Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The $25 Food Project Finale: Recipes, Conclusions, and an Exit Interview

Our Project has come to an end. The Husband-Elect, a six-foot, 205-pound man in his mid-30s, has been successfully fed for a week on $25. Needless to say, we are celebrating with beer.

Thanks to everyone who wrote throughout with suggestions (especially wosnes and CJ). Your ideas were super helpful, especially during a mid-week culinary rut, when my sinuses threatened to take over the world.

Included below is a breakdown of the week: the final numbers, an analysis of what worked and what didn’t, the Husband-Elect’s exit interview, and recipes made over the last seven days. I’d love to hear what you think and what you would have done differently.

In the meantime…


Final cost total: $24.99
Daily cost average: $3.57
Daily calorie average: 2631 calories
Daily fat average: 86.7 g fat
Daily fiber average: 38.4 g fiber
Daily average prep time: About 48 minutes per day, total

The fat and fiber are a little higher than recommended, and the calorie intake means he’ll probably lose some weight over the course of a year. I’m satisfied, though still kicking myself for not including protein. Maybe next time.

About the prep time: staying within a strict budget means you gotta cook at home. For me, 48 minutes a day is worth it. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay.


1) Husband-Elect was always full at the end of the day (sometimes egregiously so). I never thought he would go hungry, but I figured the budget restrictions would mean some deprivation. It wasn’t so.

2) Including produce was tougher than expected. Stating the obvious: when your budget is this limited, fruit and vegetables are expensive, at least compared to a box of pasta. Since produce isn’t very calorie dense, serving it and still hitting that daily 2600-calorie number was rough. We managed, but with effort.

3) How much the average adult male eats compared to the average adult female. Honestly? It was eye opening. At 5’ 9”, I am not a small woman, but the comparative amount of calories, fat, protein, and fiber he required blew me away.

About that last part: I have a newfound, monstrous respect for those of you who feed athletes, teenage boys, larger guys, and anyone who requires a lot of calories in general. I shudder to think what this project would have been like using my mountainous younger brother, who makes The Rock look like Steve Buscemi.

  • Starting with a big chunk of meat and stretching it as far as it would go. I used a 3.5-lb pork shoulder over and over: in tacos, on top of egg noodles, as a breakfast side, in a peanut sauce, etc. It always felt significant, even when it was only a few ounces.
  • Making a big pot of chili at the beginning of the week. Dense, nutritious, and filling, the veggie-and-bean dish became the basis for a lot of lunches. I only wish I had used it in more creative ways.
  • Coupons, shopping from the circular, and unexpected discounts. I found fantastic bargains on potatoes, canned tomatoes, dried egg noodles, and organic salad greens. Staying flexible with the plan and keeping an eye out for bargains was vital.
  • Big, healthy breakfasts. They kept Husband-Elect sated for a good chunk of the day, and I didn’t have to scramble to make up the calories later.
  • Baking. Ain’t nothing wrong with a few homemade cookies, which are usually cheaper and always better tasting than store bought.
  • Starches. Potatoes, pasta, rice, oatmeal – some not terribly healthy, others outrageously so. But they filled him up for little cost, and it helped.
  • Fruit. Especially bananas. Versatile, cheap, nutritious, portable, readily available. We always have a big bowl, and now I know why.
  • Peanut butter. How did people live before peanut butter? Thank you, George Washington Carver or Mr. Jif or whomever.

  • Using too few generics. Tiny flavor differences, huge price differences. Buying house brand foods would have halved the cost of some dishes.
  • Not allowing for more snacking and grazing. I mentioned this a few days ago, but it’s tough to avoid eating when the urge strikes, whether you’re on a budgetary diet or an actual diet.
  • Low-fat foods. I buy skim milk and 2% cheese, because he can’t tell the difference and I prefer them for myself. When you’re trying to pack in so many calories, these are not helpful. It made me wonder how households manage when one person is trying to lose weight, while the other is eating normally.
  • Canned beans. I should have bought dried. They would have gone much further.
  • Coffee. It’s not terribly expensive, but it has no real nutritional value, either. Two cups on Sunday almost killed my budget.


How do you feel?
I feel well fed, but I think I was somewhat overfed. During the experiment I felt like dinner was too much, and by the time I got home from work I wanted less more often. With a full breakfast and healthy lunch followed by a hearty dinner, my stomach was bloated each night.

Do you feel like you ate too little, just enough, or too much?
I think I ate a little too much. Again, dinner every night was an enormous meal after being filled for much of the day. Fantastic food, but I think I could have had less each night, maybe a smaller dinner with a little healthy snack later. I’m not much of a dessert person, and although it was a nice treat, I wouldn’t want a dessert every night for a week ever again.

