With that, my friend Vicki and I set a goal to eat well on a budget of $4.40 per person, per day — the same “per day” budget Mayor Booker used. Although most did the challenge for one week, we extended ours for two weeks.
Daily: $4.40 per person - Weekly: $30.80 per person
What We Bought
Vicki is a vegetarian but I’m a meat eater so we ate a mostly vegetarian diet (with some sardines for me). The rules were no junk or processed foods, and that we would try to eat primarily organic and non-GMO foods.
Our Provisions from Week #1
Protein: Eggs, black beans, red lentils, full fat yogurt, peanut butter, sardines
Fat: Peanut butter, yogurt, olive oil, flax seeds
Veggies: Kale, red cabbage, collards, string beans, celery, salad, carrots, onions, tomato sauce, garlic
Grains: steel cut oats, brown rice
Fruit: lemons, bananas, apples, raisins
Other: Green tea on sale and Sprouted Ezekiel Bread
Every day was slow cooked steel cut oats (cook once, eat for 4-5 days) with a few raisins and yogurt. Our two pounds of oats fed two people for a whole week for just $2.80. This breakfast beats any heavily processed boxed cereal – it supplies far fewer empty calories and comparatively little added sugar.
Soak 1-2 cups oats overnight
Throw away soaking water
Bring 2-4 cups of fresh water to a boil.
Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add ground flax seeds and yogurt.
On a normal, non-challenge day, I like to spice my oatmeal with more pricey ingrediants like cardamon, cinnamon, clove, vanilla, raisins, and goji berries, and I would use either plain raw yogurt or almond butter as my source of fat. However, this low-cost version was just as filling and satisfying!
Most days, we ate one of the following for lunch:
Collard roll-up with veggies
Two sardines (with bones packed in water) sauteed with onion, green salad with dressing made from lemons, crushed garlic and olive oil
One egg, a green salad, with one slice of toast with peanut butter
Black beans and rice, with a side of steamed kale and raw garlic
RECIPE: SIMPLE BLACK BEANS
Soak dried black beans overnight
Strain the beans in the morning
Chop: 1 onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a hot pan
Sauté onions first for about 4 minutes until soft
Add the chopped carrots and celery to the onions and sauté
Add beans and 2-3 cups of water to the pan.
Bring water to a boil, lower flame to a simmer, cover and cook for 1-1 1/2 hours until beans are soft.
The cooked beans are extremely versatile and we incorporated them into several different dishes, like our beans and rice dish, bean burgers, and bean soup.
Main dishes: soups, salads, or black bean burgers
Side dishes: 1 egg scrambled or fried, toast, or salad.
Steamed red cabbage and apples, though it sounds odd, was a surprisingly sweet and simple dish. The key to working with a limited selection of ingredients is to be creative!
Midway into the second week, I craved a hamburger. Burger ingredients were not going to fit into our budget, so we settled for homemade black bean burgers. It was good but….it wasn’t a burger. Settling, compromising, and making-do were recurring themes of our challenge.
We hadn’t allotted any funds or ingredients for cookies, candy, or treats even though it was the holiday season. When Vicki wanted to celebrate Chanukah, we had to scramble. With two sweet potatoes, oat flour made in our blender, and two eggs, we made delicious sweet potato Latkes and served them with string beans and yogurt.
Overall, our challenge was a success
I feel empowered knowing that I can feed myself well for $4.40 a day. We stayed within our SNAP Benefits budget for two weeks and managed to create meals that were healthy and 97% organic. Eating foods in their whole form, not processed, is the way we were able to get through this challenge. We compared prices, bought in bulk, watched for sales, and pinched our pennies. I learned to shop late in the day with a full stomach – shopping hungry is a liability.
On the first two days of our challenge, we were seriously hungry
I found myself trying to savor my snacks (fruit or celery with peanut butter) to make them last. Admittedly, I felt that my brain was a bit dull with hunger for the first two days, but our appetites adjusted to our more limited food intake. We both lost five pounds, which surprised us because after the first two days we didn’t feel particularly hungry or deprived.
We kept busy so we wouldn’t think about eating
Realizing every morsel counts, I became a vigilant steward of my food. One morning while multi-tasking, I smelled burnt toast. I panicked because I knew that that allotted slice, charred or not, was all there was for breakfast. We were careful about recycling leftovers, turning yesterday’s red lentils into tomorrow’s soup. We worked creatively to prepare fresh looking meals from what we already had on hand.
There were also emotional aspects of shopping on such a limited budget. I was frustrated that I couldn’t buy what I wanted, and at one point embarrassed at the cash register when I calculated incorrectly and found I was over budget. I noticed the impatient stares from the shoppers behind me at the checkout as the huffy manager voided my purchase.
But perhaps the most important change we experienced from our challenge was gratitude for the good fortunate and choices we enjoy. I am more careful with food now, and I don’t waste it or scrape it into the garbage. We have renewed respect and empathy for those who face a real challenge in affording food every day.
Ditching the processed foods
Having gone through this experience, I can tell you using SNAP Benefits does not have to mean eating only processed or high calorie junk foods, which are nutritional empty calories.
Finding a Buddy – Creating a Community
Wholesome, organic, nutritious food can be affordable. It does take additional effort to find it and cook it, and it helps to have the support of urban gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA), and co-ops to keep costs down. As in most activities it also helps to buddy up. But when you trade processed food-like products for whole, real foods, you get so much more nutrition for your dollar, and it makes a world of difference for your health.
A favor please?
What is your biggest challenge in Feeding Your Bones calcium and mineral-rich foods?