Hunger Challenge: Days 2 and 3

by Andie Mitchell on March 24, 2011

The Hunger Challenge has taught me a lot about the value I place on eating, dining out, and the luxurious nature of food for much of America. It has also, quite unfortunately, made me reconsider that $10 jar of almond butter. I’ve tried to avoid feeling as though this week’s $84 budget is in any way a ‘great way to save money!’ because that, to me, seems to trivialize the empathy I’m fostering for those who aren’t just saving money, being frugal, or even supermarket savvy. There are millions who are living on means less than me, and just barely breaking even at the end of the week. Leftovers are a luxury, and I understand that better now.

And though I won’t call this challenge ‘fun,’ I will say that I appreciate how creative I’ve felt in the kitchen. It’s terribly easy to just go to the market and fill a basket with the ingredients to prepare any meal your palate fancies. It’s more impressive to pull together supper from the staples in your pantry. So, for the past few days, I’ve really focused on eating practical, simple, meals with whole, real ingredients.

The best news is that I’ve found it is possible to still eat well, to still incorporate many (stress: many) fruits and vegetables, despite a shrunken wallet.  And that’s saying a lot, considering how veggie-centric I am. Each day has been satisfying and right on target with my $7 budget. Breakfast is the same most mornings: the peanut butter banana oatmeal that I’ve always adored and addicted myself to. Here is a recap of the cheap, but oh so tasty, meals I’ve made:

 

 

Tuna burgers made with canned solid white tuna fish, brown rice, scallions, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice. Recipe coming soon!  $1.50 per burger

 

 

Mexican beans and rice plate with brown rice, black beans, canned corn, sauteed peppers and onions, chopped romaine, chopped tomatoes, and sour cream. $2.00 per plate

 

 

I turned leftovers from my rice and beans dinner into a salad bowl with olive oil and fresh lime juice, for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday. $2.00 per salad bowl

 

For dinner, I cooked a box of elbow macaroni, which was on sale for $0.99 and paired it with homemade marinara sauce and leftover roasted chicken from the bird I prepared on Sunday.

 

 

I doubled my traditional recipe for marinara sauce (the best in the world, by the way), and sadly omitted the oregano since it wasn’t in my budget this week. I also substituted brown sugar for white since that is all I had on hand. I poured half of the fresh sauce into an old glass jar and froze it for future use. Marinara sauce comes out to be $1.75 per 16 ounce jar

 

I served the chicken pasta alongside roasted broccoli. Altogether: $2.25 per serving

 

Even though I didn’t have soy sauce on hand, I still managed to make a tasty tofu dinner by stir frying lots of garlic and a mountain of fresh vegetables in sesame oil and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

 

 

Daniel and I each ate the stir fry with a cup of brown rice and wooden chopsticks that I snagged from the sushi section of my local grocery store. $2.15 per serving

 

 

Snacks include lots of fresh fruit- apples, grapefruit, and oranges.

 

 

…And lots of fresh cookies. Chocolate chips are absolutely a pantry staple.

Overall, a very balanced and satisfying week of meals. I’m happy to have never felt hungry, but at times I’ve felt a bit constrained by my budget. There were moments where the only thing that seemed to stand between me and happiness was an iced coffee and a Top Pot doughnut, but alas, the budget cannot bend quite as easily as my notion of a ‘complete’ breakfast :)

What have you been eating this week?

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole March 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

Yay! I’ve been wondering what to do with these two cans of tuna laying around. I can’t wait to see your tuna burger recipe. Looks like I have all of the ingredients already too. Brilliant!

As for what I ate recently, I made this experimental dish last night that involved chicken breast, sesame seeds, ginger, pineapple and roasted veggies. A ‘kitchen sink’ recipe if you will. Turned out pretty darn good. I’m going to make a panini out of the leftovers today.

Chao!

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 24, 2011 at 10:14 am

Wow that dish sounds flavorful! And I love that you’re turning leftovers into a grilled masterpiece today :)

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Nicole March 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

Leftovers are fun too :D

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Frieda March 24, 2011 at 9:50 am

so excited for the tuna burger recipe. I loooove tuna :D

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Meg March 24, 2011 at 10:11 am

Wow, I’m really impressed by your hunger challenge, this is great! I’m looking forward to the tuna burger recipe.

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Shanna, like Banana March 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

I am so impressed with how you’re doing. My weak moments is buying a $4 latte – what a gluttonous thing if I had to live on $7/day.

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Janice Harper March 24, 2011 at 10:27 am

How you manage to make canned tuna and elbow macaroni look delicious is amazing. You could sell a plate of stir-fried snakes to an Irishman with your photos and writing!

