How I Ate Healthy On Less Than $5 A Day

I am embarrassed to admit that I was one of the people who used to say, "It's easy to eat healthy on a budget, you just have to want it!" (I know, cue major eye roll. What was I thinking? )

Well, September is Hunger Action Month, and for two weeks, I ate less than $5 a day. That’s not per meal. That’s for the entire day.

I wanted to gain a stronger understanding of what struggling families go through in order to put food on the table. I figured it would be fairly easy to maintain my lifestyle on this budget, since I've been eating a 90% vegan diet for most of the year.

Turns out it was really hard, even for me, to eat on $5 a day.

I spent $27 bucks in one shot and saved a few extra dollars in case I needed something mid-week. Here’s what I bought for one week:

  • Snow peas (4 servings)
  • Scallions
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • 3 onions
  • Soba
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Split peas
  • Black eyed peas
  • Brown rice
  • Vegetable stock (this was on sale, wee ha!!!! I bought 2 quarts for 3 smackers)
  • Popcorn kernals (this was my splurge item at $1.79, but I miss a snack)
  • Apples (Trader Joe’s on sale a bag for $2.29 10 in the bag)
  • Tortillas
  • Oatmeal
  • 2 lemons

I walked away with more than a few lessons, but here are the top 3.

1. Eating well on a tight budget takes careful planning.

Gone were the days of wandering through the green market and picking up whatever looked fresh and tasty. That’s not to say I didn’t find a great deal or two. My biggest food find was dried beans—better for you than canned, I found that making a big tub of hummus for the week was great for snacks and making a filling veggie wrap. Sure it gets a little repetitive, but it was still tasty.

2. Eating a good breakfast is key.

Making green juice every morning or grabbing one on the run for lunch was out. It didn’t mean I had to eat junk, it meant that I had to plan. Seeing oatmeal on sale was a cause for celebration. Bananas on sale at Trader Joe’s? Huzzah! But getting the day off to a good start is a priority.

3. Michael Pollan is right: Eat food, mostly plants.

While I wasn’t stocking up on fresh veggies every week from the farmers market, I did find some great deals on frozen spinach and kale. These are healthy, cheap and delicious.

After two weeks, I went back to my normal buying patterns. However, I found myself taking a pause. I’m more mindful and a lot more grateful. While I live in an urban area that has access to farmers' markets and grocery stores, that are so many folks who live in food deserts, without transportation or access to fresh food.

There are things that we can all do to help.

1. Donate. There are national programs that help. Check out Feeding America.

2. Donate food to your local food pantry

3. Donate time to your local food pantry or food co-op.

4. Invite someone for a good healthy meal.

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