$5 Meal Challenge

SlowFood USA is hosting a $5 Challenge on September 17th. The premise? That good, healthy, slow food can be had for just as little (if not less) money than the average fast food “value” meal. The challenge is to cook a homemade meal for less than $5 per person.

If you know how to cook, this challenge becomes infinitely easier. In fact, I might even be able to pull of a $5 total meal (depending on how many people attend). Here are some recipe ideas to get you started that reflect some of the cheapest produce available now that it is summer. Some of them are my recipes, and some are links. Enjoy!

Summer Recipes

Cream Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches

Hearty toast, two slices for each person
cream cheese, softened
ripe plum or other not-too-juicy tomatoes
deli ham (optional)
coarse sea salt

Slice tomatoes crosswise and lay out on a plate. Sprinkle with sea salt and let sit for at least 20 minutes, to draw out the juices and  take in the salt. Spread softened cream cheese on hot toast, then top with tomatoes and, if using, sliced deli ham. Top with other piece of toast and devour. Don’t mind the drips.

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

Had this one the other night! The squash is not quite like pasta spaghetti – it has more of an al dente bite to it, but the taste is just as delicious and far better for you.

1 spaghetti squash
1 lb ground beef
1 jar prepared marinara sauce or make your own
chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)
1 onion, diced

If you have the time, cook the squash in the oven by piercing in multiple places with a knife (bake on a baking sheet to catch any drips) and baking at 350 for an hour or so. Or, cook in the microwave (remember to pierce it or you may have exploded squash inside your microwave) on high for 15 minutes, then let rest for 5 minutes. Remove with oven mitts and cut in half (use a very large knife). If not cooked through, microwave each half separately for an additional 10 minutes. Using a spoon, scoop out the mealy centers with all the seeds (save seeds to roast like pumpkin seeds – they taste like popcorn!), then use a fork to break flesh up into strings.

Meanwhile, brown ground beef and onions in a large skillet. When meat is cooked through, drain off fat. Add sauce and fresh tomatoes (if using) and let cook until fresh tomatoes are cooked through.

Serve like spaghetti. And then eat lots of garlic bread to make up for eating a vegetable instead of pasta.

Double Yellow Squash

1 medium or 2 small yellow summer squashes (or zucchini), sliced
1 small onion, diced
a little olive oil
yellow mustard

In a large skillet, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft. then add squash and cook until tender, but not mushy. Stir in yellow mustard to coat after the squash has cooked (cooking the mustard too long will cook off the vinegar and make it taste bitter). Serve with scrambled eggs for a triple yellow meal, or with regular summer fare like burgers, hotdogs, or steak. You could even add some fresh corn if you wanted to add a little sweetness and up the yellow factor.

Peach Basil Salad

This ridiculously simple salad is a fantastic summer side-dish, or makes a great light lunch. I stole it from my friend Abby. And yes, no dressing necessary.

4-6 perfectly ripe peaches (a mix of yellow and white is excellent)
6+ leaves fresh basil
fresh pearlini mozzarella, drained or crumbled feta (optional)

Wash peaches and cut into bite-sized chunks, leaving skin on. Thinly slice the basil (I don’t like giant chunks) or chiffonade and add to the peaches, tossing to combine. If using, add pearlini or feta and toss to combine. This salad is best if left to marinate for at least a half hour.

Tomato Cucumber Chickpea Salad

2 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 a large or 1 small cucumber, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 can or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
olive oil
lemon juice (bottled is fine)
chopped garlic

Combine all ingredients and toss to combine. If you use canned chickpeas, they will be less chalky in texture if you heat them up before adding to the salad. This is great with a little pita or flat bread and could easily be used as a topper to a chopped lettuce salad. Because of the chickpeas, you really don’t need to eat much of it for a filling lunch or a light dinner.

Roasted Spicy Broccoli

2 heads broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces, including the stem
olive oil
chopped garlic
chili flakes
salt & pepper

Cut the stems smaller than the florets to ensure even cooking. Toss broccoli and chopped garlic in olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a pinch of chili flakes, adjusting amount to your own tolerance for spiciness. Spread broccoli on a large baking sheet with edges and roast at 375 to 400 F until broccoli stems are tender and broccoli florets are crispy on the edges. Serve over pasta, adding more olive oil if necessary, or serve as a side dish.

Fall Recipes

Cabbage Saute with Kielbasa

1 small green cabbage, quartered, cored, and cut into thin strips
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 apples, cut into wedges, skin on
2-4 pre-cooked sausages, sliced on the diagonal
a little butter

In a large stockpot, melt a little butter in over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute until soft and semi-translucent. Add cabbage and stir thoroughly to coat cabbage with butter. Continue to saute cabbage until it starts to soften (it will smell deliciously nutty as it does so – nothing like boiled green cabbage). Add apples and sausage and continue to cook until apples are tender and the whole thing is heated through.

Serve in large bowls with a little dark bread and butter.

Apples ‘n’ Onions

We normally think of apples as a sweet ingredient, but, as Laura Ingalls Wilder showed us in Farmer Boy, apples ‘n’ onions work excellently together. You can serve this with sausage (as below) or with pork, ham, or even chicken. It can easily be multiplied to feed more people.

2 medium apples, washed and sliced, skin-on
1 large onion (any kind), halved and sliced
oil or butter
kielbasa (optional)

Saute the onion in the butter or oil until translucent, then add apples and cook until onions are soft and apples are tender. If using kielbasa, add with apples and cook until sausages are heated through.  Serve with greens vegetables or a salad and some bread.

