Dining on Just Dollars A Day

Fact is that 20 percent of the world's population eats on about a dollar a day. In this economy, you might be wondering is it possible to even come close to that here in Connecticut? And still eat healthy?

To take a bite out of this story, I needed an expert.  I called nutritionist Judy Siegel from Avon.  She knows food.  She gave it to me straight:  “It takes more time and care to eat on less money.”

Siegel says the key to eating healthy is to pump up the protein, figure in your fruits and veggies, and stay away from starches and sugars. She admits some protein can be pricey, but some can be a good deal.  "Buying chicken and eggs are cheap, they're very good protein, but you're going to have trouble getting very much beef, you'll have to cut way back on a portion size.”

Armed with Siegel’s protein-building tips, I headed to Highland Park Market in South Windsor and loaded up the cart with chicken, eggs and a super-food you may not have heard of, quinoa. It’s pronounced “keen-WA” and it’s a natural high-protein whole grain grown in South America that is usually used as a rice substitute.

Next, it’s time to hit the veggie aisle. Siegel says broccoli is one of the best choices for your health and for your wallet. She advises to steam it to make sure you get all the nutrients. She also recommends carrots and beets, and gives this advice:  “The deeper the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more value there's going to be nutritionally.”

Now it’s time to pick up some breakfast staples. Siegel says some of the best cereals you can pick are some of the ones you may have grown up with.

“It's all those old cereals, the Cheerios and the Wheaties and the Shredded Wheat, they have marvelous simple grains and nobody ground up a vitamin pill in them either and charged you more.”

Siegel says it’s not just what you buy, it’s where you buy it. Fruits and vegetables can be cheaper at farmer’s markets, and cheapest when coming from your own garden. But since I don’t have that kind of time for this experiment, I cut coupons, comb through circulars, and plan my meals. I also hit other stores including Price Chopper and Whole Foods to get the best variety and the best price.

I also take with me one of Siegel’s best tips for staying on track: don’t shop while you are hungry, you may end up ogling the cookies.  “You're very vulnerable if you're hungry, it's there, you've made eye contact with these foods, that's key, don't make eye contact with bad foods.”

With groceries in hand, it was now it’s time to cook. If you hit the internet, you’ll find a ton of recipe sites. Even the USDA is getting involved; they offer a cheap and healthy recipe finder.  You can type in one ingredient and they come up with ideas.  And they calculate how much each serving will cost you.

For a week, I live on rice and beans, a whole grain pasta salad with vegetables, a simple baked chicken dish, Huevos Rancheros, the quinoa, some fruits, and a box of Cheerios.

So, how did I do? Despite the extra time and effort, I chiseled my food bill down to just $5 a day, and that’s with using spices I already had in my kitchen. I did learn some lessons and added the quinoa to my diet. Siegel says other ways to save every day is to avoid those pre-bagged salad mixes, and buy store brands. 

It’s definitely more work, and I miss my cookie splurges, but overall, I feel healthy and energetic. And, after all, it’s only a week.

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