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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