Tag Archives: cheap food

Video of our $5 vegetarian food

I make silly videos of almost everything, so I pulled together this pummelvision video of photos Krista took for the $5/person/day project. Are you familiar with pummelvision? I love it because pummelvision does all the work. The only work I have to do is be organized with the photos, and mostly Krista does that for me. It’s great to watch this and re-live the whole month!

If the video moves too fast, you can click through to the photo set and walk down memory lane at your own pace here. And if you missed it when it was happening, you can read all the posts here. I’m still amazed by how the project turned out. We ate some really awesome food for >$5. And now I’m craving some gnocchi.


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The Halfway Mark

We are at the fulcrum! The halfway point! It’s practically downhill from here, right? So far, this project has been both easier and harder than I really expected. Here is some insight from just a few weeks of eating at home. This is my personal list of the three best & worst things about this project. I did not consult Krista or Levi, so they may feel differently.

Three best things so far!

1. Family dinner at the table together every single night.

I admit it. We usually make Family Dinner at The Table happen about 50% of the time. With Krista’s complicated schedule and my occasional late nights at the office, we don’t always make it there. And sometimes it is covered in Projects-In-Progress. Family dinner at the table is really important to both of us, but we are imperfect and don’t always live up to our best intentions. Since the project started, though, we have eaten dinner at the table together every single night for 15 days in a row. We don’t keep a TV in our main living area, so we talk and listen to Cat Stevens records & Girl Talk. We have had some hilarious, gut-splitting conversations, rehashed our days at school & work, discussed food, money and time, and honestly? It has been really nice. The project has renewed my devotion to getting together once a day and breaking bread. Or breaking quinoa, whatever.

2. Sweetness of real food.

This ties into my sugar addiction issue (see below) but I am amazed when my mouth gets adjusted to less preservatives and HFCS and real food starts to taste awesome. I have been a vegetarian for almost two decades, and I have eaten many vegetables out of guilt, obligation or resignation. But this week? I’m excited about carrots in my lunch, possibly because they don’t have to compete with root beer for my attention.

3. We have saved so much money.

Make no bones about it, this was the whole point of the project – padding ye olde money collection – but it is still exciting to see the week roll over & have extra money to put into our savings account. It’s like we got second jobs – both in terms of financial and scheduling implications. In any case, I’m thrilled to feel like we’re closer to our financial goals for 2011.

Three worst things so far!

1. My Sugar Addiction is real.

My heart actually breaks when I look at that photo of a caramel brownie. I thought sugar was like coffee for me. I could take it or leave it; life is better with it but I would be fine without it; I control it, it doesn’t control me, etc. I learned on, oh, Day 3 of the project that is completely not true. Our $5/day project is not sugar-free, but we don’t budget for dessert more than once a week and we don’t add sugar to most of our food. I am on the verge of a sugar crisis breakdown at least once a day. My brain is a parade of confections, which sounds delightful, yes, but it’s actually torture. I’ve had more than one temper tantrum over the state of dessert this month. I’m not proud of it, but honestly? This is really hard for me! I miss sugar so much more than I expected to.

2. I prefer to eat like a restaurant customer.

I’m sort of a picky eater. I will eat a wide variety of food, as you know, since you have seen a parade of my every meal for the last two weeks, but I am a picky eater in that I don’t like to plan ahead and I don’t like to each a “scheduled menu.” I figured out around Day 5 that I like to eat what I want, when I want, as if I were at a restaurant all the time. Planning meals 4 days in advance and then actually eating them? That’s hard for me. Even though we don’t eat restaurant food that often in our normal lives, I prefer flexibility to change our meal plans almost every night of the week at a moment’s notice. This generates extra trips to the store, extra groceries, extra food going to waste. Krista has been good about holding me to our menu plans this month, which I know has not been an easy or fun task for her. I think I’m getting better, though. Yesterday it felt like a relief to have three meals planned and ingredients waiting in the kitchen.

3. It’s a second job.

Of course it takes a lot of time to plan, shop, cook, clean, photograph, blog and calculate every cent of your food for an entire month. I’m not an idiot. I expected that. Both Krista & I work full-time outside our home, and generating three meals a day, often entirely from scratch, is a significant time investment even without photographing, blogging, and all the math. Some of the chores will become habitual and more time-effective, but so far as I know, no one has conquered the problem of how many damn dishes you can generate cooking three meals a day. Levi tries to help, but he gets confused.

Cream of Wheat+Dish Washer

Just kidding. He’s a big help, but he also regularly brings home 3-5 hours of homework a night.

