Enjoy Food

I Tried to Eat Healthy On $4 a Day for One Week

Emily Co  |  March 5, 2020

Eating healthy is a challenge. Inspired by Leanne Browne's "Good and Cheap" cookbook, I tried eating healthy on a budget of $4 a day for seven days.

I got the idea to try eating on a budget of $4 a day after reading the “Good and Cheap” cookbook by Leanne Browne. Her goal was to educate people on very limited food budgets about healthy meals that don’t bust the budget. 

I was intrigued by Browne’s cookbook after hearing about some of her recipes, including jalapeño scones and banana pancakes. The question I had was: Is this cookbook realistic for a person on a limited budget? And if not, what are some ways it could be improved?

Setting the Rules 

Before I started, I set a couple of ground rules for my food experiment. One was to not factor in seasonings in my budget. I would just use what I have at home. Another rule was to not factor in beverages. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford instant coffee, and besides, I mostly drink the free coffee at my office. 

Going Shopping

With a budget of $28 for the whole week, I chose to do my grocery shopping at Target and Safeway. I didn’t have enough money to buy all the ingredients needed for the recipes in Browne’s book. I still ended up going slightly over my budget spending $29.29 on the two grocery shopping trips combined, plus an extra $0.40 on an impulse buy of instant ramen.

Grocery shopping took me much longer than it usually does. I had to calculate everything to make sure it fit the budget, and I had to figure out which recipes I could make with it. Honestly, it gave me decision fatigue as I struggled to figure everything out. This is what I bought:

  • Eggplant
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • A dozen eggs
  • Cucumber
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu
  • Tomatoes
  • Bread
  • A dozen eggs
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Ground pork
  • A can of beans
  • Raspberries

Day 1

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunch: Tomato and eggs

Dinner: Eggplant pasta

Late-night snack: Eggplant pasta

I felt hungry today. Not eating snacks throughout the day was a big change for me. But, I enjoyed my breakfast and lunch. The eggplant pasta, however, was only alright. I skipped the garlic and cheese in the pasta dish because they would have put me over my budget, so I think the dish wasn’t as flavorful as it was meant to be.

Day 2

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunch: Tomato and eggs

Dinner: Eggplant pasta

I had the same meals as on Day 1, but I enjoyed them just as much as the previous day. I’m starting to wonder why I never ate oatmeal for breakfast — I really like it! It’s so simple to make and quite filling. 

Day 3

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raspberries

Lunch: Egg and toast

Dinner: Bean, cucumber, and ground pork burger with tomatoes

I was a huge fan of the raspberries and oatmeal! I think I could eat that everyday. However, I didn’t really care for the burger. I added cucumbers to the meat mixture just to add in some vegetables.

Day 4

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raspberries

Lunch: Eggplant pasta and eggs

Dinner: Bean and ground pork burger with tomatoes

Late-night snack: Raspberries

I realize that I made the mistake of not buying enough vegetables and fruits.

Day 5

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunch: Eggplant pasta and eggs

Dinner: Ground pork, beans, and egg in instant ramen

Late-night snack: Eggs

I was craving something new, and I ended up eating the instant ramen I bought. I tried to make a more complete meal by adding meat and eggs to the ramen.

Day 6

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunch: Eggs and toast

Dinner: Ground pork and bean burger

By now, I was dreading eating the burger again. But the good news: I met up with some friends at a food fair later in the day and stayed on budget by just having water. 

Day 7

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunch: Eggs and toast

Dinner: Tofu, egg and tomato scramble, and broccoli

The recipe for the tofu scramble didn’t exist in the cookbook; I just made it up. I wish I’d used tofu throughout my challenge instead of the ground pork — it tasted so much better. As I was lamenting over missing vegetables, I remembered I had bought frozen broccoli! I heated it up and devoured it. Of course, I wish I had cooked it with something else, like in soup or an omelet.

The Conclusion

My seven-day experiment proved that yes, it is possible to eat healthy on $4 a day.  Sticking to the budget was a bit time-consuming and I didn’t get to eat as many fresh vegetables and fruits as I wanted. But, I actually had quite a bit of food left over that could keep me going for a few more days.

In the introduction of “Good and Cheap,” Browne says that her cookbook is more of a “spark” to get people to pick up healthy cooking skills. It’s a reminder that eating healthy doesn’t have to bust a budget. 

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