could you feed yourself for $5 a day?

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Last year I managed to feed myself for a day spending just $2.

The aim was to help with the ‘Live Below the Line’ campaign to raise awareness for global poverty. While I was able to eat without going hungry on $2, it wasn’t the most nutritionally balanced day of eating.

So when I was invited by the lovely Lauren from Corridor Kitchen to participate in her $35 challenge – feeding yourself for a week on just $5 a day – I was super excited about her idea.

Unfortunately, I was travelling the week Lauren suggested. So I adapted the concept to my own challenge.

Just 5 days or $25 per person for the week.

and how did I go?

While it did require quite a bit of thought and planning, I actually enjoyed the week.

My Irishman said if I hadn’t told him about the challenge, he would never have noticed we were eating any differently to normal.

And we even managed to entertain some friends on the Friday night, without breaking the challenge, or spending extra cash.

If you’re wondering what we ate, I’ve included a list at the very end of this post.

the rules

Basically it’s all about not spending more than $25 per person on food and beverages. I didn’t include alcohol.. that would have had me over budget on the first day :).

Lauren allows food from your pantry. But apart from salt, pepper, a few spices, mustard, olive oil and vinegar, I didn’t dip into my well stocked pantry. I could probably feed myself for a week for free if I was just eating my pantry / fridge / freezer staples.

Although I did use some pantry items to bake a cake for our guests on Friday night and our sausages for the ‘bangers’ came from the freezer.

Leftovers were also allowed, but again I didn’t rely on any, apart from some leftover cheese for our Friday night entertaining.

I also didn’t include any things from my garden, except a few sprigs of rosemary. Because every where I’ve ever lived, (including Australia, France, the US and England) I’ve always found a rosemary bush somewhere that needs a little pruning.

the challenges?

The most difficult part of the week for me was shopping. Keeping it to just $50 was tough.

I found it helped that I kept a tally on my phone calculator as I added items to my cart. And was very excited when my grocery bill came to $49.99.. phew.

The other thing I really missed was being able to eat from my garden.

There was a new crop of baby broad beans finally on the bush to tempt me. And masses of purple spouting broccoli, cavalo nero and kale that needed eating up.

So it felt a little weird to be focusing on supermarket veg. But hardly the end of the world.

$25 challenge$25 challenge2
burgers with mashy peas

salt crusted burgers with mashy peas

serves 2

This was one of my favourite dinners from the $25 week. The secret is using the salt layer to cook the burgers. So as the juices drip out, the salt helps them congeal and form an instant crust which makes for a moist, full flavoured burger. I actually find that more fatty (and cheaper) beef makes for a more moist and tasty burger.

I’ve served the burgers here with caramelised onions. If you can’t be bothered with all that chopping and sweating, feel free to serve the burgers with your favoruite condiment. Or even just serve them simply with the peas which act as a bit of a sauce anyway.

400g (14oz) minced (ground) beef
2 large handfuls frozen peas
2 knobs butter
splash lemon juice
caramelised onion (recipe below), to serve, optional

1. Heat a frying pan or skillet on a super high heat for at least 3 minutes. You want it smoking hot.

2. Meanwhile divide beef into two and shape into burger patties.

3. Sprinkle a fine layer of fine salt onto the pan and slide the burgers on top. Cook for 4 minutes then turn, adding a little more salt for the second side.

4. Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a medium pan and add the peas. Cook covered on a high heat for about 4 minutes or until peas are hot.

5. Once the burgers are turned, cook for another 4 minutes or until burgers are how you like them.

6. When the peas are hot, add the butter then roughly puree with a stick blender or mash with a fork. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

7. Serve burgers on a bed of mashy peas with caramelised onion, if using.

vegan / vegetarian – make lentil burgers by draining a can of lentils and roughly mashing with a fork. Mix with 2 large handfuls soft bread crumbs and form into 2 patties, using more bread if the burgers feel too wet. Fry in oil until golden on both sides (about 3 mins a side).

chicken burgers – use good quality chicken mince instead of the beef. Serve with a dollup of mayo or aioli instead of the onion.

traditional burgers – cook salt crusted burgers as above but serve on a burger bun with ketchup and a little mayo and some crisp lettuce.

chilli burgers – serve with chilli oil instead of the onion.


caramelised onion
makes heaps

If I’m bothering to make these onions I usually make a heap because they’ll keep in the fridge for a month or so. By all means, halve or quarter the recipe if you’re short on time.

While cheap balsamic is great here, you could easily just add a little sugar and a little regular vinegar (start with 2 tablespoons) instead.

1.5kg (3lb) onions, peeled & finely sliced
4-6 tablespoons cheap balsamic vinegar

1. Heat 6-8 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook, covered over a medium heat, stirring every 5 minutes or so.

2. When the onion has gone deep brown – about 40 minutes or so, add the balsamic and continue to cook, this time uncovered until the onion is super soft and the balsamic has reduced a little – about 5 more minutes.

3. Taste & season.


video version of the recipe

With love,
Jules x

B. 2 poached eggs with cheat’s hollondaise & kale from the garden
L. coronation cauliflower
D. mushroom ‘steaks’ with life-saving lentils & cheat’s hollondaise

B. 1 fried egg with lentils
L. ‘green is good’ salad
D. salt crusted burgers with caramelised onion & mashy peas

B. 1 poached egg with raw asparagus & cheat’s hollondaise
L. green split pea & broccoli salad
D. veggie ragu (tofu & lentils) with steamed broccoli

B. leftover veggie ragu
L. legume & raw veg salad
D. carotti bolognese with celery heart salad

B. leftover carotti bolognese with celery heart salad
L. spiced cauliflower with lentils
D. bangers & smashed potatoes with caramelised onion
burnt carrot salad
minted pea & parmesan salad
lemon cake with ice cream


  • Aw, shucks.