If you usually see our family socially and you’ve been missing us, this is why: It’s like we have second jobs this month! For all the time we’re investing, we are saving money, spending more time together and eating very awesome food. We are creating good habits we will carry through the other 11 months of the year. We will not calculate how much an ounce of coffee costs in February, but we will be conscious of budgeting, planning, and homemade goodness.

And so far, our January kitchen has stayed relatively clean. For all my bellyaching, we’ve washed 90% of our daily dishes the same day they are dirtied. The floor is mopped and the stove top is clean. The sense of accomplishment is fantastic, but it has driven home the point that it’s not easy to eat fantastic, healthy, cheap food for a family with two full-time jobs. We can definitely manage it (especially once we’re done photographing & blogging & calculating), but it’s not as easy as take out. Anyone who says it’s “easy” to work full-time jobs and feed your family healthy food on a tight budget is either lying or deluded. But it’s entirely possible, and more than that I’ve decided it’s entirely worth it.

I’ll revisit my feelings on these matters at the end of the month. In the meantime, send us luck, inspiration and dishwashing elves in the next two weeks.



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cheap & easy hummus

Hummus is popular stuff around these parts. We usually eat it on sandwiches, bagels, or as a dip for cut up veggies. Awhile back I had someone tell me they priced it out and it was cheaper to buy it at the store. I didn’t believe it for a second, but I have always made hummus by dumping a little of this and a little of that until it tastes just right. So I measured it out this time. Well, you tell me, can you get 3 cups of hummus for cheaper than $2.72 at your local store?

Make 3 cups or 48 tablespoons.

one clove garlic, minced $0.01
2 (15.5 ounce) cans chickpeas $1.60
1/4 cup tahini $0.80
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons lemon juice $0.05 (price for bottled)
2 tablespoons olive oil $0.26
salt to taste

Total cost $2.72 or 6 cents per tablespoon.

Directions, puree in a food processor until smooth. If your canned beans are especially dry, you may need to add more water or lemon juice to get the right consistency.

Favorite variations: fold in chopped roasted red bell pepper or your favorite olives.

Of course, my version is designed to be a little lighter and a little cheaper by using water in place of some of the fat. Tahini will be your most expensive ingredient. This price was based on a 16 ounce jar of tahini I found on sale for $5.59. I can usually find it here in Olympia for $6 to $8 for a 16 ounce jar. What’s a jar of tahini run you? Or do you make your own?

Wow, a 6 cent gram of protein? Here’s the complete nutrition breakdown per tablespoon.


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day nine

(Click here for an explanation of the project.)

Here’s what we ate for $4.49 yesterday, January 10, 2011.


8 ounces lowfat plain yogurt with homemade preserves $0.50
banana $0.25


leftover honey baked lentils and baked yam $1.16


2 mini grilled blue cheese and pear sandwiches on raisin bread $1.44
salad mix with jicama and balsamic vinegar and olive oil $0.39


6 ounces stove top espresso with 1/3 cup frothed soy milk $0.07 (still using free coffee beans)
half a pear $0.24
2 clementines $0.44

total $4.49

You might have noticed we are a little bit obsessed with trying new and unusual grilled cheese sandwiches. There was the grilled kimcheese. And then there was my new favorite, the blackberry grilled cheese. I would link you to that recipe, but the site is down. It’s pretty simple: bread with blackberry jam spread on each slice with cheese, scallions, and walnuts in between. PURE MAGIC.

We weren’t sure we could make something as fancy as a grilled blue cheese sandwich happen on $5 a day, but I’d already found pears for cheap so I consulted google and found this recipe. We set out to find a good deal on blue cheese, and no surprise here, it was at the co-op. Then I set out to see how I could make the recipe a little cheaper.

I found that half the cheese the recipe called for looked like plenty. And since I still haven’t priced out butter or vegan margarine I opted for olive oil. I ended up only needing a third of the amount called for when I lightly brushed the bread with olive oil. I love that we are finding ways to make recipes simultaneously cheaper and healthier when my perception of really cheap food has always been Top Ramen and Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Those sandwiches were absolutely decadent, even with the adjustments. And Levi, who is getting increasingly more helpful in the kitchen, took salad duty despite the fact that his initial reaction to the bagged salad was, “I’m scared.”

It didn’t appear to be browning at all so how could I pass on 49 cents and no chopping? Levi dressed it up with some jicama, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. I am usually anti pre-packaged salad mixes, but it was worth it at that price. Another slam dunk dinner for cheap. We are adding stuff to our repertoire left and right here.


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day six

(Click here for an explanation of the project.)

