Several weeks ago I volunteered to participate in the “Hunger Challenge 2009” sponsored by the organization Food Outreach located in Saint Louis. Food Outreach provides nutrition services for people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer. The purpose of the 7-day hunger challenge is to raise awareness for those in our community and country who face critical nutrition issues when living on a fixed income. As part of the challenge, we are encouraged to limit our food purchases to $29 dollars per week. This is the amount I would be allotted if I was participating in the food stamp program. $29/7 = $4.14 per day. With the changes in our economy over the year, as a Dietitian, I have had several requests by reporters or writers for budget-friendly meal ideas for their segments like “How to feed a family of 4 for $20 per day.” These requests required me to price out ONE meals’ ingredients, but that was the extent of my efforts. As I begin to think about applying this to ME, and what I will eat for the week of Sept 1-Sept 7, the task begins to seem much more challenging, and to be honest, I think, why didn’t I assign this to the students in one of my nutrition classes? When grocery shopping, I pay attention to the price per ounce when comparing items, and I frequently purchase sale items and store brand items. Our household money is spent on nutritious inexpensive foods like beans, frozen vegetables, rice, etc. I bring my lunch to work, I eat at home most nights of the week. But, I also “splurge.” I do spring for certain foods like the nicer cuts of fish, or the higher fiber grain products, and I purchase these items not only because I like the way they taste, but could spending extra money now potentially save me money later on smaller health care bills? Others however, do not have such the luxury, yet they deserve the ability to eat healthy just like I do. So as a dietitian, I feel it is my responsibility to help others see that they can feed their family nutritious foods that can be purchased in an affordable way. The Hunger Challenge presents me with some practice to do so. Yet, I begin to think about those favorite foods I take for granted. Coffee, even though I brew my own coffee at home, when I think about the creamer, splenda, and sometimes a dollap of whipped cream…it almost takes too much effort just to calculate the costs! Either way, I think I can get by without it for a week, and save those precious pennies for something else. Diet coke, another caffeine source bites the dust. I will miss the afternoon jolt, but once again, I could use the pennies for food. Eating out. I can’t even imagine how that could possibly fit. That makes me sad. I am going to find some great happy hour deals somewhere. I am still in the planning phase, but here are some of things I know I can change: Breakfast: I have to eat the same quantity, you don’t want a hangry (hungry + angry) teacher for my early morning students, I will just switch to store brand cereal and store brand English muffins. For a snack, I plan on buying bagged on-sale apples instead of my favorite pink lady apples, which are never on sale. Sometimes for dinner I make omelets, eggs are a cheap source of protein, but instead of the omega-3 fatty acid fed eggs, I will buy the store brand. I eat a vegetables with both lunch and dinner, therefore I will have to figure out which veggies give me the best bang for my buck, and I will more than likely visit the farmer’s market. The pressure cooker will be busted out of the cabinet and be put to good use making a bean soup. But what about my microwave Kettle Corn? I hope I can make it fit, but if not, the air popper will finally get used as well. No doubt, this is not going to be easy. It will take planning, and possibly more time in the kitchen. My goal is to stick to the budget as close as possible, and also maybe come up with some recipes that I can continue to use in the future. I have to remind myself, it is only for a week, and how blessed am I that this is just an “experiment?”

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.