CalFresh Challenge Update: What I Learned

I have failed the CalFresh Challenge. As you may recall from one of our recent blog posts, the San Diego Hunger Coalition recently invited us to try living on a food budget of $4.38 per day, the amount allotted to those living on CalFresh (food stamps).

This anti-hunger initiative, called the CalFresh Challenge, was designed to raise awareness for the food insecure across the state, inviting us to walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak.

After trying the challenge myself, I can definitively say: My knees hurt, and my feet are sore. These individuals face an immense day-to-day struggle, and it was impossible for me to make that budget work for myself and my family, even just for a short period of time.

When I first signed up, I truly believed I was ready to go. I was going to conquer this challenge!   

In my family, we already have a set food budget, we meal plan, three of the four of us take packed lunches, and I personally love leftovers and have no problem eating the same thing every day. I assumed I would change our menu to reflect a lower weekly cost—all in all we spend about $150.00 in groceries a week, not too far off from the $122.64 per week for the challenge (calculated at $4.38 x 4 people for the week).

But my major failing occurred when I made a last minute trip out of town even though I knew I would be getting back late before the start of the week. My planning suffered.

On Monday, I realized it was the 21st, the first day of the CalFresh challenge. Uh-oh. “Well, I can pick up on Day 2,” I thought. Day 2 came and went, and soon it was Day 4 and I still hadn’t found the groove I anticipated.

It doesn’t seem overbearingly difficult in theory, but one meeting leads to a new task at work, the kids need to be picked up at school, you have a date night planned, work runs late, and now the week is over. In our fast-paced lives, one day becomes seven in a flash.  

Because we, as a family, can buy in bulk, it doesn’t eat up the entire budget for the month, and we are OK. For the food insecure, though, this is not the case. They don’t have this luxury, and in reflection, I’m not sure how we could cope without it.

The second thought I had concerned the abundance of food I am surrounded by daily.  There are days where I do not have to bring a lunch or worry about breakfast. At a morning meeting, coffee and continental breakfast is provided, then at the 10 a.m. meeting I get snack bars, fruit, and more coffee. Then there’s a lunchtime meeting – lunch is served, and if another group in our building had a lunchtime meeting, there will be leftovers…you get the idea.

Again, this is not the reality for the target population in this challenge. For many of those living on food stamps, there are no catered meetings and no free meals. Sitting back and really thinking about the amount of food in my life in turn made me comprehend the scarcity of it for others.

Living on this budget, even just for a week, proved difficult, and that’s without trying to keep the diet healthy. If you want nutrition, the mountain’s slope becomes even steeper.

In the end, I was looking forward to the challenge, but I simply didn’t prepare. This caused me to completely fail the challenge, something that makes me wonder: If a family is already strapped for money to cover food expenses and they do have a busy week, how much extra stress is that adding to the many stresses of living in a poor community? What about the stress of traveling to get to one or two jobs?  How do you even quantify the impact this has on their health?  How do they, then, have time to plan?

As we continue improving the lives of this population, I look forward to seeing and supporting the work being done in San Diego that will not only reduce the number of children with hungry bellies but also deliver nutrient-dense local food to the community in need.

While the challenge has ended, I highly recommend you keep a food budget of $4.38 per day in mind as you go through your weekly routine. Think about it when you’re grabbing lunch, snagging a latte, or sitting down to a nice dinner with your family.

Let me know what you learn and experience as you contextualize your current eating habits this way. I think you’ll be surprised and moved by what you learn—I know I was.

– Michele Silverthorn, Program Officer, Alliance Healthcare Foundation. To read their blog, please click here.

Why I am Not Finishing the CalFresh Challenge

“I’m starving, and I’m exhausted,” my partner said arriving home around 7pm.  In the kitchen, this week’s home within my home, I mock rolled my eyes before looking down to see his hand tremble.  Eating 700 calories over the last 12 hours was not enough.

We cooked up our frittatas and then fried an extra pair of potatoes w/ oil and salt to fill up.  Sitting at the dinner table, we got serious and went through our meals, counting calories as we went:

Breakfast: ~300 calories (oatmeal and fruit w/ occasional yogurt)

Lunch: ~400 calories        (beans and rice or chicken, egg and rice w/ tomato)       

Dinner: ~500 calories      (quinoa, chicken and veggies or veggie frittata w/ extra potatoes)

The last meal of the Challenge

The last meal of the Challenge

Our final verdict: we should have bought donuts.  We were full.  We laughed.  Maybe a week of donuts would not be ‘ideal,’ but we should have created healthy meals that were higher calorie and more filling.  Sounds like a great idea, a no-brainer, right?  Thirty minutes of joking about ‘just how many beans is too many’ later, neither of us had solved hunger.  We agreed that CalFresh can’t be “enough.”  Don’t get me wrong; CalFresh is amazing!  Each year, CalFresh lifts more than 1 million Americans above the federal poverty line, increasing their household budgets by an average of over $2,000 annually.  CalFresh (SNAP) is our nation’s strongest line of defense against hunger and poverty AND it is not enough.

The past five days I’ve felt exhausted, lethargic and unmotivated.  I’ve had enough energy to work out once, compared to almost daily, and have woken up almost every morning with a headache.  In an attempt to maintain a “healthy” diet, we’ve denied ourselves the calories we need to be healthy and functioning.  As a result, we both lost at least a pound of body weight.  The irony was not lost on me as so many poor Americans struggle with chronic health conditions spurred by overweight and obesity.  The foods which fill also kill. 

Not wanting to “give up,” I pulled up a list of local food pantries within my work zipcode, maybe we could supplement??  Two of 12 food pantries on the list were open on a Friday.  I called both and found out the foods being distributed today were: potatoes, oranges, bread, ramen and pastries.  Gluten free leaves me with (more) potatoes and oranges; helpful, but still probably not enough. 

I thought about taking advantage of Saturday’s City Height’s Farmer’s Market “Fresh Fund,” an awesome program that allows CalFresh and WIC recipients to ‘double’ their produce purchases any six weeks out of the year (up to $20), but we don’t have any money left.

While a silly, ego driven part of me is disappointed in not being able to “life hack” this challenge, a deeper part of me realizes that this is a challenge that cannot be ‘won.’ In our society, poverty is all too often reduced to a series of bad decisions on the part of the impoverished, stripping those more fortunate of any responsibility.  For me, this experience was one important step on a path towards better understanding and connecting with a deeper sense of community.  I will continue to challenge myself to connect with experiences and individuals that draw light to my privilege and that provide me opportunities to interact and give back to making our community more just.   

