Is it possible to eat well on $4 a day? In a world where Whole Foods charges nearly that much for a bottle of fruit-filled "spa water," the instinct is probably to say, "No."
But author Leanne Brown is out to prove that wrong. And in her cookbook, Good and Cheap, she provides dozens of recipes that show eating well doesn't have to mean spending a lot.
"I really believe that it's cooking and careful attention to detail that makes food delicious, not just budget," Brown says.
The book, which started as her thesis project for a Master's degree in food studies at New York University, was created specifically for people in SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides a budget of about $4 a day. But Brown also says Good and Cheap is a resource for anyone — students, seniors, or those who are just on the edge of qualifying of SNAP — on a budget.
In the book, she provides more than 100 “really, really flexible basic recipes" that are written to leave room for adjustments and creativity.
"I think cookbooks should not only be a wonderful way to make the exact recipe, they should also teach people how to cook," Brown says.
The book includes classic dishes like roast chicken, beef stroganoff, and roasted vegetables, but also some unexpected options such as tofu hot pot, chana masala, and Filipino chicken adobo. It also offers resources like tips for "eating and shopping well," a list of "groceries you won't regret buying," and 12 kitchen tools that Brown says can get pretty much everything done.
Part cookbook and part kitchen primer, it's easy to see why Good and Cheap been so successful this far. And since Brown says it's "the cookbook for people who can’t afford a cookbook," she's adopted the Tom's shoes business model: for every book sold, she donates a book to a family in need. The first version of the book is also available online for free — to date, it's been downloaded more than 800,000 times.
We asked Brown for three simple tips for eating well on a tight budget:
1. Embrace cooking as much as possible.
"I think it’s really important to set yourself up for success from the beginning and that will encourage you to do more," Brown says.
She suggests starting by cooking something you love. If that's pizza, start with pizza; the homemade version will be healthier and cheaper than dining out and you already know you're going to like the outcome.
2. Buy things you can use in multiple ways.
"Eggs are one thing that I really recommend getting," Brown says. "If you have eggs in your fridge – even if it’s really just eggs – you always have a good go-to meal you can come home and have in your mouth within two to five minutes. And everything goes well with eggs."
Brown says building a good pantry is also key to cooking well without spending a lot, so always have items such as olive oil, pasta, spices, and canned vegetables on hand.
3. Start in the fresh produce section.
"I don’t really recommend buying or eating a lot of meat because it is really expensive," she says.
Don't be afraid to let vegetables be the center of the plate, Brown says. Many other cultures use meat as an accent, not the main dish. Plus, vegetables can be quite versatile.
Leanne Brown will be at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix tomorrow, Tuesday, September 17 at 7 p.m. You can purchase Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day for $16.95 at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe or Phoenix or online.
For more information about Leanne Brown or Good and Cheap, visit Leanne Brown's website.