how to eat for $2 a day WITHOUT resorting to battery hen eggs

$2 lentil stew $2 lentil stew

It’s a good thing that blogs have comments. I mean it’s a great way for me to learn from you guys as well. But it also keeps me on the straight and narrow – which is a good thing. You see if blogs didn’t have comments, I’d be getting away with outrageous things.

Like writing posts on how to survive on $2 a day by eating potato omelettes. Which might seem innocent enough, but when it comes down to it, you can only achieve the $2 limit if you use the cheapest eggs available – eggs from poor battery hens.

When I was writing the post, I used my normal free range, happy chicken eggs to make the omelettes and used the battery hen price for my calculations. I didn’t even think of the implications of what I was doing until I had a few comments from responsible readers accusing me of condoning the use of battery eggs. At first I was in denial, but thinking about it for a few minutes I realised the error of my ways. What a goose.

So today I wanted to apologise for inadvertently inciting you to buy cage eggs and offer an alternative $2 menu. If you missed it, you can read all about the live below the line campaign to raise awareness of extreme poverty. But if you are going to make the omelette, please use eggs that have been produced ethically.

my ethical $2 day menu

a slice of homemade bread 11c
10g butter 5c
tea with milk 9c
potato soup (recipe below) 60c
hearty red lentil stew 77c
steamed rice 15c
TOTAL – $1.77

potato & onion soup
[5 3 ingredients]
potato soup
serves 1

Inspired by Julia Child’s potato & leek soup from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Not exactly going to win any awards for beauty, but don’t let that put you off this simple, lovely soup. It’s potatoey and onioney and comfort in a bowl – not to mention filling.

Feel free to scale this recipe up for as many people as you need to feed.

I used a waxy spud for this soup but I think it would be even better with a lovely floury number. And I think next time I’d soften the onion in butter first, rather than just boiling them. And I’m keen to try it with leeks like Julia when I’m not on such a strict budget.

1 large potato, scrubbed & diced 25c
1 medium brown onion, peeled & diced 30c
small knob butter 5c

Pop potato and onion pieces in a medium saucepan and add 1 1/2cups water. Simmer for about an hour, adding more water if it starts to get too dry. It’s done when everything is meltingly soft.

Mash with a fork or potato masher until the soup is as smooth as you’d like. Stir through butter, taste and season.

cost per serving 60c

$2 lentil stew

[5 ingredients]
hearty red lentil stew

serves 3-4

I was looking to maximise the use of fresh fruit & veg this time and the humble trio of onion, celery and carrot were the best value.

This stew is calling out for customisation. Some spices, a little more chilli, even some different veg – all depending on your budget. If I had more money to spend I would have topped it with some fresh corriander or mint leaves and served with a dollup of natural yoghurt.

The secret to cooking red lentils is to keep an eye on them and stop when they are just tender. Its a fine line between just cooked and mushy. But don’t stress if you end up with a more lentil soup texture – it will still be delicious.

Oh and if you’re wondering why I’ve labelled this 5 ingredients but there are 6 listed, I normally don’t count oil as an ingredient but have listed it today for accounting purposes.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 10c
1 onion, peeled & diced 30c
1 large carrot, diced into chunks 24c
2 ribs celery, diced onto chunks 24c
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz) 75c
150g red lentils 66c

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and cook onion covered on a medium low heat until the onion is soft. Add remaining ingredients except for the lentils and 1 1/2cups water. Simmer until the veg are tender – about 45mins.

Add lentils and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until lentils are just cooked through but not mushy. Taste and season and serve with steamed rice.

total cost $2.29
cost per serving (assuming 3) 77c


With love,
Jules x


  • You know what? I really hope you’re still blogging exactly the way you are in five years time. (Because I’ll be in college, and I can’t use your tips YET!)


  • Thank you so much for this post. It highlights just how difficult it is for people on very low incomes to make ethical food choices. Why wouldn’t you choose the battery hen eggs instead of free range? They look the same and that might mean you’ve got money for other things, like heating or transport. Those of us who have higher incomes are able to make a choice though. And I’d rather have a few more meat free meals like this lentil soup, so that I can afford eggs that come from happy hens.

  • I read you last post and noticed that you counted the price for what would be battery hen eggs. I don’t buy these eggs either, but everyone has a choice to make and I didn’t judge your choice to do that. Some people really don’t have much money and in reality do buy these eggs.

