot cereals, puddings, casseroles, etc] with rice.

                                                    instead of limiting your beans to stews, salads and the like, you can always use them to make your bean dips/spreads like hummus, black bean dip w/salsa, etc.

                                                    and if you want more protein and you get sick of the usual suspects, consider buying some protein powder. there really are some decent inexpensive ones on the market now, and the stuff is so versatile. mix it into your oatmeal at breakfast...or whip up a smoothie with some frozen fruit.

                                                    and as another poster mentioned, definitely buy things like grains, beans, nuts & seeds in bulk. much cheaper that way.

                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                      Some of my favorite things, not sure of the prices:
                                                      Tuna heated with green chilies (from the can) and onions is good, plain or as a sandwich/wrap.

                                                      Stir fry lots of your favorite veggies together and put on top of a baked potato. Corn, black beans, onion, tomato, broccoli, red/green pepper all work. whatever you have around, all vegetables are good with potatoes.

                                                      Corn grits (polenta) mixed with mozzarella or cheddar (optional). Top with warmed black beans and salsa (or tomatoes) mixed together.

                                                      Corn tortillas are pretty cheap and broil nicely if you want crunchy. Great w/ guacamole (just mix avocado and salsa).

                                                    2. The amount of food assistance will vary from family to family depending on income. Whatever the amount is in most areas it is a monthly amount, but may be weekly in some.

                                                      I didn't see any rice on the list of what's available. Here in WA you can buy 20lbs for around $10.99, sometimes less, sometimes more.
                                                      Also didn't see any flour.

                                                      With the list you gave I can see some simple stir fry, soups, stews, salads, etc.

                                                      I'll take a closer look later and see what I can find recipe wise.

                                                      1. Things like a tomato pomodoro/ purchasing pasta on sale, fresh tomatoes and basil when in season make a really and cheap meal.
                                                        I didn't see pasta, or basil (fresh herbs) and tomato sauce. Are these items you would buy?

                                                        12 Replies
                                                        1. re: chef chicklet

                                                          Pasta I'm up in the air about. It is cheap, but how healthy? It is a cheap filler. Sure for about 3 bucks you can buy tomato sauce and pasta on sale .. but it seems kind of starchy.

                                                          One of the things I've recently learned is that in Mexican markets or the Mexican sections of mainstream supermarkets like Raleys or Albertsons ... you can buy pasta for 33 cents to a high of 51 cents.

                                                          I guess I would prefer recipes on turning tomato paste which is purely tomatoes to sauce ..,. to the canned sauces. The cheaper verisons are heavy on HFCS. Any herbs are fair game as you can buy them cheaply fresh or in bulk.

                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                            I once accidentally - don't ask - made tomato sauce out of a large can of tomato paste. It was disgusting and my various attempts to salvage it failed, so it ended up in the dust bin.

                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                              You have to ensure you get both sufficient nutrients and calories on $3/day. Most of the world resorts to cheap fillers to fill calorie needs. Bread, rice, and pasta all provide calories without lots of simple sugars or saturated fats, which are implicated in health problems like diabetes and heart conditions. As long as you also eat other foods like fruits and vegetables to get your nutrients, there's nothing wrong with eating cheap fillers.

                                                              You can make very simple, healthy sauces without resorting to anything out of a can. You list the fresh tomatoes at 60 cents a pound (which is much cheaper than anything I can find), so they should competitive on price to with paste out of a can. Being summer, there should be good tomatoes; simply cook them down in some olive oil and add spices. Or try a garlic and olive oil sauce.

                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                I would think you do it just like that Kraft mix ;) Just add water & spices. I usually also add a bit of brown sugar to all spaghetti sauces. I haven't done it in awhile, but I used to buy that mix every so often for nostalgic reasons ...

                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                  Good point about Pasta... you can get your pasta fix through Fideo soups with lots of veggies...


                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                    I mostly use tomato paste in pizza sauce. I tweaked the "exquisite pizza sauce" recipe on allrecipes to my taste.

                                                                    --oh my bad i didn't see the part where you wanted to be light on the cheese. I guess pizza is not on the menu, hehe.

