Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.
Read the experiences of the participants:
Aaron Yuen, Volunteer:I blew my budget on Day 3. In order to redeem myself, my budget on Day 4 is $2.70. My strategy is to hit the pantry for inexpensive food. For breakfast, I ate 1/2 cup of granola and drank 2 glasses of water. Water is free, right? I was full at first. At about 9:00am, I was starved. I kept myself busy to ignore the hunger For lunch, I made a sandwich with 2 slices of turkey, 1/5 of a loaf of baguette and mayo. I decided to go without tomatoes and lettuce due to budgetary reasons By 3:30pm, I was absolutely starved. I drank more water. For Dinner, I opened a can of New England Clam Chowder that we bought from Winco awhile back. I remember it was on sale for $1.38. I added some corn starch and water to thicken the chowder and made 3 cups out of it. It is gonna be a long night since I ate dinner at 6pm. I sort of made it. The cost of food on Day 4 came to $2.74. That means I have $2.65 left for Day 5. I am gonna have to be creative tomorrow.
Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator: Well it is almost the end of day four and as I was driving and thinking, I realized that last year I was hungrier than I am this year but this year I am definitely grumpier. I still have the same amount of work to do as I would any day but with less food to keep me energized, I am responding in grumpy ways to my poor co-workers. Health wise, I made better food choices and they are filling me up at night but I guess the satisfaction isn’t all there especially by day 4. This morning when I looked at the banana I planned on taking for lunch, I said no way, and left it at home. I still had my yogurt and string cheese (next year I would love to spend all of my money on string cheese – not healthy but I don’t think I would be as grumpy). For dinner it is a big glass of milk, two slices of wheat bread , a large salad and tomatoes and licking the bowl from the tasty salad dressing. Dessert is a glass of OJ – that to me is a treat. (And perhaps another cheese stick)…
Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: The biggest challenge for me this week has been sticking to the planned menu. My weekly menus are not usually a plan set in stone; my mood changes and I often wind up cooking something else. I also like variety. Wednesday night I really wanted to try out a new recipe for salmon cakes. I have a nice fillet in the freezer, but it was $7.99 a pound when I purchased it. While I may have been able to fit this into the budget it would have required adjusting the menu for today and Friday. The tuna casserole I made was good, but this is a dish I usually only make once or twice a year and during the winter; it also required taking time to cook the pasta in the morning before work to speed up prep time in the evening, so it took more planning. (Thankfully, Steve is also very good about helping with prep work, cooking, and cleanup, so I have not had to do everything myself) Then there’s the chicken I roasted on Monday; it was over 5lbs. I decided for simplicities sake in working with the budget to try and utilize most of it this week rather than freezing a portion of it to use it at a later date. I also recognize the average CalFresh recipient may not have a freezer and would therefore have to use an entire chicken or larger cut of meat over a week’s time. The challenge then becomes finding ways to create a “new,” dish so meals stay interesting. To that end, tonight we will have spinach-chicken wraps for dinner with a cabbage slaw. I got a good buy on the tortilla wraps at Grocery Outlet and can use other ingredients I purchased for meals this week (co-jack cheese, black olives, New Mexican chile peppers, romaine lettuce) as well as tomatoes from the garden. The cabbage slaw (shredded cabbage mix, jalapeno, cilantro, canned pineapple & home-made lime juice based dressing) will also be served Friday night when I make a vegetarian stuffed zucchini using the remainder of the 16oz. package of brown rice I purchased. (I ate the remainder of leftover brown rice pilaf from Monday dinner for breakfast this morning). We will still have leftover chicken, however, which provides options for lunch (and breakfast) on Friday: chicken salad sandwiches or wraps, potato frittata, or tuna casserole?
Heidi Kleiner, AmeriCorps VISTA: I’m definitely learning things through this week of being more strict on my spending habits that I will use when the challenge is over. My own CalFresh (food stamp) allotment is actually lower than what we’ve been using for the challenge so I could benefit from some of these practices anyway, even though I already do a lot to make sure I don’t go (too) over budget. Luckily, I already try to be healthy anyway and it’s not such a change to eat and shop for things that work more efficiently for my body. Even though the less expensive, packaged foods are usually cheaper for more food (cost per calorie), it does seem to be possible to eat pretty healthy foods if I am willing to cut out the unhealthy, packaged foods and snacks almost completely.
It would be a much different challenge if I had kids and a family. Living on a limited food budget would be much more difficult with people with different tastes and desires for some of the food that I am more easily able to discipline myself into not eating, not to mention more mouths to feed and likely less money to do so.
I have learned, by charting out online the nutritional value of what I’ve been eating, that I bought and have been eating too much rice. With my stir fry, I ended up feeling tired afterwards because I added a lot of rice in an attempt to fill me up…but when looking at the carbs I’ve been eating, I actually get enough carbs just from the fruits and vegetables and maybe a small amount of grains a day. For my particular dietary needs and habits, I could greatly reduce the amount of grains I buy and use that money to buy some more protein, which I also need more of. Something I did do well for my plan this week however, was to make sure I got the right amount of fiber. When I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I don’t need to buy expensive, fiber-added foods that seem to be popular at the moment. The problem with buying a lot of produce, however, is that it can go bad quickly, and that’s wasted money (one of my peppers for this week went bad before I could eat it).
I was REALLY hungry when I got home from work today and it was farmers’ market day so I went down with my extra ten dollars to see what I could get. I ended up just getting 2 heirloom tomatoes for 4 dollars. If I had spent less money on grains and beans initially (I bought way too many beans), I would have had enough money to buy some more produce at the market. I then went to Safeway and bought the milk and cereal I was craving. While I went with the cereal that was the cheapest, it wasn’t the best deal, as the quantity was less for the price. It definitely saves money in the long run to buy things in bulk, but sometimes people don’t have that much money to spend at once, especially when living paycheck to paycheck or when they are getting close to the end of their CalFresh benefits for the month before the next allotment is added.
There was free pizza in the conference room today. That was rough. As someone who really doesn’t have much money to spend on food, I normally take advantage of all free food options I encounter- but I wanted to be true to the goals of the challenge, since many people struggling to feed themselves, even when employed, likely don’t have much access to free food where they work.