Lessons Learned

I’m down to my last hours of the Hunger Challenge. If I had to do this all over again I would have shopped differently. I could have done with one package of pasta and one jar of sauce and bought more veggies with the money instead. We have a ton of pasta left over! And loads of shredded chicken (by the way, that crock pot chicken recipe is very tasty).

The first couple of days were the hardest and I will admit that I did grab some crackers out the cupboard that were not part of my budget. My head hurt for the first three days and I know I was not very productive at work or at home. The last few days were actually a little easier but I am so tired of bean and cheese burritos and would give anything for an apple and some peanut butter. I’m looking forward to having yogurt again (gogurt doesn’t really count as yogurt although when I was hungry it worked) and big salad.


For me, this will be over in a few hours. I know during this experiment I went through nothing compared to what someone really receiving CalFresh benefits would be going through. In addition to being deprived of a sufficient amount of food CalFresh recipients are under an enormous amount of financial stress. They wouldn’t qualify for CalFresh if they weren’t.

I feel so blessed that I am able to feed my family sufficiently and a variety of foods. I also feel moved to make some changes in my community. Do you? There are bills in the state legislature that will help improve CalFresh, there are potential cuts in the state budget that will make things harder for people already struggling, and the Farm Bill is moving through the Senate were there are threats to cut SNAP further. You can make a difference by speaking out against these cuts and up for improvements to the program. Visit the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s website to find out what you can do to take action.


Planning is Key

My meals were planned for the week and in a perfect world everything was going to be just as I had worked out on paper. Except… I forgot to put my chicken in the crock pot yesterday morning. That’s ok. We just had pasta (again) for dinner and I planned to make the chicken tacos today. Except… I ran out the door without putting the chicken in the crock pot! I remembered before I even left the driveway so I ran back in the house and started the chicken. I was already running late this morning before the crock pot incident and even considered not making a lunch for my husband or myself (the kid was going to a friend’s and would be fed lunch there) but I knew we didn’t have money in our “food stamp” budget to buy lunch. (Note: you can’t buy fast food or prepared food with CalFresh benefits. For the purposes of this challenge any food purchases are to be included in our allotment. If you have seen “EBT Accepted” sign at a fast food place, that is for homeless or seniors only who may not have kitchens to prepare their food.) The result of all of these plans going awry this morning: I was late to my meeting. Not good.


Tuna Pasta dinner from Tuesday night

When you are already working long hours, maybe working at two jobs, taking your kids to and from day care, and staying up late worrying about how you are going to pay your bills and feed your kids, your plans don’t always work out how you, well, planned. Running late can happen to anyone. But when you are already distracted at work because of the stress of not knowing how you are going to put food on the table, running late to work is just another thing working against you. You are probably worried about the security of your job at this point. I’m just guessing how someone on this sort of food budget might feel. I really don’t know but I do know I have been more distracted, tired and overall feeling less productive since I started this challenge. I can only imagine how scary all this would be if this was really the life I was living.

I would love to hear how you plan and stay on track for your meals without having to go for take out when things don’t work out as you intended. I think this is something many of struggle with whether or not we receive CalFresh/SNAP benefits.


Hunger Isn’t a Game

The only way to truly know the hunger millions of Americans struggle with every day is to live it. I know that with just five days it is impossible to really understand that struggle. My hope is that through my experiences with the Hunger Challenge, I will understand just a little more than I did before about the struggles many of our neighbors face every day and by sharing my thoughts and experiences it will help someone else understand.

This month is a critical time to be talking about hunger in our community. The State legislature has until Friday to approve a state budget that currently looks like will include cuts to safety net programs that keep many Californians from going hungry. At the federal the senate is working on a Farm Bill that could cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/CalFresh benefits. The House is expected to take up this legislation soon as well.

Two things you can do today:

1.      Tweet your support for social safety net programs to CA legislative leaders!

@CASenateDems @MarkLeno Say NO to HHS cuts proposed by @JerryBrownGov, say YES to revenue solutions in the #CABudget !

@CASenateDems @MarkLeno We need a #CAGov that serves the young & old, the low-income and those w/disabilities! Protect HHS in #CABudget

@SpeakerPerez TY for speaking out for the social safety net ! @CASenateDems @MarkLeno CA families need your help too: NO HHS CUTS in #CABudget !