For anyone reading that is wondering what they can do, I challenge you to create your own way to connect.  Try the Challenge for a day, for 3, for a week if you can and donate whatever additional money you might have spent that week on fighting hunger.  As we enter the increasingly circusesque elections, pay attention to and consider voting for candidates committed to building a strong society that includes provides opportunity and access to basic resources for all.  

The Real Challenge: Eating Healthy on a Budget

The Purchase

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went grocery shopping for the week. I didn’t go with a list, but I had some general ideas of what I wanted. $30.67 isn’t much, so I started by doing a lap of the store, writing down prices and attempting to balance my limited budget. I quickly learned that carbs are cheap and would be filling, but are clearly not as healthy. I cut out pasta sauce to buy cucumbers and I dropped grape jelly to add on bananas and a few more apples. I relinquished my coffee addiction. And with every item I bought, I stopped to examine if there was a cheaper alternative.

At the end, I had calculated in my head that I was at $30, give or take a few. And that’s when I realized how stressful it is living on this budget. If I got to the register and my total was $31, I could afford to just buy the extra food and remove an apple from my stash for the week. But the 450,000 people in San Diego who do this every day are faced with this same experience, and they may not be able to afford the extra cucumber or the 2lb bag of carrots. They may have to ask the clerk to return an item, stall the line, etc. I was surprised to feel some of that fear and anxiety as I approached the register. I left with $1.07. It was the most conscientious I have ever been while shopping at the grocery store and it was a clear reminder of how thankful I am for my food security.

The Challenge

The week, as a whole, went pretty smoothly. I never felt like I was going to have to skip a meal, but by the conclusion of my Sunday dinner I will have only 2 extra potatoes, 1/3 of a box of pasta, and a few slices of bread remaining. I only got hangry once, so I call that a win, but I didn’t give myself much wiggle room on my budget. There were a few really difficult aspects to my meals, the first being the repetition. Every breakfast consisted of a bowl of cereal with milk and every lunch consisted of a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a small portion of vegetables. Dinner was more variable and was always the meal I enjoyed most.

After a long day of work the last thing I want to do is cook. During a typical week, I’ll make something easy like grilled cheese or pick up something on the way home. This week, I didn’t have that option but the temptation was always there. It often felt like there was less time in the day because I was spending so much more time worrying about my meals; making lunches, measuring portions, and cooking every night. Again, I realized how much more conscientious I was about what and when I was eating.

The Conclusion

Eating on a budget is manageable. Eating healthy on a budget? That’s a bigger challenge. As a health professional, it was an eye opening experience to the challenge of finding cheap, fresh vegetables. If I was a diabetic and I was trying to limit my carbohydrate intake, I would have drastically failed my diet this week. My core staples at every meal were cereal, bread, potatoes, and pasta; carbs, carbs, and more carbs. They were filling, and as a non-diabetic, made this challenge a little more manageable. I was able to find cheap fruits, but those are high in simple sugars that I advise my patients with diabetes to avoid. I successfully included less expensive, lean meats in my diet, but my week was lacking in bright, fresh, green vegetables. That is the issue with the limited amount of money provided to CalFresh users; either we need to work towards increasing the monthly CalFresh allotment or decreasing the price of healthy options. Easier said than done, certainly. But I have hope that Hunger Action Month and this week’s CalFresh Challenge have raised awareness to these issues and that we may continue move towards ending food insecurity. 

CalFresh Challenge & Living on a Limited Income

Could you live on a food budget of $4.38 per day?

For many Californians living on CalFresh (food stamps) or a limited income, this seemingly impossible budget represents a harsh, day-to-day reality.

Some, like seniors living on supplemental security income (SSI) and state supplementary payment (SSP) face an even greater challenge: Their benefits make them ineligible to receive the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the stipend they do receive barely covers their living expenses, such as rent, transportation, and any medications they need. Day-to-day life is an immense struggle for them, signaling a need for change.

From Sept. 21 to 27, the San Diego Hunger Coalition will run the CalFresh Challenge, an anti-hunger initiative designed to generate exposure and innovation for those struggling to receive daily ample nutrition. For the challenge, you set a daily food budget of $4.38—the amount afforded by CalFresh (food stamps)—for a week, writing down and sharing your experiences along the way.   

You’ve no doubt heard that living a day in someone else’s shoes provides a valuable exercise in empathy and compassion, and the CalFresh Challenge is an extension of this fact, helping people understand the challenges of those living on food stamps across California.  

Even without the Challenge, though, it’s a good exercise to think about the ways people adjust their eating habits when faced with budgetary restraints.  

  1. Buy food you can repurpose for several meals. Fresh produce like lettuce, peppers, and an onion can be used for several salads throughout the week, while a multipurpose starch, like a bag of long-grain brown rice or a bag of potatoes, can also last a week or longer.
  2. Get a rotisserie chicken or roast your own whole bird. You can get a whole rotisserie chicken or an uncooked whole chicken to prepare yourself for about the price of just one pack of boneless, skinless breasts or thighs.
  3. Prepare your meals ahead of time. Meal prepping can keep you from needing unnecessary snacks throughout the day or making a stop at a fast-food joint for a quick meal. If your meal is already done and portioned, you’re less likely to splurge and cut into your budget and food supply.
  4. Leftovers! Don’t waste any food. If you didn’t finish a meal, save what you didn’t eat in a resealable bag or container and reheat it later.

Now, think about these points.

It’s already hard to eat well in a fried-and-fast-food society, but restricting your budget adds another layer of difficulty.

Is it realistic to meal prep when you may be juggling two jobs, children, and the rigors of a normal family life? For many, this is simply not an option. The long-lasting starches, such as rice and potatoes, offer little nutritional value on their own, so while they may help fill you up, you’re getting little in return without coupling them with a more expensive protein and/or vegetable.

That $1 meal quickly turns into a much more expensive plate as you boost its nutritional value.

For many living on a limited income, though, these are the realities they must endure. recently published a blog post titled “7 Ways to Eat Healthy for $4 a Day,” shedding some more light on the issue.

Read the post here and think about the tips. Would you be willing to make these changes? Could you, faced with a real need, limit your food budget to $4 a day and still lead a healthy, happy life?

It’s a real challenge, and it’s worth our time to brainstorm ideas and solutions for those who truly need it.  

In an effort to better understand this struggle, our Program Officer, Michele Silverthorn, is taking the CalFresh Challenge herself. She’ll also be share her experiences here on the AHF blog, so stay tuned for more updates on the CalFresh Challenge.

How do you get your money’s worth at the grocery store? What are some ideas you have that could impact the lives of the millions of hungry citizens living on food stamps across California?  

Leave a comment or connect with us on TwitterFacebook, Google+, or LinkedIn and let us know. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject.