Here’s what we ate for $3.94 yesterday, January 7, 2011.


the last of the peanut butter & banana baked oatmeal $0.43
tiny dollop of homemade blackberry jam (from our preserves)


multigrain bagel $0.47
3 tablespoons low fat green onion cream cheese $0.24
minneola $0.66


southwestern corn frittata $1.24
cabbage, jicama & carrot slaw with lime dressing $0.36


8 ounces plain yogurt with peach lavender preserves $0.50

stovetop espresso with a tablespoon of markdown cream $0.04 (still using the free coffee)

total $3.94

Here’s the breakdown on the dinner ingredients:

8 large eggs $1.36
2 cups bulk organic frozen corn $1.66
1 cup grated cheddar $0.25
4 ounce can diced chiles $1
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro $0.13
4 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas $0.20
1.5 tablespoons olive oil $0.19
1-1/4 cups chopped onion $0.15

We added the diced green chiles since the cheese we had on hand was cheddar, and I do believe it added a lot of flavor to the recipe. We scored a big 2 pound loaf of Tillamook cheddar for $3.99 awhile back and I’m wondering if will last us the entire month.

– It turns out that organic bulk corn from the co-op is significantly more expensive than the cheap grocery store stuff, but boy could we taste the difference. It was so fresh and the sweetness of the corn really gave the frittata a little something extra. Oh, by the way, the dinner was a huge hit.

– On the other hand, limes at the co-op are sold by the pound and end up a little cheaper than the ones we’ve been buying at the grocery store lately.

– We still haven’t scored the organic yogurt we want, but we did manage to snag some 32 ounce containers of plain yogurt on sale for $2. We compared the value to the various 6 ounce individual containers that were on sale. The cheapest containers were 50 cents (cheaper than what we had been eating), but when we looked at the nutrition information they had tons of sugar. All the fabulous high protein, low sugar Greek yogurts cost a lot more. So we went with the big plain tubs and Jess carefully portioned us out 8 ounce containers with our own fruit on the bottom – some of our peach lavender butter. Oh my god, it was amazing.

We confessed to each other that we’d been craving something a little more than almond milk in our coffee, and then lo and behold the marked down cream called out to us at the grocery store. At $1.29 for a pint, it works out to 4 cents a tablespoon.

-In case you were wondering, why yes we do eat a lot of food with a southwestern flair. Also, while I don’t want to be redundant, a lot of what saves money is using up the food we buy. This dinner was inspired by leftover tortillas, eggs, and cabbage.

-I would eat green onions just about everyday if I could. If you haven’t tried adding a bunch of green onions to a package of cream cheese, you should. Our chive plant is officially not able to keep up with our need, so they are sitting this round out. Meanwhile, the dwarf Meyer lemon tree is blooming. Go figure.

-Yes, all this documenting and planning and weighing (and calculating and photographing and blogging) is a ton of work. We look kind of insane when we are shopping with our little pad and pen and my cell phone as a calculator. And standing in front of the olive oil for a full five minutes trying to figure out the best deal and weighing whether or not it is worth a little extra for the extra virgin variety. The answer is yes, we thought it was worth a little extra. And as promised, when a staple ran out we calculated it out: thirteen cents per tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

– Calculating the cost of cilantro = hardcore.

– Today I already noticed a difference in our bank account, and that really surprised and excited me. I look forward to all the money we will save in a month. And we are eating really, really well. I’m also amazed that we not only manage to eat a ton of produce, but we’ve even gotten some organic stuff here and there.


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peanut butter & banana baked oatmeal

In honor of Elvis’ birthday this upcoming Saturday, a PB + banana breakfast. Perhaps if he had lived to be 76 he would be okay with this healthy bastardization of some of his favorite foods. To keep with our $5 a day plan of cheap and healthy, we tried to put just enough peanut butter and sugar to make it delicious.

Best served warm with a little dollop of blackberry jam.

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup organic crunchy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups almond milk (our your milk of choice)
1-1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups mashed (leaving some lumps) ripe banana, about 4 medium bananas
1/4 cup unsalted Spanish peanuts, roughly chopped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prep a 9X13″ baking dish (spray, grease, or line with parchment).

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat eggs, peanut butter, milk, water, and vanilla until smooth. Add the mashed bananas and oat mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. About 5 to 10 minutes into the baking time, when the top of the oatmeal has started to firm up, sprinkle the peanuts on top.

Makes nine 3 X 4-1/3″ servings.

Click here for the complete nutrition info, calculated with the sparkpeople.com recipe calculator.

And the cost per serving? Forty-three cents. Not bad for a filling breakfast that will stick to your ribs.