                                                                    1. re: choctastic

                                                                      choctastic -- that looks like a cool recipe. I usually add roasted tomatoes to my pizzas. How did you tweak the recipe???

                                                                    2. re: rworange

                                                                      As long as the macaroni you buy is made of durum semolina you will have a very nourishing meal no matter what sauce or vegetables you add. And, don't forget you can add beans, cheese, eggs ( one or all) and have a very nutritious meal in the bargain.

                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                        You could make your own pasta (whole wheat if you were so inclined)... and make tuna casserole.

                                                                        1. re: Emme

                                                                          Yeah, whole wheat pasta is actually very cheap and easy to make, and you can do it without a pasta maker (although it's easier with). There's a very simple recipe in the Goldbecks' American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook, which I'm personally of the opinion that everyone should have--that and the More-with-Less Cookbook.

                                                                        2. re: rworange

                                                                          You can make a tomato sauce for just about the cost of the can of crushed tomatoes. And it takes only slightly more time and skill than opening a jar of ready-made sauce.

                                                                          But pasta does other things too. You can blanch broccoli and cauliflower (in your boiling pasta water), then saute them in some olive oil with garlic, then toss with pasta of your choice. Some vegetables, like green beans, zucchini, spinach, etc., don't need to be blanched first. Add some chickpeas or other beans (straight from the can, or soaked and cooked), to your vegetables and pasta for a good-quality protein.

                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                            Not the cheapest pasta out there, but if you can get Barilla Plus on sale, it contains lots of protein as it's made out of "multi" whole grains and legumes.
                                                                            So I don't feel guilty eating pasta anymore! I too am watching my budget and really getting into beans and brown rice, just made a curried compote out of rhubarb and strawberries with red lentils, and have been eating it on brown rice with yogurt on top all week.

                                                                        3. Don't forget the tofu. It is super cheap ($1 package), and is a good source of protein. Easy to cook - Easiest is to get firm, drain it by wrapping it in a clean towel and weighting it. Cut into cubes, marinade it if desired (easy one is soy sauce and ginger), put it in a pan to saute it until it browns and then you can use in a stir fry. My kids love tofu this way.

                                                                          Eggs are also a really inexpensive source of protein. Think fritatta or omelettes. I have had many friends on WIC (student families). They get massive amounts of milk and eggs, so things like german pancakes/dutch babies (see Cooking Light recipe for a healthier version) were key.

                                                                          Huevos rancheros is easy - corn tortillas (very cheap), black beans (cook from dried, mash with salt, garlic, and chilis), over easy egg, and top with salsa if you don't want to cook, or enchilada sauce, or what I usually do is Muir Glen roasted tomatoes, onions, and chilis.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: jsaimd

                                                                            Yeah! Tofu sauteed with onions and a dash of soy, chili and fish sauce is great.

                                                                          2. http://www.vegparadise.com/recipeinde...

                                                                            That's a good page. It's all for vegetarians, but since veggie protien some of the best and most affordable types out ther, these should help.

                                                                            I also use a lot of egg whites. if you can find a product called eggology, use it! it;s just pasturizaed egg whites.

                                                                            I like to bake cut up eggplant, turnip, zuccini, squash, baby onion and fennel tossed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and squished garlic.

                                                                            Also, do a lot of shopping at ethnic markets, produce is far cheaoer and fresher there.

                                                                            An easy soup:

                                                                            Sautee onions and garlic and leeks in olive oil till golden. Roast a chopped up head of cauliflower in a 425 oven till browned lightly. Throw cauliflower in with onions and stuff. Add a carton of chicken stock. Cook for 20 minutes. Blend in blender or with immersion belnder. Salt and pepper to taste.

                                                                            You can throw in beans and blen, or any roasted favorite veggie. Its great hot or cold!

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Diana

                                                                              Have you ever tried dried egg whites?

                                                                              Deb-El sells something called "Just Whites" It is pasturized dried egg whites. 57 egg whites for $12. That averages about 5 cents per egg white. I am thinking these might be good in a recipe.

                                                                                1. re: Jennalynn

                                                                                  egg whites are the great source of proten, yeah, use fresh ones if you have the time too.

                                                                                  just scramble about a half dozen egg whites and season with some veggies not a bad idea.

