How to Eat 3 Good Meals for Just $4 a Day

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Photo by Samantha Bolton for Yahoo Food.

Every week, Yahoo Food spotlights a cookbook that stands out from all the rest. This week’s cookbook is Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown. Check out more Yahoo Food Cookbooks of the Week here.

While many cookbooks entice with the promise of culinary escapism, few are devoted to the segment of the population that can feel most trapped in the kitchen.

But when Leanne Brown, 30, moved from Canada to New York City to enroll in New York University’s Food Studies program, she was consumed with answering a single question: How does one restricted to SNAP, the U.S. government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly called food stamps — eat well on a budget of $4 per day?

After analyzing prices for groceries in the Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood and online, Brown set about creating a collection of affordable, healthy, and filling recipes that could be prepared by people on a food stamp budget. Rather than relying on processed foods, the tome taught readers how to shop strategically and cook simple, wholesome dishes like corn soup, beet and chickpea salad, or vegetable quesadillas.


Charred Summer Salad. Photo: Leanne Brown and Dan Lazin.

Then she posted the cookbook online under the title Good & Cheap and made it available to download for free.

“My philosophy is: If people want this information, they should have it,” Brown told Yahoo Food. “It was really important there be no barriers.”

The book took on a life of its own. More than 800,000 downloads later, the cookbook had clearly struck a nerve.

A subsequent Kickstarter campaign to fund printed versions raised $144,681, fueling the donation of 12,000 books to nonprofits across the United States and Canada. Nearly 40,000 more were sold at massive discounts to those same groups.

By many accounts, the response has been tremendously successful — certainly greater than Brown ever imagined. But the author acknowledges that occasional negative commentary has made its way back to her.


Creative, healthy toppings for hot dogs. Photo: Leanne Brown and Dan Lazin.

“The misunderstanding that bothers me the most is that I would never encourage someone to eat on $4 per day,” she said. “The cookbook’s purpose is not to glorify or suggest that this is a good situation. It’s a resource to be of help to those 46 million Americans who find themselves on that sort of budget.”

Brenda Mahoney, 64, of Tioga, Texas, is one such home cook. Her life changed dramatically and she found herself relying on SNAP.

“Little did I know when I was in the Junior League, raising money, supporting various charities, and helping others in need that I would someday be on the receiving end,” Mahoney told Yahoo Food.

“I did not expect to adopt two children in my 50s as I was going through a divorce, and my employment opportunities and sources of income were waning,” she continued. “But I began to have more trouble making ends meet, and have always felt appreciative of the programs such as food banks, WIC, and SNAP that assured me the ability to properly feed my children and myself.”

Mahoney stumbled upon the PDF version of Good & Cheap last year while searching online for recipes that could stretch her food plan.


Peanut chicken broccoli. Photo: Leanne Brown and Dan Lazin.

“I liked the unique way the book was laid out and appreciated the variety and seemingly infinite combinations,” she said. “My SNAP benefits go further because now we eat a lot less meat in favor of beans and other plant-based protein.”

The book also helped guide Mahoney back to health after a period of depression and weight gain that left her blood sugar levels and cortisol production both dangerously high.

“Since November, I have lost 45 pounds and feel better than I have in over 10 years,” said Mahoney. “I was able to plant a really nice garden because I am no longer too tired to go outside… Now, we have corn, squash, beans, okra, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lots of herbs, which enhance all of Leanne’s recipes. I don’t take medicine for anything anymore: not one prescription for cholesterol, blood pressure, high blood sugar, sleep or depression. In fact, I don’t have any aches, pains or low moods.”

While ecstatic for Mahoney’s inspiring story, Brown is reluctant to take any credit for her recent strides.

“Something in [Brenda], internally, she made a decision to do that,” demurred Brown. “But it speaks to the natural power of good food to change your life.”


Vegetable quiche. Photo: Leanne Brown and Dan Lazin.

More change is on the horizon.

Last month, Good & Cheap was officially re-released by Workman Publishing, again with a charitable component: For every copy purchased, a second copy will be given to a person or family in need.

Meanwhile, a series of inspired food events are being planned across the country in reaction to the printing, like at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Center, which is hosting a four-week program open to the public based around Good & Cheap that focuses on cooking skills, pantry skills, and more.

Brown plans to travel to as many such events as possible this fall to meet with readers and research ideas for a possible companion project.

“I’m currently figuring out whether it will be ‘Good & Cheap 2’ or a different kind of book,” she said. “But I’m really looking forward to being on the tour to listen to people and what other needs I could possibly attempt to help with or address.”

Visit Yahoo Food throughout the week for recipes from Good & Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day.

Check out other cookbooks from Yahoo Food’s Cookbook of the Week:

Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig

Oh Gussie! By Kimberly Schlapman

A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield