Day One: $1.50 A Day Food Challenge

I decided to do this $1.50 A Day Food Challenge a week earlier and post up my results for each day of the 5 day challenge.

First, I just want to make the disclaimer that during this time period, I used free items as part of the challenge.  After all, if you’re lucky enough to get free food anywhere in the world, it counts towards food on the table, including what you’re paying out of pocket.


Granola w/ soy milk
Coffee w/ soy milk

Today’s breakfast was a free meal.  One day, I was given a bag of Cascadian Farm Organic Protein Granola.  It’s one of those free merchandising bits that happens around New York City every now and again.  Some marketing group stands outside handing out samples.  In this case, I was given a full bag of granola.

I had a bowl of the granola along with soy milk that I got from my office (free).

I am also a coffee fiend.  I won’t be able to make my own coffee because it fits outside of this week’s budget.  This week, I’m going to use the free coffee and soy milk offered at the office.


Ingredients to Lentil Soup
Ingredients to Lentil Soup

Lentil soup
Carrots/Celery Crudites
Ranch dressing

Throughout the week, I’ll be using the carrots/celery.  A bag of carrots was $0.99, and the celery was $0.89.

For lunch, I had a bowl of Lentil Soup I made from my crock pot.  The ingredients pictured here produced 4 bowls of soup at $0.24/bowl.

Keep in mind, that lentil soup can be drab and boring.  In order to make it more flavorful, it is important to sauté the onions and tomatoes prior to putting them into the crock pot.  It makes a world of difference.



2 Cups of Lentils
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Madras Curry Powder


1. In a crockpot, put the lentils in the pot, covering it with water, leaving about an inch of water above the lentils.

This recipe produces 4 bowls of lentil soup.  Each bowl is $0.24/bowl.
This recipe produces 4 bowls of lentil soup. Each bowl is $0.24/bowl.

2.  In a saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt, cook until translucent (about 1-2 minutes).  Add the diced tomatoes, cooking until the tomatoes are soft, almost liquid (about 3-4 minutes).

3.  Add the curry powder, salt and pepper to the crockpot along with the tomatoes/onion mixture.  Stir the ingredients.

4.  The lentils are done in 2-3 hours if cooking on high temperature.  At low temperature, it is 4-6 hours.  Check the lentils after 2 hours and stir to make sure the lentils do not clump or burn at the bottom. The lentils are done when the beans are soft.

Makes 4 servings

Cost breakdown:

1  4 lb. bag of lentil soup = $2.00 (only used roughly 1/2 a pound, which equates to $0.25)
2  tomatoes (6 pack of tomatoes = $1.29. 2 tomatoes=$0.43)
1 onion = $0.30 (1/4 of an onion = $0.08)
Spices/oil $0.20
TOTAL: $0.96 for 4.  1 bowl = $0.24.

Lentil Soup.
Lentil Soup.

Lunch Cost breakdown:

Lentil soup: $0.24
Carrots: $0.99/bag (cost will appear this one time to encompass all 5 days)
Celery: $0.89/bag (cost will appear this one time to encompass all 5 days)
Ranch dressing: $0.05 (One bottle was $0.79. I used only a fraction of it and may not use it again)


NOTE: Challenge is $1.50/day for 5 days.  Because I’ll be using the carrots/celery over the course of 5 days, it’s just easier to calculate the cost now for the entire bags instead of trying to figure out the cost of a single stalk of celery or a single carrot and how much was used in each dish.  Total amount of money that can be used over these 5 days is $7.50.  Money remaining: $5.33.


Fried Rice
BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Green Beans
Fried Bananas

Basic Ingredients: Chicken, Carrots, Celery, Garlic and spices.
Basic Ingredients: Chicken, Carrots, Celery, Garlic and spices.

One thing that I always make when I buy chicken is stock.  I boil the chicken with carrots, celery and various spices.  After it’s done, I not only have chicken stock to use in various soups and recipes, but I also have the chicken, carrots & celery to use in other dishes.

Using these ingredients as the base, so far I’ve created chicken fried rice and congee (rice porridge).

