Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The $25 Food Project: One Man, Seven Days, 21 Meals

This is the Husband-Elect.

(With Han Solo’s head.)

Over the next week, every single meal he consumes will come from our kitchen. If all goes well, it will cost under $25, total.

He is six-feet-tall, 205 pounds, and in his mid-30s. According to WebMD and a few other sites, he requires around 2600 calories each day. According to the USDA, it’s a little over 3000. I’m going to shoot for somewhere in the middle.

I’m doing this for two reasons:
  1. I’m used to feeding myself, and it ain’t no thang. But being a stunning, brilliant, muscular dude, Husband-Elect’s needs are very different. Once we have a better idea of what he requires in a given week, it’ll help us eat for the rest of our lives.
  2. Writing this blog, I tend to go on all like, “Why don’t people just EAT HEALTHIER? It’s so much CHEAPER and EASIER than they think and blah blah blah presumptivecakes.” With this experiment, I’m (hopefully) putting my money where my keypad is.
As part of the experiment, I’ll post at the end of every day. Husband-Elect will chime in occasionally, as he is erudite and good at words and stuff. Beyond our comments, these entries will include:
  • The content of each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks).
  • The cost of each meal.
  • The time it took to prepare each meal. (And maybe for the dishes? I haven’t decided yet.)
  • The nutritional aspects of each meal. This will definitely include calories, fat, and fiber, which is what we usually list after recipes at CHG. Other than that, I’m not sure.
  • Miscellaneous shopping and prep notes.
Next Wednesday, we’ll do a final tally of cost, time, and nutrition, as well as recipes, a shopping list, and a breakdown of what we learned. It’s gonna be a good time.

Of course, like everyone, we have benefits and drawbacks related to our income, location, space, transportation, etc. The biggest ones are as follows:

  • He’s not a picky eater, except for bottled raspberry dressing. Boy, he hates that.
  • He was a vegetarian for six years in his early-to-mid twenties, and has no problems with beans, produce, or weird soy products. (We’re still going to incorporate meat, though.)
  • We’re both water and occasional coffee drinkers, meaning I don’t have to buy soda or juice.
  • There are two decent supermarkets within a half-mile of my place, and they’re both running pretty sweet sales this week. ($1.49 for 5 lbs potatoes, $0.66 for pasta, etc.)
  • I’m using my pantry, which is well stocked with herbs, spices, vinegars, and oils.
  • We share a small Brooklyn apartment with another couple and their barky little dog. Storage and prep space are extremely minimal.
  • Husband-Elect likes beer. I have no idea how to include this, and it made him tear up a little.
  • I walk to my grocery stores, so I only buy what I can carry. That makes bulk purchases fairly difficult, unless I'm feeling cavalier about my vertebrae.
  • It’s February, which means most fresh produce is out of the picture. I’ll be leaning pretty heavily on frozen veggies.
  • We do not have a dishwasher. Tragic.
  • In the midst of all this, I hafta come up with two new recipes for CHG and Serious Eats. Yoinks.
So far, I can tell you this: it’s Day 1, and I’m already in trouble. I figure we have about $3.55 per day to work with, and I’m going to end up around $4, with nowhere near as many calories as he needs. But more on that later this evening.

Readers, any tips? Have you ever tried anything like this? I’ve done my shopping, but need all the help I can get.


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Anonymous said...

Is that $25 a week just for him? or does it include you also? How did you arrive at the $25 amount? Did you just pull it out of your hat or is there a reason for it? Anyway, good luck! Will be fun to see what you come up with!

KitschenBitsch said...

I know I don't need to scream "Oatmeal for breakfast!" from the rafters to you. :) I do recommend polenta from yellow cornmeal (which is wicked cheap), potato soup (I've got a recipe up), tons of kale (both sauteed with onions and in the kale-polenta pie (which I also have up)), and dressing up grits/polenta with sauteed onions and veggies. This is gonna be awesome! Can't wait to see how it goes. I'll post more ideas as I think of them.

Donna said...