                                                                                  and once again, lentils are really a good fast almost fattless source of protein and it's filling. no need to add any animal fat to it. but if you really want add butter.

                                                                                2. re: rworange

                                                                                  Eggology is pastueized, so it lasts, and dried eggwhites are just not as good, in my mind.

                                                                              1. as someone below mentioned, i think, it's a good idea to follow a vegetarian diet in some ways which may be able to save you a load of dough.

                                                                                don't forget lentils, it's like the tofu of the bean world but better. and you can cook it right on it's own (doesn't even have to be an elaborate Indian lentil dish) and season with a little salt, pepper, and chili sauce. or add some butter to it.

                                                                                the eggs are a great idea, you can just use the egg whites from the whole eggs and it'll still be pretty cheap.

                                                                                also, as stated before ethnic supermarkets are great usu. cheap (in the produce section, of course) and you'll get interesting stuff there. just skip the farmer's markets, which i always find to be very expensive.

                                                                                so why the $3 per day?

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                  That's what people on welfare are allotted.

                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                    Please tell me that's $3 a person?

                                                                                2. Would you have to buy spices, oil, the regular staples you'll already have, too? I can't see being able to buy the basic staples and having much money leftover for food. As a one time thing this is much harder than if you could buy in bulk and use it all over a long time, eg. rice, flour will last longer than a week.

                                                                                  1. Shit man I'm in happy land, I love buying cheap and cooking something awesome. The bean advice is spot on...ham hocks, all that stuff...you can also get great flavour with pigs ears, pigs feet, and all the viscerals, heart, kidneys, intestines...so yeah buy hte stuff noone else buys and learn how to cook the cheap cuts...all the best...great thread


                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: kiwichef

                                                                                      Cool ... do you have some recipes for the stuff no one else wants?

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        Beans (legumes) are also great in a salad. I particularly like kidney beans mixed with chopped peppers, celery, carrots, whatever veggies you have that go with the other ingredients, plus some ginger, green onions, soy sauce and sesame oil. V. tasty.

                                                                                        Also, I often buy a whole chicken, simmer it in water with some veggies & bay leaves mixed in to make stock. Then I have the cooked chicken that can be used in burritos, chicken salad sandwiches, pasta dishes, etc., plus a great stock for chicken noodle soup using the leftover bits of chicken from the carcass.

                                                                                        Here are a few other healthy ideas:
                                                                                        - Minestrone soup (also freezes well) and other veggie filled soups, for that matter.
                                                                                        - Curry chicken drumsticks & lentil dal (in particular, the lentils are sooo easy!) Serve with rice.
                                                                                        - Burritos - I use this recipe with home-cooked beans instead of the recommended cans http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                                                                                        - Cabbage rolls - So yummy & healthy
                                                                                        - Stuffed peppers - Ditto
                                                                                        - Frittata - add whatever ingredients you have hanging around, plus a little cheese, and (provided you used some good judgment) it will likely taste great!
                                                                                        - Anything with cabbage - cole slaw, red cabbage cooked with bacon & apples
                                                                                        - Pasta with legumes, (Pasta e Fagioli) And, yes, pasta is reasonably healthy when it is cooked al dente. Much healthier than bread, in most cases.
                                                                                        - Cholent - here's some info. and a recipe http://www.jewishmag.com/43mag/cholen...
                                                                                        - Here's a nice casserole with grains and greens http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                                                                                        - Stir fry - I like ground pork, napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, onion, peppers, carrots, mixed with some sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, etc. Serve on rice.

                                                                                        Can't say I've ever lived that cheap as an adult, but when I was growing up, my single-parent dad really knew how to stretch one (paltry) income, and we ate all kinds of organ meats. Alas, his cooking skills left much to be desired, but with a little effort and courage, you should be able to enjoy them.

                                                                                        And, btw, another way I make meals healthier and less expensive is to use a fraction of the meat called for and bulk it up with the veggies. As another poster mentioned, this makes the meat more a flavouring, and the dish is healthier, too.

                                                                                        It'll be interesting to hear how you do.