What was the best part about the week?
I think when you got linked to by Boing Boing and Lifehacker. Also peanut butter spread on banana bread. Yes I know I’m contradicting my previous dessert statement, but something like that glorious combo is a magical rare treat, not something to toss in to fill out a calorie count. And when I say magical, I mean at least a third level cleric healing spell magical.

What was the worst part about the week?
The worst was being told I could have bacon on Saturday and Sunday then having that dream ripped away and replaced by something not bacon.

Has it changed any of your opinions on money and food?
It certainly has. It’s reminded me that it’s nice to have some cash to treat oneself, and I’m grateful that I can afford a dinner out and a beer sometimes, because I missed them. On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed a home cooked meal, and this past week I got plenty of them. I also appreciate that YOU love these things so much, so I can enjoy it with you, and stuff my face. Thanks!

What are you going to eat tomorrow?
Pizza and beer and nachos and lobster and ostrich. In a slurry. Or maybe sushi. With a salad.

Do you like the shirt I’m wearing?
It’s ok. I think you’re much cuter in the plaid blue and white number your sister gave you.


These are the foods that got us through the week. Some aren’t terribly healthy, but all are inexpensive and tasty as heck.

Banana Ice Cream with Peanut Butter
Brown Gravy
Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili
Gingersnap Oatmeal
Light Banana Bread
Maple Morning Polenta
Peanut Sauce
Roasted Chickpeas
Slow Cooked Puerto Rican Pork
Traditional Mashed Potatoes
White Bean Dip

A grocery list is forthcoming.


In case you want more details, these posts document every step of the experiment. It's a good thing we own several calculators.

The $25 Food Project: One Man, Seven Days, 21 Meals
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Ask the Internet: $25 Grocery List from Scratch?

In the meantime, readers, I’d love to hear what you have to say. The comment section awaits!

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Stephanie said...

This is amazing. I came here from BoingBoing and am stoked to have found you! I love everything including the title of Husband-Elect and that his favorite part of the week was the publicity.

My husband is 6'5" and I'm 5'9" and neither of us are waifs so this is immensely helpful. When we moved in together it was quite eye opening to realize what kind of portions and calories each of us needed (I gained a few pounds before sorting it all out).

I also can't imagine what it is going to be like when we have teenagers, dear lord that is gonna be a lot of groceries.

T Sapp said...

I found your blog through Lifehacker the other day and now I can't stop reading your older posts. You've got a permanent place on my RSS feed and thank for all the wonderful ideas through the $25 food project. I will definitely be using a plan like this prior to grocery shopping.

Kris said...

Stephanie, I completely hear you. In the olden days, I lived with a guy who was 6'4" and put down Chinese food like it was going out of style. I gained quite a few pounds before realizing that trying to keep up with him was a bad idea.

T Sapp, thank you so much! Welcome to the fold.

KitschenBitsch said...

Congrats and high-fives all around. I'm definitely picking up some of these tips for week two of my $50/week grocery-bills-in-March challenge (that is tanking like a mofo). Good work, and I sit amazed.

MDwebguy said...

Very cool blog, Kris. I also discovered it as a result of the favorable play it received on Boing-Boing, and the content is just what I've been looking for.

My g/f and I are all about inexpensive, low-fat, high-flavor meals, especially if they can be prepared quickly. We're in the middle of reading your list of one-pot meals and I can assure you we will be trying many of them!

My only knock on the site is the photography, which you address in the FAQs.

Keep up the good work and I'll be contributing opinions from time to time!

Anonymous said...

I started to post this on the "ask the internet" post yesterday, but got distracted... Anyway, another option that might work for some inexpensive fresh veggies would be growing your own sprouts. I haven't priced them recently, but things like mung beans and alfalfa seeds used to be very cheap in the bulk bins at health food stores.

Thanks for doing this and posting the results!

Anonymous said...

What's the bacon Saturday/Sunday comment about? Did I miss something?

brannyboilsover said...

Very great post! I would love to attempt this in my family.

Nancy said...

kuddos to both of you for following through on this experiment! i think you did great. you provided a wealth of useful information for many.

made me wonder if my husband who is 6', 200# and exercises like a mad man because he competes in triathlons could manage on this.

Lauren said...

This was an insanely awesome experiment. Congrats! Now I'm wanting to try it myself but I'm not sure I could do it as well!

Shannon Smith said...

Loved this post! First time I've checked you out and I actually found you by somebody on Facebook linking to your 17 ways to stretch one chicken post from I think it said 2009. Anyway, this will become regular reading. Great blog!

