Is Healthy Living Possible on CalFresh? – Keri's CalFresh Challenge Meal Plan

This week, I'm bringing awareness to the fact that over 423,000 people in San Diego County cannot get enough food to lead a healthy, active life. 

The CalFresh Challenge requires that you eat healthy on less than $29.89 during the week, the average CalFresh benefit allotted to San Diego residents. The spirit of the week is that you also be healthy – in all aspects of life. My personal requirements for this week include:

  • Eat clean (no top ramen allowed!), except for one cheat meal
  • Eat at least 1200 calories a day
  • Eat lean protein with every meal
  • Eat a fruit or veggie with every meal
  • Exercise 6 of the 7 days

After extensive planning, I couldn't meet most of these requirements on such a limited budget.

My original meal plan included things like peanut butter and eggs. I usually eat all-natural peanut butter and pasture-raised eggs, but someone on CalFresh would probably go for cheaper options. The peanut butter at Walmart is loaded with sugar, unhealthy oils, and preservatives, whereas the peanut butter I get from Sprouts that costs three times as much and has just “peanuts” as the ingredient. The eggs at Walmart come from chickens in terrible conditions – shoved in dark warehouses with barely any room to move around and no access to sunlight. 

I can’t really pretend that I am being healthy on this budget if I am using the cost of a product I would never be willing to eat. And since my peanut butter and egg choices are simply too expensive, I couldn’t fit them into the meal plan for this week.

The requirement of having a protein and fruit or veggie at every meal was the next thing to go. I started out with oatmeal and eggs for breakfast. You heard what happened to the egg idea. How about oatmeal, greek yogurt, and berries? The greek yogurt I usually buy is $7.99 for 32 oz (4 servings). The yogurt alone would be more than my per meal budget of approx. $1. The berries are also too much. How about a salad with chicken on it every day? The salad mix costs about $1.20 per serving and the chicken is 75 cents per 4 oz. Another budget blown.

The salad issue brings up another challenge. I am used to picking healthy, low calorie foods to maintain my weight. The salad mix has next to zero calories, but costs $1.20 per serving. I can’t afford to eat healthy foods this week that are not calorie dense. So instead of low-carb foods, I am buying bananas, brown rice, beans and sweet potatoes to get nutrition and calories at the lowest cost possible. I still didn’t quite meet my 1200 calorie requirement for each day. We’ll see how that affects my ability to exercise each day.