Hunger Challenge Day 1

pike place market


This week I’m participating in a hunger challenge. To explain the challenge in the best way I know how, I’ll share my conversation with Daniel as I told him all about it yesterday afternoon.

Me: Monkey, what should I make this week for our dinners?

Daniel: Umm…how ’bout lasagna, salmon, beef stroganoff, and…hot dogs?

Me: No.

Daniel: Why not?

Me: Because I forgot to tell you that we’re participating in a hunger challenge to support the United Way.


pike place market


Daniel: Who’s ‘we’?

Me: You and me. The love bugs. Best friends forever. BFFs. Soul mates.

Daniel: First: cute. Second: You told me Kate was your BFF. Third: Thank you for making decisions for our family without consulting me. Fourth: What is the challenge?

Me: First: I know. Second: Kate is my BFF, good call. Third: You’re welcome. Fourth: It’s Hunger Action Week from the 21st through the 25th of March and the challenge is to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner spending only $7 a day to get a sense of what people who rely on food stamps experience. $7 is the maximum food stamp benefit given to one person in the state of Washington per day. For a family of two, like us, we’d get $12 a day. This will be a way of expressing a sort of empathy for what millions of people deal with on a daily basis, and also a way of bringing awareness to hunger.


pike place market


Daniel: Sounds like a really good cause. Couple questions: 1. Does this mean that you will refrain from buying a $10 jar of almond butter this week? 2. What are the rules? And 3. Ok, I don’t have a third question, but I’m sure I should.

Me: Yes, a fabulous cause. Answers to your questions:

  1. How dare you, but yes, and well, now I hate you for bringing this fact to my attention.
  2. The rules are:
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner spending only $7 per day. (For couples- $12, for larger families, see here)
  • Salt and pepper don’t count but all other seasonings, cooking oils, condiments, snacks, drinks, and everything else do.
  • Don’t use food you already own.
  • Don’t accept food from family, friends, coworkers and others. Not even the free samples from Costco!
  • Try to include fresh produce and healthy protein each day.
  • Keep track of expenses, food choices, and recipes and share your experiences.

Daniel: OK, well, I think it’s going to be hard, but we can do it. I love you for being such a good person. [For journalistic integrity, Daniel would like me to insert a note that he did not, in fact, say that.]

Me: Yeah but… I think you might have a point about the almond butter. What do you think we should do about that? I mean, should we just fail the challenge and buy it? Should I tell Whole Foods that I’m in need of almond butter but can’t pay for it, technically, because, like, I’m competitive, and I like supporting good causes, and I need to enter a challenge, but that I’ll just fall over and die if I don’t have it? Or maybe tell the United Way that I have a condition in which my blood needs to be coursing with thick almond butter or else I’ll die and it just has to be Maranatha or else I’ll die and then if I die I can’t complete the challenge and—

Daniel: I’m calling Dr. Drew. He’s an addiction medicine specialist.

Me: He’s busy.

Daniel: No he’s not.

Me: Yes he is.

Daniel: No he’s not.

Me: I want a divorce.

Daniel: We’re not married yet.


pike place market


Me: Good point, I should save that one for when we are.

Daniel: No you shouldn’t.

Me: I want to break up.

Daniel: Because you need a $10 jar of almond butter and therefore can’t complete a really fantastic challenge to bring attention to the hunger that millions of people deal with?

Me: Yes. I need it.

Daniel: Really?

Me: You obviously don’t know me. This is never going to work.

Daniel: OK, well we’re going to try it for 5 days and at the end of it, if you do indeed die from lack of pricey almond butter, I will tell your mom it was my fault.

Me: OK. Just also tell her that I didn’t mean to rub Elmer’s glue all over my nightstand at Christmas in 1990. Tell her I thought it would look like snow.

Daniel: I bet she doesn’t even remember that.

Me: Of course she does! I’m still upset about it.


pike place market


Daniel: …OK I’ll tell her.

Me: Oh, and tell DeeDee I love her and I’m sorry I cringed when she licked my face because it smelled like a fish market. She probably didn’t mean it.

Daniel: Yeah, because she’s a pug and that happens. OK I’ll tell her.

Me: K thanks. And Monkey?

Daniel: Uh huh?

Me: Thanks for doing the hunger challenge with me. Even if I die of almond butter starvation.

Daniel: I thought we were broken up?

Me: No, we’ll wait until the 26th. Give the challenge all we’ve got until then.

Daniel: [walks out of room]

…aaaand scene.