– Nancy Sasaki, Executive Director, Alliance Healthcare Foundation. For additional entries, please visit the AHF blog here

Survey Responses

This week, we sent a quick survey for some of the CalFresh Challenge Participants who might not have time for a full blog entry but still wanted to share a bit about their experience: 

Francesca’s Response:

Q1: What are some of the items you have purchased and eaten?

Salads and sandwiches have been my lunch and dinners; bananas for breakfast. I've been drinking water all day.

Q2: How's the Challenge going for you so far?

Difficult! I am in an intense training program, and the lack of food and energy is making it hard for me to focus. I also don't have energy or will do do my daily exercise regimes.

Q3: What has been the most eye opening moment?

When I realize I have to make the food that I have purchased last for days.

CMA’s Response:

Q1: What are some of the items you have purchased and eaten?

On the first day, I forgot my lunch and drink for work so I stopped by McDonalds to purchase a $1 unsweetened tea and a MC Griddle total of $4.73; then one of my peers invited me to a working lunch. He offered to pay and I agreed. (normally I would offer to pay the total check, but was proud that I didn't) For day two, I remembered to bring my lunch and snack and for dinner, we eat what I had cooked the night before. For day three, I remembered my lunch and drink and took out meatballs and sauce I froze over the weekend.

Q2: How's the Challenge going for you so far?

So far it's going okay since I stocked up on groceries on the weekend, but this morning I noticed that fresh fruit, vegies and protein is very low since my son and my teenage daughter are feeding themselves for lunch and before I get home. I will need to go shopping today.

Q3: What has been the most eye opening moment?

The restrain on eating out or inviting a friend. I really had to think about this something that I normally do not have to do. I am feeling very blessed for the job and resources I have, and can only imagine what single mothers/fathers go through.


Q1: What are some of the items you have purchased and eaten?

chick peas, brown rice, lentils, oatmeal, bananas, broccoli, organic eggs

Q2: How's the Challenge going for you so far?

OK. I've eaten on a stricter budget before. It requires forethought and discipline, so it's a commitment that takes some resources.

Q3: What has been the most eye opening moment?

I don't feel good today, so typically I would treat myself to something healthy and delicious, like a whole-food smoothie or brownie from a specialty shop. I'm not sure how to comfort myself, since I typically use good (expensive) food.

Choosing between Cost Vs. Health

For my family of four, eating on about $17 a day has meant difficult choices between healthy and not-so-healthy options. 

With two very active, soccer-crazy kids, not to mention a meat-and-potatoes-loving dad (that's me!), protein is very big deal in our house.  But a limited food income led us to forgo a lot of meat options.  Ground beef or turkey was just too much; so were chicken breasts.  Instead we went with chicken drum sticks and hot dogs.  Our normal taco night was a little less fun: we stuck to bean-and-cheese burritos.   All of us are eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.   This is no big deal for my 8-year-old son, who eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch almost every day of his life, but the rest of us would prefer a little more variety.  But a pound of sliced turkey for lunch was $8 or $9; no way we could do that.

Other examples of our cost vs health problem: a loaf of white bread, which seems to have the nutritional content of cotton candy, is about three times cheaper than a loaf of whole wheat.  I'm happy to say we went with whole wheat, but it sure was tempting to go with the 99-cent loaf.  Instead of my wife's usual, delicious spaghetti sauce, which includes sausage and other fresh ingredients, we went with bottled sauce.  Not so delicious.

This is our family's big lesson: we are so fortunate to not have to make these kind of choices on a weekly basis.  

Blog entry by Mark Martin, Senior Consultant with the State Assembly Budget Committee. 

Unintended Consequences of Focusing on Food

Our week started off well enough… however, I’m learning that my attempts to make meals palatable and interesting may have cost us our food security. 

What remained of my pad thai

What remained of my pad thai

In an effort to “beat” the doldrums associated with eating on a tight budget, I created a varied meal plan, one that would keep my partner and I both satisfied and interested in the food we are eating.  A part of me did this in solidarity with budget meal planners and preparers, usually women, across the nation who are tasked with creating something “delicious” and cheap.  The other part of me wanted to see if the “you can eat gourmet on a budget” recipes that litter Pintrest and Mommy blogs across the nation actually held up. 

The verdict: I can cook amazingish meals (aka Pad Thai inspired rice, chicken and egg) on a CalFresh budget, BUT it takes 3-4 hours per day. 

Some quick background: at the beginning of the week, I created a meal plan that would only repeat the same meal once- yes- you heard me, we would only eat rice and beans twice in a row.  I worked off of staples of rice, quinoa, and potatoes and added egg, bean and chicken for protein.  Mix a different staple with a different protein and a few veggies and spices, and voilà you’ve got a new meal!    **Disclaimer, I have not been able to test these meals for nutritional content.  We’re most likely getting the protein and carbs we need, but we’re definitely light on fat and key vitamins/nutrients. **

In addition to meal planning and shopping, I am literally spending 3+ hours each night to cook and prepare meals.  Last night, I spent hours boiling and shredding chicken, cooking and crumbling egg, and cooking and seasoning rice for our Pad Thai lunches.  There’s no way that I could do this and hold down a full time job long term, especially if I had kids. 

As a result of spending so much time on food, other parts of our lives have suffered.  I no longer have time for connecting with friends, going to the gym, or doing other things that I enjoy.  Cooking, preparing meals, washing dishes and planning for the rest of the week (ie bean counting) has taken over. Spending 3-4 hours per day is not a realistic solution for most Americans.  While the USDA claims that SNAP recipients spend an additional ~90 minute per week on meal planning and prep, I call “Fact Check” on that one.  

Also as a result of focusing on food, I forgot and missed a deadline today for paying a parking ticket- costing me an extra $50.  There are so many things that could be said about the larger context of living in poverty and the impact that stress has on our lives.  

We were prepared for the CalFresh Challenge. Are recipients prepared for theirs?

The CalFresh Challenge is nearly over and I noticed that I have been estimating how much I spend on food each day. I did not purchase groceries for the week in the amount of $30.67 - I have been planning by day. I began to ask myself whether individuals on CalFresh know that to stretch their monthly allowance they would need to only spend $4.38 a day. Those of us taking the challenge we were given this information, and we were also supplied with a grocery list and recipe tips. Needless to say this made it a lot easier for me, and I am sure it also helped those that took advantage of these reinforcement materials. There are numerous real life stories from CalFresh recipients indicating that they run out of food towards the end of the month. Aside from only being given a bare minimum to live off of - do these individuals know how to effectively budget their money? If they do, then are they given recipe tips and tricks?

We were prepared for this challenge. Are CalFresh recipients prepared for theirs?

Financial and nutrition education is vital for these recipients. Supplemental income for food isn't enough - recipients need to be taught how to maintain a healthy lifestyle on such a low budget. Housing on Merit understands this reality and in order to combat it provides its residents with financial literacy workshops and nutrition education courses. HOM opens up learning opportunities for its residents, but these opportunities need to be made available to all CalFresh recipients. 

The San Diego Financial Literacy Center and the Wells Fargo Hands on Banking program are free resources that provide essential tools to help combat financial illiteracy. The University of California system has also created a wonderful program called the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. They offer classes for adults and children and have a wealth of knowledge on how to maximize their use of certain foods in order to avoid running out of food towards the end of the month. Bringing this education to CalFresh recipients allows them to have the tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

-This entry is from a staff member at Housing on Merit. To read more about their experience, check out their blog here

Living on $4.38/day – Day 4: Groundhog’s Day and the best cookbook ever

Eggs for breakfast.

Eggs for breakfast.

Yep, you are right, the above photo is a first world problems meme from this site.  The title of today’s post is an ode to one of America’s true funny men, Bill Murray and this movie. Today’s meals are basically a reprise of Day 2, which is a useful time to point out that one of the things you almost certainly give up when you can’t make the money work is variety.  That I’m even typing about the variety in my food options with the tragically bad refugee situation in Europe right now is the worst possible version of first world problems. That last link is to the fifty funniest first world problems memes because, well, if all I write about is serious stuff I probably wouldn’t read it, either.  No one reading this personally created the conditions that cause so many people to experience hunger, so while we can work together for policy that helps improve it, I’m not out to shame people or create some sad beginning to the day. Instead, today I’ll give a brief reprise of the day’s meals and then delve into something really, really cool.  Here goes. As mentioned, I started the day with these eggs.

In fact, the meal was so similar I just used the same photo from the last time and spent a few more seconds enjoying the only time today that I’m likely to feel comfortable. Lunch rolled around and I went for another helping of, wait for it…change of plans! I decided to go with the frozen burrito that my wife picked at $1.50 each on sale.

I skipped the picture for dinner, which was the remaining “tacos.”  Before I get to the best cookbook ever I need to take a little side journey.  This evening I had two events – a thing to celebrate United Way of San Diego County’s 95th birthday at a fancy new restaurant called Coasterra and a thing to celebrate the San Diego Community College District, a big client of my firm.  Both things were worthy causes, both involved many people who care deeply about improving the region and the economic opportunities for the people in it…and both involved a substantial amount of free food and drink that I had to cleverly pass on to stick to the mission.  I’m not playing a martyr here, I didn’t mind passing on the stuff. But just to play along, here are all the things I DID pass on.

The point is just that the very people who most need free food events like this can almost never get them unless they stand in long bread lines.  It kind of makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just start recruiting homeless people to serve on volunteer boards.  I mean, they are probably more dialed in to the issues that exist and could certainly benefit from all the free stuff and connections.  I know this is an overly simplistic view of the circumstance, but it might not be wholly off-base.

I had a nice conversation today with a legislator friend about how to deal with addressing the needs of poor citizens. I’m hopeful that more like her will lead to a better balanced society. I mentioned really wanting to work on universal child care – the ultimate win for businesses, the people they employ, and society as a whole. We’ll see.

The best cookbook ever

My friends Staci Wilkins and Mike Flores own a restaurant called Ritual Tavern, Kitchen & Garden in the North Park community of San Diego. They make one of the three best burgers in the city, the fish and chips is top shelf, the Shepard’s pie (which is not typically my thing) is fantastic, and the craft beer list is shockingly good for a place that is about food.  They posted a link to this cookbook on my facebook page the other day

First, can I just say that besides the food one of the reasons I support people like Mike and Staci is that they care enough about the world beyond themselves to mention things like this and to very often put their money (profit) where their mouths are (into the well-being of people other than themselves).  For me, living my values means trying to choose restaurants like theirs that make time to care about the community in which they operate. Moving on to the cookbook, this thing is pretty damn awesome. Good and Cheap is the brainchild of Leanne Brown, a former graduate student at NYU. I want to get into this cookbook a little, but first, here’s a link to the FREE download, and here’s a photo of just one item that can be made on the cheap.

Looks good, right? I decided it might be fun to try out a few of these recipes.  As I thumbed through the book, I wondered if I could string together recipes I’d want to eat and still remain at the $4.38/day budget.  Since my wife and I are doing this together we technically have $8.76 per day between the two of us.  Here are a couple sample daily meal plans I put together.  The one caveat, of course, is that unless you buy in shopping collectives, you can’t buy just enough for two servings. So I’m aware of that and tried to pick meals that had the same or substitute ingredients. Here’s my sample set of Good and Cheap meals:

Option #1

  • Breakfast: Banana Pancakes (p. 18) – $2.80/4 servings
  • Lunch: Broccoli Apple Salad (p. 54) – $3.20/4 servings
  • Dinner: Filipino Chicken Adobo (p. 98) – $5.20/4 servings (thanks to a strong Filipina presence growing up, this is one of my favorite food items – bonus!)

Total: $11.20 or $5.60 for two people per day (still leaves room to splurge on something sweet or carry over the $3 for our next day!)

Option #2

  • Breakfast: Omelette with dill, onion and cheese (p. 17) – $3.20/4 servings
  • Lunch: Cold and Spicy Asian Noodles (p.50) – $5.00/4 servings
  • Dinner: Shrimp & Grits (p.116) – $12/4 servings

Total: $20.20 or $10.10 for two people per day (have to borrow $2.68 from the other day to make this one work and stay under budget) 

A couple notes. To make this whole thing work I had to do it in four servings each to last over two days.  This compromises the whole variety problem, but is more realistic in terms of buying the ingredients you need.  Also, it assumes there are exactly two single adults. Abouthalf of the children in California are living at or near poverty (yes, you read that right). So obviously many of the families receiving aid are not a couple single adults. Next year I may redo this effort as if we were a family with three kids in it to get a better picture. As far as I can tell from this calculator, a family of three (two kids and single mom – yes, unfortunately, it’s usually the mom who has to pull all the weight) maxes out at about $132 per week, or about $6.30/day – better but not great. And that’s the MAXIMUM.  It’s also worth noting that food stamps are meant to be a life raft to get people across difficult water until they can get a firm footing on dry land. Way too often this is just a story those of us who don’t need the help tell ourselves to deal with the severity of the problem. No, just because you or I aren’t receiving help any more doesn’t mean everyone can just miraculously overcome. These problems are complex. I promise not to spend too much time on my soapbox on this, but I really think we’d do better with more empathy and less blame, more ladders and fewer walls.