I've done experiments like this many times...on paper, at least. My husband knows I have this weird desire to work out the math in a word document or spreadsheet, and just accepts the fact that I am goofy about cheap/healthy eating.
This is VERY do-able, especially considering you are allowing yourself the pantry spices and condiments to not be included in the overall costs. You know how well this will work out, already, admit it :o)
It's going to be something that includes a whole, home baked chicken; potatoes in various forms; the ever-healthy frozen veggies, well seasoned brown rice and bean dishes (like a mujaderra?); eggs; maybe a kind of home made muffin; home made (read: real) popcorn... Good Gravy! I have REALLY spent too much time contemplating this very subject.
I love these kind of posts! Can't wait to hear what recipe you discover that I can add after you are finished with the week!

Kris said...

Anon, it's just for him. I wanted to see if it would work for someone who requires many more calories than I do. The $25 number came from a food stamp experiment last year. I forget which state it was in. (Maybe one of the "I" ones?)

KB, both oatmeal and polenta are already on the menu! He almost couldn't finish the bowl this morning. It was revelatory.

kat said...

Well, since you already shopped I'm not sure if any of my advice will help, but making one big thing of beans and one big thing of a grain for the entire week will be filling and cheeeaaap. The possibilities are endless- burritos,rice/bean/veggie bowls (with avocado,salsa, cilantro mm), or that bean gratin that I saw on Serious Eats I believe? Also, you can check my site for a quiche recipe, popcorn (which is filling) and a tofu/ketchup concoction:
I don't know, you seem to have your stuff down, since I learn most of my frugality tips from you! Really looking forward to this experiment:)

Anonymous said...

This makes me think of a blog that I used to read:

She went for a month spending just $1 per day (average) on food, and did not use any stockpiled spices or whatnot. Granted, it's much easier for a woman who only eats two meals a day, but it's still an interesting experiment.

When I looked up her website I saw she's got a new project going; spending $100 per month for her food, and at Whole Foods to show it can even be done at a store that's perceived to be expensive.


Anonymous said...

Okay I spend about $100 for a family of 4 every week so it can totally be done. We eat homemade and homecooked meals EVERY day of the week, except for 1 trip to a restaurant a week (so that I can stay sane).

It's pretty easy, buy you meat in bulk that's on sale and eat it different ways all week. Like chicken thighs, grilled they are great on salads, or in wraps. They are also good in pastas and by the end of the week they are great thrown in a burrito with some salsa.

Make enough dinner to have lunch the next day. It's not much more expensive to make two servings versus one serving of food. And tada, lunch ready to go.

Frozen produce is WONDERFUL! It's consistant and usually packaged when the item is the most tasty. You can buy frozen fruits for smoothies, or frozen veggies to stretch out meat based meals. And beans and grains are also great to stretch out a meal while also filling you up.

And finally... soup. Soup is filling, healthy, satisfying when it's cold out.. and best of all... CHEAP!

You totally got this, and you won't even feel like you are restricted.

Anna N said...

I've never tried something like this, but my tendency towards lists and documentation makes it oddly tempting! If I were doing it, I'd go for dried beans with lots of spice variations (eg black eyed pea soup with Indian spices, split pea soup either traditionally spiced or with cardamom). A tip: you can save the bean cooking liquid and freeze it. The next time you cook dried beans for a soup, use the bean liquid instead of water -- it makes the soup thicker and tastier.

Cabbage is usually cheap and lends itself to variety -- you can cook it or eat it raw as a salad/slaw (more filling than lettuce and I think it has more taste). Or you can make a groundnut stew with it (the main ingredients in my version are cabbage, peanut butter, chopped sweet potato, and canned tomato, which are all pretty cheap).

melissa v said...

My husband and I are 4 days away from the end of our annual $56 in February tradition (it used to be an experiment, but that word doesn't apply to year three). I haven't blogged too much about it this year, but there's I have meals and ingredients and all sorts of stuff from last year at this link:

Of course, my husband only weighs 150 - so his caloric needs are way lower than your husband-elect's.

