$5/5 days, how do I not starve to death?
December 26, 2010 10:54 AM   Subscribe

So, due to a series of sort of hilarious circumstances and the excess of the season, I have only $5 to spend on food next week. Five ones and a bunch of quarters. I get paid on Thursday so I 'just' need to get by from today until Wednesday night

I have a pretty well equipped kitchen at my disposal (pots and pans of various sizes, fancy tongs and can-openers, a potato ricer for some reason), as well as a pantry full of useless crap like microwavable popcorn and carnation instant breakfast (which I'll be drinking the hell out of for the next four days) and slightly more useful crap like a decent collection of spices, a bag of jasmine rice, and some canned beans (black, garbanzo, white) and veggies (so many green beans).

Around the corner there's a mexican market with fresh vegetables and bagged grains and such. There's also a Family Dollar (soooo much junk food, also boxed dinner type stuff). Across the street there's a Tesdechis (like a 7-11). What's the best, most efficient use of my five ones?
posted by Tha Race Card to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have enough rice and beans and veggies to last until Wednesday night?
posted by box at 10:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Rice and beans with veggies on the side, while boring, will keep you alive just fine. Use the $5 on hot sauce or cheese.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:58 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make a huge pot of chili with the ingredients you already have and spend the five on bread to go along with it or other things to put in the chili. It'll keep for days and it's filling.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:03 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd get a large (28 oz?) can of diced tomatoes and combine it with your canned beans and spices (chili powder? oregano? cumin? cayenne?) to make a vegetarian chili or bean stew. Serve over rice. (Jasmine rice + chili might not be the most apt combination but for an improvisation it wouldn't be that bad.)

Or make a sort of minestrone out of canned vegetables + jasmine rice + one or two cans of beans + whatever veggies are cheapest at the Mexican market + water (better if you have some bouillon or broth on hand) + herbs (bay leaf, parsley, basil, oregano, sage, etc). You can eat the same soup twice a day for four days in a row and be bored but adequately fed.
posted by Orinda at 11:07 AM on December 26, 2010

Since you have rice and spices and canned beans, you're pretty much already there, from my perspective. I've made a pot of lentil soup that cost about a buck and a half and lasted four days feeding a family of 3. That, plus rice, and you're golden.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:09 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rice and beans, and spend the $5 on beer.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:09 AM on December 26, 2010 [12 favorites]

Best answer: If you have beans, spend eighty cents on rice and make beans and rice, or use the jasmine rice though I don't know how that will taste... That's filling enough for a couple of days. You can even fry it on the second or third day for variety with some eggs (I did this last week as I am in your shoes). Speaking of which, eggs don't cost a lot and are very versitile, boil 'em, fry 'em, scramble 'em and you get a dozen of them for under $2 usually - that's plenty for three days. Also - Ramen is very cheap -- less than twenty cents a package -- and good for lunches, you can put your green beans and some dehydrated chopped onions (you have those in your spice cabinet, right?) in there to make it a more "complete" meal - I do this all of the time.
posted by patheral at 11:12 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you a meat eater? Chicken can often be found very inexpensively (the Mexican market maybe? the ones here usually have a meat section.) You could eat pretty well for four days on a whole roasted fryer in combination with your rice, beans & veggies.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:16 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get some eggs, for variety. Maybe pasta to mix it up.
posted by xingcat at 11:19 AM on December 26, 2010

The dollar store probably has Ramen Noodle packets at 10 for dollar. Just don't get your sodium levels tested for a week or so ;)
posted by COD at 11:23 AM on December 26, 2010

depends on were you live, but if you're needing for fruit, pre-picked apples in a bag are usually your best best. other than that- chili, soup, stir-fry rice (with eggs), ramen- it seems like you'll last ok. If you don't have breakfast stuff- oatmeal.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:26 AM on December 26, 2010

Why don't you sell the ricer and use the money for food? It sounds to me like you don't use it, and a potato masher works just as well.

You could also try returning the popcorn to the grocery store if it is an unopened box.
posted by TheBones at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2010

You could also sign up for a dating website and try to find somebody to take you out to dinner.

Or seek out receptions, art openings, soup kitchens, dumpsters behind grocery stores (bakeries, restaurants, etc.) and other sources of free food.

But, from how you've described it, I don't think you really need to do any of those things.
posted by box at 11:38 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oatmeal. Filling, warm, energizing. Mixed with beans for vegetarian hamburgers.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:38 AM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: Rice, beans, and enough for two 40's!
posted by cmoj at 11:39 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Recipe: Prepare a quantity of the rice (with salt so it's not unappetizing.) Prepare fried rice using the diced up vegetables; hopefully there's soy sauce or some other salty-savory condiment in the pantry or fridge to season that with. Serve hot with a fried egg on top (fried so the white is firm but the yolk is runny.)