                                                                                    2. My blog is full of recipes on that budget, some which may appeal, but I do think I would cook much differently if I had the access to Cali products that you do. Casseroles, stews, soups, and chili are fantastic frugal meals...for the winter. I am afraid you might feel a bit burdened by the project if you eat like this in the summer.

                                                                                      The way to make your project work and still love shopping and eating is to do less detailed planning and take more inspiration from your sources, especially in summer. Find out each market visit what the best bargains are and build your meals around those - vendors worth their salt can give you tips on how to prepare them. As for the healthy part, think of balancing a day or a week rather than balancing meals - it is perfectly OK to eat less protein and vegetables (or - gasp! - none) one day and make up for it the next.


                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: pepper_mil

                                                                                        Thanks. Yes I don't plan on taking a list and shopping off that, but as you suggest to see what the deal of the week is. Knowing of possible recipes that could use some of the food would determine whether I bought a product. There are tons of stands selling inexpensive green leafy Asian vegetables and other than bok choy and bittermelon, I have no idea what to do with them. So no matter what the price, I wouldn't buy them because I wouldn't know what to do with them.

                                                                                        Ferry Plaza vendors are really good about chatting up how to prepare produce. However when going to some markets language skills are not that great and it becomes less clear about how to use some of these items.

                                                                                        Lots of great ideas in this thread. I'm really liking that idea of sweet potatoes with chili lime yogurt topping and ... well, lots of stuff.

                                                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                                                          Hah, yes, I live in China and can definitley relate to the language barrier. I often buy the strange things anyway and then do internet searches after I get home to figure out how to prepare them. If you can do bitter melon I am impressed. The majority of the greens can be sauteed with a little good quality bacon and/or garlic and eaten over rice or grits (|'m going to blog this soon.) Amaranth, if you can find it, with its red and green leaves makes gorgeous salads and can be cooked like spinach (tends to stain everything red though) Kong xin cai (water spinach) and baby bok choi and suey choi are great with the garlic.

                                                                                          I am also making the switch from bacon to dou si (dryish spicy black beans preserved with ginger) that inexpensively add an amazing flavour punch. I am pretty sure you can get these in a Chinatown back in the West but am not sure how $$ they would be.

                                                                                          1. re: pepper_mil

                                                                                            Oh how I miss bitter gourd--stuffed with a pork mixture and steamed. I used to make it in the Philippines after encountering and eating what became my favorite preparation in Canh Tho, Vietnam.

                                                                                            1. re: pepper_mil

                                                                                              pepper mil -- I lived in China, too, but I was warned against cooking fresh vegetables in the area where I lived (Sichuan province, near Chengdu). Locals insisted that produce had been fertilized with human waste and needed to be treated with an elaborate bleach solution. My Mandarin wasn't quite up to figuring out that mystery and I couldn't imagine myself setting up a home chem lab alongside the hot pot on which I would be cooking in my freezing-cold kitchen. Do you encounter this in your area, the need to treat fresh vegetables somehow?

                                                                                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                                                                                Foreign locals or Chinese locals? I hear many crazy stories about what is safe and what is not safe, but still eat everything anyway. I have been known to bleach vegetables, depending on what they are, but don't treat them much different that at home.

                                                                                        2. If you haven't read it, Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything has a lovely essay on "subsistence cuisine." He tried to follow the USDA cheap program and found it awful, but there a couple of great recipes for inexpensive meals that are more gourmet. I remember a swiss chard soup with ricotta or something.

                                                                                          1. Harumi's carrot tuna salad is economical, but the dressing does include dijon mustard. Maybe you could buy French's or a store brand of dijon? The recipe should google up, I think.

                                                                                            1. Depending on whether you need a huge variety...back in grad school when I was limited on funds, I used to make a huge pot of vegetarian chili the first day of the week and have that. The next day, I'd serve it over rice, the next enchiladas, then maybe use it as the base for shepard's pie, w/ pasta as "beef"-a-roni. Leftovers for lunch. I'd find whatever veggies were cheap.

                                                                                              I don't use a recipe for chili but something like this but using dried beans, would be easy. Frozen corn is better than canned.