 Colcannon with Carrots

a few red potatoes, cut into chunks, skin-on
half a small green cabbage, or half a large bunch of kale or collard greens
several sweet carrots
an onion (optional)

Place chunks of potato in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Add the sliced and chunked cabbage or sliced kale (or any other kind of dark green) and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the greens are tender or soft. Drain and mash together with butter and salt.

In a large skillet, melt some butter and saute slices of carrot and onion (if using) until onions are soft and carrots are crisp-tender. Add colcannon and  stir and fold until well-combined and the mashed potatoes are a bit browned at the edges.

Serve with pork roast, loin, sausages, lamb, or even steak. Or by itself. It’s still delicious.

Collards with Gorgonzola Bread

We had this one tonight for dinner. It was inspired by a similar recipe in Roy Finamore’s Tasty. Which is a much better cookbook than one might expect just looking at it.

1 large bunch collards, washed and chopped (including stems) into 1 inch slices
appx. 4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into chunks
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1 largish shallot, sliced
salt (optional)
vinegar (optional)
crusty peasant bread
crumbled gorgonzola (or any bleu) cheese

In a large stockpot, saute the onion, shallot, and bacon together until onions and shallots are soft and there are some browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped collards and stir to coat. Once wilted, add several cups of water (like 6ish) until collards are nearly covered (add more if you like pot liquor). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for several hours, lid on, until greens are very soft (you can cook the heck out of them because you are going to eat the nutrient-rich broth).  When finished, slice peasant bread, top generously with gorgonzola, and broil or bake until cheese is soft and a little melty and the bread is crusty. Put a slice of the cheesy toast in the bottom of each bowl and top with greens and pot liquor. Devour with extra bread if you have extra juicy greens.

Oven Roasted Root Vegetables

1/2 small head green cabbage, cut into thick slices
1 large or 2 small onions, cut into quarters or eighths
1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into thick rounds (optional)
2 apples, cored and cut into quarters or sixths
several carrots  and/or parsnips cut into 2″ pieces (optional)
2 red potatoes, washed and cut into quarters (optional)
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (optional)
1 turnip, peeled and cut into cubes (optional)
1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into cubes (optional)
1 celery root/celeriac, peeled and cut into cubes (optional)
olive or other oil
salt and pepper
bacon, cut into squares (optional)
smoked Spanish paprika (optional)

All vegetables should be of similar size, depending on cooking times, to ensure even cooking. Softer vegetables like cabbage, onions, and potatoes as well as apples should be cut larger. Hard vegetables like carrots, turnips, rutabaga, etc. should be cut into smaller pieces.  You should have enough vegetables to evenly cover the bottom of a half sheet baking pan. Toss vegetables in vegetable oil to lightly coat and season with salt and pepper and paprika (if using). Place on baking sheet and spread evenly. Sprinkle with bacon (if using). Roast at 350 to 375 F until the hardest vegetables are tender, at least 30 minutes. Serve with a little crusty bread.

If using bacon, this makes an excellent main dish. If not, it still makes an excellent main dish or side dish to roasted meat.

Okay, readers. That was like a million recipes. But these are some of my favorite cheap eats. When you get the produce in season and use cheap cuts of meat, they’re really rather inexpensive. And I didn’t even get into soup! Or bread. Or fried egg sandwiches (seriously addictive and super-fast).

What are your favorite cheap and easy meals? Are you going to take the $5 Challenge?

10 Responses to “$5 Meal Challenge”
  1. Awesome post Sarah! I love the Slow Food $5 challenge project. I make under $5/person “value meals” all the time. Can’t wait to try your recipes. Wonderful!

    • vintagejenta says:

      Michelle – you should share your recipes, if you’re willing!

      • Sarah,
        One of my favorite inexpensive but highly nutritious meals is mujadara (a basic lentil dish with just 5 ingredients) with roasted sweet potato fries (with some cajun seasoning and a pinch of brown sugar). Here’s the mujadara recipe my friend Julie gave me. The slow-browned onions give the dish a meaty flavor.

        Simplest Mujadara
        ½ cup dried lentil
        ½ cup bulgar (or sub another quick-cooking grain)
        1 cup diced onion
        1/3 cup olive oil
        1 tsp salt

        Put lentils in saucepan with 2 1/4 cups water; cook for about 15 minutes. Add bulgar or other
        quick-cooking grain* with 1 tsp salt; stir gently. Add a little more hot water if it seems needed. Simmer 5 minutes.

        Meantime, brown onions slowly in olive oil until dark brown. Add to lentil and bulgar mixture. Stir gently.

        *or you could use about half the water and mix in any cooked grain to the cooked lentils

    • vintagejenta says:

      Oooh! Mujadara sounds fantastic! I am in the habit of buying new beans/grains/spices from a co-op near Chad’s parents’, so I picked up some puy lentils last time I was there and I have yet to try them. Will puy work or do I need brown lentils?

  2. Rebecca says:


  3. Just made the spicy roasted broccoli. Yum yum yum!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] to try cornmeal porridge, straight millet, and more savory stuff like kasha with cabbage or like Michelle’s mujadara (it’s in the […]

  2. […] sauteed in butter with salt and pepper. If you have any leftovers, you can turn it into colcannon. Colcannon with carrots, if you like. Or sauteed with apples ‘n’ onions and kielbasa. I got a “new” […]

  3. […] barley for the rice, or brown rice for white. If you’re going to make spaghetti, try using spaghetti squash instead of pasta. And when the next time you’re wondering what on earth to make for dinner […]

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