(I first had fried rice with a fried egg on top in Indonesia and loved it so much that we've made it a staple meal.)

Microwave popcorn is useless nutritionally but is fine for the munchies.

Budgeting: I would spend that $5 on a dozen eggs and a small amount of ground beef or turkey (the Mexi-mart should sell to you by weight.) Use the meat to add flavor and heft to the chili you're making with the canned beans. If you don't have canned tomatoes in the house buy a can of those too, for your chili.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:46 AM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: $1 - Ramen noodles. Make them as soup (with an egg and some green beans), or cook them like pasta and top with a sauce made of pantry staples: 1 part each of peanut butter, honey, and sesame oil + 2 parts soy sauce.

$2 - Eggs. Hard-boiled for a snack, scrambled with beans and salsa for breakfast, poached in a soup.

$3 - I'd choose either fruit (bruised apples?), chicken, or cheese. Get something on sale or ready to expire. If you get about-to-expire meat, cook it that day and then portion it out into your food in little shreds to add flavour.

There's probably a little more change in your couch or jacket pockets, btw.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I was going to come back and suggest oatmeal, but someone beat me to it. What you can also buy for under two bucks is bread. Bread is great for filling the empty stomach - also, peanut butter. A jar of peanut butter will last way more than three days and give you protein -- you need protein. Plus, it tastes great with Ramen (always buy Ramen when you're left with less than $10). Seriously, I'm in the same boat. I have $10 to last until the new year and I have a cat to feed as well. ^_^
posted by patheral at 12:04 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you friends with your grocery store? You could easily pull off a nice split pea soup if you are. Get them to sell you a single smoked ham hock (should not cost you more than $1.00). Boil that with a pound of split peas (costs about 85 cents where I live) and one bay leaf. After about an hour, add a carrot (buy bulk, not a package), an onion, and celery (totally optional). Season with salt, and you've got a hearty winter meal that will go quite a long way.
posted by Gilbert at 12:11 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

First question: Do you have enough to eat, that is, to make enough meals until you get paid?

No? Get more rice. Having enough calories is step one.
Yes? Look for what veggies are on sale. There's almost always vegetables on sale, for something. Veggies go good with rice and let you make soups (filling, warm, can go ON rice, etc.)

It's only a few (sucky) days, so it's not like you're going to fall out from lack of protein or proper nutrition (unless you have a health issue?).

If you find yourself scraping in a long term situation, it goes: rice, beans, on sale veggies, vitamins, on sale meat. (I've done this off and on for a few years, so I know how it goes).
posted by yeloson at 12:19 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't know how close you are to Boston, but St. Francis House offers 3-5 days worth of food for those without the means to obtain more Monday thru Thursday 10AM to 11AM. You can donate some after you get paid to pay it forward if it's geographically viable.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:29 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

My first thought was to drop in on a friend or two who have major leftovers after the making of holiday meals. That ought to be good for a turkey leg or a ham hock or a sandwich or two.

The first maxim of cooking is you can spend money or you can spend time. Budget the time to cook beans, chili, soup -- if you score the remains of a bird, you can make sandwiches or turkey salad, etc. New Orleans red beans and rice is a total protein and a classic wonder that takes only time and the cheapest ingredients, although a little sausage and ham adds a great deal. Think of it as a few days of classic cuisine rather than poverty!
posted by Anitanola at 12:30 PM on December 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: So many great answers! I've gotten some concerned tweets and messages so I just wanted to post and let you guys know that I'm not actually starving to death, just really, really broke. I'm 24, in school, and work in a creative field so this happens like once every two weeks. I took to AskMefi because my usual strategy of living off of Mondo, cereal, and naps during this particular type of situation didn't seem like the best solution. You smart folks gave me a ton of ideas (EGGS [why didn't I think of this], chili, ramen, lots of other stuff). Thank you guys so much.
posted by Tha Race Card at 12:52 PM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: If you're worried about having enough to eat, get some dry beans. Do you know the 90-minute no-soak method for cooking dried beans? In case you don't, I will repeat it here:

take beans out of the package and put them into a big oven-safe pot or dutch oven. Cover them with water until, when you put your finger on top of the beans, the water covers 2 knuckles. Bring the beans to a boil on top of the stove, then put them in a 275-degree oven for 75 minutes. It seems impossible, but at the end of the 75 minutes, the beans will be perfectly cooked and delicious.

But yeah, what you're after here is beans and rice. You already have the rice. What veggies do you have? Lots of green beans, which is fantastic. Do you have onions? Carrots? Celery? Do you have any garlic? If you have any friends who had a ham for christmas, see if you can beg either some leftovers or the hambone off them, or else spend a buck or two on chorizo or a hamhock at the mexican market. If you don't have any onions, those are your first priority, but fortunately they're cheap.