                                                                                              To see how healthy the meals are, you can try tracking on a free food journal, like www.fitday.com or www.sparkpeople.com. Also, Americans get far too much protein in their diet, in general. You only need 12% of your diet to be protein--one serving of chicken breast would be enough for the day. Also, learn portion size, like a serving of meat is only the size of your palm.

                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                ONE serving of protein per day? I've read and heard that you should have a little protein with each meal, for example sprinkle of chopped walnuts in your oatmeal, some kind of bean or other non-meat protein at lunch, lean meat or more non-meat at dinner. Just wondering out loud, not really taking issue with your statement, though I do agree with you on portion size.

                                                                                                1. re: Val

                                                                                                  One large chicken breast has about 60 grams of protein. The minimum requirement for protein is .25 grams per pound; RDA about .4 grams per pound. For someone weighing 150 pounds, that breaks down to 60 grams. Plus, there is protein in many foods that you don't think of--whole grains for example. A cup of broccoli has almost 3 grams of protein as does a cup of asparagus and a cup of oatmeal. It adds up quickly. It is better to have some with each meal, if you're concerned about glycemic values. It should slow down the increase in blood sugar.

                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                    Are you talking about a chicken breast with skin on?!? An 8 oz cooked chicken breast has under 50 grams of protein...

                                                                                                    FWIW, the trend toward increased amounts of protein in the diet also has to do with diets that notice increased rates of satiety with greater amounts of protein, as well as prolonged feelings of fullness. Higher protein consumption also correlates with fewer cravings. Plus, it takes longer for protein to digest and keeps people full longer than simply high amounts of carbs, particularly simple and/or non-fibrous ones. Myself, I'm never satisfied for a meal that lacks protein. It takes me longer to get full, and I find myself hungrier faster, as well as more apt to crave sweets. A bowl of pasta with some veggies on top? Forget about it.

                                                                                                    1. re: Emme

                                                                                                      also keep in mind that an 8-oz portion consists of the entire breast...most people erroneously refer to a half-breast [the typical one-piece boneless portion you buy in packages or order in a restaurant] as chicken breast.

                                                                                                      1. re: Emme

                                                                                                        I'm not a vegetarian, but eat a bowl of pasta, veggies, and nice imported Parmesan [protein] all the time for dinner (with a small glass of wine) and find it very satisfying ...

                                                                                                  2. You can make really healthy and satisfying vegetable soups for less than $3 per day. I've posted about this before, but it may be worth repeating--it's a basic recipe: Cut up a head of broccoli. Saute an onion and a couple cloves of garlic on medium heat in some oil and/or butter (you don't have to use tons of fat, just a tablespoon or so). When onions are translucent, add your broccoli and some salt and pepper. Add water, stock, or buillon--enough to come about halfway up to the level of the broccoli--you don't want too much. Simmer until broccoli is tender, then mash or blend. Check for seasonings. Add some cream or milk if you like, but I generally don't.

                                                                                                    The thing about this recipe is that it will accomodate loads of vegetables. Don't like broccoli? Try carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, zucchini, watercress, cauliflower, tomato, beets,...and combinations: parsnip and pear, for instance. Or leek and potato. Or carrot and cilantro. Red lentils make a good addition in some cases, and they cook quickly. Use different seasonings: curry works well with sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots. Dill is nice with beets and potatoes. Basil with tomatoes. You don't have to have massive cooking skills. Just experiment. Throw in some bread and you have a meal.

                                                                                                    1. (I didn't read all, so sorry if a repeat) I make spaghetti squash (with some tomatoes, garlic, etc) it's a great inexpensive meal. also, other types of squash work for main courses.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: pamd

                                                                                                        Spaghetti squash is a wonderful healthy alternative if you don't want to load up on pasta. You can make excellent casseroles with spaghetti squash. You might check the original Moosewood out of the library (free!) as Mollie Katzen offers lots of ideas for farm-fresh food, healthy and really quite affordable. I think I'm close to $3 a day, all from scratch, and I use a lot of Katzen's techniques and ideas.

                                                                                                      2. This article might be interesting about someone who has done just that and hints on how to do it:


                                                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                          Great link, chowser! Thank you...I've forwarded it on to eldest son, who is studying to become personal trainer in addition to the job he now has, plus I will keep the link for myself as well.