Here is the cost breakdown:

78 cents for bulk oats, 12 cents of sugar, 34 cents for two eggs, $1 for 4 bananas, 58 cents worth of organic peanut butter*, 75 cents of almond milk, and 27 cents bulk Spanish peanuts.

The ingredients not calculated into the cost: baking powder, water, and vanilla extract.

*We splurged for organic peanut butter since it is supposed to be one the most pesticide-laden foods.


Update: This recipe has turned into a family favorite that we still eat all the time even though we’re no longer limited to $5/day. We have perfected it by using a 1/2 cup peanut butter and cutting it into 12 portions instead of 9.


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day two

(Click here for an explanation of the project.)

Here’s what we ate for $3.64 yesterday, January 3, 2011.


pumpkin & caramelized banana baked oatmeal again, we have 3 days worth $0.37


shahi paneer over a cup of brown rice $1.56
1/2 cup peas (frozen) $0.10


seitan mole chili $1.30
leftover red onion, crema, and cheddar cheese toppings (freebie)

dilly beans (freebie from our home canned goods)


banana $0.25
handful of leftover pretzels (freebie)
leftover coffee with ¼ cup almond milk $0.06

– Hmmm, I’m thinking we didn’t eat enough food for the day. Ultimately we want to calculate nutrition on sparkpeople.com, but we already have a lot to log and calculate for now.
– We’re not off to a great start on day 3 since it appears Levi ran out the door without breakfast, and there is the added challenge of me (Krista) now being on an opposite sleeping schedule from everyone else. However, the oatmeal continues to be a huge hit and everyone agrees it gets a little better each day.

– The seitan mole chile was pretty darn delicious. I adapted a Rachael Ray recipe by substituting a pound of seitan for half the chicken and 2 cans of white beans for the other half. The only freebie ingredients besides spices were the onion and garlic, but hey, that’s the last of our onion stockpile.
– Seitan is not something we buy a lot, but it was another Grocery Outlet score. I found 8oz packages for $1.79 each. Anyone else have an outlet grocery store nearby?
– I discovered my favorite Rapunzel brand vegan bouillon cubes are pricier than I realized at 40 cents a cube. I don’t think I’ll switch back to using the cheaper bulk broth powder that always ends up dried out, and I really hate buying liquid broth that is expensive and puts a lot of packaging in landfills.
– The dilly beans were not exactly a good complement to the chili but Rachael Ray suggested pickled veggies and that was what we had. On their own they are amazing. The one pictured earlier is not actually levitating, but being snatched by our 14 year-old pickle addict.

I’m off to bed. Hopefully I’ll wake up with plenty of time to make it to produce happy hour at our local Thriftway. It’s a once a week situation.


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day one

(Click here for an explanation of the project.)

Here’s what we ate for $4.13 yesterday, January 2, 2011.


pumpkin & caramelized banana baked oatmeal $0.37

egg salad on leftover sprouted bread $0.47
2 large organic carrots $0.19
Fage Greek 2% yogurt $0.62 (half-off dairy markdowns)


shahi paneer over a cup of brown rice $1.56
1 cup peas (frozen) $0.21

organic cameo apple $0.40
banana $0.25
handful of leftover pretzels (freebie)
leftover coffee with ¼ cup almond milk $0.06

Notes and things:

– Here’s the link to the oatmeal recipe again in case you missed it above. We doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9X13″ pan, cutting it into 9 servings instead of 8. They are still plenty big!
– The baked oatmeal was extra cheap for us since we had pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and dates as freebies in our cupboard. We bought almonds for half the nuts/seeds since they were the cheapest nuts. If we didn’t have those ingredients on hand I’d probably halve the nuts and buy bulk raisins.
– Bulk oatmeal works out to under 20 cents a cup (dry)
– We have two favorite store bought brands of bread. Dave’s Killer Bread and Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery. Awhile back we stocked up on those two brands on sale plus big coupons we got at Veg Fest, but we’ll be using up our last loaf this week. Maybe we’ll bake some bread after that? At $4-$5 a loaf we will need cheaper options.
– Since the bread was a freebie the cost for the egg salad sandwich was mainly $0.34 for two eggs and $0.13 for a couple green onions. It was jazzed up with home grown chives (that are not producing so well now that it is winter), homemade pickles, smoked paprika, and a little mayo and spicy brown mustard we already had. Again, if we have to replace something like mayo we will include it in our cost but for now it’s not reflected.
– We’ve been buying local, free range eggs from our Co-op for $1.98/dozen. Organic eggs would be way more expensive. Sometimes we splurge for organic, but our hope is to get chickens this year and feed them organic.
– I scored half gallons of almond milk from Grocery Outlet for $1.99, so it works out to 25 cents a cup.
– We’re pretty sure our organic cameo apples got rung up as not organic somehow, because we had calculated a much higher price of $0.75 per apple and therefore only bought 3. It is going to be hard to get much organic at $5 a day.
– If you know us, you probably know we are obsessed with that shahi paneer. We already had onion, ginger, and garlic, so the cost per serving would go up a tad without those. We actually intended for this to be our final meal before we started the project. It surprised me the ingredients were so cheap. The recipe makes 5 cups, which we split into 6 servings.