A google spreadsheet really really helps us keep tabs on how much things are. If you want a copy of our current one, that has a food log and some other things, let me know! melissa at vonhinken dot com.

Good luck, but I think you'll find this easier than you think!

De Nueva said...

As a fellow Brooklynite with a heartily eating husband I'm excited to see how this experiment goes!

Ken "College Success" Nubo said...

I second oatmeal for breakfast, I bought 3 bags of oatmeals and still haven't finished it in like 4 weeks.

Also pasta and past sauce.

Cheap fruits, throw in veggie and you're good to go.

$25 for 21 meals is tight but doable.

Good luck :D

Anonymous said...

Exciting project!

One thing I've found helpful for me and my hungry boyfriend is homemade bread - *way* cheaper than buying. Bittman's no-knead recipe is simple simple simple, and we've had great results every time, even when we experiment with different flours (whole wheat, triticale, buckwheat, etc).

A cheap, healthy and yummy way to use up that bread is in marinated tofu sandwiches - just slice and marinate (we do a soy sauce+grated ginger+grated garlic+honey+miso+sometimes sesame oil blend) when you get home from the store, and use the slices all week in the sandwiches, with whatever veggies you please.

Sounds like you're on top of things!

CJ said...

Lentil and rice burritos
potato friattas
corn bread and a mess o greens
red beans and rice
Use powdered milk for cooking and baking
Ramen noodle soup (use leftover meats, vegetables, etc.) Add an egg for more protein
Chili or vegeatarian chii, with corn bread
Polenta with marinara sauce, top with a poached egg )or eggs in purgatory served over polenta. Same thing basically.)
Peanut butter toast for snacking
Home made vegetable and white bean soup with homemade herb bread
White bean and tomato sauce over pasta.
Stuffed baked potatoes (use left over chili, or odd veggies, spinach, etc. sauced up with bachemel)
Vegetable and rice stuffed cabbage rolls
Egg salad sandwiches
Hummus wraps
Cowboy beans (with either ground beef, pork or bacon) and biscuits
Casserole or gratin of potatoes, with ham bits and peas
Tuna casserole
Corn and potato chowder

Staples- carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, potatoes, greens, frozen peas and or corn, beans, rice, canned tomatoes, apples, bananas and maybe oranges if priced right.

Supplement with bargain

CJ said...

Porcipine meatballs (mixed with rice or other grain) with Morrocan spiced coucous and carrots

Chickpea, potato and kale stew

Potato pancakes, saute'd cabbage and apples

Salmon or tuna patties with creamed carrots and peas over biscuits or rice

Asain slaw with ramen, peanuts and shredded chicken (optional)

Rice bowls

Fried rice with green onion (improvise here) egg pancakes

Oven roasted vegetables with pasta and white beans

Dessets- baked apples, apple crumble, fried brown sugar bananas,

Roast a chicken and when cool, pull the meat from the bones to use in varipus recipes, stir fries, etc. Put the carcass in a pot and cover with water. Add seasonings and simmer for soup or stock.

Buy a half pound of Italian sausage. Brown with onions and garlic in olive oil. Add canned tomatoes or sauce, white beans, (extra vegetables if desired- zucchini, green pepper strips, cabbage, etc.) Let simmer. Serve over pasta. If there's leftovers, dilute with bullion, stock or water for soup. Add leftover pasta for a hearty lunch.

If you do have some bargain meats, think of ways to use them for multiple meals.

Forgot to add fresh garlic to the staples list before.

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

Wow, I can't wait to read more about this challenge. I've NEVER done anything like this before. My only advice is to add protein and fiber into whatever you're making for him to make him fill up quicker. I recently started adding things like wheat germ, oats and flax seed in a lot of our meals -- like pancakes, muffins, breads, etc. That has really helped us stretch some meals. Also try using 1/2 the amount of meat and throwing in more veggies like carrots and broccoli (even if you have to puree it in order to get him to eat it). Best of luck!

CJ said...

White bean or garbanzo bean and tuna salad with light garlic viniagrette. Serve with frizzled kale and warm biscuits or garlic bread.


