Can you eat well on only $4 per day?

by | Oct 5, 2015 | Food | 0 comments

Good and Cheap is a cookbook that recently went viral because of its unique vision. Its author, Leanne Brown, created it for her master’s degree, and it’s available online as a free PDF. On her website, Brown describes her aim to provide a variety of nutritious, tasty recipes for people on limited budgets. In the cookbook, Brown notes that the prices listed on the recipes are simply estimates, and that it’s important to buy produce in season and eat according to which ingredients are cheap during a particular week.

Students are often living on tight budgets, so we decided to try out a few of Brown’s recipes. We wanted to see if we could get the ingredients for roughly the cost estimated in the book, and if the meals would be relatively easy to prepare. Overall, it was a success! Check out the details below.

Coconut Chocolate Cookies (makes 40)

[pullquote]This would have been a really great recipe, had I not messed it up entirely.[/pullquote] After dividing up how much I used of each ingredient, it looks like this batch of about 30 cookies cost me nearly $11, as well as my pride.

There were a lot of ingredients required for this recipe, so it wasn’t entirely surprising that the final cost for the cookies was a bit high. While that’s a little disappointing, my incompetence in the kitchen was the bigger disappointment.

Here’s a fun fact for you: shredded coconut burns at the speed of light. Another fun fact? Apparently gluten-free flour (my choice of substitute for the recipe) doesn’t taste even remotely similar to regular flour. Fun fact number three: it’s probably not a good idea to think you know better than the cookbook and just “throw in a little extra” for certain ingredients.

The result of my foodie frivolity was a plate full of something that almost resembled cookies — had they previously been chewed up and spat back out. My poor choice in flour led to a rather grainy-tasting cookie, and my failure to follow the recipe exactly made those suckers crumble to pieces.

I will say that neither of those things stopped me from eating every last crumb, which tells me that these cookies might have actually been pretty tasty, had I followed the recipe properly.

Recipe’s estimated cost: $10 ($0.25 per serving)

My cost: $11 ($0.37 per serving)

Meal Preperation

Meal Preparation

Banana Pancakes (serves 4)

Banana pancakes seem like a great alternative to regular pancakes, but for the amount of effort and time required for this specific recipe, it hardly seems to be worth the trouble. After mixing all the dry ingredients and then all the wet, you must let the mixture sit for 15 minutes. Original pancakes can be created with the notion that they are quick and easy, especially with all of the one-step pancake mixes at the grocery store.

Although the pancakes were not hard to make, mashing the bananas and mixing them together with the other ingredients made quite a mess.

Banana pancakes aren’t as rare as you might think. [pullquote]There are recipes on the web that call for fewer ingredients and are easier to make.[/pullquote] Some recipes suggest using a blender to mix all the ingredients, meaning no mess or wait time to pour the banana batter onto the hot skillet.

The redeeming quality about these pancakes is that they are quite delicious. You can taste the rich flavour of the bananas, but with the smooth and fluffy consistency of beloved classic pancakes. The recipe was also able to stay true to its frugal premise — it cost only $1.11 per serving, meaning it could easily fit into a $4/day meal plan.

Recipe’s estimated cost: $2.80 ($0.70 per serving)

My cost: $4.44 ($1.11 per serving)

Jacket Sweet Potato (serves 4)

First, I want to clear something up: If you’re North American, what you think of as a yam is likely, in fact, a sweet potato. Yams taste starchy and have rounded ends. If your potato tastes sweet and has pointy ends, it’s a sweet potato. [pullquote]You’re welcome.[/pullquote]

This recipe is super easy to make, so it’s great for nights when you have a lot of studying to do or you need a 45-minute nap before dinner. Wash your potatoes, poke some holes in them, pop them in your pre-heated oven, and set your timer for an hour. That’s pretty much it, because the toppings take only two minutes to prepare.

I baked two potatoes instead of four. Each potato was about the same size as a baking potato, and both were cooked perfectly after an hour. I couldn’t find shallots at the grocery store, so I used green onions instead (tip: chop them up really small to reduce the intensity of their flavour). I doubled the recipe’s recommended amount of sour cream per potato — yum! You can also make your potato into a small meal by adding hearty toppings such as beans, cheese and bacon. Save the leftovers for lunch or supper the next day.