We’ve made it over halfway through the challenge and mostly stayed to the plan. Given the reality that some families confront hunger with fast food or the corner store/neighborhood market, I plan to take a look next time at meals to be found if you just have to get a fast food fix. I’m taking a break for the weekend and will finish explaining about my journey next week. Thanks for reading.

Blog entry by Omar Passons. To read more about his journey, you can check out eat.drink.give.go.

Placing Restrictions

The repetitive nature of my meals this week is getting to me by now. I will be very glad to not see oatmeal for a while after the challenge. It’s also been difficult being the only one from my house taking the challenge this week. It’s hard to come home and see my family eating some of my favorite home cooked meals (tuna and shrimp ceviche this week) while I have lentils and rice and pasta with sausage again. I’ve also been craving ice cream. Nothing major, but I do think that there is something about having a restricted food budget that makes you obsesses about what you’re eating, what you wish you were eating, and how much you resent not being able to eat it.

The only restriction this week to indulging on snacks is the limitation of my budget this week but it also reminds me of the debates about what SNAP recipients can and should use their benefits for. As it stands right now, CalFresh recipient can purchase food and seeds meant for human consumption. They cannot purchase any alcohol, tobacco, or hot and prepared meals (San Diego County is one of seven counties in California that allow eligible homeless, disabled, and individuals over 60 to use their CalFresh benefits at participating restaurants).

However, the debate of restricting what CalFresh recipients is, unfortunately, an old story. Missouri’s been attempting to ban recipients from buying seafood and steak, Maine is attempting to prevent recipients from purchasing junk food, Wisconsin wants to regulate what is purchased by recipients. These restrictions on CalFresh recipients are part of a larger move to place higher restrictions on low income individuals overall. While the feasibility of these initiatives is doubtful, they highlight a very real perception we have in the US that the poor have it too easy. That the poor should be suffering. That poor people are actively choosing junk food over nutritious meals and that the best way to encourage better nutrition for low income individuals is by policing their behavior.

Given this rhetoric, it’s not surprising that not all eligible individuals apply for benefits.

Feeling Good?

I think about food a lot. Usually, it’s with excitement. My day dreams consist of dinner brainstorming, making lists for my next grocery store run, and what new things I could do with cookie butter. 

These past few days I’ve been thinking about food even more. 

And my thoughts haven’t been too pleasant. 



For the most part I have been satisfied with my meals. For breakfast these past two days I’ve had oatmeal which is a usual part of my diet. I do miss, though, the raisins and walnuts that normally accompany it. 

For lunch yesterday I made a rice bowl from Monday’s leftovers consisting of black beans, green peppers, tomato and some jalapeno. I snacked on carrot sticks too. 

Dinner was a bit of a struggle. 

Yesterday, fall hit New York with full force. It looked like a handful of trees turned colors overnight, and the day was overcast with a nippy breeze. Throughout work I kept thinking about how nice it would be to change into sweat pants and have a hot bowl of soup. But then reality set in and I remembered that I didn’t fit soup into my budget. Even if I could whip up a broth with the veggies I had, I would be out of food for the rest of the week. 

It looks like CalFresh doesn’t take into account spontaneous cravings. 

Dinner Day 2: yam with rice

Dinner Day 2: yam with rice

For dinner I ended up baking some yam with rice, creating a creamy pilaf that was suitable for welcoming in Fall, but it wasn’t quite the same…

The forecast for today was warmer than yesterday, so I felt that a kale salad for lunch would be appropriate. 

Day 3 lunch: Kale Salad

Day 3 lunch: Kale Salad


Dinner, today was a deconstructed potato taco. 

I am used to satisfying my food cravings and whims without giving them a single thought.  If I want soup on a chilly Autumn day, I can stop by the grocery store or indulge in Panera take-out (and pick up a warm latte while I’m there). If I change my mind, I know I have enough food in my fridge and in my pantry to make a number of satisfying replacements. If I’m not in the mood to cook anything at all, there are four different delivery places programmed in my phone. 

The restrictions of this challenge are suffocating. 

And I still really, really, want soup. 

Why I’m not taking the CalFresh Challenge

What a person is (or isn’t) eating could also be what is eating them.

When my colleagues announced that they would be taking the CalFresh challenge, I knew right away that I probably couldn’t join them.  My limited diet prohibits the digestion of everything from pasta to alcohol to nightshade plants. To sneak a glass of wine is one thing but ingestion of any food on the prohibited list for a whole week would have health consequences that could range from mildly annoying to painful. While I’m fairly certain that I probably could have found a way to adhere to a budget, it was the mental exhaustion of creating a meal plan for a diet that I already struggle with under the best of financial circumstances that I found to be the biggest hurdle.

Poverty snakes its way into every single aspect of a person’s life. It manifests as food insecurity, inadequate housing, environmental illness, a sub-par education, and an increased likelihood of encountering violence. The physiological consequences of dealing with just one of those aspects is substantial, but the mental health effect is equally if not more significant and is likely to have a generational impact.

Yes, just about everyone over the age of 15 is stressed out in modern-day America regardless of income, but not everyone’s stress is based on having to make choices over who eats in the household, which prescription pill to cut in half or skip for the day, or if the converted garage you’re illegally living in will be discovered. And even those of us who have climbed past the first rung on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may still have a lingering fear if you spent a little too much time in your childhood worrying about the basics like what you’ll eat and where you’ll live. Layer a health issue on top of the lingering trauma of lack in a critical area and it’s enough to make you throw your hands up in the air.

To be food insecure is to have to worry. A burnt meal or a dropped plate is concerning; a child with diabetes or celiac disease requires immense strategic planning with very limited resources. Mental wellness is just not achievable when a person has to worry about what they’re going to eat, or how what they are eating may affect their health. 

Living on $4.38/day Day 2: Settling in

Eggs for breakfast

Eggs for breakfast

Today I woke up hungry. To be honest I can’t tell yet if this is because my normal portion sizes are just way too big or if I didn’t get enough to eat. Nevertheless, this felt like the real start of the challenge, for a couple reasons that I’ll get into in a moment. Today actually went mostly smoothly, but it wasn’t without some interesting observations. Let’s get into it. For breakfast, there wasn’t much choice, it was either eggs or cereal. Fortunately, my wife and I had a chance to have breakfast together, so we went with option B. 

