The $5 per day food challenge

When budgeting the topic of how much people spend on food often comes up. I saw someone post they had $40 to last them a week until pay day and they were asking for recipes that help stretch the budget.

This is how I’d stretch a $5 per day budget for food over 2 weeks ($70 in total). The TLDR: it’s all vegetarian and involves 1 big cook day.

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

Table of Contents

    The shop

    Buy seasonal, I wouldn’t have considered mushrooms for this challenge but these ones were cheap at $3.99 (I didn’t weigh them but I think there was around 800 gm). I also checked a few different stores for prices/specials.


    Eggplant1.192 kg$4.76Harris Farm
    Zuchini0.847 kg$2.53Harris Farm
    Celery1 bunch$1.99Harris Farm
    Broccoli0.587 kg$1.47Harris Farm
    Cauliflower2.125 kg$2.90Coles
    Capscicum1.476 kg$5.89Panetta
    Swiss Mushrooms1 packet$3.99Panetta
    Carrots1 kg$2.00Woolworths
    Onion1 kg$1.50Woolworths
    Garlic1 head$1.25Woolworths


    Red Lentils375 gm$2.30Woolworths
    Dried Chickpeas375 gm$1.80Woolworths
    Dried Kidney Beans375 gm$2.69Woolworths
    Pasta Spirals x 2500 gm$1.60Woolworths
    Diced Tomato x 2400 gm$1.20Woolworths
    Raspberry Jam500 gm$1.40Woolworths
    Basmati Rice1 kg$3.30Woolworths
    Bread650 gm$1.30Woolworths
    Lemon Juice250 ml$1.00Woolworths
    Coconut Cream x 2400 ml$2.00Coles
    Peanut butter375 gm$1.80Coles
    Tomato Paste500 gm$2.60Coles


    1kg tub of greek style yoghurt, $3.90 bought from woolworths.


    Baby Peas500 gm$1.70Woolworths
    Spinach x 2250 gm$1.90Woolworths

    This put’s my total spent so far at $61.27 I didn’t end up using the second bag of pasta, or any of the frozen vegs in my first cook. I had completely forgotten about them. I could have deducted $6.90 from this bill.

    If I had bought half the eggplant, half the capscicum, passed on the mushrooms and celery it would have saved me about $11.26. I could have gotten this shop down to $43.11.

    I could have gotten this 2 week challenge to be under $45. I bought too many vegetables, woolworths/coles were both out of their cheap tomato paste ($1.25 vs $2.60) and there were a few left over vegie pieces from the big cook that I have in the freezer that I could have re purposed.

    If my budget for 2 weeks is $70, this leaves me with $8.73 to buy extra stuff (e.g. that bread won’t last me 2 weeks, it only has 11 servings in it).

    While we are on the topic of bread, I keep bread in the fridge to help it last longer. I don’t share bread with my housemate. If I kept bread on the bench it would go mouldy before I get to eat it all. I only ever toast my bread so keeping it in the fridge works for me.

    Learning how to read a label

    Don’t be afraid of reading the label. You’ll often find products have identical ingredients but the more expensive one has nicer marketing/packaging. They always list the main ingredient (or highest percentage) first.

    Sometimes you will pay more for higher quality. E.G. Jam’s come in a variety of % of fruit used. E.G. the cheap raspberry jam is 40% fruit, it’s more sugar than anything else. Where as a more expensive one might be 50% fruit.

    You can also compare things like fat/protein/sugar and fibre across different products too. Something might promote itself as “healthy” with 10gm of protein but if there’s also 20gm of fat it might not be as healthy as the marketing would lead you to believe. It’s easier to compare per 100gm as this gives you a %. If there’s 10gm of sugar per 100gm you can say it’s 10% sugar.

    For example frozen peas are around 5.4% protein and 7.2% carbs. They are actually a surprising source of protein. If you had 200gm of pea’s that’s over 10gm of protein.

    Shop around

    I went to 4 different stores to source the ingredients for this challenge, I checked out in season stock and the imperfect section at my local harris market.

    By the time I got back harris farm, the cauliflower was no longer on special and the eggplant had increased by $1 per kilo. I should have bought them when I saw them.

    My local fruit and veg shop also has dried beans in bulk which is cheaper than Woolworths ($2.99 per kg vs $4.80 per kg). I wish I had known this before I bought them through woolies online. This store also has those dried mexican chillies that were used in the chillie recipe.


    I spent almost as much time planning as I did cooking. When working with a budget or doing a bunch of cooking in bulk it’s useful to start with a pen and paper.

    I started with writting down everything I wanted to buy, recipe’s I could cook and what order I may want to do things on cook day. I only have a tiny kitchen after all and I don’t have infinite pots. The chickpeas had the longest cook time, so I thought I’d get them out of the way first.

    My kitchen is tiny, it ain’t fancy, I have a tiny bar fridge and a small chest freezer. My rent is real cheap (hence the small kitchen). I live in a 2 bedroom apartment in inner west Sydney, I pay $190 per week in rent, I’m 5km away from the city centre and a 7 minute walk from the nearest train station. Overall it’s a pretty sweet deal.

