This article appeared originally in the February 2014 Levitt Letter.
Stephanie Convey, a nutritionist and nurse practitioner in Lynn, Mass., says eating very inexpensively requires knowledge, planning, and transportation.
Brett equates eating reasonably well on $4 a day to solving a puzzle; it became surprisingly manageable. He didn’t eat out and said “no” to packaged or processed foods and energy bars. He avoided cheap carbohydrates, like white bread and noodles, because they’re empty calories. For caffeine, he carried tea bags (cheaply purchased in bulk). In sum, Brett returned to the days when food was prepared, not ready-to-eat.
Good-value proteins were the diet’s foundation: peanuts and peanut butter (~$2.50 a pound), eggs (20 cents each), and pulses or legumes, like split peas and lentils (~$1 a pound). He rarely ate meats or fish (too expensive).
For healthy carbohydrates, he had oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and whole-wheat bread—which, made at home, cost just over a $1 for a 1½-pound loaf. He ate plenty of bananas (sometimes 20 cents each), frozen peas, corn, and other mixed vegetables for around $1.30 a pound. He also had a cup of milk—about 25 cents—each day.
Not owning a car, Brett took the subway to the bigger supermarkets and hunted aggressively for deals. He avoided perishables and foods that required very much preparation. Dry and frozen foods offered more flexibility. Brett remained in good health, going to the gym three or four times a week. He was never faint or hungry. His doctor said the diet was perfectly healthful and probably better than the way most people eat. So did Donald Hensrud, M.D., the chair of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the editor-in-chief of The Mayo Clinic Diet.
Brett no longer eats for $4 a day, but he remains amazed at how cheaply one can eat well—and mortified at how much he spent needlessly over the years.