"Cheat" lunch

"Cheat" lunch

The whole meal (eggs, toast, coffee, creamer, and veggies in the eggs) was $1.83/serving.  That’s not bad, though it is almost half of our daily budget. I left this meal feeling pretty satisfied. It’s not actually more than I frequently get in a breakfast, but I knew I was going to be downshifting my daily caloric intake so I ought to not leave myself without fuel.  We did this with fancy Omega-3 eggs from cage free chickens that are like $6 or $7/dozen. That price comes down considerably if you go for the regular eggs I grew up on. Breakfast complete, I headed off to work realizing that I’d have to “cheat” for lunch.  The rules of this challenge say to try to avoid free food.  The only reason I can think of for this is that the more well off you are or the more professional your job setting perhaps the more likely you are to either have people throw food at you all week or at least to have friends who offer you home made carne asada for free after you’ve had a day eating green goo (wait, maybe that last one is just me). I wonder about the premise and how closely these rules match the real life situations of people who get food stamps.  I may try to do some research on this point.  Still, a friend I am quite fond of had a thing he’d asked me to come to and so I wasn’t going to be the weirdo eating split pea soup while everyone else was enjoying the three courses he had graciously provided. 

I skipped the dessert and also tried to eat somewhat light.  I imagine that meal would have been about $15, or a quarter of my whole weekly budget. I couldn’t have used Calfresh at the restaurant but you get the point. I was grateful for the kindness of that friend and even learned some tips for financial independence over lunch. But I couldn’t help thinking as I learned about certain ways to leverage the existing rules to lower my tax burden on the backdrop of having food I didn’t pay for that this was like a double whammy of the rich getting richer.  This isn’t to call anyone in that room “rich” necessarily (after all, how would I know), but it does seem like it’s pretty easy in my line of work to drift from meal to meal, blissfully not worrying about how much food I do or do not eat.

I occasionally break out my lesson of the pencil reference for my mom when she accuses me of wasting food. “Not so,” I say, “the food isn’t being wasted because whether I eat it or not all of the people who were able to feed their own families because of my purchase have already been paid. So whether I stuff myself or leave some on the plate, it isn’t really being wasted.” If you read that last link you’ll find the lesson and a critique of it.  I didn’t have time to check the source, however.  By the way, my mom was born in 1933, so she is really having none of my nonsense about the philosophy of food waste. I don’t buy it as much as I did when one of my law professors busted it out the first day of law school, but the lesson does serve a useful purpose. I care deeply about the struggles many people face, and economics lessons helps remind me that not every “solution” to a societal problem actually is a solution – nor necessarily better than the problem it solves. It’s why I think every politician should be required to know something about the law of unintended consequences before they take office. Sometimes we choose to make decisions despite knowing that there will be costs, but term-limited career elected officials rarely need to worry about the negative consequences of policies and as a result we can end up with popular decisions in the short run that have negative consequences that are only born by the people who remain. In the context of food, it’s how some can score cheap points on the backs of poor people because they aren’t made to see how certain policy decisions really do make it harder to get nutritious food.   I digress. Back to the food.

Moving on to dinner, we were right back in the saddle on our challenge. It was this:

Dinner Day 2

Dinner Day 2

A tuna melt, vegetables, and water (I include the water mostly because it has been serving as my filler during meals – though, in San Diego at least, the cost of that water is going up with this whole drought thing). The tuna was Wild Planet sustainably pole and line caught albacore tune from Costco. A 5 ounce can costs $2.50 (but can only be purchased as part of a 6-pack for $14.99). I added this part for two reasons. First, it’s important to me to care about how our food gets to our plate, so we try to be thoughtful about it when possible.  Second, it is much easier to care about these sorts of things when you can afford an annual Costco membership. I wonder if San Diego Hunger Coalition accepts donations of Costco memberships – or better if Costco would donate group memberships for Calfresh recipients.

The meal was $2.43/serving and I can tell you that without question I linger much more over food when I know it’s all I’ve got for the evening. No sweet nugget afterwards. No big breakfast or windfall of food to look forward to the next day.  The biggest takeaway for me on this day happened between meals.  I have often heard that the key to health and maintaining a healthy weight is to eat several small meals each day and to never skip breakfast. I decided to pose this question to the oracle (better known as my friends on Facebook). There were several opinions, but a few citations to research.  I don’t have time to dig those out now, except this one about the number of meals, but I think you’d be surprised at some of the results. Thanks for reading, have a good day

Blog entry by Omar Passons. To read more about his journey, you can check out eat.drink.give.go.

Learning to Get Creative

CFC Day 2:

Breakfast: 6oz low-fat yogurt w/ 8 blackberries = $1.04
Lunch: Penne (½ cup), pasta sauce (2oz) and 1 chicken tender = $1.65
Snack: n/a
Dinner: Whole grain pita with hummus, chicken, feta, green onions, and cucumbers = $1.74

Daily Total = $4.41 = 1,443 calories

Challenges: I skipped my afternoon snack today so I would have more wiggle room to budget my dinner. I ended up going over the daily allotment by $.03 and realized how much every single item counts. Normally, when making meals, I tend to snack on the veggies as I chop them but I knew that if I did that, I would not have any to put on my pita. My self-control was definitely tested. 

Lessons Learned: I found myself becoming very creative with the ingredients I had. Instead of looking up recipes that may require me to go out and purchase additional items, I just took a look at what I had and chose to go with a Greek theme and just threw this together. A week ago, I probably would have purchased an item such as my pita creation for $5+ on the go. Now that I know I can make one for under $2, this will be added to my weekly lunch schedule. Plus, I made an additional one for lunch tomorrow!  

Nutritional Information Courtesy of MyFitnessPal App

Blog entry from Jaqueline Hess from Feeding America San Diego. Jacqueline is taking the CalFresh Challenge for the entire month of September! To access all her entries, you can visit her site here

My Past Experience with Food Stamps

I felt surprisingly confident on the first day of the Challenge. I had coffee and oatmeal in the morning, something I will be having every morning this week. For lunch, I had pasta with peppers and chicken jalapeno sausage from Trader Joe’s. Since most of our office is participating in the Challenge this year, we got to share stories of our shopping experience prepping for the week. It was interesting to hear about their anxiety and stress at the store as they planned out their meals this week and it was even more fascinating comparing it to my non-stressful shopping experience.

At around 1pm I realized I need to budget more coffee into the Challenge. My coffee addiction started in high school and it has fluctuated quite a bit. I have tried to quit, to cut down, to replace coffee with tea but it never works out. I probably should have accounted for how much coffee I drink a day a bit more. Luckily, I have some leftover money to account for my coffee addiction.

Dinner went pretty well as well. I cooked a staple for me: ground turkey with spices, potatoes and tomatoes with some basmati rice. I love this because it’s a quick and easy recipe and I can always have some leftover for the next day.

For day 2 of the challenge, I had leftovers for lunch and for dinner I had some lentils and rice. During the second day we also discovered that this month Whole Foods is having 25 cent coffee! It might be the best news of the week so far.