    Converting from dried to tinned

    If we compare the dried chick peas nutrional information with a tinned variety, we see the energy is 2.6 times the amount (1490 / 571), this would indicate that cooking chick peas will cause them to weigh 2.6 times more because of water absorption.

    For my calculations, I went by this rule of thumb:

    Dried beans will double in weight when cooked

    This means my 375gm of chickpeas created at least 750gm of cooked beans which is the equavilent of 3 tins. So if you want to make my Cauli Korma recipe with tinned beans instead, just use 1 tin instead of 250gm of cooked. My chilli was a whole packet of kidney beans, use 3 tins of beans instead if you want to make the same amount.

    Some of the protein in the chickpeas comes out in the liquid, that’s why it’s good to use the bean juice left over in your tins/cooked beans. It’s useful to retain that protein.

    What is NOT included

    My daily vitamins

    I have low iron, vitamin d and take a daily amount of fibre (metamucil). The cost of these aren’t included in my food shop challenge.


    I have instant coffee and whole beans that I’ll grind and brew in the aeropress. The beans cost me about a $1 per coffee but the instant stuff is pretty cheap. I’ll have 1 of each most mornings. I don’t drink caffeine past midday. Some days I’ll get a takeaway coffee instead of making one at home.

    I also have a stock pile of bonsoy. I’ll buy a box of 6 every 2 months or so. It is the best milk substitute for cooking with. I’ve done some pretty convincing white sauce for lasagna’s and nacho’s with it before.

    Vegan Nacho’s with Queso


    I used salt, spices, oil and other seasonings that I already had available in my pantry. If you are just starting out, vegeta stock has salt, onion, garlic and msg. Don’t worry about MSG, it’s naturally occuring in things like onion, garlic and tomato. You can also make your own MSG powder too.

    Generic curry powder is fine but can sometimes have salt and other fillers added. I’ve bought a bunch of my curries from no worries curries. They even have recipe cards on the back of their packets.

    When seasoning food, it’s often a balance of salt, sweet (sugar), savoury (umami/MSG), spice (chilli), sour (lemon juice or vinegar) and mouth feel (fat). If the seasoning doesn’t feel right try adding a few of these different elements and test out the food as you go.

    Often a bit of lemon juice and sugar at the end of a cook can help tie everything together.

    Takeaway containers

    I used a shit ton of my own tupperware. Many of the containers were repurposed from a previous frozen meal prep purchase from core powerfoods.

    Cat Food/Toiletries/cleaning supplies

    This challenge doesn’t include cat food, toiletries or other cleaning supplies that might be included in a grocery shop. I do like to treat this puss well though. We buy science diet from petbarn every 3 to 4 months and get our toilet paper from who gives a crap.

    The cook

    I used a pressure cooker to prepare the beans, cook the tomato sauce and do the rice. My pressure cooker cost me $60 from kmart and is the best. I get so much use out of it. The chick peas were 40 minutes in the cooker, and the kidney beans were 30.

    My housemate is vegan, so if I want to share food with them it has to be vegan. I’ve enjoyed growing my repitior of vegan dishes and many of these are staple’s I make on a regular basis.

    The cook took me 5 hours on a Sunday morning. I start at 7am and finished the cleaning by 12pm. You can watch that 5 hour cook sped up to under 9 minutes here (a better edited video with a voice over will come later):

    Cauli Korma

    Chop cauliflower, place in a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt, MSG, olive oil and cumin powder. Roast for 45 minutes or until brown on edges. Add oil to a pot, brown onions. Add garlic, a tablespoon of curry powder and two table spoons of tomato paste. Add 250gm of chickpeas and the roasted cauliflower. Add half a tin of coconut cream and enough water to coat things in sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste.

    I love roasted califlower. It’s one of my favourite roasted vegies.


    Brown onions in oil, add mushrooms and water (see this video for why cooking mushrooms in water first is better) add garlic and other vegies. Add tomato paste, dried herbs, chilli and red wine. Stir. Pressure cook for 20 minutes. Cook pasta. Add sauce to pasta. Add seasoning and nutrional yeast.


    This is super easy to make at home, at everything (chickpeas, water, oil, garlic, salt, tahini and lemon juice) to a food processor. Give it a whiz. Your done. Now it can get fancy but this is my lazy hummus. If you don’t have tahini you can use peanut butter instead.


    Served with some yoghurt and an optional avocado

    This is good on nacho’s or served on it’s own. I like to add a bit of that yoghurt to help mellow out the spiceness (or some goats cheese if I’m feeling fancy).

    Here’s a previous version of that Chilli, served with yoghurt, avocado and corn chips.

    Here is that chilli recipe inspired by babish:


    Brown onions in oil. Add garlic. add vegies. Fry for a bit. Add satay sauce (mix of peanut butter, sweet chilli sauce and 1/2 tin of coconut cream), add chickpeas, add water to desired consistency. Cooked covered until done.


