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.

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Ingredients for pasta bake.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Notes:

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!

Dinner

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.

So What?

You might be thinking, “ok, I’ll take this Challenge but so what? What difference is it going to make?”

By raising awareness of the barriers to accessing high quality, nutritious food on a food stamp budget through the Challenge, we hope to mobilize the public to end hunger in our community. This June is a critical time to raise awareness about hunger and the benefits of SNAP/CalFresh.

During the week of the Challenge, state legislators will be finalizing a state budget that could cut safety net programs that keep many Californians from going hungry, while at the federal level Congress will be considering Farm Bill and appropriations legislation that could cut SNAP/CalFresh benefits.

Feeling even more outraged than before? What can you do?

Call Your Senators Today!

Help us track our impact by using our toll-free hotline.  This system allows you to connect with both of your senators without hanging up the phone.

Call our toll-free hotline at 877-698-8228.

Listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.

You will then be connected to your first Senator.  Deliver this message:

As your constituent, I urge you to protect hunger-relief programs in the Farm Bill.  Specifically, I ask that you support Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to restore the cuts to SNAP and oppose any amendments that would weaken SNAP and other hunger-relief programs.

You will then be connected to your second Senator; deliver the same message to him or her.

Let us know when you’ve made your calls with a comment below or on Facebook.

Struggling to Put Food on the Table

Imagine you have $3 left in your wallet and you need to buy food for your family. You know there is a can of beans in the cupboard and half a jar of peanut butter so you take your $3 and go to the grocery store. You look for the cheapest loaf of bread, not the nice whole grain loaf you want to buy. You find a bag of rice, but the 5-minute kind is too expensive so you get the bag for 99 cents. You plan to eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and to make rice and beans for dinner for a couple of nights until you get paid. Then you go to the checkout and even though you calculated the total in the aisle you still fear you won’t have enough money for those two items. Do you know what it’s like? Do you know the panic of not knowing how you are going to feed your family?

I know what that’s like. I most definitely felt it while in college (who doesn’t know about being a starving student?) and also when my husband and I were first starting out I experienced that fear and stress. Money was really tight and there were times between paychecks when we couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping and had to make do with whatever was in the cupboards. There were days when I packed myself less of a lunch so my husband and son had enough to eat. It’s not easy situation to be in.

I’ve only experienced hunger (I use that term loosely here because I never went without any food) during short periods of time in my life, but there are others that this is an ongoing struggle for. They don’t have money to go grocery shopping and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Or it’s just one thing after another: a car breaks down, something needs repairing on the house, a kid needs something for school. Every time you think you are getting ahead, something else happens where you are struggling again to put food on the table.

That is why I am taking the Hunger Challenge. To remember what that feels like and to help others understand what it’s like to be hungry. Maybe then we, as a society, will make sure everyone have a nutritious meal no matter what life has thrown their way.

If you have never experienced this maybe it is time you did. Take the Hunger Challenge with us. Live on an average food stamp budget of $4.46 a day for five days and see how it changes your outlook on life. You’ll feel a need to do something about hunger in America and if you stick with us, we will tell you how.