Overall, it seems like I’m having a relatively easy start to the Challenge but I attribute it to the fact that I’ve been on benefits before and I had to learn to master meal planning with a limited budget. Taking the Challenge this week has made me think a lot about my AmeriCorps experience. As an AmeriCorps member, my stipend was not considered income so when the county calculated my benefits, I was eligible for the full benefit amount: $200 a month before the cuts to SNAP funding and $189 a month after the cuts to SNAP funding. My monthly stipend came to roughly $1,547 a month towards the end of my term. If my income was calculated to determine my CalFresh benefits, I would only be eligible for $16 a month.

I often found this disparity challenging, especially since my work as an AmeriCorps member meant I was meeting with clients on a daily basis that were living on similar incomes yet they were not eligible for the same benefit as I was. What made it more difficult was knowing that the individuals I worked with were actively searching for higher earning jobs without any success. Some went back to school to improve their chances and ended up with high student loan debt and limited options for advancement, others battled with debilitating mental health issues while attempting to maintain their jobs, while others strived to make a better life for their children in positions with highly fluctuating work schedules.

For me, having access to the full CalFresh allotment not only gave me access to more nutritious meals but it gave me peace of mind that I knew where my next meal was coming from and that I had one less thing to worry about. For the clients I worked with, CalFresh was a lifeline but it was not always enough. They understood that the benefits were a temporary safety net and they were never proud to be receiving CalFresh. Contrary to what some of the myths about CalFresh recipients are, the clients I worked with all looked forward to the day that they would not to rely on CalFresh to make ends meet. 

Now that I have moved away from doing direct service, I feel like doing the CalFresh Challenge this week is a good reminder of why I focus on fighting hunger and food insecurity. It's a good reminder that the work we do in raising awareness and limiting the barriers to accessing this much needed resource is great but also that by talking about public benefits in a more open setting, we are also hopefully working towards de-stigmatizing CalFresh. 

Day 3: Food without pleasure.

Food is such an inextricably linked part of my world, my aesthetic – heck, my husband is a chef and I have a Master’s degree in Food Studies. You can imagine why the magical internet linked our online dating profiles together that fateful day, and you can further imagine how much of our pleasure derives from sharing food and cooking.

Yesterday morning and afternoon were fine, as I generally do not eat extravagant or terribly exciting foods during my work day (though sometimes I do since we work in a vibrant Mexican, Vietnamese neighborhood of San Diego), but when I got home I began to stare down the monotony of another dinner of pasta, rice, or beans as its main component. I haven’t been really hungry, per say, because I am filling myself with foods that satiate, but my palette is screaming for flavor and my heart misses that from which I derive pleasure: the creativity of dreaming up my next dish, the excitement of culling together the ingredients and making them meld into a wonderful treat. When you work really hard all day, and life is hectic, sometimes the most fulfilling moment in that 24 hours can be a great meal and a lovely glass of wine. At least for me it can be.

I am writing a book on prison food and I write a lot about the monotony of repetitive meals and the deprivation of choice. I am very, very slightly glimpsing toward that feeling of having simply meals that fill the belly rather than ones that delight. I have read that with poverty comes a huge amount of boredom, and I am beginning to see how detrimental to spirit that can be.

Food is a true pleasure. Almost universally people find happiness and community in it. It is the one thing we are forced to do every day to keep ourselves alive that we can also turn into moments of sheer happiness. All of that changes on food stamps.

Living on $4.38/day: Day 1 – Eating slowly

The above image came from this fascinating brief history of the food stamp program.  A few years ago I was moved by the idea that I could help create awareness among my circles about hunger issues through this thing called the CalFresh Challenge.  You have to live off $4.38 per day, which is the amount a single adult receives in the food stamp program in California.  The last time I did it, I wrote about many of the things that people don’t understand, like why businesses and poor people both lose if you over regulate what items are included, how this started out as a Republican/Bi-partisan ideal to help the very poor, and even simple things like eligibility criteria.  Today is day one, here’s how it went. The day before we started (a Sunday), my wife and I planned our meals for the week, went shopping, and then itemized the costs of everything.  The first really shocking thing was that our initial meal plan came out to about $84 – or $23 more than we would receive if we were getting food stamps.  Figuring out how to shave over $20 off an already sparse meal plan was pretty tough.  We cut about $15 and are sitting tight for now to see what else can be trimmed.

Another thing to notice is that the amount of money available in food stamps has actually gone down for recipients by over 10% since 2012.  An $8/week reduction may not seem like much to most people, but it made the process that much more challenging.  On top of the reduction in food benefit, the actual costs of the food (and likely everything else one has to pay for) has gone up.  We made a couple of the same items as last time and you can see the price per serving is higher this year.  So, there’s that.

Peanut Butter Puffins

Peanut Butter Puffins

As for the food, it was a pretty tame first day.  I started with these. A reasonably priced item at .55 cents per serving including organic fancy pants 2% milk.  When I got to work I immediately went for some hot tea.  I think I’ll be staving off hunger with water and tea.  I have an office job, so it’s easy to get some hot water and technically the coffee is available at no charge.  I am passing on coffee this week because I can’t afford it.

Lunch was an oldie but goodie, split pea soup! Here’s what I wrote about it – and its incredible nutritional value – last time (link).

Healthy & filling split pea soup

Healthy & filling split pea soup

This is a great dish if you are trying to stretch dollars. It is a $1.33/serving (compared to $1.08 in 2012), which is a little high for lunch, but worth it.  The pale, slimy green appearance probably would turn kids off, but it tastes good and is super nutritious.  You need a microwave to make it work, but other than that it’s a pretty easy choice.  It occurs to me that if I had an outside job, like on a construction or landscaping gig, I’d probably have to make different choices about my lunch just due to the lack of a kitchen.  I’ll be interested to hear other stories of what is possible from others who either do this challenge or just live their lives with this budgetary constraint.

I read on one of my favorite news sites how according to the author doing this type of thing is a stunt.  To be sure, some politicians and others do this so they can play gotcha games with the other side. Former California Republican gubernatorial candidate Neal Kashkari kind of set the gold standard for trolling with his pretending to be homeless for a week.  The sad part is, had he just focused on sharing the lessons that such harsh conditions teach us, it could have been a really useful thing. His effort probably was a stunt.  But there’s a danger in minimizing efforts to call attention to the challenges that being poor or nearly poor brings.  Most people won’t know and don’t generally have time to really understand what it’s like to have to stretch your money because you only have $4/day to eat with. This is an opportunity to help get more information to people.  And, hopefully, more empathy.  Using someone’s dire circumstances to score cheap political points is a bad idea.  But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I guarantee no one I speak to this week will know that while food prices went up, the amount available to live off went down.