Falafel, hummus, pitas, plain yogurt, cucumber-onion (and maybe if affordable tomato) salad

Chickpea curry, rice

Cauliflower-potato curry, rice, roti or flat bread

Italian wedding soup (add white beans) and home made foccacia

Brown 1/3 pound ground pork with garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, fish sauce, hot pepper flakes, pinch sugar. Add sliced onion, carrots, celery and peas. Thicken with cornstarch for a quick stir fry. Serve with rice.

Oatmeal-apple or oatmeal-banana muffins make tasty to-go breakfast with a hard boiled egg.

Scrambled egg and black bean burritos- breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Refried bean burritos- anytime in my book.

Utilize your grains for pilafs. Pull random canned goods out. ex.- curried pumpkin soup

Good luck with the project and happy eating!

CJ said...

If it fits your budget you could make fresh ricotta to use througout the week. Budget. Treat.

Anonymous said...

Chickpeas! They're cheap and they make falafel, hummus, curry, etc. Vary the diet a bit!

Frank said...

It's not directly related to this, but you mentioned being limited with what you can carry from your grocery store. I am a college student with no car (or drivers license for that matter). Two summers ago I bought one of those granny carts at my local hardware store. It has more than made up for its price with how much I use it. I'm able to buy more in bulk in one trip without breaking my back coming back from the store 10 blocks away.

Anonymous said...

As much as possible, look at how many different ways you can use a few ingredients.

Example: buy one larger bag of carrots (or beans, or meat,etc.), but use them 5 different ways.

Bonus points if you manage to cook a large portion of ___ and use it in two different kinds of meals. (Cook once, eat twice -- and I don't mean just leftovers.)

Anonymous said...

I need more calories than my husband (he needs to lose weight, and I'm a skinny chick). I often cook low-fat, and just add extra fat to my portion - an extra tsp/tbsp of olive/canola oil to soups, grains, a little butter on the oatmeal. It's a cheap way to add calories without changing your basic food plan. Since my meals are mostly vegetarian and low-fat to begin with, adding a moderate amount of fat is a reasonable way to bring up the calorie count.

Good luck. I just found your blog today and I'm interested to see how it goes.

Maja said...

I am so excited about your experiment. And I second Frank's idea about a granny cart. I am 30 and I bought one and it's been great. Sure all my friends laughed at me but it's hot pink colour and in the end it helps me a lot.
Good luck !

Kimberly said...

"presumptivecakes" Haaahaaahaaa! Love it :)

Cool experiment! I look forward to seeing how it goes!

Kris said...

Rachel, I checked out that $100/Whole Foods blog. Very neat. Thanks for the heads up.

Melissa, $56 in a month? I salute you. That's hardcore.

Mandy, I have a bag of wheat germ with nowhere to go, so that's a great idea.

CJ, tremendous. Black bean and egg burritos could be breakfast over the weekend.

Thanks, you guys! Looking forward to reading more of your comments!

Anonymous said...

Hi, don't forget breakfast for dinner is a cheap meal. Either pancakes (banana, corn or apple)
or fritata with all the leftovers in it is great, but you need leftovers first. Just put all your vegetable, meat and cheese leftovers in a simple eggs and milk
mixture and voila you have a cheap meal! Breakfasts that are cheap are
oatmeal, hot grits, biscuits with
pepper gravy, or egg and cheese biscuits, all homemade of course.
Pasta and rice and bean dishes are
usually very inexpensive. Don't forget cabbage is cheap in the winter for a fresh cole slaw for your salad. Corn bread is a great
fill you up bread and cheap if homemade. Homemade pizza is also a
cheap meal. It is easy to make, but you have to watch what toppings you use because that is where the money gets blown. Use
sauteed onion and garlic and leftover bits of meats or veggies for your topping. Think out of the box. One roast chicken can make four meals easily for 2 people. Don't forget to make soup with your bones. Chicken soup and Peanut Butter and jelly sandwiches
from homemade bread or day old bread is filling. Bean soup with corn bread is a very filling meal as well. It will all depend on what you can get him to eat.
Good luck!