It’s easy to spend too much on food.

Although I’ve since changed my dietary habits for the better (mostly by getting a responsible girlfriend who buys quality food and doesn’t want me to experiment with my health) there were a couple years in which I survived on less than $40/week for food.

Although it was good for my wallet (especially since I was questionably employed at the time) I mostly did it out of apathy. I was fresh out of college and I hadn’t developed a desire for learning to cook new things.

I learned about the Stigler diet, a strict regiment developed in 1939 which calculated the absolute cheapest healthy diet possible through linear programming methods. By strictly adhering to this diet, it is possible to eat for a year, getting all the necessary nutrients for survival, for under $650/year. That’s around $54 a month.

Unfortunately the diet isn’t fun, but it could be worse (like starving). The Stigler diet mostly involves wheat flour, evaporated milk, cabbage, spinach, and dried navy beans and considers a 3,000 calories/day intake.

Now, I didn’t follow the Stigler diet because it sounds disgusting, but I did find that you can make some quite tasty, quick, and nutritious food out of some of the cheapest ingredients, like rice and potatoes and beans and eggs. Here are some of the cheapest foods, ordered by calories per dollar:

Rice 2,320 calories per dollar

Angel Hair Pasta 1,600 calories per dollar

Bread Crumbs 1,556 calories per dollar

Potatoes 596 calories per dollar

Ramen 475 calories per dollar

Pinto Beans 907 calories per dollar

Banquet sausages 588 calories per dollar

Eggs 566 calories per dollar

Whole milk 451 calories/dollar

There is a common myth that spending small amounts on food isn’t healthy or that it requires a large amount of time. It’s not really true at all, since I could easily make a few extra servings and throw them in the refrigerator. Living on a 2,000 to 2,500 calorie diet involves mostly chicken, rice, eggs, potatoes, frozen vegetables, pasta, deli meat sandwiches, bacon, sausages, tortillas, cheese, milk, some fruits and juices.

In some cases, time is of the essence and it’s not immediately convenient to cook up some food. While not healthy, if you absolutely need to eat on the go, the Taco Bell Beefy 5-layer Burrito is the cheapest fast food in North America.

I wouldn’t go back to this out of choice, but I would if I had to. Back when I was operating on razor-thin margins, spending only around $120 a month on groceries left me a lot of bandwidth to go out for drinks, coffee, road trips, and other luxuries.