@CASenateDems @MarkLeno Say NO to further health and human service cuts in the #CABudget proposed by @JerryBrownGov !

@CASenateDems @MarkLeno We need YOU to champion vital health & social programs in #CA Budget ! Revenue solutions, not cuts @JerryBrownGov

@CASenateDems @MarkLeno tell @JerryBrownGov NO MORE CUTS to vital social safety net programs in #CABudget !

2.      Urge Congress to protect current funding for the SNAP in the 2012 Farm Bill and to maintain current structure, eligibility requirements, and benefit levels.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering Farm Bill legislation passed in committee that would cut $4.5 billion from SNAP, and the House is expected to take up Farm Bill reauthorization soon. The proposed cuts in the Senate Farm Bill, S.3240, would prevent California from implementing the “Heat and Eat” application simplification reform passed by AB 6 (Fuentes) in 2011. This cut would mean less food in the refrigerator for already hungry families. An estimated 200,000 California households would not receive a 13% increase in benefits, or about $43 a month.

This challenge is helping me to see firsthand how difficult it is to eat adequately and nutritiously on a SNAP budget. When your budget is already this tight, $43 a month can mean the difference between eating or not.

Call your representatives at the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121. Or find them on facebook and post this message there!

Deliver this message: As your constituent, I urge you to protect hunger-relief programs in the Farm Bill and oppose any amendments that would weaken SNAP and other hunger-relief programs.

If you would like to learn more about the Hunger Challenge and the issue of Hunger in America, please visit the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s website.

All I Think About is Food

Day one of the challenge and I’m already struggling. All I can think about is food.

9:30 am. So far I’ve had cereal with milk and a glass of juice plus I just finished an apple and I am hungry. Plus I’m getting a wicked headache from the caffeine withdrawals. I can’t afford coffee so can I afford the Advil? Probably not.

This is sad. I’ve just started this challenge and I can’t stop thinking about food. I think this is part of the problem. When you don’t have much money for food its going to be on your mind constantly. What can I eat next? When will I be able to eat again? It adds to the stress you are already feeling because of whatever situation you are in.

10:00 am. Is it too early for lunch?

10:09 am. Eating carrots out of lunch.

10:22 am. Kid finishing his sandwich and banana from his lunch. Oh and day camp was cancelled this week so that’s five more lunches that need to be prepared. This could get interesting.

10:49 am. Eating my bean and cheese burrito that I prepared last night. Added a 20 cent tomato that I had on the counter.

12:36 pm. Found some expired Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. I sure hope it works on this headache.

12:59 pm. Headache subsiding. Kid didn’t want his gogurt today. Considering eating it myself.

1:20 pm. Eating the gogurt.

2:07 pm. I’ll just keep drinking water and holding out for the pasta bake with broccoli I’m making tonight.


Ingredients for pasta bake.

Share your thoughts on the Hunger Challenge on the Food Bank Facebook page or on Twitter and follow the Challenge Pinterest board.

Shopping on a Budget

The week on a food stamp budget hasn’t even started yet and there is already some irritability in the house just over the shopping list. Imagine if we were really unable to buy the food we want or need and how cranky everyone would be then. I guess our attitudes would be the least of our problems, huh?

I did my shopping today and made it $5 under budget with my $5 off coupon. However, I plan to use the cereal I bought last week at two boxes for $5. There’s about one and a half boxes left. Also, I have lunch meat from last week that I spent about $2.99 on. That pushed me a little over but I chose to buy ice cream for the family as a treat. It’s summer and what is summer without ice cream?! It’s a real decision a mom would have to make.


I’m going to “cheat” and eat the apples I bought about a week ago. My guys won’t be following the rules strictly. They’ll eat on the budget mostly but we do have snacks and other food stocked in the cupboards and I’m not hiding it or anything like that. I’m not making my kid go hungry for the sake of the challenge.

If you only had $22 to buy food for yourself for a week or $47 to buy food for your family, what would you buy? What would you give up?

Where’s the Produce

More things I won’t be able to afford: red bell peppers, avocados, popcorn, green beans, corn, dessert, coffee. Did I mention coffee?

cup of coffee

Last cup of coffee before the challenge starts.

All kidding aside… there is so much we can easily take for granted when money isn’t tight. The fact that you can’t purchase produce amazes me. I knew it would be hard but didn’t expect it to be nearly impossible.