                                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                                            That was a great story which also covers some of the limitaions some people might have with living on $3 a day ... no basic cooking skills, no car, no stores in the area, no time.

                                                                                                            But the reporter did it intelligently and didn't eat spaghetti and fatty meat balls like the politicians did.

                                                                                                            I still have my little bone to pick with people saying Ferry Plaza is too expensive. One can eat on $21 a day shopping at Ferry Plaza.

                                                                                                            Does anyone have the link to the database mentioned in the article with the 400 recipes. I looked around and couldn't find it. All I could find on the government site was pdf files with less than inspired recipes.

                                                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                                                              21 a day is a lot for meals for one day, granted if you were looking to spend only about 3 bucks per day.

                                                                                                              maybe i mistunderstood. do you mean you can shop at ferry plaza and get all your goods and it will last the whole week, so 21/7days for a grand total of 3 per day.

                                                                                                              if so then the ferry plaza market is not that expensive in fact it's cheap.

                                                                                                              1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                Typo ... $21 week.

                                                                                                                No ... not all food ... just produce that would be included in the $21 total. Could be other stuff like honey, nuts, cheese, meat .. not sure ... will have to see what is available the week I shop.

                                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                  the june taylor stuff seems like it would be out of the question, right, but then the sugar is not necessarily healthy either.

                                                                                                                  the problem is also those $5 pint baskets of strawberries.

                                                                                                                  but if it works please post. and also prices would be great on what you bought and or observed.

                                                                                                                  i should be eating more cost-effectively and healthier myself. thanks for the post.

                                                                                                                  1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                    Oh yeah, June Taylor and the bakeries and places like Frog Hollow are out. However, I can have one swell breakfast that day, sampling the higher priced vendors.

                                                                                                                    However, I've always found McGinnis Ranch one of the best deals at the market especially for berrys and squash. While I wouldn't buy the olive oil on a budget, Sciabica has some rock bottom veggies and fruit. Exquiiste fgs for $2 a pound perosnally picked from their backyard tree. It doesn't mean you have to buy a whole pound either.

                                                                                                                    I might buy a small bottle of Barini Olive Oil which would last me for a couple of months. Chue's Farm has wonderful greens, especially the swiss chard, at great prices. I could buy either a 25 cent honey straw or small bottle of honey from Marshall's ... drizzle the fig with honey, bake ... dessert that you'd spend $7 or more at a local resaurant. Iacopi Farm has wonderful dried beans and good veggies like brocolli and brussel sprouts.

                                                                                                                    They aren't the high-profile vendors that dazzle most people. They are just good-quality, good-priced reliable vendors.

                                                                                                            2. I don't know if it is true everywhere, but the grocery near me puts "old" meat on sale at like 3 in the morning. I've found some real deals on meat this way. Combine that with some of the tricks others have listed, and you can get the flavor without all the cost.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                I make - using a simple South African Portugese recipe, a nice spicy dish of chicken liver peri peri - total cost is about $1.50 - $2 - which makes a meal for two

                                                                                                                buy chicken livers (usually cost = 90 cents) 2 tomato's, one onion. 2 breadrolls.

                                                                                                                marinade livers in bowl in fridge for 2 hours with paprika, peri peri spice, black pepper, Worcester sauce, vinegar, splash of wine (brandy is technically whats needed)

                                                                                                                fry up onion with paprika, when soft, add livers, brown it, then add the remains of marinade and tomato's, simmer it for a while. It starts looking like catfood - but tastes amazing.. pour out onto opened breadrolls. eat.

                                                                                                                Thats a good filling spicy meal, that doesn't touch the fat and water filled bloated white flesh that folks in the US call 'chicken'.. and uses a very tasty part of chicken that most stores and butchers figure is worthless - hence the low prices.

                                                                                                              2. World's Healthiest Foods

                                                                                                                also, love roasted cauliflower.

                                                                                                                1. Start an herb garden. In the bay area, you should be able to grow most anything, even in pots. The easiest herbs to grow are rosemary, mint, and garlic-chives, and basil in the summer. Parsley, thyme, and oregano are not much harder. A few herbs add a lot of flavor and love to the most common foods - and once started, they are free.