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Healthier poutine

Healthy eating on a budget can feel like a herculean task – but a new, free, online cookbook may just be the hero to help to create balanced meals for way, way less.

Good and Cheap by Edmonton author Leanne Brown provides delicious, nutritious meal ideas that cost only $4 a day. Its 132 digital pages are bursting with vibrant photographs of recipes for everything from kitchen staples such as tortillas ($1.70 to make 24) and tomato sauce ($2.50 for two cups) to family-sized feasts like roast chicken ($1.50 per serving) to vegetable jambalaya (65 cents per serving). More than 100,000 PDF copies of the cookbook have been downloaded since it was released in April.

What's unique about Brown's approach to eating well for less is her emphasis on beautiful food and the joy of eating. She manages to make leftovers, toast and even oatmeal fun by sharing creative ideas for how to upgrade these kitchen mainstays.

"Cheap food doesn't have to look lousy," says Brown, who wrote the cookbook for the capstone project of her master of food studies degree at New York University. "I wanted to do something that was a little bit more like, woo! Celebrate food! Look how gorgeous it is."

The cookbook was designed with New Yorkers living on food stamps in mind – but the recipes and price points still work for Canadians on welfare who receive around $3.60 per day for food. That's a little less than $4, but it costs less to buy groceries in most of Canada than New York.

At $3.50 per serving, the most expensive meal in the book – and perhaps the least healthy – is also the most Canadian. Brown says that poutine is not "mega-healthy" but explains that her recipe calls for baking, not deep-frying, the potatoes.

"You've got to eat food that makes you happy," she says.

Besides, a number of recipes for colourful produce-packed soups, salads and smoothies – the workhorses for wholesome eating – balance out the occasional cheese-and-gravy treat.

Brown is now working to make the recipes available to people who don't have a computer. In September, with the support of an ongoing Kickstarter campaign, she plans to release a print edition of the cookbook (with 16 new recipes) that will be made available for free to New York families that need help creating cheap, balanced meals.