If you update or memail me with a list of what you have, I can put together a recipe for you for beans and rice or soup that will feed you healthfully and fairly tastily until Thursday.
posted by KathrynT at 1:02 PM on December 26, 2010 [25 favorites]

+1 on making protein a priority.

Rice + beans = complete protein, but either on its own isn't.

Peanut butter. Yogurt. Any kind of scrounge-able meat or fish. Tofu. Eggs or eggwhites. If I were you, I'd talk to the butcher department at your local supermarket. Tell them your situation, ask them what they can sell you super cheaply. Don't act like you're looking for a handout, just get them to collaborate on sussing out a solution, I bet they'll help out more than you expect.

You need to really think about nutritional efficiency, so avoid junkie foods unless it reaches the point where you're looking for any sort of calories at any cost (which shouldn't apply given that this is just one week).
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:16 PM on December 26, 2010

Google "eat for one dollar a day" and you will get lots of websites from people who have done just that. At the least you will get some very good ideas.
posted by MsKim at 2:19 PM on December 26, 2010

The Mexican mart near me sells produce that is getting old for very cheap. Once we got a big pack of zucchini. Look around the store for stuff like that, you might get lucky and score some cheap veggies.

You might be able to score some cheap stale bread at a bakery. They often sell day old bread for cheap.

...borrow a can of beans from your neighbor? barter something for shoveling snow?
posted by bleary at 2:25 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: hey folks, let's not go with a protein derail if we can avoid it, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:34 PM on December 26, 2010

Ok, so if it is a regular thing, here's the strategies I use (reiterated and detailed)

1. Rice.

When you do get money, buy a big ass bag of rice. If you lack a car or it's otherwise really tough to deal with the big bags of rice, at least get the small ones. Rice hits you up with a lot of calories at a reasonable price, and it's a good base to go with most meals.

2. Beans

As everyone has said, beans are cheap. If Kathryn T's suggestion is still too much time, see if you can find somewhere that does the HUGE restaurant-sized cans of beans (like 6 lbs of beans). These usually run about $3, and will last you a week easily. Since the beans are wet, it's a short cooking process.

Once you have rice and beans, you've got basic food. Everything else can expand on that...

3. Veggies

Go for things that are on sale. This will help you get your vitamins. If you have favorites, try and get those too- if you're going to eat cheap, you want to squeeze as much flavorful things you like out of it as possible. Onions are a cheap extra that you can toss into a lot of things.

4. Vitamins

Vitamins? Yeah, $20 in vitamins will last you 2-3 months and help keep you balanced. (The guy who did the Twinkie diet still took vitamins, so...). A Multivitamin is a good place to start, but you'll probably want to supplement some iron and B-vitamins. (B vitamins also help your brain wake up, so good take if you're getting tired in school).

5. Meat that's on sale

Folks mentioned eggs. Those are good too!

The trick to finding meat on sale is finding the groceries that end up failing to sell it quick enough. For example, I end up going to the expensive yuppie supermarket across from my job specifically because they end up having to sell $3 steaks because they can't move it fast enough at their usual rates. Obviously, this is location dependent, but take a look around.

The second option is turkey. Turkey is crap long to cook, and requires a full oven, but one turkey will last you a long, long time in meat. One of my friends who had been unemployed for over a year learned to cook turkey real good.

6. Soup

Learn to make soup. Get a $20 crockpot, and learn to make soup. You're inevitably going to end up with food that's not quite a full meal in itself - it probably can become a soup. Meat, veggies, beans, even rice - all these things can become soup. Soup goes good over rices, as well.

7. Selective noodles

Noodles are often cheap. They give you a lot of calories. They just don't keep you full for long. See if you can find japanese soba noodles at a reasonable price- they give a lot of protein, and I end up getting a box of 20 "bundles" for $5, which lasts a few weeks easy. When you make noodles or pasta, see if you can throw in some veggies and/or meat to help fill you.
posted by yeloson at 4:42 PM on December 26, 2010

nthing the suggestion of a meat-less chili, but buy some cheap cans of chicken stock to make it taste a whole lot better. If you make it with water it will taste like water.
posted by bardic at 7:50 PM on December 26, 2010

Eat the rice and beans for dinner. Hopefully you have some spices and herbs you can use to jazz it up. Maybe buy some chili powder, or garlic, or hot sauce if not.

Then buy a jar of peanut butter and some oatmeal. If you have money left (and you should), you can choose:
(a) spend it all and get some nice flavourful bread
(b) buy a cheap loaf of bread, plus some jelly for PB&jelly sandwiches (otherwise you'll just be eating peanut butter), and/or something interesting for the oatmeal - e.g. a packet of dried fruit or nuts, or a few fresh apples, or some syrup.

Then your meals for the next few days are
a. breakfast = oatmeal with whatever you bought to add into it (at worst you can use some carnation instant breakfast for creaminess and some peanut butter stirred in for flavour and protein).
b. lunch = peanut butter (and jelly if you bought it) sandwiches
c. dinner = rice and beans.

