Cheapest diet that satisfies nutritional requirements

I am an adult male in his 30’s. I have no dietary restrictions. Any amount of food preparation is ok. A freezer and refrigerator is available. Variety is not necessary.

On any given day what amount of the cheapest food do I have to eat to satisfy my nutritional needs?

Decades ago a came across a scientists paper than answered just this question but I can’t find it for the life of me.

Well, it’ll vary somewhat depending on your location, but it’s generally going to be some combination of grains and legumes for your protein and most of your Calories, some veggies, mostly brassicas, for vitamins, and a bit of whatever the cheapest fat is in your region. You might also add small amounts of spices to make it more palatable: Spices are expensive by weight, but you need such small quantities that they end up being very cheap on a per-serving basis.

Partly, too, it’ll depend on what you mean by “cheap”. For instance, there are a lot of places that give away day-old bread for free: Does that count as cheap, or do you count it by the price the bread would have sold for (it’s usually pretty fancy bread)? What about home-grown garden vegetables? You might spend very little money on them, but they need land and time.

Answers from 8 years ago:

You’re kind of complicating the answer with this line. While I assume your question is simply asking for/about “cheap foods” in terms of what it would cost you to buy them, it can get more complicated.

You can go to homeless shelters and get completely free food… donated/prepared/served by others at no cost at all to you.

You can grow or otherwise make your own food at very little out-of-pocket cost… but that is usually offset by very high time and labour costs; are you omitting those expenses?

My take on this was that he’d be willing to cook. In a lot of these sort of threads, the idea of cooking is a non-starter for many people.

Bean burritos. Add a little salsa, some cheese, and you have fiber, protein, etc. Add some apples and other cheap fruits.

Also soup with legumes or barley: lentils, beans, etc. Get a cheap soup base, boil up a huge pot, warm and eat daily.

Breakfast would be any cheap cereal, something you can buy in large bags, something with some fiber is best.

Throw in a multi-vit and you’re OK.

In a western country it will probably include a lot of potatoes. This guy ate nothing but potatoes for 60 days and was apparently healthier afterwards than before.

Potatoes and whatever green vegetables and grains are cheapest locally. Dry chili, curry powder, fish sauce and soy sauce are cheap seasonings to give some flavour.

In India the cheapest meals are “curry dhal”, rice with curried lentils and some flatbread, people live on it day in and day out with apparently no issues. If you bought in bulk you could prepare curry dhal extremely cheaply almost anywhere in the world. Chuck in a boiled egg every couple of days for extra protein.

Beans and rice is nice.

I just got back from Belize, and beans and rice is what people there eat. On Sunday they add some chicken.

The reddit forums “Meal Prep Sunday” and “Eat CHeap and Healthy” have lot’s of great examples and insights on this.

The consensus seems to be similar to what people are saying here, rice and legumes.

Other options, rice, frozen veggies, and chicken. You can get whole chickens and some cuts for as little as $1 a pound. Other cheap protein includes tuna and cottage cheese.

I try to eat cheaply of late as I’ve been pretty broke. I make a dinner of a tin of baked beans and some rice that costs me about €0.50 per meal. I add spices to make it less bland. I would only ever have this meal once a day but it is pretty tasty and satisfying, especially with the added spices.

And you can vary it a lot by using different spices from different cultures. Mexican Spanish rice and refried beans is a completely different meal from Nepalese daal bhat, despite both being basically the same thing.

The cheapest foods are almost always those bought on sale and/or in bulk.
Dry beans (perhaps from a Mexican grocery)
Rice (perhaps from an Asian grocery)
Olive oil
Whole chickens (and make stock from the carcasses)

But, the question: what amount of the cheapest food do I have to eat to satisfy my nutritional needs?
There are to many variables to answer that directly.
What foods are available cheap to you?
What are your nutrition needs?

What’s olive oil doing on that list? Even the cheapest olive oil will be several times the cost of canola, corn, or soybean, for almost no difference in nutritional value (olive oil might have some micronutrients which are beneficial, but nothing essential).

That diet seems a bit shy on vegetables - add some dandelion greens, which I usually obtain by going out in the yard and getting them for free. I recommend using the leaves before the flowers open, they get tough and bitter after flowering.

If that doesn’t float your boat, add cabbage. It’s cheap and nutritious. Also some potatoes.

You do need cooking oil, but it doesn’t have to be olive oil.

Dandelion greens are amazing, both in flavor and nutrition (looking forward to Easter, when my family traditionally has them), but they’re only in season for a short time each spring, and they require a ridiculous amount of work to clean them.

But yes, there are many other cheap alternatives. Cabbage, chard, kale, and collards all come to mind.

If we’re adding in foraged foods (and we should if we can), stinging nettles are also a good, tasty and nutritious green vegetable. They can be had for about half of the year (they get tough and wiry by the middle of summer, but if you cut them down, they produce fresh growth the same as in spring).

Huh? Just wash them with water, same as with lettuce. Do you pick yours by the roadside?

Yep. I just got chicken thighs for 88 cents.

Unlike most of the suggestions, I base my diet around meat and keep it relatively cheap (I spend less than the food stamp budget for a family) and nutritious.

Back when I was single I did even better, of course. I remember when splurging was a $1 piece of salmon. I once had a roommate who did the whole ramen and dented cans shopping plan, and I think I did better just buying regular food.

From grassy fields, some distance from roads. But it takes about five or six changes of water before the water comes off clean.

Yeah, dandelion greens and spinach are both a pain in the butt to wash clean. Not sure why they pick up so much sand and grit but they do. The stuff you pull out of the ground yourself is much grittier than what you get at the store.