Healthy recipes--with cost data

By Philip Brewer on 17 November 2007 (Updated 18 August 2011) 9 comments

Want to eat a cheap, healthy diet? Want some recipes that use real food instead of packaged food products? Want to argue about how much it costs to feed a family a healthy diet? Here's a free tool, created by the USDA, that will help you with any of those.

Can you eat for $21 a week? If you had to feed yourself using just food stamps, that's about how much you'd be able to spend. To help people trying to do that--and probably to help policy-makers arguing about the food stamp program--the USDA created a database of recipes and then used cost data from stores (gathered by AC Nielson in 2001, and adjusted based on the CPI) to calculate the cost of each dish. Even if you're neither on food stamps nor a policy maker, the USDA's Food Stamp Nutrition Connection Recipes Finder is available for free.

Nutrition facts for blue corn pan breadIt's kind of a cool tool. You can search by recipe name or by ingredient--that latter being very handy if you bought a bunch of something because it was cheap and are now trying to find a new way to use it. It provides not only cost per recipe and per serving, but also nutrition facts--a nice chart exactly like the one you find on any packaged food. It also lets you print the recipe in several different formats.

Another cool feature is that it will maintain a shopping list for you--click "add to shopping list" for the recipes that you plan to make and it will keep track and give you a list of everything you need. (Sadly, it doesn't total up the amounts when the same ingredient is used in several different recipes, but it does list them all together, making it easy enough to figure out yourself.)

As we've discussed in several recent posts, adjusting 2001 prices with the CPI is likely to underestimate actual costs. Since the data is based on national averages, though, regional and seasonal variations will probably be a greater source of inaccuracy than the inflation adjustment. (I couldn't immediately find a way to get at the price data used--it just presents aggregate prices for the recipes--so it wouldn't be easy to spot-check the prices for accuracy.)

Still, despite its limitations, it seems like a cool free resource for anyone who wants to make cheap, healthy meals out of real food.

The Blue Corn Pan Bread recipe looked good. They say you can make the recipe for $1.43, which comes to just $0.12 per serving:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups blue cornmeal (yellow may be used)
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sprouted wheat*
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

*To sprout wheat: Wash untreated wheat grains; drain but do not dry. Spread in a single layer in shallow pans and cover with damp cloths. Keep damp in a warm, dark place.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line 8x8 inch cake pan with foil.
  2. Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add each ingredient, one at a time.
  3. Stir well until mixture is smooth and pour into foil-lined cake pan. Cover with a piece of foil.
  4. Bake for 2 hours. Bread is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
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Myscha Theriault's picture

Awesome! Thanks, Philip! This is right up my alley. It's so cool you can print out the store-like label. Really cool.

Guest's picture
Guest

Do you by chance, know of any quality online food services? I am starting to order all my food online because of various reasons. (Health being one of them) So far I have found 2 services, Fresh Dining (an LA company) and Celebrity Foods, but you have to call them so they can talk to you about your need. I would really like any suggestions that you may have, so I can widen my list of quality places online where I can order healthy food from.
Thank you and have a great night or day…depending on when you read this. LOL!!!!

Philip Brewer's picture

I don't, I'm afraid.

If you end up getting the scoop, do come back and let us all know what the story is!

Guest's picture
Guest

What a rip! You can't eat blue corn bread everyday all the time. Dude writes an article on how much one can save money, eat healthy and go local and fresh and gives ONE recipe.

Philip Brewer's picture

If you follow the link to the USDA's Food Stamp Nutrition Connection Recipes Finder, you'll find several hundred recepies with nutrition and cost data provided.

Guest's picture
Guest

my bad, i just woke up and stumbled on your article.

Guest's picture
Guest

New York: Fresh Direct , Fairway. Most delis and supermarkets will deliver to you.

Guest's picture
Guest (Rina)

Through all of the different searches and links I could find to try and get to this page, NONE happened to work they all said that the page could not be displayed...do you by any chance know why that might be? The Food Stamp Recipe Finder seems like a very nice resource, yet I can't seem to get to it.

Philip Brewer's picture

It appears to have been a temporary glitch with the USDA's servers.  I was also unable to get to the site an hour ago, but it seems to be working now.