    We are lucky in that we can get eggs very cheaply from local people who keep chickens, which are priced at a similar cost to battery hen eggs here. They are left on a table ina basket by the roadside with an honestly box – I love that there are places you can still do that! So your previous menu works if you can get cheap local free range eggs. (Obviously not everyone can though)

    I love stews and use chick peas often, but I’ve never used red lentils in this way – it looks yummy. I have flourishing mint in my garden at the moment too which is a bonus – I need more recipes that I can incorporate mint into.

    It’s great to see you supporting this and raising awareness of the living below the line campaign.

  • Nice work once more – I often add herbs that I’ve grown myself to cheap meals as it kicks up the flavour a whole lot, and at almost no cost. And I try very hard to only buy happy eggs (as my kids call them) but there have been times in my life when I could only (barely) afford battery eggs, so I understand when people use them.

  • Season 3 – Episode 24 of Lidia Bastianich’s “Taste of Italy” featured a sauce for rigatoni that appeared much like your delish-looking stew. Many of her recipes could fit in the $2 budget – especially if you picked the greens gratis. Unfortunately, you’d blow the deal if you went with her oft-suggested glass of wine.

  • These 2$/ day recipes are saving my life. I went abroad this summer and I still have three more weeks until my internship is over and I’m seriously short on money for the rest of the summer. I can’t wait to try this recipe tonight it looks delicious!!

  • i agree with some of the posters above, i don’t think there is much room for egg snobbery in response to an activity that’s meant to raise awareness about feeding your family while living at or below the poverty line. for those who can afford to buy ethically treated organic animal products, i wholly support you, but for those who are struggling to survive, buying mass-produced eggs is a logical and cheap way to get protein and nutrition. when everyone in the world is comfortably fed, employed, clothed and housed, then we can start judging others for their eating habits. in the meantime, do what you can with your own budget.

  • jules, for the record, that was in no way targeted towards you; i think this has been an excellent series of posts and i totally applaud your efforts to raise awareness about poverty and nutrition because it’s so important. mostly i’m just surprised by some of the responses.

  • Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a significant difference between free range vs. caged hens, at least in the US. According to Consumer Reports, an American review magazine, the term “free range” denotes that “hens raised outdoors (very few are) or with daily access to the outdoors. The USDA requires no specific amount of outside time.” Similarly, cage-free refers to hens “permitted to roam in barns but not outside. The term isn’t regulated by the USDA.” For all we know, “free range” hens could see the outdoors a few minutes/day and their eggs would still be called free range. This lack of regulation makes it really not worth it in the States.

  • Not to split hairs, but you did say you like comments on the straight and narrow. One thing to consider, if the $2/day series is to assist folks on a very strict budget (and for comparison in quality/price over take-out), is to include the cost of the energy used for cooking and clean up. Granted, it must be hard to calculate, but it is a real cost if stoves, ovens and hot water for washing is used. (Since one would either drive to the grocery store or to the fast food restaurant, that consumption is canceled out.) As progressive politics does, happily, play a part in your posts, I will add that there are grave environmental and societal costs when eating fast food (the rainforests getting razed for cattle farms, the temperate forests getting razed for the paper wrappers, the trash, the farm subsidies to grow GMO corn, the sub-living-standard wages paid to workers). However, these are not costs borne by the consumer but the environment and workers to subsidize the artificially low cost of fast food.

    OK, time for me to climb down off my soapbox….. thanks for this great series. There was a time in my life when $2-5 was my daily food budget. I got very creative.

  • I think this is a wonderful post, and reminds people that they can eat well on a very tight budget! Your red lentil stew looks delicious! Can’t wait to try!

  • I really like this post. It shows that you can get creative and eat healthy on the tightest of budgets! I can’t wait to try your red lentil stew!

  • The straight and narrow, indeed. Great post! How lucky I am to be able to afford “good” eggs, and how important to be reminded that not everyone can. This post is the perfect combination of good food + good living. Thank you!

  • bravo!!! you are such a star- and your openness and willingness to consider what had been commented upon says a lot about the kind of person you are- and is something that shines thru in your fantastic blog. thank you for helping make it easier for us to make a choice to satisfy the conscience AND the palette :)

  • Who cares if you use battery hen eggs? Anyone that doesn’t realize that what you consume has a gut pile is ignorant of how food gets to your table.

