What's the cheapest, nutritionally complete diet?

There are posts all the time from people saying when they were poor they ate ramen, mac and cheese, pb&j, etc. While those things are filling and cheap, I don’t think they’re very good nutritionally. When that’s all you’re eating, it would seem like you’re missing out on a lot of nutrients. I think it would be better if they bought other cheap foods that were better for them.

Is there a guide out there which describes how to have the cheapest diet and still be nutrionally complete? I would imagine it would have rice, beans, legumes, bread, and stuff like that.

Backward UserName! Clever…

I know you can live off of MonkeyChow - though I wouldn’t reccomend it.

How about Campbell’s vegetable beef soup?

Feed My Starving children feeds about 6 kids for .90


It has no vitamin C, so you will get scurvy. Also, it is very high in sodium. To get your 2,000 calories from this soup alone, you would have to eat over 15 servings of 245 grams each. This would supply over five times the recommended daily sodium level, so you will probably develop high blood pressure as well.

Surely the “cheapest” has to depend on the market prices for various fruits and vegetables, which vary widely both by time and place. In addition, if you have access to land for growing vegetables, etc., the cheapest solution might include growing some of your own food.

Weird, I would have thought it had tomatoes in it, which are a good source of Vitamin C.

This makes sense.

In his book “History of Food” Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat observes that you can get enough nutrition from a diet of potatoes if you eat enough of them.

The downside is when ALL of your nutrition is from this one source and something destroys that source (The Irish Potato Famine being an example).

I was going to say, that generations of Irish lived essentially off of potato’s and whole milk, with occasional meat thrown in.

That’s true, growing your own would be cheaper.

I guess I was wondering more about the typical situation of a person who finds themselves with little or no money. Assume they have access to a stove. They want to maximize the number of meals they can make with the minimum amount of money, yet have the food be nutritionally complete.

Imagine there’s a college student who is living on ramen and mac&cheese. I want to be able to tell them to instead buy 1 bag of rice, 1 bag of beans, 1 whatever…

That link on fmsc.org is probably pretty close. I know that the local health food store has dehydrated veggies and textured soy protein, both of which are really cheap. I didn’t see how many calories that fmsc pack had in it. Six kid meals would probably feed an adult for a day. That’s not bad for only $.90. Buying the ingredients retail would probably cost a bit more, but I doubt if it’d be over $2.

I am not sure if it is 100% complete but it is easy to buy large sacks of rice and beans that are so cheap per serving that they are practically free. That should take care of most of it. Adding other essential ingredients as needed should take care of the rest.

Start with rice and beans. Dirt cheap, and together you get all the amino acids you need, and plenty of carbohydrates for energy. Remember, we are omnivores, so you will have to supplement with small amounts of other foods to get vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need. Buy green vegetables and fruits based on what is on sale that week, and small amounts of meat.

The trick to eating cheap isn’t to discover some superfood, it’s to pile your plate with the rice and beans (and similar cheap staples) and have a modest amount of the other stuff.

What would be wrong with using something like Ramen (or Campbells vegetable beef) for bulk and a good multivitamin to round out the nutrition? I’m thinking the one I take comes out to about $10 a month when buying the biggest bottle.

Speaking from bitter experience (I was literally a starving artist for awhile)…

When I say I “lived on ramen” I don’t mean that that was the ONLY thing I ever ate. Actually, I usually phrase it as “I lived on rice, potatoes, and cabbage” but that isn’t a complete list, either.

At the time, I took full advantage of the free government cheese (5 lb block once a month), flour (5 lb once a month), and whatever else they were giving away at the pick up point (usually 1 lb of butter, a box of powdered milk, and salvage cans of food)

Needless to say, cheese was a major component of many meals.

I baked the flour into bread, and added powdered milk to it.

I’d buy a 20 lb bag of potatoes and I ate potatoes pretty much every day. A lot of potato dishes had the powdered milk added, too.

I’d buy rice in 10 and 20 lb bags and I ate a lot of that. I would add vegetables and and sometimes tofu to the noodles which certainly did help with the nutrition of the meal.

I’d buy crates of ramen when it was on sale, too, and I ate a lot of that.

I ate beans and lentils, too. Chicken when it was on sale. For awhile I had a boyfriend who fished as a hobby and that netted me fresh fish on a semi-regular basis. Red meat didn’t show up on the table very often, that’s for sure, but it did appear a couple times a month.

Meanwhile, I’d also buy cabbages, onions, carrots, whatever other vegetables and fruits were on sale/in season. I got creative with herbs and spices because, let’s face it, most of this stuff is bland and repetitious otherwise.

I also took a daily multi-vitamin to cover my bases, particularly in winter/early spring when vegetables got pricey.

I ate pretty damn cheap, and it wasn’t terribly unhealthy and most nights my belly was full. The only problem I had was that between having no other transportation than my feet and public transit and some of the physical nature of the work I was doing (climbing up and down a three story ladder for 8 or 9 hours is a real workout) was getting enough calories. I was actually underweight for about six months, although not seriously so.

Jeffrey Steingarten, in his book ‘The Man Who Ate Everything’ brings up this issue in one chapter. He tried the USDA thrifty food plan, among other things.

A blog makes reference to the meal plans he tried and to another blog, the author of which aimed to spend $30 per month on food. Although his diet may not have been nutritionally balanced, you may find it an interesting read.

Several people have mentioned suppliment their diet w/ multiple vitamin tablets. I think you’d be far wiser to spend the money on basic food items, vitamins are expensive and probably not nearly as effective as is popularly believed. My doctor suggested, several years ago, that I stop taking multivitamins as I was getting some things that were not beneficial and perhaps even harmful in the long run.
This discussion also points up the difficulty of maintaining general health on a limited budget. One problem is that people often rely on prepared foods, rather than cooking from ‘scratch’. IMHO this is a serious error as you’re getting, and paying for, a lot of things you don’t need, such as sodium which has been mentioned.
I live alone and often cook soups and stews in large quantities. This is as much for convenience as for economy. I use lots of fresh, and dried, vegetables w/ small amounts of meat. It’s been awile since I figured it up, but I think I can eat very well for around a dollar and a half a day w/ minimal time spent cooking or shopping.

In my case, the multivitamin was from a doctor’s suggestion that I take one.

I have a PDF from a woman who posted her “how to feed a family of 6 on $50 a week” recipes somewhere on the internet. It was amazing, she’d buy a ton of flour, eggs, meat, and veggies for $50, and then make some pretty solid meals 3 times a day 7 days a week for her husband and 4 kids. All of the meals were perfectly well-rounded and you got all the nutrients you needed. I wish I had that dedication, and have saved the PDF for that day I commit to it!

Any chance you can be talked into sharing it? I’ll be unemployed at the end of February and it could come in handy.

One of my old standards in my poorer and starvinger days was basically fried rice.

Get the “ends and pieces” boxes of bacon, a few bags of frozen mixed veggies, eggs, and of course the more cost effective bags of rice.

Cook up a batch of rice

Chop off a chunk of the bacon, dice finely, saute a bit

Add rice to bacon and bacon grease

Toss in a couple handfuls of veggies

Toss around a bit to fry it up and warm up the veggies

make a little hole to the pan in the rice, crack a couple eggs in

Scramble up the eggs a bit in that little spot, once set up, mix into the rest of the batch.

Voila! usually made 3-4 meals worth at a time, packed into recycled butter tubs and such. Turned out to less than $1 a meal and kept even my fairly large self pretty content.

Oooh overtime this week, a pack of chicken thighs for a real treat on my next few batches.