Gourmet on $4.91 a day


This Challenger veteran took his experience from 2 years ago and applied it beautifully for our challenge. We are amazed (and to be honest, getting hungry) at the pictures of his meals. We understand that some people do not have time to make as many meals from scratch as they like this week, but for the ones that do, this is an excellent example of using your resources to the fullest and making the healthiest meal you can under $4.91 a day. Great work, Challenger!

Having completed the challenge two years ago I at least had some idea of what to expect this time around.  Last time my wife had a severe cold and chose not to participate with me, so I completed the week with the benefit allotment for one and ended up losing 20 pounds in the process.

This time my wife is participating with me and I have doubled the amount to spend for the week ($68).  So far, I feel as if we have more than enough.

 Our food purchases

Early Sunday (day one) we took a list and walked to two local markets and gathered our first items for the week. Here is a summary list:

Flour tortillas, dry black beans, cream cheese, Oaxaca cheese, mozzarella cheese, ham hocks, chicken breast, bread, lemons, limes, blueberries, bananas, avocado, cilantro, green onion, tomatillos, apples, spinach, 10 grain cereal, corn chips, flour, dry active yeast, spaghetti, sour cream, eggs, croutons, club soda, coffee, chips -  All this for a total of $53.48 by using coupons that saved us $8.29. On Monday we took another walk and picked up some butter, leeks, a potato, and some French bread for an additional $7.74. Our weekly total so far - $61.22 leaving about $7.50 left in our benefit allotment for the week.

Like the last time I went through the challenge, we quickly discovered how focused you become on how much food you have in the house. You also become acutely aware of food costs. Since I completed the challenge in 2010, I estimate costs have increased by as much as 20 percent for some items, yet the food stamp benefit has remained the same.

Blessings from the garden

In 2010 I used items from my patio garden and commented that I hoped to teach others to grow some of their own food to supplement what they purchase. That dream has since been realized in part with the creation of a regional garden education center at a ½ acre site in Oceanside. I’ll save that for another blog however and stick to the challenge for the week. Just know that we are supplementing what we purchased with items from the garden – zucchini squash, butternut squash, tomatoes, roasted tomato sauce, a variety of peppers, onions, garlic, raspberries, and cape gooseberries.

The strategy

Rather than plan an entire week’s menu this time around we just shopped for what we like but items that could be used for multiple meals. For many, shopping that way is not something easy to do, i.e. they are not accustomed to planning meals or scratch cooking anything.

I always like to say that hunger in San Diego County is not caused by a lack of food, but an access problem. Part of that access issue involves knowing what to do with food once you get it. Just as important - knowing how to choose foods that will keep you and your family healthy.

I was raised on a farm in rural West Texas and always grew up with a huge garden that sustained us through the winter months with vegetables we canned or preserved during the summer harvest. I learned to cook from my mother who learned from her mom, etc. etc. I am encouraged to see a number of cooking programs accompanying many Calfresh outreach efforts in San Diego County that teach families how to make the most of the food they purchase with an eye towards improving health as well. Just as exciting is the fact that Calfresh benefits can be used to purchase seeds or plant starts to grow some of your own food.


Here are some of the meals we consumed the first three days:

Grilled chicken breast and spinach salad, fire roasted and fresh salsa, black beans with ham hocks, spaghetti  with butter lemon sauce, home-made pizza with tomatoes and basil, and chilies relleno pizza.


-Submitted by: Stan Miller, Executive Director of North County Community Services