In seriousness, the challenge is very important, and it means a lot to me to be taking part.

To kick off my week, I went to the grocery store on a strict budget. $84 is all that Daniel and I would be allotted for a full 7 days according to the Basic Food Program, and by golly, $84 is what I stuck to. Here’s what I’ll be working with this week:

grocery shopping hunger challenge day 1

Vegetables: Broccoli, asparagus, organic butternut squash, parsley, organic spinach, organic carrots, tomato, organic cucumber, organic red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, garlic, onion, lime, lemon, scallions

groceries hunger challenge day 1

Fruit: Frozen strawberries, frozen blueberries, bananas (I always choose ones with brown, spotty skin because they taste sweeter in my oatmeal, and in things like banana bread), organic grapefruits, organic apples, organic oranges

grocery shopping hunger challenge week day 1

Beans and Grains: Flour, whole wheat flour, organic stuffing mix, whole wheat English muffins, organic bulk old fashioned rolled oats, quinoa, dried black beans, dried garbanzo beans, short grain brown rice

groceries hunger challenge week

Poultry, Fish, Dairy, and Eggs: organic eggs, 3 cans solid white tuna fish, one 5lb whole chicken, organic lowfat cottage cheese, organic lowfat sour cream. Oh! And I bought a 1 lb block of extra firm tofu! How did she escape the photo?

groceries hunger challenge week

Canned and Jarred Items: two 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, salsa, tomato paste, organic sweet corn

groceries hunger challenge week

Pantry Staples: organic French roast coffee, unsalted butter, organic olive oil, sesame oil, black pepper, salt, brown sugar

groceries hunger challenge week

My Livelihood: Kerrygod Irish cheddar cheese, Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips, creamy salted peanut butter

I found it very hard to stick to my imposed $84 budget. Very very hard, especially considering that Daniel and I typically spend $140 a week for all of our meals and snacks. I can’t imagine how it would work on weeks where I need to buy other household items like toilet paper, soap, and the like. I picture trying to feed young children and the many “No”s I’d have to muster when they wanted even one boxed snack food. It all must be homemade- from cookies to¬† if we’re really to make it work.

I’m glad to say that I was able to get some organics, and I’d say that at least half of my budget went to produce, which lets me know that it is possible to buy healthy, fresh ingredients despite strict finances. Although, I did several times frown that one pound of white pasta was almost always two times cheaper than one pound of any fruit or veg.

I’m both excited and a bit nervous to see how this will all play out. Will I be able to make all of this bounty bend to the length of a week? Will I be able to make one roasted chicken stretch six ways to Sunday? Does Daniel realize I’m only half joking about the divorce? And who gets custody of our dehumidifier? It’s anyone’s guess.

Stay tuned as I take the hunger challenge and blog all the meals!



62 thoughts on “Hunger Challenge Day 1

  1. ahlterra

    Good on you! Had I known about this challenge, I would have tried it. It’s not easy, but looking at what you got, you’ll be eating a lot better than I was. I had some bad times a few years back, and we were living on about $50/fortnight for two large adults.

    Good luck! I’ll be very eagerly waiting your posts this week!

  2. Cameo Morningstar

    Wow, first thought; you are amazing for giving this challenge a shot! Second, $84 goes a long way in Washington! I don’t think I could buy half of that here…
    I am excited to read about how it goes!

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Thanks!! I was lucky because a lot of items were on sale. And then I shopped in the clearance section of the store and found a few things on super sale for only 99 cents. The bulk bins help too! Oh, and Trader Joe’s for some things!

  3. Dot

    I’m really looking forward to reading further. Excellent idea. However, I live in NC, and I am almost certain that I could not buy what you bought for $84. I am intrigued, and will probably go to the store and match your items and price them. Were the pantry items “freebies”? It would be great to know that it IS possibly to eat a diet of fresh, healthy food, on a limited income. Hard to do…must be creative. Is it possible? I am looking forward to your posts to see. Thank you for opening our eyes. Good luck.

  4. Amy @ Second City Randomness

    Good luck! I’m sure you’ll get super creative with it and will end up doing much better than you think.

    Sometimes, because I’m a thrifty nerd, I try to see how little I can spend (while still eating healthy, of course). Lots of eggs and black beans involved… :p

  5. Janet

    $84/week = $336 per month, for 2 people doesn’t seem like much of a hardship to me. I spend $350 per month for 3 people (1 adult, 1 teenage boy who is trying to eat everything that’s not nailed down, and an 11-YO girl). That’s just food. Household and personal care items (toilet paper, shampoo) are another $40 per month.

