I just bought a D40 to use as a lightweight/car/snapshot/goof-off camera. I leave an 18-55 VR on it, or my Holga lens. The drivers for my decision were price and size/weight, so I got the D40 over the D50. The D70 is also an option.
Since he is just starting out, the 18-55 and 55-200 are dirt cheap and have built in motors. You could get a D40 (or D50/D70 -- they are priced similarly) used from KEH for about $160, an 18-55 VR for $80, and a 55-200 VR for $110. That would make a great beginner's kit, and is only about $350.