Well, here's the scoop guys. I'm a student and legislative Intern with the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. Hooray for that, because the career opportunities are immense. Here's the problem; It's unpaid. To make a long story short, after rent, metro passes, and tuition payments, I have $880 to live on until April. I've been buying Progresso beef stew/canned chili on sale at target, and packets of instant rice, also at Target, and these items generally run under $2 each. I'll eat oatmeal and have a tall glass of whole milk at breakfast, which means I'm spending under $5 a day on food. Unfortunately I'm still not consuming enough calories, and i don't believe that this diet is very healthy either. To make things even harder, I have no stove or oven in my apartment, only a microwave, sink, and small refrigerator.
I've been looking at buying black beans/pinto beans in bulk, but I feel like it would be a serious hassle to cook, because all online recipes call for 35 minutes or longer cook time in the microwave, not to mention 8 to 10 hours soaking. I'm also considering buying potatoes, but iI'm unsure of how i would store them, or how easily i could cook them in the microwave.
I'm interested in hearing any ideas about how to make this work. I'm trying to plan a diet that will meet basic nutrition requirements, provide me with 3 meals a day, and cost less than $6 per day, without the use of an oven or stovetop.
I appreciate the help, and I'm really hoping that i can plan a healthy and filling diet.
In add'n to the grains you're slow cooking, I'd try to micro scramble some eggs; I have to think eggs are the cheapest source of a full protein.
I'd also say that as a general rule, any time you're getting stuff in packets, or instant, you're spending more on packaging and convenience than you need to. Bulk uncooked rice, other grains, beans, lentils, etc., will all keep on a shelf.
Lastly, I'd look for decent happy hours that offer food; you're going to go out for some meals no matter what, but it's great if you can really bulk up for the cost of a beer.
Like mentioned above, getting a job delivering pizza would be perfect for you. I delivered pizza when I was 19 and every night I had the opportunity to take a messed up/unpaid for pizza home. I took the opportunity at least a couple nights a week and I'd live on that pizza for like two days. I barely spent anything on food because of this job.
My other suggestion would be to but bulk peanut butter and ramen noodles.
I've started doing this! I'm microwaving 2 eggs every morning. I think that covers most of my protein needs
Find a really cheap crockpot at a local thrift store. You can soak beans overnight then change the water, add pepper, carrots, and cheap salt pork/sausage/bacon before simmering all day. There are a number of potato, lentil, and rice recipes for crockpots too. Learn to haunt the sale and clearance shelves of the grocery stores. There are nearly endless slow cooker recipes posted online like: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2009/01/30/the-frugal-magic-of-the-f...
Other cheap calories can include hotdogs, Ramen noodles, cabbage, sweet potatoes, soups, chicken, pork, peanuts, eggs, and peas. Brown or even black rice is better for you. http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/forums.html
The pizza delivery job is a good idea (or delivery/cleaning for a Chinese eatery). Does your church have a food bank? Just remember to pay them back generously when you are a rich and famous lawyer. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or meals-on-wheels which will not begrudge you good food and looks good on a resume. make more friends who can cook and practice the "hungry puppy eyes" look.
Some years ago I found a 10# bag of dried soy bean curd for under $4.00. It tasted like nothing so I left it at the shop and offered to the guys. They all joked about it being flavorless protein and nicknamed it "Purina Bachelor Chow." That bag lasted months but the guys could not help snacking on it. You might want to check out your local Asian market (which can sometimes have REALLY good prices) and see if they carry a similar product.
2,000 calories/day is what a moderately active woman weighing about 120 lbs. is supposed to consume to maintain her weight. So you probably need 2,500 calories/day. That's 500 calories for each dollar. A can of soup is at most 300 calories and at least $1.50, so that's out.
Since you're actually in a position to do something about these things, let me throw out that milk, which is the only thing we're encouraged to drink beyond water, is also too expensive on this budget, as are almost all fresh fruits and vegetables. Soda is well within these requirements, though. So is chocolate and peanut butter. Food stamps average out to 300 calories per dollar.
Besides reading labels and only buying foods that fit your budget, my bid advice would be to stop eating at home. Someone in your position should be able to join dozens of organizations that host many receptions each week, with free food. Get on mailing lists and show up. It'll help your career, too.
For bulk foods that don't have labels, the Dept. of Ag. has a good website that gives you the calorie count for about every food imaginable. It's part of the My Plate campaign.