Oh yeah and ROFLMBO... "And when I say magical, I mean at least a third level cleric healing spell magical."

Maja said...

Fantastic stuff ! I've read you for about a year and you keep inspiring me. My husband does body building almost daily, so he eats a lot ! Yet he doesn't want to eat high fat foods. Sometimes it's a strugggle trying to find the right thing to cook. I am, on the other hand, trying to lose weight, I have to be flexible and inventive to make sure we both get what we need. But posts like this one are hugely inspiring and I wanted to thank you for it !

Lindsey said...

Kris, congrats on getting such well-earned kudos from some new readers. I've been a longtime reader and am so happy to see this blog doing so well- it's a wonderful resource and it's always apparent that you work hard to make it so.

Kris said...

Thank you guys very, very much, for reading along and for the kind words. Hope we can keep y'all full and happy :)

Daniel said...

Once again, Kris, you bring the world conclusive proof that a healthy diet can be surprisingly inexpensive. Keep spreading the word!!

Casual Kitchen

Sharon said...

I'm so glad I followed the link from Lifehacker. I love your blog! Just one thing. While I'm trying to cook cheap, healthy, good food for my family, my son has Type I diabetes, and we have to count carbohydrate grams. You are giving terrific nutritional information on your recipes, but no carb counts. If you could include those, lots of people would thank you. Me, especially.

Elizabeth said...

It's been a lot fun watching this unfold. My husband and I are both the kind of people who don't fit the 2000 calories a day limit, and it's great to see the reality of keeping satisfied while staying healthy.

Also, Husband-Elect is a funny guy, and I think you're a hoot. You're both lucky to have each other.

Martha said...

Hi! I am feeding a husband and 5(yes five) teenage boys all of whom work hard and play hard. I use many of your ideas, tips,and recipes to survive and feed the 6 of us on $500 a month. Thanks for the great page!

Joanne said...

This is such an interesting post! When I was marathon training I ate ridiculous amounts of food and found it semi hard to stay under my budget (and I'm 5'3" about 110 pounds) so I can only imagine what it would be like for a semi-active person who's a foot taller than I am! I ate tons of peanut butter to get the calories in but it was still rough.

satyricaldude said...

Your blog was linked to me through Metafilter. I am going to steal every last tip from this because I'm 6'3" and 185 lb. I need a lot of calories. I do not need to be very healthy about it. I am tired of spending so damn much money to stay full. I'm tired of the fact that people don't get that nutritional information, for me, is typically inaccurate. Thank you so much for this.

Kris said...


I came here through another blog, I think it was the nourishing gourmet. Anyway, wonderful! This experiment of yours is educational and comprehensive -thank you!I have really enjoyed reading about it.

I cook for a family of 7 and find, with five of them man and boys, it is sometimes a challenge to stay on budget. I am constantly reading up on it, in preparation for when they are all teenagers at once! I may be in the kitchen all day then! Good thing I like to cook.

Kris in Oregon

Texicanwife said...

All I can say is WOW!!! I stayed riveted for your daily posts through all of this, and just re-read them after seeing where you are going to be on The Early Show tomorrow!
Hey... where were you when my five children were all at home??? Now there's just the two of us, and so it's got pretty easy, but whew! you would've been a godsend 20 years ago!
LOVE your blog!!!

janalynch said...

i just found your blog through your articles on and i cannot stop reading. i recently started my own food blog and what you've done here is an inspiration to me. i love this experiment as well! it has me wondering if my husband would be willing to be my test subject for a similar challenge.

Live Rich and Free said...

I just found your blog and I love this idea. I feel like most blogs either focus on healthy food (that's expensive) or cheap food (that's not healthy). We're trying to do both! Also you're right, the dry beans are the way to go:

Amy said...

An unexpected expense has left my family of 4 (with two teens) with a grocery budget of $50 for the next 2 weeks. Thank goodness I found this! I am adding your suggestions to my growing list of cheap meals. The desserts alone will help with after-school munchies and after-dinner homework hungries. Your project will be a real help during a very rough time.

Anonymous said...

You northerners. Please stop calling this "veggie and bean dish" by the name of "chili".

Everyone (well, Wikipedia) knows chili is meat and peppers and not much else. Maybe tomatoes.


My source? I've lived in Texas for 20 years.

Maggie@SquarePennies said...

What a great job you did! With fresh vegetables being so expensive, it helps to grow whatever you can. Even just growing some cherry tomatoes (one of the easiest to grow & they produce so many!) is a good start. Thanks for sharing your experience!

jouyel said...

Its nice to hear about your $25 food project. This type of project people catch lovely because its cost is cheap.