    More people need to learn to cook like this instead of taking government handouts stolen from those who actually provide wealth in the economy.

  • are the $2 a day recipes a consequence of your decision to quit the corporate world become a full-time blogger? If so, we need to buy more of your books!

  • Always love seeing these sorts of posts, as they embrace classic peasant foods, and help us all return to our roots. For my contribution, when I need to cook for a LOT of people for next to nothing, I always look to “exotic” foods:

    Sushi (I can usually feed 10 people on $2 -make it Nigiri style, top with strips of seasoned Omelet, bound with thin strips of Nori)

    Congee (I can usually feed 10 people on $2 -make it in the Rice Cooker the night before, season with Soy Sauce packets leftover from past Chinese Food, and a splash of Rice Vinegar, and thin strips of a single sheet of Nori. To serve, top portions with tiny amounts of leftover meats and/or vegetables, diced up)

    Bruschetta (I can usually feed 10 people on $2 -make it with a single loaf of Italian Bread, from the grocer’s Day Old section, cut slices severely on the bias to increase surface area, top with just a drizzle of Oil, and a pinch of dried herbs, broil, and top the entire batch with a single chilled Tomato, finely diced, just as an accent of freshness and contrast)

  • I really love the challenge of eating well for as little as possible. On the bus home last night, I was thinking about the contents of the fridge, feeling very uninspired, and preparing to get off a stop early and grab something from the shops. I suddenly remembered that I’m going away for a couple of weeks and it would be a good challenge to make myself a meal without spending any more money, and using up the food in the fridge so I don’t have to throw anything away. I ended up with the yummiest pumpkin rosti, a guacamole style relish/sauce, and eggs. It was simple, delicious, cheap, efficient, and I got the great feelings that go along with having prepared it. Why does it feel so good? i don’t know! But it does! :-D

  • Some very serious and political debate going on over here. I agree that not one counting pennies is going to care what type of eggs they are eating. Also, the question of including heat charges is an interesting one (though very difficult to do, due to prices differing by location).

    The lentils look great (I always love your photography), but the fact that both the potato soup and lentils require quite a bit of cooking time raised an interesting question in my mind.

    Can you eat for $2 a day without spending two hours cooking?

    • Yes, I imagine you could, at least with a slow cooker/crockpot.

      Sometimes I wish every low-income household had access to a serviceable crockpot… I’m in the US, though, so I don’t think the government would ever agree to help with that. It’s the upfront cost that gets people, just like how you might get rice for 0.50 USD a pound, but only if you buy 20 pounds. Sure, it’s way cheaper in the long run, but if you don’t have 10USD to spare, what can you do?

  • Reading these recipes makes me realise how much I rely on herbs and spices. While they look quite tasty, I think they would be much tastier with the addition of some chives, coriander, mint, etc. If I (or anyone else for that matter) grow my own, does it count towards the $?!

  • The potato soup sounds outstanding. LOVE potato soup! I, too, splurge for eggs that come from “happy” chickens. I can live with doing it more than I could live with not doing it.

    When my husband was in the military and things were tighter than botox, my purse’s salvation were things like Ramen noodles, canned beets, canned green beans with canned potatoes, boxed macaroni and cheese… You know what, I still love them!

    Great article – I look forward to reading more of your post – right after I make some potato soup! :)

  • Vichyssoise is probably my favorite soup. It is humble, inexpensive, smooth, creamy, and is always a welcome treat for the taste buds. You simply cannot go wrong with potato and leek soup, ever. An added bonus is it works warm or cold.

    And lentils are always good for keeping your nutrition and budget in tip top shape. I am enjoying the economical, yet good food you are proposing for this $2 adventure.

  • You know I nearly came back and commented on that other post re the egg thing – after I saw what some people were saying….but I left it. I used to ALWAYS buy free-range. This year though after some financial difficulties requiring many weeks of feeding a family with very, very little I did start buying the cheapies. I did feel bad, but after a while I stopped thinking about it.

    So I held back posting and realised that even though I’m still on a strict budget now, it’s not as strict and time to go back to free-range. It got me thinking too which is a good thing.

  • Keep the great recipes coming…

    I think the hen issue demonstrates to everyone the tough choices that are faced by those in extreme poverty.

  • Thanks for this post! The lentil stew looks delish!