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Beth March 24, 2011 at 11:23 am

I am REALLY impressed you ate so well for a whole week. I might try to do a similar challenge on my own blog following WW and not eating meat. We’ll see how that goes!

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 24, 2011 at 11:36 am

Ooo, I’d be interested to follow along, Beth!

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MelissaNibbles March 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

It’s great that your perspective has changed from this just being a way to save money. It’s very eye opening to see just how much people have to live off. I like that you’re proving that you can eat very well and very nutritriously. I totally spelled that wrong.

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Fit Chick Britt March 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I really like the idea of the hunger challenge. It looks like your still eating great/creatively. That Mexican plate look so good and simple too.

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Alexa @ Simple Eats March 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Wow, these meals look amazing. Your photography is beautiful! Still LOVE the hunger challenge idea.

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katecooks March 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

i think you are doing a great job proving that you dont need a big budget to eat healthy, interesting meals! i can’t imagine though not having the liberty to give into a craving and make an extra grocery store stop, or go out for a glass of wine with a friend just because. i bet that not having those options make them all the more apparent!

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Cassie March 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I really, REALLY wish I shared your love of vegetables. I tend to use my tight budget to justify my lack of fresh veggies, but clearly it can be done. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that I just can’t force myself to eat them. I’ve tried. Kudos to you for keeping the fresh produce in your reduced budget (and for liking them in the first place!).

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Ah I bet that’s hard. I do love vegetables, and not in the “oh my goodness veggies are the best! I feel so healthy!” way, but in the way of, I just think they taste good. Even when I was very big, I ate vegetables. I’ve always been lucky like that, I guess. And I know that this is weird to say, but at some point I just think: We MUST eat them. Nothing is more important to health than the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in plants. Yes, we can take multivitamins, but they don’t get absorbed well, and they often don’t provide all of the complex benefits of a real, whole fruit or vegetable. I know, I bet I’m coming across like a lecturer, or a preacher, but I really believe they’re vital. I’d say, find sauces that you like and then go to town on them! Hopefully your palate will come around someday :)

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On a Tangent March 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Wow! I love your photos. You have a talent for making food look really presentable. :)

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Lo March 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Whenever I’m trying to make due with what’s at home, I like to use supercook.com. It helps me come up with new and different recipes without having to make a trip to the market- much appreciated on the weekdays!

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

Thanks for the tip, Lo!!

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Adrienne March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

The tuna burgers look fantastic! I’ve been looking for a non-beef burger alternative for awhile, and I can’t wait for the recipe. Unfortunately, by gaining your delicious recipe, I lose my excuse for hitting up Burger King regularly. However, losing Burger King is a sacrifice I’m willing to make!

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:20 am

Ha, I really do think Burger King is delicious too! My favorite fast food joint by far

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ahlterra March 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm

The tuna burgers, to echo what everybody else has said, look amazing. I took cooked up a chicken this weekend, but I boiled it to make the broth for chicken noodle soup. The rest of the broth is frozen for later. The chicken meat has been made into curried chicken salad and is going into a pasta primavera bake this weekend, which should hopefully last a few days.

I also mixed up some taco goop (ground beef, can of mild chili beans, can of sweet corn, water, spices, tomato sauce, and brown rice). that made enough for tacos last night, filling in the fridge for stuffed peppers this weekend, and a whole container in the freezer for some point in the future.

Keep up the great work, Andrea! I am so impressed with your money ability!

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

Those meals sound fantastic! I want to make taco goop now!

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Naomi March 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Have you changed where you grocery shop for this challenge? If you have, have you found a difference in the quality of food, especially the meat and produce?

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

Great question! No, I didn’t change where I shopped, only because I wanted to see if it was indeed possible to do at a major supermarket. I was interested in how much my normal routine would have to change. I shopped at QFC (Kroger in other parts of the country) and Trader Joe’s for a few things. I understand that even going to those two might be more than some people are capable of. Now, I realize I’d recommend shopping in International Districts. Lots of Asian markets, Mexican markets, have produce and meat for such low prices. Thanks for asking!

