The Food Outreach Hunger Challenge: Day 1

As I mentioned previously, The Chef and I are participating in Food Outreach’s $29 Hunger Challenge, in which we’ll attempt to eat nutritiously over a period of 7 days on only $29 each (the average weekly food stamp allowance here in Missouri). We chose today as day 1 of our challenge … and to say it was a challenge is putting it mildly.

Let’s dispense with the nitty gritty first. Based on things we have going on next weekend, The Chef and I decided to shorten our challenge schedule from seven days to five days (today through Friday). We completely realize that people living on food stamps do not have this luxury, and it was not an easy decision for us to make. It was also the first of many reminders of just how lucky we are to be able to make the carefree food choices we do.

Since we didn’t have time to shop this weekend, we set out to Whole Foods (our usual grocery store) this morning with our new food allowance of $20 each (based on $4 worth of food stamps per day over 5 days). This gave us a grand total of only $40 for five days worth of groceries for the two of us. I think fear immediatly began to set in as to whether we could actually eat nutritiously on such a short amount of money … and not go hungry.

Before we departed for the grocery store, we felt we should eat something for breakfast. Since we hadn’t shopped ahead of time, we decided to each eat one fried egg with a touch of salsa and then “deduct” this from our morning purchases. With fried eggs in our bellies and $40 in our hands, we were off.

Our typical shopping trips to Whole Foods usually involve The Chef and I cruising the aisles, deciding on things to make for dinner each night based on what looks good and what’s in season (ie, not based on how much something costs though we try to keep costs to no more than $80 to $100 per week … and usually much less if we’re getting a CSA pick-up that week). We choose foods that are local, organic, minimally-processed, and artisinally- and sustainably-produced. We also sometimes just grab things we may not need for the week, but that are either intriquing or are on sale (because of this, it’s a good possibility we could eat just from our pantry and freezer for a week and still come up with unique and interesting dinner ideas, but that’s another challenge in and of itself). As I mentioned before, we are extremely lucky to be able to shop this way.

Today’s shopping trip was an eye-opening experience. We spent over two hours at the store, carefully checking food prices to see what things cost and figuring out what would give us the most bang for our buck. It also raised a lot of questions. Should we skip organic foods to maximize our money? Because I believe that good, clean, healthy food should be available to all, we decided that we must purchase as much organic food as possible. I guess this is what the challenge really means to us. Can you eat good, clean, healthy food on a limited budget … and not go hungry?

We also questioned the use of coupons to save money. In the end, we chose not to use coupons because couponing requires both time and access to a computer and printer, both of which we assume people living on food stamps may not have. I’m certain this doesn’t apply to all people living on food stamps, but because it applies to some, we choose not to use coupons at all.

So, what did our $40 get us at Whole Foods? Here’s the rundown of exactly what we purchased:

  • 1 lb organic rolled oats $1.35
  • 1/2 lb organic trail mix $3.17
  • 1 lb organic brown rice $1.62
  • 1/2 lb organic pinto beans (dried) $0.80
  • 1/2 lb organic green split peas (dried) $1.00
  • 1/2 lb rice pilaf mix $1.48
  • 1/2 lb “Southwest” soup mix (dried) $2.88
  • 2 organic jalapenos $0.64
  • 2 organic yellow onions $0.52
  • 1 bulb organic garlic $0.45
  • 1/2 lb organic green beans (fresh) $1.23
  • 4 bananas $1.11
  • 2 limes $0.80
  • 6 chicken drumsticks $2.81
  • 1 lb ground turkey $3.46
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs $2.99
  • 1 lb organic edamame (frozen) $2.39
  • 1 10-ounce package butternut squash (frozen) $1.99
  • 1 16-ounce package vegetable medley (frozen) $1.69
  • 1 package organic tortillas $2.99
  • 1 16 ounce jar tomatillo salsa $2.99

Add in tax, and we spent exactly $39.94.

