The average SNAP benefit amount for 2015 is $4.17 per person. Process that for a moment. Divide it among 3 meals and 2 snacks – the Institute of Medicine Committee on Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools recommends that 9% of total calories for school age children be devoted to snacks – and $4.17 translates to less than $1 per person per meal/snack daily. How well can you eat on less than a dollar per meal?
The fact is that it’s not impossible to provide healthy meals for that amount – but doing so can stretch the limits of time, imagination and labor. A good cookbook can help, but so many “budget” cookbooks are uninspiring, to say the least. We went hunting and found five cookbooks geared toward making healthy, attractive meals on a budget that are beautiful, inspiring and treat food with the love and dignity every family deserves. Enjoy!
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day
Cheap food can be beautiful. That’s the premise behind Leanne Brown’s cookbook, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. Brown created the book specifically for low income families, and used the $4 figure to tie it to the typical SNAP budget. It’s beautifully illustrated and set, and is available as a free PDF download at the link above.
Because she is passionate about people being able to eat well, Brown originally provided Good and Cheap as a free PDF, but its popularity prompted her to start a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for its first printing. The book is now in its second edition. The first edition is still available free, and Brown is offering the latest edition on the TOMS model – for every copy purchased, she donates a copy for distribution to low income families.
Cheap Eats is a cookbook of easy, tasty and economical meals compiled by the Heart Foundation of New Zealand. Like Good and Cheap, it’s available as a free PDF download. Its price point is $2.50 per serving, so it’s not quite as economical as Brown’s book, but the recipes are still quite affordable. In addition to tasty treats like Vegetable Curry and Squash and Potato Soup, Cheap Eats includes lots of hints and tips on buying and storing food, and every recipe includes nutrition data to help you plan your meals.
The one thing to keep in mind is that the measurements in these recipes use the metric system, but it’s easy to find a good metric converter for recipes online – and many of the recipes translate perfectly without the need for conversion. As an added bonus, all of the recipes are heart-healthy.
Also from the Heart Foundation of New Zealand, Affordable Eats sets the bar at $3 per serving – but many of the recipes are much, much cheaper. The recipes in this one are a bit more sophisticated than Cheap Eats, and the pictures and organization are a feast for the eyes. The book includes a full-page list of all the ingredients used in all the recipes, making it easy to evaluate your cupboard, and most recipes include suggestions for substitutions and variations.
Some of our favorite picks from this cookbook include Chicken and Lime Vermicelli, Thai Fish Cakes and Pumpkin Risotto.
Eating Well Budget Dinner Recipes
Asparagus Goat Cheese Souffles? Grilled Cheese with Chiles? Tomato Corn Pie? On a budget? Really? EatingWell Favorite Budget Dinner Recipes is available as a free download from EatingWell’s website – but they do ask you to sign up for their mailing list. You can clear the check boxes for all the newsletters – or sign up for their Daily Recipe, which is almost always delicious and healthy.
Each recipe lists the cost per serving, and many of them are under $2 – a few are even less than a dollar, making this an absolute bargain – especially for free.
The National Gourmet Institute’s $5 Dinners is another free download for signup deal, and their definition of “cheap” is pretty generous at $5 or less per serving. That said, this beautiful cookbook contains lots of meals that are considerably cheaper, and it relies heavily on fresh, delicious produce like that available at the Farmers Markets throughout Worcester.
If recipes like Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Peach Salsa and Spinach or Cold Sesame Avocado Soba Noodle Salad make your mouth water, this is a recipe book you want on your shelf. Keep in mind that the $5 price limit applies to the full meal, and many of the individual dishes stand well on their own – and cost considerably less.