    Of course I will spend even less when the teenager and his appetite move out!

  6. ASuburbanLife

    I’m really impressed that you were able to buy that much food – and especially that much fresh, healthy food – on only $84 for the week. I’m also impressed that you can do a week’s shopping without planning daily menus. Kudos to you for doing this! Looking forward to reading more.

  7. Janie

    What I see from my students is that the purchaser in their family is not as nutritiously savy. I wish they could hand people on food stamps a big box with all of the items you bought and someone to show them what to do with it. I’m terrified that they will start accepting food assistance at fast food places and then the end will be near. I’m proud of you and Daniel. Good luck!!

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Thanks Janie! I agree- I think there needs to be some more nutritional education for those folks who use the Basic Food Program. It would help tremendously- even just knowing really basic things about the breakdown of what a person would ideally eat in a day for good health.

  8. Beth

    What a cool challenge Andrea! I’m excited to see how this unfolds and the menu you come up with. I try to stick to a $75/week budget but that’s just for me pretty much!

  9. Evan Thomas

    You have the most hysterical conversations.
    Great challenge! I know I spend way more on groceries than one person should. I blame marathon training. You get a lot for $84 out in Seattle! In New York that’d be like 1 head of broccoli.

  10. MelissaNibbles

    This is a great cause and interesting challenge! I can’t believe everything you were able to get for $84!! I can’t wait to see what you whip up. Oh and now I want almond butter…thanks for that.

  11. Janice Harper

    Bravo!! Having lived amongst starving people, and on a starving diet, I know it can be done, however grudgingly. I lived in a rainforest in a very poor part of the world, and we were entirely dependent on what was grown or grazed in our village. There was a small market the size of a fruit stand about a two hour hike over the mountains and accessible only when the cyclones hadn’t wiped out the raft (needed to cross a raging river). Which is all to say, we lived on rice and greens, rice and beans, and rice and greens three meals a day for over a year. I stocked up on spices (ironic, as this was one of the spice islands, but too expensive for locals) and small tomatoes for flavoring, and once in a while we could catch and kill a rubbery chicken (until a chicken epidemic wiped them out).

    I learned that cheap eating can be had if we foresake complexity and variety, focus on a rich carbohydrate (in this case, red rice) as the main staple, and flavor the dinner with loving company, music and laughter. And don’t waste anything — I once threw out a rotten tomato and was scolded — why? Because the seeds could — and were once it was fetched back — planted to grow good tomatoes. So keep it simple, spice with garlic, ginger and chili, and drink tea made from the burnt rice at the bottom of the pan. And on the eighth day, pig out!

  12. Janet

    I commented above and that was before my caffeine — now I think I came across as smug, which was unintentional. I can spend $350 because I don’t shop at Whole Foods. Or Whole Paycheck, as we call it around here. Most of my friends shop there and routinely spend $1200 for a family of TWO!!! Oy.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Oh, don’t worry a bit! Your comment didn’t come off as smug. I was very very impressed at how well you feed your family for such a budget! I’m always always always working on this, and I think I’ve become somewhat savvy at saving money at the store, but it’s always hard to balance wanting to buy the freshest ingredients and knowing that lots of boxed foods, like pasta, are so cheap. Thanks for sharing how you do it! I’d love to hear more of your tips :)

      1. Janet

        I do what most people here probably do: shop sales, plan in advance, make things from scratch, and buy produce in season. We don’t eat strawberries in January, much to my daughter’s dismay.

        I love looking at this USDA cost of food site to compare what I spend to what is considered the average ( the links are PDFs):

  13. Shanna, like Banana

    I’ve never heard of this but I really like the idea. I’m pretty sure I could do this without too much difficulty, but my hubby would have a heck of a time. He feels the need to buy his lunch out every single day and that would easily break the budget.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Yes, it’s super hard to please more than just yourself. I think I’d also have an easier time if I were just worrying about myself. Daniel is always on board, but he has different tastes than I do- for instance, I think I’d eat a much more vegetarian diet if it were just me.