On another front, the people in my office are really decent human beings.  And they love to share their baking skills with everyone else.  In fact, I went in to fetch some hunger-masking ice cold water from the break room and found this.

I hear it was delicious.  I had to skip it to stay on the path of this challenge.  Truth be told, if your place of employment serves food you probably augment your personal food supply with at least one meal this way.  I recently learned from an uncle that my grandmother stretched their very limited food supplies in Little Rock in the ’50s by bringing home the leftovers she prepared as a cook for her wealthy employers. Nevertheless, I get the idea of trying to be true to the spirit of the campaign, so I passed on this lovely looking cake.

It’s amazing how much more slowly you eat when you know the next meal is eight hours away and you don’t have money to just grab a quick pick-me-up. I’m only one day into this thing and am already remembering one of the things that I think is really most important.  The experience of hunger shapes how you handle other things. It’s like going on a long walk with a mild ankle injury. You can get the job done, but there isn’t a point where you don’t notice that something’s not right.

Turning to dinner, we had this

These “taco” lettuce wraps were only $3.44/serving and they were delicious.  A couple things. First, as a native San Diegan whose first food love is Mexican food, I know the idea of calling anything without a tortilla a taco is sacrilege. But when your motivation is partially to convince yourself that something isn’t as odd as it seems a little suspended disbelief never hurt anyone. Second, they actually were good and I didn’t miss the tortilla.  I’m not just making the best of it, I was really surprised to find this to be true.  Not sure if I could permanently leave the warm goodness of the Pancho Villa tortilla forever, but the occasional substitute may be good for the wallet and the waist.

Day One unfolded as mostly a success. I shared the story with a few work colleagues, so am raising a little awareness, and I’m ready to tackle day two. We had three healthy meals all for about $5.32 each. Yes, we blew our daily budget on the first day by .94 cents (over 20%), but we wanted to get started on the right foot and will look to make that up later in the week.

I think I reached at least five new people in person with the story. In fact, one friend of mine even recommended giving the difference between my weekly grocery budget and what we’re spending on this challenge to the Hunger Coalition. I’m going to discuss this with my wife, but it’s an interesting idea.  Our weekly grocery budget is about $125, but some of that is the prorated cost of things like paper towels and lotion. Technically we could have a separate category for these things, but at some point you get too granular and budgets stop having meaning.  But anyway let’s assume our food consumption budget is about $100/month. That’d be only about $40 worth of donation. What’s perhaps most shocking is how much of a difference that amount of money makes on what you can eat.  My theory is that if we downshifted on ingredient quality we could probably knock off another $10-15.  I like paying more for hormone-free this or humanely raised that, but I hope people who get self-righteous about this type of thing realize what a luxury that actually is. I suspect most of the world – and over 400,000 San Diegans – simply don’t have the good fortune to be so picky. Maybe it points to larger problems with our food system. Well, food for thought, I guess (yes, yes that was a terrible and initially unintended pun). Thanks for reading

Blog entry by Omar Passons. To read more about his journey, you can check out eat.drink.give.go.

Food Stamps- Not Stress-Friendly

It looks like I am off to a pretty lousy start. 

I spent last night at my friend’s house to offer her support as she adjusted to cat ownership. We relocated Minnie from her home of seven years in Connecticut to Beacon, NY. 

Have you ever sat with a cat in a carrying case for an hour in a half in a car?

It was a traumatic experience for us all. 

To recover we ordered pizza, drank wine, watched movies, and eyed Minnie as she explored her new home. 

To cure the headache I woke up with today, I felt it was a good idea to eat a few slices of the leftover pizza. 

Oops. It turns out CalFresh doesn’t take into account hangover food…

I wasn’t able to get on the right track until dinner time. Running errands all day forced me to skip lunch; needless to say, I was famished when it was time to make my first CalFresh meal. 

Taco Night

Taco Night

I have the feeling I will be eating a variety of this meal throughout the week.  These tacos are stuffed with black beans, brown rice, a sliver of green bell pepper, a wedge of tomato, and a nib of roasted jalapeno. 

A New Kind of Stress... Will there be enough?

Lunch for Day 1 of the Challenge!

Lunch for Day 1 of the Challenge!

Day 1 of the CalFresh Challenge is complete!  I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only did I make it through the day, but I was also able to make it through a Spin workout w/ a decent amount of energy.  There were small tweaks made to my day: I spent an additional hour on food preparation and drank an extra 40 ounces of water to stay “full;” however, we were able to squeeze in 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables, got lots of protein, and I even kept my daily dose of caffeine. 

Now to the stress… while we had a “great 1st day,”  it might have been too “great.”  I thought I had budgeted enough rice and beans to get us through four meals; however, I’m quickly realizing that we’ll need nearly double the amount I planned for!  What this means is that we’ll potentially need to decide between protein and produce later in the week.  A part of me had thought that we’d have an easier time taking advantage of economies of scale with two people participating in the Challenge; however, we are learning that no matter how well we plan, this allotment does not allow for an adequate food budget. No matter how creative we get, something has to be given up.

When I realized how much my partner needs to eat, my first thought was whether I could cut my portions to ensure he got enough.  While I recognize that trading my food security for his is not a healthy choice, it is one millions of Americans make each day, especially those with growing children.  Since noticing the potential shortage, my free thoughts are occupied figuring out how to shift and stretch what we have to “cover the gap.” I rarely spend this much time and energy on getting enough healthy food in my body.  Luckily we have PLENTY of carbs (5lbs of potatoes for $1 makes carb loading easy).  We’ll see what the rest of the week has in store…


Going Over Budget

On to Day 2! I’m excited, but still a little worried about making this budget work.

We stuck with our planned menu for meals and snacks throughout the day:

Shrimp Kabobs for dinner

Shrimp Kabobs for dinner

Breakfast (fruit) – .27
Morning snack (string cheese) – .25
Lunch (wrap sandwich) – 1.54
Afternoon snack (carrots and celery) – .35
Dessert (yogurt) – .58
Total daily meals/snacks (except dinner) – 2.99

But I didn’t budget for coffee, but I had one this morning. I made it at home for .78.

For dinner, we had kabobs. I bought a dozen shrimp because they were on sale. I used half of it on dinner tonight, so we each got a kabob with 3 shrimp. It’s definitely not enough protein, but I was nervous to buy any more than that. We also had a kabob of veggies (zucchini and onion) and a side of corn.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

6 shrimp – 1.73
1 zucchini – .59
1/2 onion – .20
2 ears of corn – 1.00
Total for dinner – 3.52

So our total for the day (meals and snacks during the day, my coffee, and dinner) came to $10.28, or $5.14 per person. We went over our budget for the day, but hopefully we’ll be able to make up for it somewhere.