Preparing myself for eating on $4.50 a day

Preparing myself for eating on $4.50 a day

 SNAP Hunger Challenge Week is coming right up, and I'm getting more nervous about it each day.

These are my worries: 

  • What am I going to eat? For all my blogging about recipes, this is a problem for me more frequently than it should be. I'm lagging in the meal-planning department, I'm sad to admit.

  • How am I going to calculate the cost of each of my servings? I'm afraid it's going to take as much time as the actual cooking. Plus, I plan to use inexpensive staples I've already purchased (things like beans, whole-wheat pasta and frozen vegetables) that I'm guessing will allow me to stay within $4 a day. However, I'm not sure exactly how much I bought them for. This will make calculating price per serving difficult.

  • Will I get enough nutrition? When I was first asked to participate in the challenge, all I could think of was when state Sen.Mike Frerichs did the challenge a few years ago, and reported in our paper that he planned to eat lots of pasta and carbs. Plus, things like cheap macaroni and cheese are out for me, because I'm lactose intolerant.

  • Am I going to get sick of certain dishes? Actually, I should rephrase that: I am going to get sick of certain dishes. Oatmeal is inexpensive and a smart breakfast choice. I like it, but not every day. I'll need to either deal with it or come up with alternatives.

  • What about snacking? I'm not very friendly when I get hungry. I try to plan for snacks – things like apples, peanuts or other filling, nutritious items. Sometimes, though, I forget and end up buying a snack – usually something not so nutritious and less inexpensive. The delicious 50-cent chocolate muffins in our break room come to mind.

    Now that I'm anticipating the SNAP challenge, I'm realizing that 50 cents is a sizable chunk of my daily food budget. So, I guess this worry goes back to – am I going to be able to plan well enough to get through this?

  • Am I going to be able to resist taking free food from others? The challenge's rules say not to, but I have a hard time saying no to most offered foods. For example, I'm invited to a party during the week of the challenge. How on earth am I going to resist the pizza they'll serve, or treats in the newsroom? This already feels like a diet, in the sense that I'll feel like I'm denying myself and as a result, want to eat more.

  • What about having people over for dinner or feeding others? I guess they can eat what I'm eating ... but I plan on eating mostly meatless dishes, and some people (my boyfriend, for example) aren't so into meatless. I'm feeling relieved, at this point, that I'm in a household of one.

I'm guessing these worries are the whole reason foodbanks sponsor the SNAP Challenge. I can't imagine living on $4 a day every day. I'm guessing I'll either figure out the answers to these questions or slip up. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you have advice or recipes for inexpensive, healthy meals, could you send them to me or leave them in the comments? I'm going to need all the help I can get.

This appetizing photo of oatmeal is from this website.

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virgil g wrote on September 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

I did a $25 food challenge a couple of years ago. I think the big thing about it is, yeah, it's inconvenient. But if you are only eating on $4.50 a day, then life is inconvenient. I ate a lot of dried beans and rice. I flavored it with salsa or salad dressings. It was a good meal.
The last time I checked, a 20 pound bag of rice is $11.48; 8 lbs of pintos are $6.96; other beans are about $1 a pound. Beans and rice sustain people all over the world. With the right spices and toppings (baco's, mmmmm) you can eat the same staples and it be a different meal each time.

Meg Dickinson wrote on September 16, 2010 at 11:09 am
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Good idea - and I'm lucky enough to like beans and rice. Thanks!

Jodi Heckel wrote on September 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm
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Kimberlie Kranich from WILL did this, blogged about it at She has some tips. Sounds pretty tough without quite a bit of effort. Easy to see why people resort to the dollar menu at McD's.

Meg Dickinson wrote on September 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm
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Thanks for sharing this - I'll check it out.

algon wrote on September 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Oh my word. This is going to be worse than the time we tried to do South Beach and last approximately 36 hours before wanting to kill someone.

Meg Dickinson wrote on September 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm
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At least I can eat as many carbs as I want. That in itself will make me much more friendly.

algon wrote on September 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm

And by the way, one pound bags of baby carrots are $0.99 this week. You may want to get 14 bags.

Kimberlie Kranich wrote on September 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Hi, Meg.

I used many of the Food for All recipes for healthy, low-cost meals that are available at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana. There are about 14 of them and they are all for under $2 a serving. They are free for the taking. We have added four of them to the WILL website. You can find them here: Scroll down to the middle of the page.

Lentils are even cheaper, for example, at Indian groceries.

Yes, it did take a lot of time figuring out the cost of things already bought, but that is part of the challenge. It takes time to survive.

I also shopped at Aldi a lot as well as clipped coupons and HAD to rely on free veggies from friends. People in need have to ask for help. That was one of the humbling lessons I learned.

Also, there are others who have already taken the challenge (Jodi mentioned my blog, thanks Jodi) and are blogging about it here: You can find tips there. Also, Jacqueline Hannah of Common Ground is blogging too about the challenge here:

Good luck!


Meg Dickinson wrote on September 17, 2010 at 8:09 am
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Thanks, Kimberlie. I appreciate it!

Julie Wurth wrote on September 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm
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If you struggle, remember the food bank says people who fail the SNAP challenge make the most interesting stories -- it shows how difficult it is to sustain a family on that amount of food!