  14. vicki

    A couple of points:
    1. I regularly say no to my kids when they ask for prepackaged snack food, simply because they’re not necessary, and not terribly healthy.
    2. I can make six meals out of a 6 lb chicken by stewing it in the crock pot and shredding the meat. I use it for chicken quesadillas or burritos, chicken soup, chicken pot pie, chicken salad, etc.
    3. There was a time last year when we were not on food stamps, but very limited in our food budget and I was able to feed a family with two parents and two small kids on less than $100 a week. It wasn’t terribly fun and not organic, but with planning and creativity, it can be done in a healthy way.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Such.Fabulous.Tips, Vicki! Thank you so much for telling me all about your ways of budgeting. My mom just reminded me the other night that we, too, at one time were on a very very tight budget. She says there were so many weeks where we only had $25 a week for food. I have no idea how she did it. People amaze me with what they’re able to do to provide for their families. Have a great week :)

  15. whitneybg

    Ah! This post had me laughing out loud at work. Sounds like a really interesting and meaningful challenge. As a recent college grad, I pretty much love on $7 per day as it is!

  16. On a Tangent

    This is awesome! I’m single, so I guess my limit for a week would be $49. I have such a huge stockpile of food, though, that I’d want to burn through all that before attempting this.

    I can’t wait to read all about how it goes. :)

  17. Pingback: United Way of King County Blog » Blog Archive » Hunger Action Week, Day One: Who’s Taking the Hunger Challenge?

  18. Clarissa @ Sober and the City

    What a great idea! And I love your conversation with Daniel hahaha!! I wonder what the food stamp maximum is like for New York. I’m not sure I could successfully feed myself THREE MEALS with only $7 in this city. And I am SO jealous of your grocery shop. I miss non-NYC grocery stores…

  19. Sam

    I’m a college student- I spend about $100 a month on food. No Ramen Noodles :), all healthy food, organic when possible. It’s just me, and I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t spend any money on meat. It is the most challenging part of my day and I have grown to love it!
    I don’t count the calories in my meals; I count the pennies!
    I just made about 2 gallons of vegetable soup and froze half of it.
    I love that you are doing this! I have been on food stamps in the past (I am not now) and I know that a lot of my students are as well. It is very challenging, especially with a family, but it can be done!
    May I suggest “Managers Special” vegetables. They are super dooper cheap but they usually need to be cooked that day. I just got 6 green peppers for $2.05! Also, coupons are awesome!

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Awesome advice Sam! You know, back when I lived on the east coast, I was able to find those manager’s special veggies and fruits (at markets like Stop and Shop), but I haven’t found any here in Seattle, and believe me I shop around! Thanks for sharing :)

  20. Peggy Hogan

    Andrea, What a cool idea. I think you did a great job shopping but it’s so sad that the poor of our country eat so poorly. I wish there was more education and easier healthy options for people with lower budgets. Great job.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Thanks Peggy! Yes, I totally agree. I wish there was some sort of nutritional education that could happen for folks who use the Basic Food Program. It can be so hard if you don’t know what you should be eating, and therefore what you should be buying

  21. Regan

    Thank you for doing this experiment. I’m a single mom and two years ago I was making almost $100K a year. Then I was suddenly laid off and long story short…I am now on food stamps. I should write a book, right? But I’m thankful every day for the help I am receiving.

    Unfortunately, food stamps don’t cover a good bottle of wine. Cause honey, I NEED ONE!

    Good luck to you. ;)

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      OH MY GOODNESS. Regan, what a hard turn of events for you. I’d love to know how you budget, I have tremendous respect for all the thought and careful planning that must go into taking care of your family. All the best to you!

  22. Regan

    I wish I could say I was careful…but I still sometimes splurge on a steak and then am screwed because I’m short at the end of the month. Champagne taste, beer budget…

    Btw, just a quick note – my son is the pickiest of eaters. I made your petite lasagnas, and he’s smitten with you. “I like that food blog chick. She rawks!” And THANK GOD food stamps cover wonton wraps!

    (Okay, I totally have to laugh at that last line….)

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  25. Lindsay

    Wow! This sounds like a VERY difficult challenge. I am horrible at budgeting and I am lucky that my parents are able to provide me the things that I “want” and need!

  26. Mary

    I know this post is really old (I am reading through your entries in reverse order) but I am happy to see that my husband and I are not the only people who spend well over $100 a week on groceries – we are closer to $180 but things tend to be a bit more expensive in Canada. And we spend that much and don’t waste anything. I am so impressed with how much you got with $84.

  27. kathryn

    This is an old thread, and I found it amusing to read.My husband and I keep track of our food expenses, and on average we spend $50 week for the 2 of us. Stocking up on sales, specials, discounts will allow our budget to remain low. We eat very well, with lots and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. We eat meat and dairy every day.
    We also split our time between Canada and Australia.No matter where we go, we are able to keep our food budget low. Your job is to found out where the best deals are.


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