So you've taken the first step and registered to be part of the 2014 DNATL CalFresh Challenge from October 20th to 24th. (What? You haven't registered yet? Register here!) You've committed to spending just $5 per day on all of your food and beverages.
Unless you're used to living on a tight food budget, you might be getting anxious about what you'll eat next week. We've put together some tips to help you be successful.
First, rethink your drinks. Consider sticking to water during the Challenge! It's the most cost-effective choice. But if you are used to grabbing a latte (at $3.50) on the way to work and can't give up the caffeine, what are some alternatives that will fit your new budget? If you often relax at the end of the day with a glass of wine or beer, you should stock up on Two Buck Chuck or figure out a replacement. Although you certainly can find beer to fit a $5/day budget, think carefully before you commit 15-20% of your total food budget to alcohol. The cost of juice, soda, and sports drinks also adds up quickly while adding lots of sugar and not much nutrition.
Second, PLAN. Figure out a menu for the five days of the challenge. Some things to consider:
- Meat tends to be expensive, so participating in Meatless Monday (and maybe Wednesday and Thursday, too) will help you stay on budget
- Cheaper protein alternatives include beans, eggs, and tofu
- Try to incorporate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day -- a vegetable and bean soup could be a great part of this
- Don't forget to plan breakfasts and lunches -- if you choose well, these can be very cheap meals
- Write out your menu, make a corresponding shopping list, and STICK TO IT at the store
Third, make ahead in bulk. If you can make a big pot of soup that can be dinner one night and lunch for a few days as well, you won't find yourself hungry without a quick, easy option within your budget. Some other ideas:
- Hard-boil five eggs at the beginning of the week for your breakfast or lunch (even super-premium pastured eggs only cost about 50 cents each)
- Cut up carrot and celery sticks for the whole week and store them in a container of water in the refrigerator -- you'll have a quick veggie snack or lunch component that will stay fresh all week
- Re-use leftovers creatively
Fourth, remember why you're doing this Challenge. The CalFresh Challenge isn't about winning or losing. It's not a competition. The goal is for you to gain new understanding of the lives of people living with food insecurity. If you absolutely have to attend a business lunch and your meal consumes three days worth of your CalFresh budget? Take a deep breath, enjoy the meal, and take $1.50 out of your Challenge budget to represent the lunch you would have had otherwise. Just remember that someone who actually lives with a CalFresh budget wouldn't have that option and think about what that would mean for feeling included at work functions.
Fifth, join in one of our Food Day community dinners on Friday! Even though you're supposed to avoid free meals during the CalFresh Challenge, make this one exception. We'll be showing A Place at the Table, a movie about hunger in America, and providing a free dinner in Crescent City, Gasquet, Klamath, and Smith River. Consider sharing your Challenge experience during the community conversation after the movie. Find details about the showings here and take a couple bucks out of your budget to account for the dinner.
If you're struggling to find low-cost recipes, check out USDA's recipe finder. Most of the recipes on their page are geared toward low-income food budgets. Googling "low budget recipes" will also net hundreds of low-budget, but very tasty recipes.
Thank you for participating in the CalFresh Challenge! We wish you happy eating and hope you share what you learn with others.