This is actually pretty close to healthy. Some green veges wouldn't hurt, but you can live without them for a few days. If you get bored you can alternate your meals (beans for breakfast! pb&jelly for dinner!) or you can experiment with e.g. grilling your sandwich, frying your rice, adding weird stuff to your oatmeal.
posted by lollusc at 8:01 PM on December 26, 2010

You might be covered by the suggestions above, but, on the off-chance that you're low on cash and looking for something that will last a few days in the future, I have one suggestion, although I don't know about availability in your stores. In my supermarkets, they often have whole rotisserie chickens that are $5.00. They're pretty decent sized, and I often get four sandwiches and two meals out of it (okay, that's coupled with bread for the sandwiches and maybe a vegetable or rice side when I make meals). It's just that it's an inexpensive thing that goes a long way.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:07 PM on December 26, 2010

You didn't mention it, but if you have some bread, scrambled egg sandwiches are pretty good. Or there's always peanut butter.

Ramen packets are usually 5-10 cents.

If you have any nearby friends/family who might invite you over for a meal or leftovers, in return for a meal on you during your better times, or perhaps in exchange for some chores, that's an option too. Lots of people probably have holiday leftovers right now. Another idea is even bring them a movie you own (or borrow from the library) in return for your meal that you can all watch together.

You mention cereal is one of your usual staples... get the generic if you can, it's cheaper.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:11 AM on December 27, 2010

Maybe not now, but when you have more cash on hand and are planning ahead for the next squeeze, get some chicken bouillon, much cheaper than boxed chicken stock and will help flavor your food.
posted by teragram at 5:42 AM on December 27, 2010

All of the above advice is excellent. Beans and rice will see you through the next couple of days admirably. Sounds like this is a recurring cycle, however, so maybe some long-term strategies would help.

Not to get into a bouillon-battle with teragram, but I was going to suggest a jar or two of Better than Bouillon the next time you're flush and stocking your pantry. It's about $5/jar, so doesn't suit your immediate circumstances, but 1 tsp makes a cup of bouillon, so it goes a real long way, and makes any pot of rice into something more interesting.

You've got your Carnation Instant Breakfast for the short term, but oatmeal, as has been mentioned, is awesome for breakfast, long-term. I am a staunch advocate of steel cut oats over rolled, quick, or other varieties, and encourage you to try it, too. A little goes a long way, it's incredibly easy to make a pot-load of it overnight and reheat daily portions, it's fiber-filled... add salt, raisins, spices, and butter to punch it up and you've got a belly-warming, belly-filling start to the day.

Another great long-keeping carb to turn to in lean times is polenta. You can make it yourself for almost nothing, but I'm specifically thinking of those tubes of shelf-stable polenta. They keep forever, so they're on hand when you need them, and, fried up in a pan and topped with a sauce, they're a quick and satisfying meal or two.

My local grocery store makes its own bacon, and as a consequence has a product they call "bacon ends and pieces" which is just what you'd think from the name. Wee scraps almost like lardons. It's awesome when you want some bacon fat to cook in, or some crispy porky bits to mix in here and there, but don't want actual strips of bacon that cost about 4x as much. It keeps for quite a while, so is a good refrigerator staple. If you're someone who feels that meat is needed to round-out an entree, this can be a cost-effective (and relatively healthy) way of getting a smidge of flesh and a lot of flavor into a dish.

Bottom line advice: try and lay in a diverse supply of bulk, dried grains and legumes. Go beyond jasmine rice and make it a point to explore barley (pearled and pot) and buckwheat and brown rice and wild rice and spelt and amaranth and quinoa and ... well, there's a lot to explore, and it's all relatively inexpensive. Variety is the spice and all that. Combined with inexpensive store brand cans of crushed tomatoes, some fresh onions and garlic, an inexpensive cooking-grade olive oil, and your spices, you should be good for those lean times.

Also, the NY Times' Mark Bittman is a great source of advice and inspiration for cooking both simply and well. His seminal How to Cook Everything is available as a $5 iPhone app, a $10 iPad-specific app, or a $20 dead-tree book, and I can't overemphasize its value as a basic reference work. I need to replace my printed copy because I've almost destroyed it through a decade of hard-use.
posted by mumkin at 3:21 PM on December 27, 2010

Regular oatmeal with milk and peanut butter has good nutritional value and is pretty cheap. If you can scout some cheap trail mix that's mostly nuts and seeds (as opposed to sugar/salt), you can also make a pretty good breakfast muesli by mixing it with plain oatmeal and letting the mixture soak in milk overnight in the fridge.

Also, frozen vegetables are cheap and nutritious, and can be used to make omelettes or to round out a rice and beans meal.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:53 PM on March 14, 2011

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