    I was also torn by the cheap eggs in the previous post. We need to eat to live, and for those who are really, really poor, I have a fair bit of sympathy for whatever means are open for obtaining food. For instance, I am generally in favour of the rule of law, but I couldn’t really blame a starving person for stealing in order to eat. There are millions of people in the world for whom the difference in cost between battery and free-range eggs would mean the difference between protein and no protein, so I would have a hard time prioritising the welfare of chickens above preventing human starvation.

    On the other hand… the prevalence of cage eggs (in Australia at least) suggests to me that a lot of people buy them who could probably afford to buy free-range, but who are prioritising other things (or are ignorant about the issues). This bothers me. In this spirit, I think it’s a great idea to experience what it’s like living on $2 per day, and I’d like to do it myself one of these days, but I think the ethical balance is different for the majority of first-worlders eating battery eggs.

    (Do you reckon it would be an acceptable compromise, for the sake of the exercise, to use free-range eggs but do the calculation as though they cost the same as battery eggs? Or is that just straight-out cheating?)

    Way to go with promoting discussion! :-)

  • Unfortunately this diet doesn’t meet the minimum vitamin and mineral requirments to avoid deficiency diseases. Research in Australia has shown that the cheapest you can go and still meet your nutritional requirments is $5.05 per day. Which is still $35 per week and pretty good I think.

    Just because there isn’t any take away in your diet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.

    Yes you can eat cheaper but you’re sacrificy long term heath for short term thrift, which will be more expensive in the long term.

  • benjamin
    thanks for sharing those research results – interesting. the problem is that some people don’t have the luxury of choosing to spend $5.05 a day. So it’s about trying to make the best of a less than desirable situation

    another claire
    yes I did do the calculation on battery but used free range but it was cheating – so not a great idea

    love the expression ‘tighter than botox’ – might have to borrow it one day

    good question on the time spent cooking. I’ve done other $2 posts that can be made in 10 minutes so it’s not essential

    for the live below the line challenge, you’re not allowed to supplement with grow your own but in the real world it makes perfect sense.

    I love taking the challenge of making dinner from what’s in the fridge. some of my best discoveries have come from playing that game

    love the idea of the congee and would never have thought of sushi – brilliant

    good observation – thankfully my finances aren’t that desperate yet – hold that thought about buying books though, am working on something really exciting.

    cascadia girl
    good point about the energy costs of cooking. I did think about that but put it in the too hard basket.

  • I just found your blog, so I’m a bit late on the commenting on this post! I just wanted to point out that ‘cage-free’ or ‘free range’ eggs don’t always come from happy hens, either – the farms that produce these eggs are actually not that much more well regulated. Free range means that the hens must have access to the outdoors, but does not specify how much space outdoors or how many hens have to share that same space. Cage free hens might be given no more space than they would be if they were in cages, but still be packed together.

    I am getting most of this information from ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer. So correct me if I’m wrong! I’m so freaked out/appalled by it that I think I’ll only eat eggs from now on when I can get them from local people who own hens that I know are taken care of.

    Okay, rant over. I really do love your blog. I’ve recently quit a job and I’ve been on a really tight budget, so I see these ideas being very helpful. Thanks so much for everything you do!

    • I am starting to think noone should eat eggs unless they own their own chickens/know someone who has chickens.

      The way battery hens are treated is a disgrace. :(

  • I tried the potato soup recipe and got lumpy mashed potatoes. Not bad, but not what I was expecting!

  • Forget all the essential vitamins and minerals you’re missing – this doesn’t even come close to a basic caloric intake for an adult! Even assuming just 3 portions for the stew, you’re looking at a total for the day of around 650 calories – a third of what most adults need, and a level which fits the definition of an anorexic diet.

    • Hey, just thought I’d reply to your comment. I don’t believe this post is about being thrifty/saving money. It is about raising awareness of poverty through the live below the line project.

  • Made your red lentil stew tonight as an accompaniment to left-overs that had to be used as well. Loved it! Admittedly I had the ingredients in the fridge/pantry to add some extra flavour (fresh chilli, chilli flakes, dried coriander leaves and Greek yoghurt), but I loved that it was simple and hearty, and with some left-overs on the side, was plenty for the family with enough left for lunches tomorrow. Definitely my new favourite ‘fast food’ dinner. So thank you!

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