    I made a combo mix of buttery dahl and veg curry. It was surprisingly tasty. But here Rainbow plant life has a different recipe:

    She’s been a huge inspiration for some of my recent recipe’s. I quite like her meal prep video.


    Some of these meals have rice, I’ve told my housemate they can help themselves to them all. As I had weight loss surgey in 2016 I don’t need rice, it’s empty calories for me. But you may want to bulk out your meals with it, so that’s why I’ve included it. Cook twice or triple the amount of rice depending on your energy needs.

    In total the cook made atleast 30 servings of food. Of which most went into the freezer. This should be plenty of food and variety to last me 14 days worth of lunches/dinners.

    I spent 5 hours on a Sunday morning (including cleaning my kitchen) to do all of this prep. That’s the equivalent of spending 22 minutes a day over 14 days cooking.

    A container of chilli, caulikorma, pasta, satay and dahl went into the fridge (it’s about 1 weeks worth of food), the rest went into the freezer:


    Peanut butter and jam on toast.

    What a drag, this is the first thing I’d upgrade with a bigger budget. I love sourdough bread but this can add up to $9 per week to the food shop. I am learning how to make my own sourdough and this only costs me $2 per loaf in ingredients but it is a journey and not for the faint of hearted.

    This sourdough is my bread of choice but cost me $9 a loaf from a local bakery
    Here is some bread that I baked myself.

    I’d also upgrade the jam in a heart beat. I didn’t realise my preffered jam is just under $10 per jar though. Ouch.


    Yoghurt with raspbery swirl.

    Microwave some raspberry jam (add water if you want to thin it out), add some yoghurt, stir around.

    I normally do this with frozen raspberries, but the jam can work as well. I would prefer to use a higher quality yoghurt, this woolworths greek style yoghurt doesn’t have the same structural integrity I’m use too (it’s a little thin). However it still tastes fine.


    carrot sticks and hummus.

    I love this snack, in fact I make it for boardgames day as a regular. I don’t feel bad if I snack on these all day.

    You can submerge carrot stocks in water to keep them fresher for longer in the fridge.

    buttered peas and/or corn.

    Other notes/Inspiration

    I love binging with babish, there’s this video on how to do a few different things with chick peas:

    I was interested to find out how tinned chick peas are made (turns out they are pressure cooked in their tins), and here are 4 more recipe ideas using chick peas:

    This sweet potato curry looks pretty nice, I’d use frozen spinach instead of fresh though. Sweet potato can be pretty cheap from the imperfect section at Harris Farm too.

    Joshua Weissman has this but cheaper series on YouTube. And Life of Boris has this 10€ per week food video too (10€ is around $18.91 AUD at day of publishing). He actually includes some meat in his but not as many vegetables as I did. Also Andong has this awesome chickpea stew that I should try one day.

    Final sentiments

    This defintly is a tighter budget compared to what I’m use to. However most of these recipes are part of my regular rotation. The main difference with what I normally eat is an upgrade for some of the ingredients (e.g. the bread, jam, yoghurt and pasta) and I buy some more conveniance based items (e.g. frozen prepared meals).

    I eat meat for four meals a weak and generally stick to vegan/vegetarian food otherwise. So this challenge wasn’t too different for me. If you want to use meat in any of these recipes use chicken instead of chickpeas or mince instead of kidney beans.

    I normally spend $100 per week on average on groceries, I’ve set up an alert with my bank (Up Bank) to let me know if I go over $500 per month:

    If you do try any of these recipe’s be aware that eating beans for a week when you aren’t use to it will give you stinky farts. This is a sign your microbiome is loving the food, but your partner, collegues or house mates might not love you as much. You have been warned.

    I had my gall bladder removed this time last year and since then I’ve had digestive problems if I eat too much meat/fatty foods which has helped me love a more plant based diet. I actually have most of these things (like dried/tinned beans, pasta, tomato paste, etc) always stockpiled in my cupboards.

    Eating on a budget doesn’t have to be unhealthy, vegetarian dishes can be budget friendly and it can be semi decent for the environment too.

    5/10/2021 Update

    I did this big cook on the 19th of September, over 2 weeks ago. I’m still working my way through the frozen food because I often see easy prepard meals for 50% off in the supermarket that I’ll eat too.

    I’ve had a breakthrough with baking my own bread. The loaf on the left is commercial yeast. The one on the right is my first sourdough that I’m proud of. It’s taken me 2 months of lockdowns with baking bread once a week to finally get to this point.

    To do the bread I start at 6pm on a Friday, first thing is to rewake the starter. I add 40gm of starter with 30gm of water and 30gm of flour. At 10pm I start the kneeding and let it sit over night. I start folding the bread from 7am the next day and it’s in the oven by around 12pm. This youtube channel has been most of the inspiration behind my recent bread adventures:

    Having sourdough toast makes me happier with this budget. I hated eating the cheap bread and it never filled me up. It felt unsubstantial. I didn’t end up eating the whole loaf, I put the last 6 pieces in the food recycler bin. I did have to get more peanut butter but the raspberry jam has about half left. I could get this challenge down to $3 per day if I only used chickpeas and re-used the brocholi/cauliflower stalks.

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