    It is so awesome that you’re getting into the challenge. And good on you for getting into ‘live below the line’ last year as well.

    I’m really glad bloggers are getting on board for a worthy cause and tweaking the challenge to make it their own. And I agree, I found it surprisingly easy to eat healthy and well on the teensy budget for the week.

  • Hi,

    love the blog, love the ideas. Sorry other people don’t always agree with you but that’s life and life should never be taken too seriously. Not been around here long but did recently read about the $2 challenge you did last year, good on you but it’s not your life. Your $50 work out at about £22 a week in the UK. I live on that every week. It’s not easy but it can be done but you do have to to kind-of step out of the world which is hard on the soul sometimes. We may get government benefits in the UK but everyone who lives on them lives in poverty. It’s good to come on here and find something else to do with my rations – thanks.

  • i really like the idea what you are doing. its about building up a frugality culture and ensuring you eat well on that budget.

    Something i am starting to learn to practice. Food cost is increasing here in Singapore as well

  • Thanks Jules…I’ve just given-up my job to start my own blog & photography business. Start-up time is a lean time so I will be looking at all your ideas for inspiration. I love this burger with mashed peas. Looks yummy…I’ll try it soon! :)

  • I just purchased and the download link doesn’t work and I don’t see any info on how to access the course!

  • Steve
    Thanks for purchasing!
    The course doesn’t start until the 19th November.. Will be in touch with details on how to access in the next day or so.

  • I participated in the ‘Live Below the Line’ Campaign on beans, rice, corn tortillas, potatoes, and tapitio (the splurge item). I’ve tweaked it now, but still eat on less than $4 a day. Keeping it simple and what’s in season is the easiest way to do it :).

  • Very interesting experiment. I have had the good fortune of having to really look at my grocery spend over the last few years, and it has been an eye opener. It took me several iterations of my weekly visit to the store before I could actually get it to fit my planned budget. The other thing that helped was to focus on grains, cereals, and vegetables as the main part of my shopping. The most difficult item to fit into my budget was spices, and the way I had to overcome this was to trim my spice inventory down to the basics and let go of some of the exotic stuff. I live in a country where poverty is defined as having less than 1 dollar to spend on food for a family of four. (This barely lets you stock up on carbohydrates, leave alone proteins and fat). It is wonderful to be able to afford whatever you feel like eating, but it is terribly disturbing to think of how the less fortunate survive. This experiment not only shows that it can be done and how, but also can be a step towards more compassionate living and eating.

  • I love the burger patties. It looks delicious. I might chop some onions and mix with the minced beef. I like onions with beef. But I am too lazy to cook the caramelized onion. :)

  • That is quite impressive. I just have cheap grocery bills because I work in a restaurant and rarely need to eat at home, does that count? haha

  • Jules, I’m behind on my reading on this and come late to the discussion. I was reading your grocery tape and your prices seem low compared to mine here. It wpuls be difficult here to live on $5 a day, particularly in our far North. I could do it, and for my family of five, it’s easy to do it for $25 a day because of scale. But for a single person, this xoyld be really difficult. Great way to focus on this!

  • My boyfriend & I have a food budget of $50 a week for the two of us. I’m a vegetarian and find that not buying meat (or very little meat) definitely helps save money. I love your blog for all the cheap meal plan inspiration!

  • Lovely article w/ some ideas I’m going to try, espec. balsamic vinegar added to carmelized onions. Thanks for including a photo of the shopping tab. Interesting to compare prices in Australia to those here in the MidWest in USA. I’d figured your prices were much higher and they are almost identical to here, w/ some cheaper where you live. I love your blog. Thanks for keeping on.

  • Hi Julie

    You are the first food blogger I have encountered who includes so many variations on your dishes to make everyone happy – I love your minimalism too! As a lazy cooker, I jump at any recipe that is less than 10 ingredients and easily adaptable so thank you!
    Keep up with the great job and all the best.

  • This is a great post. I don’t make a lot of money but I do like to eat well and this has helped me to realize I should be able to do it for less money than I’m spending now. Time to tighten the budget. Thanks for helping my family save money! :)

  • I don’t see how this brings awareness to global poverty. You didn’t keep to even the “expanded” rules. You should not have excluded the purchase of alcohol in your tally. You should have included the cost of the herbs from your garden (however meager), the spices and condiments already on hand and your freezer food in your $25 per person cost. And even if you had, how does your experiment bring awareness to global poverty? Perhaps if you had donated the difference between your normal food budget and the $25 to a hunger charity, then you are doing something. You could have encouraged your readers to do the same. The fact that you donate cooking class fees to charity is a good example.

  • I just came across your cooking healthy on a budget ebook. I was a little disappointed that the budget was $5/person/day. Our budget is $75/week for the four of us. There is no way I could afford to (nearly) double that and consider it “budget friendly”.

    That said, I realize you are in a different country than I am, so maybe prices will be a little cheaper here. Either way, I’m sure I’ll find some awesomely yummy recipes that are frugal as well. Thank you for the book! And your site, too. I love all the variations listed in each recipe. I don’t have any dietary restrictions, but they still come in handy :)

    • Hi Desiree
      Yes food prices in Australia are quite different to the US and other countries.
      Hope you find the book helpful anyway

  • Hi Jules,
    Would caramelised onion freeze ok? I’m looking to make some little tartlets for my sons first birthday & the more things I can do & freeze ahead of time, the more enjoyable his party will be for me!

  • Interesting and (sadly) still timely topic. The actual challenge for many in the urban wilderness is living on $5 a day without coming facilities.

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