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johnny March 25, 2011 at 2:35 am

It is quite profound how we can put ourselves on a tight budget and make the best of it when we know that when it’s all over we can go back to what we have always had and enjoy. There are so many out there who will not be able to go back to spending more for food after the challange is over.
What you have done is give just a little bit of hope to them because maybe they can feel more fulfilled with what they have. Looking at things from a different light can change your attitude towards your limitations. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself for not having very much ,(I’ve been there a few times!) only making do with what you have, enjoy life and make more with what you have.
What I’m trying to say is Thank You from the bottom of my heart for all the good you and the others who are on this quest are doing. Whether or not it was your intentions, you have changed mine and I’m sure others prospective on how we see “limitations” not only in our food budget but in many other ways as well.
We had pasta salad with olives and manderin oranges along with grilled skinless chicken breast last night. Total cost was around 1.80 per plate, it was delicious. Want that tuna burger recipe as soon as you are ready to share it. (sorry about being so wordy!) :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:16 am

Hi Johnny! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and kind response. It is so great to hear. I love the sound of your pasta salad with chicken and mandarin oranges! Makes me hopeful spring is on the way :)

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healthifiedhaven March 25, 2011 at 7:38 am

That tuna burger looks so sophisticated! Looking forward to the recipe.

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

Thanks doll :)

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Tamar March 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I am so impressed that you’re doing this hunger challenge, and probably helping lots of people become more aware of the difficulties faced by poor people in terms of food. I taught at an inner city school, where students whose parents were working multiple jobs would come in with the lunch money their parents gave them and waste it on a 2 dollar bottle of soda and a $1.50 bag of pork rinds, no joke. It made me fear for their futures, because, as you’ve shown, you can eat really well for the $3.50 they were spending on “lunch.” While I know there were many factors leading towards the decisions they were making food-wise, I felt like there had to be something done to educate them about the cost of nutrition (and malnutrition.) Many poor families (and rich families, for sure) rely on processed foods because they are designed to seem less expensive than whole foods. I fantasized about teaching a class on making large, inexpensive, healthy meals for an entire family, but never figured out a good way to approach that. I’m rambling now, but just want to say I think it’s awesome that you’re doing this, and that my favorite inexpensive healthy dishes are hearty vegetable soups with beans or less expensive cuts of meat, where you can make a giant pot that’ll last days for just a few dollars (especially if you make your own broth.)

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Rebecca March 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

First off, I want to say that I just “stumbled-upon” your blogs, and I’m in love.

That said…I was really excited to see this post. I thought “Wow, that’s amazing! All these great meals, on just $7 a day!” And then I got to the end of the post, where you mentioned that for 2 people that was $84/week.

And I realized that for my family of 3, I only spend about $65/week. We never go hungry. We have no shortage of delicious, healthy, balanced meals. And our grocery bill INCLUDES toilet paper, napkins, toiletries, etc.

Now, some weeks it is closer to $80, especially since I buy meat in club packs to separate and freeze, so that it’s less expensive per pound. But a week where we spend more than $70 is an expensive grocery trip. We live in New York, so food prices are slightly more than average.

(Our budget for groceries is fairly low because DH and I are saving to buy a new car…in cash :D)

I feel like I should have some really intellectual insight on why we do so well on such a small budget, and what that says about human nature, and the state of the cosmos, and things like that, but I think maybe it’s just that people don’t know how to eat on a budget because they’ve never tried.

I mean, look how well you did! And that was without using anything in your pantry. Some of the things that you bought this week will obviously last for a few weeks, which means that next week, you’d have enough in your budget to get that soy sauce, and maybe even a jar of almond butter :o)

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that, because I honestly think that $84 is a very realistic budget for two people for one week, but it can definitely be a challenge if you aren’t used to or don’t know how to plan and prepare meals using ingredients over multiple days and without too much waste.

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Can You Stay for Dinner March 31, 2011 at 8:37 am

Rebecca, I am.so.very.impressed with your budget. I admire it so much, in fact. I’m striving to be mindful of what I spend money on and always working on eating well and trying to stay away from the quick, processed packages of food that are just too too easy to blow money on. Thanks for sharing your ideas, I’m inspired :)

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Rebecca April 2, 2011 at 7:20 am

Aww, thanks, but you really shouldn’t be that impressed, after all, you managed to do pretty well for yourself on a tight budget! And I know for me, it’s satisfying to be able to splurge on something a little expensive knowing that I’ve been saving in other places (for me, it’s nutella…I can’t get enough of the stuff!)

I think you’re absolutely right when you said the key is to stay away from packaged processed foods. Until I started cutting them out, I never realized just how much of our grocery money they were eating up.

And re: your latest post, you might like to know that you are not the only 20-something that reads the grocery circulars in bed- I have the same habit, it drive my husband crazy that I’m rattling the paper and making grocery lists and meal plans when he’s trying to read a book before bed. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner April 2, 2011 at 7:26 am

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