Leaving the store, we felt pretty good about our purchases and our plans for our upcoming meals. However once we got home, laid out what we bought on the kitchen table, and started writing out our menu for the week … we suddenly didn’t feel too good anymore. It became apparently fairly quickly that we were going to be hungry this week (in all honesty, we were already hungry having only eaten one egg each that morning). It also became apparent that we had forgotten to include any dairy. We chose to set aside the jalapeno, onion, garlic, and limes we bought (since we had also bought salsa to flavor our meals) and made a quick trip to another local grocery store to purchase a 1/2 gallon of 2% milk. I realize (again) that people living on food stamps wouldn’t have the ability to do this (but I’m fairly certain they would have made the smarter purchase in the first place).

We forgaged ahead with our plans for lunch … steamed brown rice and edamame topped with a fried egg (don’t worry … that was the last fried egg in our hunger challenge). As The Chef cooked our eggs, I portioned out our alloted 1/2 cup brown rice and 1/2 cup edamame for each of us … and it was then that I knew we were going to be hungry, perhaps really hungry, this week. At 4:00, we each ate a banana as a snack, though it didn’t seem to do much to curb our hunger.

By the time dinner rolled around, we both felt truly hungry … and the thought of our planned meal of 1 chicken drumstick, 1/2 cup brown rice, and (yes, you guessed it) 1/2 cup edamame, was neither appealing nor satisfying. Perhaps it was that thought, compounded by the realization of just how hard this challenge was on only the first day, but both The Chef and I broke down … and ordered a pizza.

I am extremely embarrassed to admit that we didn’t last one full day on the hunger challenge. Should we have left our food philosophy at the door? Should we have chosen cheaper, more processed foods so that we’d have more to eat and therefore be less hungry? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is was one of the lessons we were meant to learn.

The Chef and I plan to continue the hunger challenge as planned for the rest of this week. I’ve reviewed our menu and I’m more confident about the next four days. I guess only time will tell whether we can truly complete the hunger challenge, but I already know that I understand a bit more about the struggles people living on food stamps face … and I’ll never take our food lifestyle for granted.

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  • Stacy @ Every Little Thing

    I’m more and more worried about the challenge as the days roll on! haha

    Thanks for being honest about your (literal) food challenges yesterday. Do you think if you’d meal planned ahead of time, you would have made better purchases (not that yours are bad, I just mean more filling meal ingredients, etc)? I’ve been meal-planning for almost two weeks now! It’s difficult, moreso than I expected.
    Also, did you consider the farmer’s market for anything? I’m hoping to continue to get grass-fed beef, local eggs, local veg (some, not all), and good milk based on the $60 budget.

    We’llllll see how it goes. Good luck to you. We are going to have to excuse two dinners during our week (Cards game and coworker’s party), which I’m already feeling bad about!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Stacy!

      The more and more I think about it, I’m not sure meal planning ahead would have helped … we created our meals as we shopped (laying out everything in our cart as we went) and we truly thought we’d have enough food for the 5 days, but once we cooked the rice, we knew it wouldn’t go as far as we had hoped. 

      We specifically shopped the bulk section for beans, legumes, and grains since we could control exactly how much we bought and because these should fill us up … I guess we’ll see with the soups we are making!

      I truly think the issue is what little food we were able to buy with the money we were allotted (and we even bought some of our items on sale) … we wanted to get peanut butter and bread so that we’d have something to snack on, but we just didn’t have enough money.

      I’m excited to see how your challenge goes! ~Kimberly

      • Anonymous

        P.S. I had wanted to include some items from the farmers’ market, but didn’t make it to Tower Grove as we were out of town on Saturday … but I don’t think it would have helped since we barely had enough to spend at Whole Foods!

  • Heather

    Wow! That challenge sounds hard, but it really hits home when you lay out your groceries for the week. Did you consider going to Trader Joe’s to get organic food that offers more bang for your buck? Good luck with the rest of the week!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Heather!

      We wanted to do all our shopping at Whole Foods to see if it could be done (and I already think the answer is no). 

      I do think shopping at Trader Joe’s would have helped get us get more food … perhaps I should try that experiment in the coming weeks!

      Thanks! ~Kimberly

      • Heather

        That makes sense. It sounds like your week is getting a little better. Thanks for sharing! It’s very interesting.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for reading, Heather!

  • Islandvittles

    Thanks for being so honest about the challenges that came up for you while just getting started on the challenge.  Our approach to food is similar to yours, and I feel lucky everyday not to have to make the tough choices so many are facing right now.  Theresa

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Theresa!