Day 1 of The Challenge


This week is Hunger Action Week. To educate the public about the issue of hunger in communities, two organizations, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley, issued a challenge for people to try to eat on $4.50 a day, the average amount that those on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as “food stamps”) receive. I decided to take the challenge and blog about it. Yesterday I posted about the preparation. Today is Day 1, and my Day 2 menu.

I completed Day 1 of the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge, and all I can say is: I was hungry. At the end of the day I tallied the calories I consumed, and they came out to right around 1,500, which is the same amount I use when losing weight. Good news: if I continue on this challenge I will lose weight, which is something I need to do anyway. Bad news: according to the American Heart Association (AHA), most women my age who are moderately active (and not trying to lose weight) need 2,000 calories a day. Men need between 2,400 and 2,600 a day. I suppose one could argue that most Americans are overweight and could use to lose some pounds, but at some point 1,500 calories is not enough, especially if you’re an active guy.

Is it enough for children?

And what about children? Of the nearly one million households in California that receive SNAP,  71 percent benefits include children. A daily caloric intake of 1,500 per day is in the ballpark for children under 9, but as kids grow and become teens, the need for calories go up.

Because my protein sources were non-meat yesterday, I realized that my calorie results could be skewed, so I looked up the meat equivalents for the breakfast sausage patty and the meatballs. The difference was 179 calories, which means had I eaten meat, I would have consumed around 1,680 calories, which is still under teen and adult needs, but gets kids 9-13 closer to a recommended amount. I also looked up milk calories, since I drink nonfat milk. Lowfat added 32 calories, whole milk, 60.

I knew I was going to feel hungry during the challenge anyway, because I do better on three meals and two small snacks a day. But to make the $4.50 a day budget, I had to forgo one snack. I decided to ditch the mid-morning snack, because the time between lunch and dinner tends to be longer for me. I got through the morning OK, taking a walk at one point, which diverted my attention. At one point I mentally kicked myself, because I realized that had I gone with oatmeal for breakfast on the challenge, I could have afforded to eat more of it compared to my bran cereal, and it might have given me a little more fiber to help me feel full a longer amount of time.

Savoring Every Bite

When I finally made my lunch, I made sure I was getting every ounce of food I was paying for, so I used the full serving size of two tablespoons of peanut butter, when normally I only use one. I also leaned on the rule that you can use condiments you already own, dipping my carrots and celery into some lebnah, a Lebanese yogurt cheese, left over from a dinner a few nights before. Finally, I ate the lunch much more slowly than I normally do, savoring every bite. Lunch is usually a rushed thing for me, in between meetings and items on my to do list. Yesterday I took my time, even sitting near a window to enjoy the view to the backyard as I ate.

By mid-afternoon, I was really hungry and ready for my second apple of the day. Because I still had a few more pennies left over in my budget, I threw in a little more celery (and dipped into a little more lebnah). I finished the snack (eating slowly again), and was still hungry. I was also missing my usual beverages of two diet lemon Snapples every day and two or more cans of Minutemaid Lite Lemonade. I also drink plenty of  water, but during the challenge my budget allows for nothing but water.

For dinner I made a very simple sauce from whole canned tomatoes from a recipe I learned from PBS TV chef Lidia Bastianich a couple of years ago. Once I learned this recipe, I stopped buying expensive jar sauces. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it tastes better than any commercial sauce. It’s olive oil, garlic, some red pepper flakes, whole canned tomatoes I crush myself (I tried diced tomatoes and even crushed, somehow the sauce is better when the tomatoes start out whole), basil (fresh is best), some water, and salt. Cook it covered for about 20 minutes, and uncovered for about 10 minutes more. For the rest of my dinner last night I made whole wheat pasta, the meatless meatballs, and a salad. Normally I eat a green vegetable on the side, and I sprinkle freshly grated Italian cheeses on the pasta.

As the evening continued, it was difficult to walk by my full pantry and full refrigerator when I really wanted to eat. It wasn’t lost on me that I have a full pantry and full refrigerator, when there are many in our communities who do not.

Day 2 Menu

Here’s what I’m eating today.

Breakfast: same as yesterday, at a cost of $1.15

Lunch: leftovers from last night, $1.83


Rice and Beans with Veggies: estimated cost, .64

Salad: .50

Total: 1.14

Snack: an apple, .25


  1. Karen Lockert says:

    Here I am again. I didn’t know about rice and beans, way back when I was on Food Stamps, but, combined, they make a complete protein, according to my sources. I remember using those packets of onion soup mix for just about all my seasoning….. And, I was a lot skinnier then, too! My mother always worried about me, and I was too light to give blood… Now, I realize that I can consume 2000 calories, but be more than “moderately” active in order to keep my weight down…. 🙂