On potatoes, potato chips are about the same cost, per calorie, as brown potatoes (5 lb. bag). You can cook potatoes in the microwave by poking them with a fork, then cooking them. I'm not sure of the cooking time, but I'm sure you can get advice online. Store potatoes in the coolest, darkest place in your apartment, but you don't need to store them in the refrigerator.
I won't buy my husband and I more than 5 lbs. of potatoes at a time, because we don't go through them fast enough. But our circumstances are a bit different.
I'm definitely planning a trip out to the local target to buy potatoes. I looked around in town, but Trader Joes and Whole foods were both in the $1.75 to $2/lb price range, which i personally think is too much for potatoes.
Perhaps a better comparison than food stamps, for those trying to put this budget into perspective, is that OP's budget basically works out to what his bosses pay school districts for school lunches for poor kids, about $1.75 per lunch, recommended to be 700-800 calories for a high school student. School districts, while bound by a hefty set of nutritional regulations about what to serve, also have economies of scale, and almost all supplement federal payments with local tax money and/or by selling lunches to not-poor students at above cost (2x cost here in San Francisco). [Here I'm not trying to make a point. I'm just tying OP's experience in with news reports of analogous situations. Quality of school lunches has been big news here.]
I second Jay's recommendation of slow cooker and rice cooker. You can make more than rice in a rice cooker. I am eating my lunch right now, which was home-made houmous (a can of garbanzo beans, some tahini, a wedge of whole lemon (don't use store-bought lemon juice, it's full of a dangerous preservative), lots of garlic, and salt), store bought lavasch, and a chopped salad with a substantial amount of red quinoa mixed into it.
The quinoa was cooked in a rice-cooker. You can make porridge in most rice cookers too if you simply add the grain and water in correct proportions and cook them on a suitable cycle.
Some rice-cookers double as steamers, to cook vegetables. You can also cook meat with the rice, such as rice-and-sausages (not recommended unless the sausage is nitrate-free) or chicken-and-rice. The chicken might come out a little tough because the rice cooker cooks at a high temperature, but it's possible.
See if you can find one gently used or at a deep discount, and look for the nicer kinds middle-class Japanese use.
For a slow-cooker, you actually want a lower-end model, WITHOUT electronics (they fail), just "on/low/high". Try to find a glass lid that fits, even if it did not come with one. Slow cookers are easy to find used because people receive them as gifts and then never use them. They are often in excellent, barely-used or never-used condition, and they last for years. I found our last one for $6 and the one before for $4. They are extremely frugal of electricity, because the temperature is fairly low.
You can make breakfast, lunch, or dinner in one.
One problem is that you'll need a small model because a bachelor won't eat enough to fill a big one, and you do have to more-or-less fill them. They're not made to accommodate small amounts of food at the bottom of the pot.
Do you think tahini, lemon, salt, garlic, lavasch, veggies, and quinoa work out to less than $1? 'Cause the garbanzo beans are about $1, and he's looking at less than $2/meal, unless he takes my advice.
Sausage with nitrates from Safeway is about 160 calories per dollar, breaking the 500 calories/$1 arithmetic. I can't imagine what the economics of sausage from Whole Foods would look like. Chicken might work - dark meat chicken with skin. Boneless, skinless chicken breast is 2-4x more expensive, per calorie and per pound.
Here's the link to the USDA's site for calorie counts:
Thank you, Rob, for waving the flag in favor of healthy eating. You sound like a good role model in this area.
Seems to me to be much better advice than recommending that he drop milk and drink soda instead, and that potato chips are a good substitute for real potatos! (Did I really read that correctly??!) Lol....
You did not read correctly. It was veiled political commentary.
Rob's advice is great if it fits OP's budget. After looking up the prices of the recommended foods, I don't think it does. OP is eating from less money than a food stamp recipient, and food stamp recipients can't even afford milk. I looked at OP's bosses' recommendations for people like OP, and they too cost more than his budget. I think he should talk to his boss about that.
For a similar, concrete example - I recently read "The American Way of Eating." The middle-class author, something of a foodie, goes to work in working-class jobs in various parts of the American food industry. Her last job is at a casual dining chain restaurant, where she gets a free entree each shift. Being a health-conscious, middle-class foodie, she tries the salad. She's starving by the end of her shift. She switches to grilled meats, including hamburgers. Red meat is better than being hungry.