Can You Eat for $29 a Week?

Eating Good Food on a Tight Budget

Recently, you may have read that Gwyneth Paltrow is going to live on $29 worth of food stamps a week.  Well she didn’t make it. But now comes Simon Majumdar, Food Network Judge for popular TV shows Cutthroat Kitchen, Next Iron Chef, and Iron Chef America – who holds the issue of food insecurity and hunger near and dear to his heart. He wants to prove that people can not just eat for $29 a week, but eat well, and he wants your help to do it.

Simon Majumdar and I will test recipes for nutrition and taste

There’s one group of people who can uniquely help individuals learn how to eat well on a budget, and that is weight loss surgery patients.  Weight loss surgery patients know that you don’t just buy a lot of Ramen, pasta, and toss a few cans together and call it good. Successful patients have had to learn to study food, nutrition labels and to research the right kinds of recipes for them.

So, for those who have had weight loss surgery, or those who are interested in seeing if it’s possible for one to live on $29 a week for food, here is your challenge:

    • Give me your best recipes for budget dining.
    • Make sure you have recipes that are healthy, with a good balance of nutrients in them (not one-sided).
    • For each recipe posted in the comments section, I will provide a list of how the recipe stacks up for nutrition.
    • For the recipes that fit the bill of having the essential micronutrients in them and great flavor – we will go shopping for the ingredients to compare how much it costs.

Our job is to show how a person can eat some good food, and not be malnourished, with this narrow budget.  Why? Because almost 50 million Americans need food assistance, if they don’t get it – they go hungry. For many elderly alone, they have to choose between medicine and eating.

This was best outlined by Simon who wrote about his experience when he volunteered at a food bank in his latest book Fed, White, and Blue:

Probably the best new book of the year. Looking at food in America. By the judge of Cutthroat Kitchen and Iron Chef America, Simon Majumdar

It was just as concerning when Jill told me that nearly a quarter of the children in the ten counties covered by Harvest Texarkana are also classified as suffering from “chronic hunger”. Many of them are provided with free breakfasts and lunches at school each day, because their teachers fear that these were the only times they might actually eat. “But then we need to make sure they have something to eat on weekends and during the holidays,” Jill said as she led me to a corner of the warehouse where they stored food for their backpack program. “Before the weekend, we put together a small package of food that we place in each child’s backpack, so they can have something to eat when they are home.” The food has to be shelf-stable, as the child might not have access to a fridge or somewhere to store fresh food. The packages are delivered when the kids are on recess, so they can avoid the stigma of receiving the care packages in front of their classmates. Hearing these tales of struggle and hunger was genuinely heartbreaking , but for Jill and her incredible team, it’s all just in a day’s work.”

“A lot of people assume that it’s just the homeless,” she began, “but a lot of the people who need our help are what we call the ‘working poor,’ that is, people where the husband or wife may have a job, but the other partner is out of work, has been laid off, or has had their hours reduced because of the poor economy. They may not need our help all the time, but may have to come to the food pantry once a month when they have to also pay their rent or make a car payment. “Then, the food pantries help two of the groups who are most at risk. Seniors are one, as they have so many extra draws on their income. They are often faced with making a choice between eating, heating their homes, or paying for their medication. If we can take the pressure off at least one of those choices, then at least they will be able to keep warm and buy their medicine.” It was a sobering thought that so many people who have worked so hard to build the economy of this country, and in many cases served in the military to protect its way of life, are now struggling to eat on a regular basis.

Majumdar, Simon (2015-04-07). Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork (p. 258). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Prize

So, for those of you who have recipes that meet the above criteria, please share them with us, paste them below in the comments section. We will shop for some of them, we will check them all for vitamin and micronutrient content, and recipes will be judged by Simon Majumdar. The winner will get an autographed copy of his new book, Fed, White, and Blue:  Finding America with My Fork, and Simon Majumdar will cook the winning meal plans.

We will invite you all to go shopping with me – because we need to show what people can do with a budget.

Most importantly, we need to keep the shelves of our food banks stocked.

Thank you  –  please share, and reply in the comments.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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Latest Comments

  1. Carol Ball says:




    low-fat cooking spray or oil and water spray mix

    250g/8 oz chestnuts mushrooms, finely chopped

    2 cloves garlic, crushed

    6 spring onions/scallions, sliced

    1 tbsp medium curry powder

    grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

    400g/14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

    75 g/11/2 cups fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs

    salt and freshly ground black pepper

    6 tbsp fat-free thick Greek yogurt

    large pinch ground cumin


    1. Generously spritz a pan with low-fat cooking spray or water and oil mix. Heat, add the mushrooms, garlic and spring onions and cook for 5 minutes.

    2. Add the curry powder, lemon zest and juice and cook for 2 minutes or until the mixture looks quite dry. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

    3. Use a potato masher or fork to mash the chickpeas in a bowl, leaving a few chunky pieces. Add to the mushroom mixture with salt and pepper to taste, then divide and shape into 4 burgers or patties.

    4. To cook, spritz a large non-stick frying pan with low-fat cooking spray or water and oil mix, heat then add the prepared burgers and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until crisp and golden. Finish on the barbecue over medium coals if liked if cooking for an outside barbecue meal.

    5. Meanwhile, mix the yogurt with the cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the burgers and toasted bread with sliced tomatoes if liked and tolerated.

    SERVES 4

    WLS PORTION: 1/2-3/4

    V suitable for Vegetarians


    PROTEIN: 12.3g


    FAT: 3.3g

    I have a pic of these to post but cannot work out how to upload an image – please advise. I can email separately for uploading if required.

  2. Michele Weston says:


    I’m going to attach my recipes…as I’ve been working , on recipes and nutrition, caloric amounts and budget-friendly for a Master’s fellowship
    project … Does that work? I will also be putting in costs/brands when I can, or if they are from the Farmer’s Market in NYC…(Urban costs are always higher…as we dont’t. buy in bulk or hit Costco, etc….)



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