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The $25 food project finale

She fed her fiance on $25 for a week, and he was well-fed. Sometime he had too much to eat.

By Karen Datko Mar 8, 2010 1:31PM

This guest post comes from Kris at Cheap Healthy Good.


Our project has come to an end. The Husband-Elect, a 6-foot, 205-pound man in his mid-30s, has been successfully fed for a week on $25. Needless to say, we are celebrating with beer.

Thanks to everyone who wrote throughout with suggestions (especially "wosnes" and "CJ"). Your ideas were super helpful, especially during a midweek culinary rut, when my sinuses threatened to take over the world.

Included below is a breakdown of the week: the final numbers, an analysis of what worked and what didn’t, the Husband-Elect’s exit interview, and recipes made over the seven days. I’d love to hear what you think and what you would have done differently.

The numbers:

  • Final cost total: $24.99.
  • Daily cost average: $3.57.
  • Daily calorie average: 2,631 calories.
  • Daily fat average: 86.7 g fat.
  • Daily fiber average: 38.4 g fiber.
  • Daily average prep time: About 48 minutes per day, total.

The fat and fiber are a little higher than recommended, and the calorie intake means he’ll probably lose some weight over the course of a year. I’m satisfied, though still kicking myself for not including protein. Maybe next time.

About the prep time: Staying within a strict budget means you gotta cook at home. For me, 48 minutes a day is worth it. Your mileage may vary, and that’s OK.

The three most unexpected findings:

  • Husband-Elect was always full at the end of the day (sometimes egregiously so). I never thought he would go hungry, but I figured the budget restrictions would mean some deprivation. It wasn’t so.
  • Including produce was tougher than expected. Stating the obvious: When your budget is this limited, fruit and vegetables are expensive, at least compared with a box of pasta. Since produce isn’t very calorie-dense, serving it and still hitting that daily 2,600-calorie number was rough. We managed, but with effort.
  • How much the average adult male eats compared with the average adult female. Honestly? It was eye-opening. At 5 foot 9 inches, I am not a small woman, but the comparative amount of calories, fat, protein and fiber he required blew me away.

About that last part: I have a newfound, monstrous respect for those of you who feed athletes, teenage boys, larger guys, and anyone who requires a lot of calories in general. I shudder to think what this project would have been like using my mountainous younger brother, who makes The Rock look like Steve Buscemi.


What worked out:

  • Starting with a big chunk of meat and stretching it as far as it would go. I used a 3.5-pound pork shoulder over and over -- in tacos, on top of egg noodles, as a breakfast side, in a peanut sauce, etc. It always felt significant, even when it was only a few ounces.
  • Making a big pot of chili at the beginning of the week. Dense, nutritious and filling, the veggie-and-bean dish became the basis for a lot of lunches. I only wish I had used it in more creative ways.
  • Coupons, shopping from the circular, and unexpected discounts. I found fantastic bargains on potatoes, canned tomatoes, dried egg noodles, and organic salad greens. Staying flexible with the plan and keeping an eye out for bargains was vital.
  • Big, healthy breakfasts. They kept Husband-Elect sated for a good chunk of the day, and I didn’t have to scramble to make up the calories later.
  • Baking. Ain’t nothing wrong with a few homemade cookies, which are usually cheaper and always better tasting than store-bought.
  • Starches. Potatoes, pasta, rice, oatmeal -- some not terribly healthy, others outrageously so. But they filled him up for little cost, and it helped.
  • Fruit. Especially bananas. Versatile, cheap, nutritious, portable, readily available. We always have a big bowl, and now I know why.
  • Peanut butter. How did people live before peanut butter? Thank you, George Washington Carver or Mr. Jif or whomever.

What didn't work out:

  • Using too few generics. Tiny flavor differences, huge price differences. Buying house-brand foods would have halved the cost of some dishes.
  • Not allowing for more snacking and grazing. I mentioned this a few days ago, but it’s tough to avoid eating when the urge strikes, whether you’re on a budgetary diet or an actual diet.
  • Low-fat foods. I buy skim milk and 2% cheese, because he can’t tell the difference and I prefer them for myself. When you’re trying to pack in so many calories, these are not helpful. It made me wonder how households manage when one person is trying to lose weight, while the other is eating normally.
  • Canned beans. I should have bought dried. They would have gone much further.
  • Coffee. It’s not terribly expensive, but it has no real nutritional value, either. Two cups on Sunday almost killed my budget.

Exit interview with the Husband-Elect: 

How do you feel? I feel well fed, but I think I was somewhat overfed. During the experiment I felt like dinner was too much, and by the time I got home from work I wanted less more often. With a full breakfast and healthy lunch followed by a hearty dinner, my stomach was bloated each night.

Do you feel like you ate too little, just enough, or too much? I think I ate a little too much. Again, dinner every night was an enormous meal after being filled for much of the day. Fantastic food, but I think I could have had less each night, maybe a smaller dinner with a little healthy snack later. I’m not much of a dessert person, and although it was a nice treat, I wouldn’t want a dessert every night for a week ever again.

What was the best part about the week? I think when you got linked to by Boing Boing and Lifehacker. Also peanut butter spread on banana bread. Yes, I know I’m contradicting my previous dessert statement, but something like that glorious combo is a magical rare treat, not something to toss in to fill out a calorie count. And when I say magical, I mean at least a third-level cleric healing spell magical.

What was the worst part about the week? The worst was being told I could have bacon on Saturday and Sunday, then having that dream ripped away and replaced by something not bacon.

Has it changed any of your opinions on money and food? It certainly has. It’s reminded me that it’s nice to have some cash to treat oneself, and I’m grateful that I can afford a dinner out and a beer sometimes, because I missed them. On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed a home-cooked meal, and this past week I got plenty of them. I also appreciate that YOU love these things so much, so I can enjoy it with you, and stuff my face. Thanks!

What are you going to eat tomorrow? Pizza and beer and nachos and lobster and ostrich. In a slurry. Or maybe sushi. With a salad.

Do you like the shirt I’m wearing? It’s OK. I think you’re much cuter in the plaid blue-and-white number your sister gave you.


These are the foods that got us through the week. Some aren’t terribly healthy, but all are inexpensive and tasty as heck.

A grocery list is forthcoming. In the meantime, readers, I’d love to hear what you have to say. The comment section awaits!

Related reading at Cheap Healthy Good:

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