Two People, $12 Per Day For Food

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So yesterday, Mike and I started our annual Hunger Action Week cooking strategy. As part of our agreement, we will eat $12 per day at home, the amount that couples receive on food assistance.

Breakfast: Mike started the day by making bread using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day strategy. Homemade bread is one of the greatest money-saving strategies and the no-knead versions offer the chance to keep the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks, making homemade bread nearly a convenience product. It contains only four ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. Estimated cost per loaf: About 60 cents.

One of my chefs at Le Cordon Bleu once commented that as long as a person can make an omelet, he or she would never go hungry. At about 30 cents for eggs and a dab of oil or butter, it’s hard to beat the nutritional impact of omelet. (Check out this video of Jamie Oliver making the perfect omelet.) We shopped for some of our ingredients in Chinatown on Saturday and found mushrooms on sale for $1.49 per pound and a big package of hothouse cherry tomatoes for $1.50. I made one big omelet with four eggs, split it between us and added in mushrooms and a small handful of cherry tomatoes. Cost: About 60 cents for the eggs, 60 cents worth of mushrooms and 60 cents worth of tomatoes, or $2.20, or $1.10 per serving.

Lunch: Asparagus is seasonal now, and we found it for $2 a pound at our International District grocer. We bought a pound. We used about half of it and paired it with romaine lettuce ($1 for two heads) and handful of frozen peas ($1.69 for a 10 oz. bag) with a simple vinaigrette and crumbled whole wheat crackers on top in lieu of croutons. Cost: $3 for the salad, about $1.50 per serving.

Dinner: Our supermarket had fresh sausages on sale for $5 per pound, so we bought half a pound. (A serving of protein should be about four ounces.) I bought a bag of prepared sauerkraut for $2.15. I browned the sausages and added the sauerkraut. Normally, I’d use a few spices or dark beer to add additional flavor, but we skipped it. Not shown: Two handfuls of steamed kale. Cost: $1.25 for sausage, $1 each for sauerkraut and 60 cents for the kale, so $5.70, or $2.85 each serving.

Total for the day: About $12

Observations: Fresh produce is tricky, and getting good deals requires careful shopping, and in many places, there’s simply no access to such resources. Not to mention, organic? Forget it. It’s worth seeking out farm stands and ethnic grocers for good deals. Even cheap coffee is expensive, so I skipped my morning cup. I opted for a single cup of inexpensive boxed tea, but realized that’s an investment, too, one that I’m not sure I’d make if it meant giving up “real” food. I normally would have added a handful of nuts to the salad for some protein, but I didn’t due to cost. I feel a little guilty that I used my existing oil and vinegars, but I did factor them into the cost of each meal.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. Great ideas for eating on a budget.
    One thing I could add would be looking into the bulk area of the store for wonderful and often overlooked nuts, flours, spices and dried fruits. Often they are cheaper than the pre-packaged products and you control the size you buy and price dependent amount.

  2. Joyce Wilson says:

    Seeing what little you ate, makes me hungry.

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