Try Something New: The $5 Challenge

A few weeks ago, Jim of Muddy Dog Coffee posted a link on my Facebook page: the $5 Challenge from Slow Food USA. The idea was to create a home cooked meal for less than $5 per person, the average price of a fast food value meal, to dispel the myth that ordinary people can’t eat at home as cheaply as they can with a fast food meal. I signed up without really thinking about it, and then realized that it wasn’t really a challenge at all. Most of what I make costs much, much less than $5 per serving.

My goal, therefore, was to create the most elaborate meal that I could come up with — a weekend meal worthy of entertaining friends and family — that still met the $5/serving criteria. I started reviewing my recipes and tallying rough costs. $3.50 per person. $3.15. $2.75. This wasn’t turning out to be much of a challenge.

I decided to do something unusual, elaborate, yet reasonably familiar: I made a bison roast in the tradition of the Sunday night roast beef we had each week at Betty’s. You could, of course, substitute beef, which is more familiar and cheaper.

Cost assumptions:

  • A serving of meat is supposed to be 3 oz, but I’m going to be generous and assume a 4 oz serving, partly because that makes the math easy (4 servings per pound)
  • Potatoes will be at the huge serving of 1/2 lb per person; I know we’re a carb-heavy culture
  • Carrots will be at a serving size of 1/3 lb per person
  • I’m basing prices on standard supermarket prices, according to my local mega-chain’s online shopping service; no fancy, hard-to-find specialty ingredients, although I could get everything from various vendors at my local farmer’s market
  • I’m assuming that salt, pepper and oil are already on hand, and nearly free based on the small quantity used


  • Bison, sirloin roast: $9.99/lb = $2.50/serving
    (According to mega-chain’s website, a beef sirloin roast would be $7.99/lb or $1.99/serving)
  • Bacon strips: $5.49/lb = $0.22/serving
    (Absolutely optional; Betty never used bacon, but it certainly doesn’t make anything taste worse)
  • Salt and pepper: $0.00/serving
  • Yukon gold potatoes: $2.25/lb = $1.12/serving
  • Carrots: $1.00/lb = $0.33/serving
  • Frozen pearl onions: $1.99/bag = $0.25/serving
    (You can use regular onions more cheaply, but I think that pearl onions are prettier)
  • Olive oil: $0.05/serving
  • Loaf of store-bought “artisan” French bread: $2.19/loaf = $0.27/serving
    (You could make your own for about $1.45/loaf or $0.18/serving)
  • TOTAL COST: $4.74 (or less)/serving

What other Betty recipes are less than $5/serving?

What do you think: is the $5 Challenge really all that challenging?

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2 Responses

  1. lisa says:

    I have three kids and I cook meals from scratch six nights a week (one night a week is Mexican take-out). I haven’t ever done the math but I’m fairly sure EVERYTHING I make is less than $5/serving. Otherwise I can’t imagine what our grocery bills would be!

  2. Alisa says:

    Lisa, that’s what I thought. When presented with the $5/serving limitation, it just didn’t strike me as being particularly limiting. We’re a family of three, and I know that it’s rare that I’d spend more than $15 for a meal. There was an article in the NY Times today about the fallacy of fast food being cheaper. I suspect that people who cook already know this.

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