When making chicken stock, you can use whole chicken, chicken quarters, or any chicken part you want.  You can also use any spice you’d like.  I generally use Asian spices, especially star anise, to flavor the stock and the chicken, because I like to make a lot of Asian dishes with the chicken and stock.  I recommend not just throwing in a variety of ingredients.  Try to stick to a ‘spice theme.’  For this batch, I used ground cilantro, garlic, ginger, ground ginger, bay leaves, and kaffir lime leaves.  It allows for a bit of an Asian flare, but not too powerful like it would be if I added star anise to the mix.  Star anise will give you the equivalent of the Pho soup flavor.

Keep in mind that there are a variety of ways to make chicken stock.  This is my way, which I find to be the easiest, hassle free way to make stock.



2 sliced carrots
2 sliced celery stalks

NOTE: To make this process easier, if you have a stock pot with a deep steamer insert [like the one featured from Cuisinart here], use it so that it will make it easier to keep the stock and the ingredients separate.  If you do not use a deep steamer like the one featured in the link, you’ll have to manually separate the ingredients from the stock and then feed the stock through a cheese cloth as seen in these examples.


Fill a large stock pot with water, place over medium high heat.  Place steamer in the stock pot.

In the steamer, place the chicken, carrots, and celery in it, along with the spices, salt and pepper.  Boil for a little over an hour (i.e. until the chicken is fully cooked).

When the chicken is done, remove the steamer from the pot and put the chicken/vegetables into a large bowl to cool.

All that should be left in the pot is the stock.  Wait for it to cool down to a warm (manageable) temperature before transferring the stock to jars or bottles.

After the chicken/vegetables have cooled, separate the chicken from the vegetables/etc. and shred the meat, put the meat aside into a resealable container.  Use the vegetables immediately after for your next dish.

NOTE: If you are using glass to transfer the stock into, here are some points to remember.  1. When the stock is between warm to hot, transfer it to the glass container.  Make sure to use a towel to hold the glass while you fill up the container.  2.  Quickly put the lid on it and set the jar aside to let the stock cool down.  3.  When you hear a pop, that means that the jar has sealed.  4.  Keep the jar out until it is lukewarm (room temperature) to the touch before putting it into the refrigerator or freezer.  This usually takes a few hours.

Glass is very temperamental to hot/cold.  You do not want to put hot glass into a cold environment or vice versa.  The glass will break.


Fried rice
Fried rice

Since the meat/stock is being used to create other dishes, I’m going to list the meals as they go, but include the cost to make the base here and add the supplemental costs as we go along.


2 chicken quarters (4 lbs. at $2.16 (it was on sale), each quarter at $0.54/each) = $1.08
Celery/Carrots added to price from lunch.

TOTAL SO FAR TODAY (+Lunch): $3.25

Keep in mind that this is $1.50/day challenge.  The total cost here is going to be combined for the 5 days of the $7.50 total, because each of these recipes are being used for multiple meals.

What I ended up having for dinner was 1/2 serving of fried rice, bbq chicken on a biscuit, and green beans.  For dessert, I had some fried bananas that were given to me for FREE from a Thai restaurant I go to all of the time.

Additional costs:

Rice ($1.49/3 lbs.  1/2 lb. of rice used) = $0.25
1 egg ($1.29/12 eggs.  1 egg used) = $0.11
1 bag of frozen green beans = $1.00
1 biscuit ($1.09/10 biscuits) = $0.11

OVERALL TOTAL TODAY (All meals): $4.72

I made fried rice from the chicken/vegetables mixture.  It netted 2.5 servings.

Congee (rice porridge)
Congee (rice porridge)

I also made congee (rice porridge) from the chicken/vegetables/stock.  This netted 4-5 servings.  [The garnish is spring onions that I grow at home.]

I will be using the green beans over the course of the next few days, so I thought I would add the total cost to today’s total for the entire bag (like the carrots/celery).  Between the fried rice and the congee, I was able to generate 6-7 more meals for the next few days.

There is still rice, chicken, carrots, celery and green beans leftover to create additional meals over the next few days.  There are also 3 more bowls of Lentil Soup to devour.  As we go through each day, I’ll only add any additional costs beyond what was already accounted for today.