Living on $4: Food

When you are living on nothing but $4 dollars a day, eating a decent diet can almost seem impossible.

Well, guess what? It’s not.

To wit, there are only 4 food “items” that I cannot purchase on that kind of a budget: pre-made meals, alcohol (not that I purchased any before), pre-made drinks, and most kinds of meat.

Out of all the above items, most people will have difficulties with either the first or the last items on the list, so I’m going to give some tip and tricks for omitting those.

For meats:

  • Use eggs. I know that it might sound crazy, but you can get a lot of “meat protein” by eating eggs. On the plus side, they are very easy on the budget (averaging 17¢ per egg here), can go in almost everything, and they are easier on the environment then other forms of meat.
  • For those of you who absolutely have to have their meat, most stores have a “reduced for quick sale” pattern that they follow. One particular store here has a whole section in the meat isle devoted to marked down meat. When you buy this kind of meat, either use it fast or freeze it, that way it won’t spoil and you can lovingly dole it out over the week(s) worth of meals.

For pre-made meals:

  • Cook in large batches. For example, I normally make a week’s worth of rice all at once, and then just stick it in a container in the fridge. While it doesn’t replace the “microwave fast” quickness of pre-made meals, it does significantly (by up to 50%) reduce meal prep time.
  • When you make dinner, make lunch. Because I have classes during the week that all fall right around lunch time, I don’t want to have to scramble to make my lunch before jetting off to class. So when I make dinner, I always make enough for lunch the next day.
  • Also, learn your way around the ingredients. Some ingredients are super fast to make, and you can use them in a lot of things (also known as “staples” in my pantry). Other ingredients, like the squash I had for dinner, can take a long time to cook depending on HOW you cook them. And still others take a blimey long time no matter how you cook them. So knowing your ingredients makes planning meals a lot easier for the day (or week).

Something else that helps: friends and family. In my case, it’s the end of summer, which is harvest time around here. So when friends and family members have extra produce, I ask them to freeze what they can so that I can take it off their hands (read: get free food).

One more hint: Even if you make something that tastes gross (like the coconut butter, basil, and lemon juice squash that I’m having for dinner)… Eat it. Trust me, the experience will force you to identify exactly what it is that tastes gross, and will teach you how to remedy it. Plus you are not wasting food, which means that your budget lasts longer.

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