Four dollars a day per person is a tough food budget for anyone, but if for health or other reasons you are committed to eating all organic it can be a daunting experience. As part of my participating in Hunger Challenge 2010 and spending only $4 a day/person on meals (similar to what someone on food stamps would receive), I decided to plan an "all organic day" to see if I could do so. The answer, was yes, one could eat 100 percent organic, but not without a lot of time shopping and cooking. While there was definitely enough to eat and I was able to create a relatively nutritious meal plan for the day, I kept thinking if I could have only bought some ingredients non-organic I would have had more food (and definitely more chicken) in my day. Another compromise was relying on frozen and canned produce to keep down costs. Even within those constraints I tried to work in fruit, vegetables, fiber, calcium and a little variety.
For Part 1 and more background on the Hunger Challenge, please click here. For what else I've posted on Hunger Challenge 2010 and links, please click here.
Here's my menu plan and costs with some recipe suggestions. All foods used were certified 100 percent organic and were purchased at Whole Foods. (For more on Whole Foods and how to shop for healthy food on the cheap, check out the post on my budget shopping tour.)
Note: Menu plan was based on 4 servings. (So that's leftovers for 1 or a complete meal for a family of 4). Everything was organic. My per person total for the day came out to $3.90. Since I like strong flavors, I would have used that "extra" 10 cents to add some more spice to the corn soup and or the pasta sauce. I utilized "fractionalized" costs on ingredients that I did not use up in total in a recipe. Some are pantry staples, others would be used in other meals on another day (such as the leftover pasta sauce and pasta).
See below the menu and recipes for my lessons learned.
Breakfast -- Oatmeal with Fruit and Yogurt -- 75 cents a serving:
Rolled oats (per serving: 1/2 cup oats in 1 cup boiling water with dash of salt, cook, stirring for about five minutes) served with sliced apple, a drizzle of honey and 2 Tbs. of yogurt per person.
Lunch -- Corn Soup with Bread -- $1.25 a serving
My Hunger Challenge Corn Soup might have been a little less expensive with fresh corn since it's in season, but I wanted to make it a quicker meal. Serve with 1 slice per person of whole wheat bread.
Hunger Challenge Corn Soup
In hindsight, if I had cut out the chicken in the pasta sauce and used beans, I would have put some of the savings into amping up this soup, which but could use some more vegetables or some beans.
1 Tbs. oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. paprika or chili powder (optional)
1 carrot, chopped
4 cups water
1 vegetarian or chicken bullion cube
15-oz. can of corn, drained
8 oz. frozen spinach (1/2 bag, reserve rest for another use)
7 oz. diced tomatoes (1/2 can, reserve rest for another use)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in bottom of soup pot, brown onions and garlic. And optional paprika or chili powder and carrots. Saute for a few minutes. Add water. Bring to simmer. Add bullion cube, stirring until dissolved. Add corn, spinach and tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. Cook until carrots are cooked through. Taste and correct seasonings. If desired, puree part of the soup for a creamy texture.
Snack: -- 1/2 cup per person of non-fat yogurt --- 40 cents per serving
Dinner -- Pasta with Sauce and Bread OR Half of an Apple -- $1.50
This meal was the hardest, I kept having to take out fresh veggies (such as steamed broccoli or a green salad) and reducing the portion of chicken because of the cost of organic meat. Another way to go would have been to skip the meat and use 2 cups of cooked white beans with bulk beans that would have cost a total of 56 cents, a savings of $1.19 over using just the 1/4 pound of chicken in the pasta sauce. I also could have skipped the bread or apple and used a bit more chicken in the recipe.
Pasta with Peppers, Onions and a Hint of Chicken
Pick a pasta sauce with strong seasoning to help flavor the sauce without having to add other herbs or spices.
If you are not going to serve the sliced bread or half of an apple (either with the meal or as an additional snack), you can add an additional chicken or a side of steamed carrots and stay on budget.
1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 small thigh)
1 Tbs. oil
8 oz. frozen red and green pepper and onion mix (1/2 bag, reserve rest for another use)
7 oz diced tomatoes with liquid (reserved from soup recipe)
1 cup pasta sauce (from 25oz. jar, reserve rest for another use)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups cooked whole wheat pasta
Chop chicken very fine. Heat oil over medium high heat in a deep fry pan or wide pot. Saute, stirring until chicken is browned, breaking up any clumps. Add pepper and onion mix, and stir until beginning to defrost. Add tomatoes with their liquid, and pasta sauce. Lower heat to simmer, and cook covered, stirring until the vegetables and sauce are heated through. Serve over pasta. (If using beans, leave out the oil and chicken and add 2 cups cooked beans when you add pasta sauce.)
Lessons learned: I think if I had kept the day vegetarian I would have been able to have more food and more choices (and a more filling lunch), which would have been very much appreciated. Another tact would be to decide which foods were the most important to have kept organic and just looked for high quality alternatives that were not necessarily organic. I was determined to shop in one place (Whole Foods in this case), because many food stamp recipients don't have the wherewithal to go from store to store looking for bargains. One place to look might have been local farmer's markets. Another here in the West is The Grocery Outlet chain, which sometimes has organic canned and packaged goods for very low prices. Overall, though, I thought that Whole Foods was a good choice for accessible one-stop organic shopping, although locally I have several independent food stores that offer good choices. Many regular chain markets now offer some organic choices as well.