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Chef challenge: Cook a healthy $5 dinner

inexpensive vegetarian meal
(Photo: Flickr/megabeth)

At most fast food joints, $5 can get you a full meal—processed meat, side of grease, and sugary soda.

But Slow Food USA thinks you can do better, and they’ve decided to “take back the value meal” with a challenge to casual chefs—make a fresh, healthy, locally-sourced meal for $5 or less.

Can it be done?

“We’ve found that it’s hard but possible to eat this way,” says Jerusha Klemperer, Slow Food USA’s associate director of national programs (and an occasional contributor to Well+Good). “The real value is in a meal that’s made with real food.”

The idea for the $5 challenge originated with a Slow Food campus chapter at the  University of Wisconsin, Madison. College students (presumably broke and sick of ramen), began cooking fresh, local meals, and charging $5 a head. The dinners took off.

dinner party
(Photo: Flickr/Amelia-Jane)

Now, the organization is turning the concept into a day of action on September 17. Slow Food is encouraging people across the country (with a goal of 20,000 people and 500 events) to personalize the $5 challenge, whether it’s a potluck where every dish costs less than $5, hosting a dinner party on the cheap, or just taking on the challenge as you cook dinner at home after work.

While it’s hard to find a healthy sandwich or a latte that doesn’t break the budget, Klemperer says not to get too caught up in the dollars and cents. “We’re not trying to be pedagogical—it’s more about the spirit of it.” Also, the tight budget assumes you have a well-stocked pantry including a $14 bottle of olive oil.

To help you meet the challenge, Slow Food will be releasing tips and tricks on their website in the coming weeks, like replacing pricey cuts of meat with cheaper protein sources.

If you can successfully complete the challenge, the organization hopes it will inspire you to incorporate slow food cooking into your daily life. “We’re also trying to call attention to the systemic issues in the food system that make it cheaper and easier to eat fast food,” says Klemperer. “This is a great way to meet the two missions.” —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information on the $5 Challenge, to sign up, or get recipes, click here.

Got a great $5 meal in mind? Tell us what you’ll make!