Book Review—“Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day”
Leanne Brown’s cookbook brings home healthy meals on a tight budget
Coming up with inspired, delicious, and affordable things to feed your children (and yourself!) three times a day can be exhausting. Oatmeal, grilled cheese, and buttered pasta start to feel unbearably plain by about Wednesday night. Sometimes, as you gaze into your smelly fridge or open your wilting produce drawer, you just want to give up and order a pizza. All parents inevitably feel this mealtime ennui, but many face the challenge of feeding their families on a strict budget. Solo Moms have to navigate the supermarket aisles within the limits of their solo-income budget. Leanne Brown’s accessible, new cookbook Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day (Workman Publishing Company, 2015) provides both practical tools and inspiring recipes for Solo Moms feeding their families on a budget.
Good and Cheap will help any Solo Mom shop responsibly and seasonally, and come up with a variety of wonderful, affordable, vegetable-centered meals for her family. The book emerged out of Brown’s food studies research at New York University—the first version of this book was her master’s thesis. (The PDF she created then is still free on leannebrown.com.) Brown wanted to design a cookbook for families living on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program, which typically provides $4 per person per day. Currently, 46.2 million people rely on SNAP, 49% of whom are children, three-quarters of whom are living in a single-parent household.
Brown provides an inspiring food resource that encourages people, no matter their budget, to feel empowered to cook at home and to cook healthier, greener, more nutritious meals. Brown built equitable access into her publication plan. For every purchased copy of Good and Cheap, a free copy is given away to someone in need. So far, 14,500 copies of Good and Cheap have been given away. One cookbook cannot undo or address the inequalities and inadequacies of the food-access crisis in our country. Nor can it provide a workable meal plan for all families, so Brown set out a much humbler aim in her introduction: “I hope it can be a spark, a general strategy, a flexible set of approachable and cheap recipes. The rest is up to you.”
Brown’s book contains many impressive topics—“Tips for Eating and Shopping Well,” “Supermarket Strategies,” and “Groceries You Won’t Regret Buying”—that will help Solo Moms fill their pantries. She even helps you think about what to do with leftovers and provides a chart for buying produce in season so that it is cheaper in its prime. Brown’s focus on vegetables and nonmeat proteins is both health and wallet friendly. But she’s not just about the budget; there’s no need to sacrifice flavor or richness—she is strong advocate for using butter instead of other cheaper oils!
The recipes are organized according to mealtimes and meal types: for breakfast, there are six inventive takes on oatmeal, various egg dishes, and a few sweet morning treats your kids will love. Who wouldn’t gobble up Chocolate Zucchini Muffins? The “Soup and Salad” section provides inspiration for simple and satisfying lunches, such as Kale Caesar Salad and Cold (and Spicy?) Asian Noodles. “Snacks, Sides, and Small Bites” is full of savory, quick dishes, such as the innovative collection “Things on Toast” (caramelized onions and cheddar, avocado, spinach, and chickpeas). And a favorite, that could be eaten any time of day, is the delicious Brussels Sprout Hash and Eggs.
Brown’s dinner recipes include more meat than the rest of her book: Beef Stroganoff, Spicy Broiled Tilapia with Lime, and Filipino Chicken Adobe will please the meat eaters in your household. And sweets aren’t neglected: Brown includes indulgences such as Peach Coffee Cake and Coconut Lime Rice Pudding. And the book also has these two recipe categories: “Big Batch” (for feeding a crowd) and “Pantry” (sauces, salsas, spice mixes, breads, pastas, and pickles).
Each recipe has a price per serving, calculated by Brown according to the current availability and price of ingredients in the New York City area. This is the only place where Brown’s book doesn’t quite meet her aims. The prices per serving are based on the proportions of the recipe, not the actual cost of buying ingredients up front. For example, Vegetable Jambalaya is listed as costing $0.65 a serving and $3.90 in total, but if you don’t already have celery, spices, rice, and vegetable broth—items that the recipe needs only small amounts of—you will have to spend more money at the store. This pitfall is somewhat unavoidable, but Good and Cheap is based on the good sense that in the long run, buying in bulk, avoiding prepared foods, and cooking at home will be healthier and cheaper for your family.
All the recipes are simple, fresh, and easy, and Brown has made them flexible, often suggesting multiple vegetable options, additions, or other substitutions. With a copy of Good and Cheap, you’ll find yourself prepared and inspired to get into the kitchen and take a closer look at what’s in the fridge.
Lucinda Segar is a writer and educator living in Hudson, New York. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia University and currently teaches writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as multidisciplinary workshops for kids in Hudson at Kite’s Nest and the Hudson Intermediary School.
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