There is nothing quite like the smell of paneer frying in your kitchen. The only place we can find paneer in town is the co-op, and we are probably getting an awesome deal on it at $5.01 for just over 14 ounces.

– Our modifications to the Show Me the Curry Shahi Paneer recipe are to use ghee in place of oil to fry the onions and a can of light coconut milk (99 cents at Trader Joe’s) in place of the milk while reducing the water by 1/4 cup. We just don’t usually keep dairy milk in our fridge, and I thought the recipe could eventually be attempted vegan if we were willing to give up the paneer and use cheaper and lighter tofu or tempeh. The gravy is rich with intense flavor, so I think the vegan version would be pretty awesome.


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$5 per person per day

In January of 2009 we challenged ourselves to a month-long project to try out a new recipe every single day for the entire month. Some days it was really fun, and some days cooking was the absolute last thing in the world we wanted to do. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience, and in 2010 we kind of regretted not doing something new. We still cook a lot of the recipes and look back fondly, so in the months leading to 2011 we have talked about wanting to challenge ourselves again.

And then mid-December this Facebook status update happened:

“We just helped Levi plan cheap food for himself for a day for his imaginary budget for health class. For $4.41 he is eating oatmeal, banana, and soy milk for breakfast. Brown rice, beans, cheese, and broccoli for lunch. Apple and yogurt for snacks. Spaghetti, vegetarian meatballs, and peas for dinner. $4.41!”
December 14, 2010 at 9:39pm · · Like · Comment

We were all inspired and agreed that trying to feed our family on $5/person/day would be a good January 2011 project. Even Levi was enthused. We have talked about improving our grocery budgeting for what seems like an eternity. I have been asked in the past how much we spend on groceries, and the answer is “I have no freaking idea.” I even tried to go through bank statements once to figure it out (I know, I need to start using mint.com), but in the end our grocery budget is mixed in with our “everything else” category that includes things like take-out and entertainment and household items.

So, $5 a day. You could be thinking, “OMG, I could never do that.” Or you could be like, “And so?” Maybe you have a meager budget or maybe you spend way, way more than that. We don’t buy a lot of processed food, but we do buy a ton of produce and fancy ingredients for our cooking and drinking exploits. Generally we try to eat out only once per week and each visit the coffee shop once per week. We’ve been pretty successful on the coffee front, but we have gotten really out of control with the eating out. For the month of January we won’t be eating out at all. That alone is going to be a big change around here.

And we don’t want to spend the month of January eating Top Ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese. We want to push ourselves to see exactly how healthy we can eat for $5. As we started to really plan for this, a lot of questions came up. We figured we could approach it one of two ways: take out cash and buy our groceries from that, or calculate the cost per serving and portion our food carefully. We decided on the latter, because if there is anything we need to work on around here it is portions.

Now as we are working out the kinks, we realize it would have been wise to try to clear out the fridge and cupboards during the month of December. That didn’t happen, and we figure those extra ingredients will help us ease into the process. So that can of pumpkin in the cupboard is a freebie, although we may try to calculate something in if it is a particularly expensive ingredient. And the food we so carefully put-up this year is free, but we won’t rely very much on that. Staples and spices will be free, and admittedly we keep a well stocked spice cabinet. But if we have to replace a staple during the month we will try to add that cost in. And of course our garden is another freebie. All we’ve got left at this point is kale, leeks, and a brussels sprouts crop that is looking like we might lose it to bugs.

Dang, I really wanted those brussels sprouts, too.

We allowed ourselves the 1st to celebrate the holiday and have our last meal out. We spent a good chunk of time plotting our first 3 days worth of food and grocery shopped. It was not easy, even though we had already brainstormed a long list of meal ideas. In fact, I wanted to bash my head against a wall repeatedly while I was working up the menu and grocery list after 10 hours at work. And then there was the staying up late to make our breakfast and lunches since I would need to take them to go the next day.

We might be in a little over our heads, but we persevered today. Come back tomorrow to find out what we ate for $4.13 per person!

xo Krista


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