Recipe’s estimated cost: $4.80 ($1.20 per serving)

My cost: $6.28 ($1.57 per serving)

Pasta with Tomato and Eggplant (serves 2)

To be honest, my initial impression of Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day was kind of negative. For instance, Brown ballparks the cost of the Pasta with Eggplant and Tomato recipe alone as being five dollars. Suffice to say I was skeptical.

Nevertheless, I went along with it all and made the Pasta with Tomato and Eggplant. As the groceries came to me, and as the math was done to break down the cost of each ingredient’s amount in the recipe, I found that the dish cost less than Brown said it would. Of course, having parents who know where to find cheap ingredients didn’t hurt.

Making the recipe was simple enough. I cubed the eggplant, minced the garlic and even diced some canned tomatoes. [pullquote]I threw everything together and came out with a rather delicious — albeit surprisingly spicy — meal.[/pullquote]

One grievance I have with the recipe is that it calls for half a pound of dry pasta. When cooked, that comes out to about four cups of pasta, which is a quantity I find slightly terrifying. Granted, I didn’t use a tubular pasta, but I feel the exact shape of the pasta would not change the fact that it was simply too much for two people.

Recipe’s estimated cost: $5 ($2.50 per serving)

My cost: $2.83 ($1.42 per serving)

Ever-Popular Potato Salad (serves 4)

If this meal’s quality is indicative of the other recipes in Good and Cheap, it might be my new favourite cookbook. [pullquote]This potato salad was simple to prepare, and the result was ridiculously tasty.[/pullquote] I was impressed by the way that such a basic dressing could perfectly season the potatoes.

Meal preparation

Meal preparation

I bought a big bag of red potatoes, washed and chopped six of them into quarters, boiled them for about 20 minutes, then drained the water and let them cool slightly. The recipe instructions suggested leaving the potatoes as whole as possible while cooking, then chopping the boiled potatoes into bite-sized pieces afterward. It seemed a little odd, but I went with it and it turned out fine. The sauce was easy-peasy, and I chopped up green onions to throw on top.

If you love potatoes as much as I do, I absolutely recommend trying this recipe!

Recipe’s estimated cost: $3.00 ($0.75 per serving)

My cost: $3.20 ($0.80 per serving)

Green Chili and Cheddar Quesadillas (serves 2)


I’m always looking for cheap, effortless, and delicious recipes to fill my belly. Being a 20-something fourth-year student, my budget is always slowly declining, and splitting a pizza with my roommate can only go so far. It is safe to say that when I heard about a magical tome that is filled with delicious recipes designed to allow a person to eat on $4 per day, I jumped at the opportunity.

Meal preparaton

Meal preparaton

I decided I would have the Green Chili and Cheddar Quesadillas for my late-night meal. After my Monday night class, I headed over to Safeway and gathered the materials. I would need four tortillas, sharp cheddar, green chilies, and fresh cilantro. I snagged a six-pack of tortillas for only $1.49. Next was the sharp cheddar. I had trouble finding pre-shredded cheddar, so I grabbed the smallest block I could find for $4. Ouch. I found a package of Thai green chilies for $2.49. Next was some fresh cilantro for $0.75.

When I got home I chopped up the green chilies and eyeballed ¼ cup over a tortilla. I grated as much cheese as possible and sprinkled it over the tortilla. I topped off the creation with half of the cilantro. The tortilla was put in the oven on medium heat and toasted for one minute on each side — perfection.

I did this two more times and made a triple-decker quesadilla. The cookbook told me to enjoy it with salsa but, alas, I had none. I consider myself a spice machine, so I decided to make a hot sauce concoction with Sriracha, Frank’s RedHot, and Tex-Mex spice mix. It’s amazing how simple the cheese melted to an enjoyable, gooey texture. [pullquote]Definitely tackling these again.[/pullquote] They were cheap and somewhat filling. I might even be adventurous and use meat next time.

Recipe’s estimated cost: $3.50 ($1.75 per serving)

My cost: $5.14 ($2.57 per serving)

Photos by Madison Kerr.

Megan Lockhart

The Griff


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