Did you know that EBT is accepted at Farmer’s Markets? (Check the market near you to see if they accept EBT.) Great, right? It is something as advocates that we work hard to promote to both recipients and markets. But if you can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables it doesn’t matter where you can buy them, you still can’t afford it. Here is an post about using EBT at the farmers’ market to maximize your budget. I realize that if this was “real life” and not just a challenge you would be buying food for more than a week at a time but I still don’t see how produce can fit into the budget and I doubt I would make a trip to the Farmer’s Market for the one or two items I could afford. What are we going to do about that?  You can find opportunities to speak out on the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s website.


1. EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer and allows CalFresh to issue money, accessible via a plastic debit card.

2. CalFresh is the name for SNAP in California. It used to be called Food Stamps.

3. I understand the purpose of this exercise is to help bring awareness to the issue of hunger in our state but the fact is we are just playing at being hungry. Feels disrespectful to the people who actual live with the real struggle of trying to feed their families on a limited income everyday. I hope it is understood that we are trying to bring attention and change to hunger in our communities because hunger affects us all and that we mean no disrespect.

Budget Challenge

I have been dreading this the most: planning what groceries to buy for the week of challenge. And I love to cook and plan my meals! I feel like I already buy just the “basics” but I know I spend more than $47 a week on groceries. (I’m using the household average or $47.60 for the five days for my family of three.) In fact, I spend 3.5 times that!

I planned my meals and priced out some items online. I think I am still over budget but won’t know for sure until I go to the store tomorrow. I do have a $5 off coupon so that will help some.

Breakfast : Cereal with milk and juice (while juice lasts)

I usually have yogurt and fruit with my latte for breakfast and while my guys are more likely to cereal than me, they usually have eggs. I thought I would be relying on eggs this week for breakfast and dinner but they didn’t even make the list. And now I am remembering I have to go latte-free next week! I was hoping tea would make the shopping list but unless they are giving away tea at the store, it isn’t happening. Hot water with a lemon from the yard perhaps? My husband loves to drink juice and I usually buy about three bottles a week. I can only afford one. Might have to mix with water. Will anyone notice?

Lunch: Deli meat sandwiches with carrots and banana for the hubby and bean and cheese burritos for me.

Summer is a time when parents can struggle more than usual to put food on the table because their kids are not receiving free or reduce price lunch at school. This week our kid happens to be in summer day camp where they will feed him. I honestly don’t know how we would feed him on this budget without that or where he would go if we couldn’t afford the camp which we probably wouldn’t if we were on this type of budget.

I don’t eat lunch meat (or much meat at all) so I will be making bean and cheese burritos out of a can of black beans with a little seasoning and tortillas. We will see how much cheese get used during dinner and if there will be enough for my burritos. I can make four burritos out of a can but will stretch it to five. Also, I usually put sliced cheese on my husband’s sandwiches but couldn’t afford it on this budget. Hmmm. I did price pre-sliced and pre-shredded cheese… maybe I need to consider a block of cheese and slice/shred myself. That will be more economical.

Snacks: Gogurt and trail mix.

I’m not sure there will be any snacks. I’m trying to keep the gogurt for the boys but am not sure that will happen. Trail mix is out as is the additional fruit and protein bars we usually have. Oh and no graham crackers either. Yikes!


Monday: Ravioli Bake Pasta Bake

Ravioli is way too expensive so I will substitute the ravioli for whole wheat rotini. Whole wheat pasta is usually a few cents more than enriched pasta but I am hopeful I can still afford it. I plan to add broccoli or carrots to every dinner meal. I don’t think there will be any side salads this week.

Tuesday: Chicken Tacos

This recipe will use the same tortillas I’m using at lunch and the chicken will be used again on Thursday. I hope I have enough tortillas…


Wednesday: Tuna Pasta

The recipe called for tuna in oil but I plan to get tuna in water and for crushed tomatoes and fresh garlic. Those too items combined cost three times as much as a jar of pasta sauce so we will use a jar.

Thursday: Chicken Quesadillas

Using chicken from Monday. I hope we have some carrots left for the vegetable. I’m already missing vegetables and we haven’t even started.

Friday: Leftovers

I don’t know what we will do if there isn’t any pasta bake from Monday or tuna past from Wednesday leftover…

Just realized no peanut butter to go with our apples either. Or tomatoes for the tacos. Wow. This is going to suck.