Home > Community Stories, Hunger and Poverty > CHS Food Stamp Challenge Diary

CHS Food Stamp Challenge Diary

I’m taking the CHS (Community Human Services) Food Stamp Challenge this week. Live on a $6.50 food budget per day.  Sounds easy?  Not if you want to eat healthy.

I’m a vegetarian by choice. Seems like my budget should be low. Nope. The healthier I try to eat, the more expensive it becomes. I only drink water (and coffee in the mornings), so that cuts down that area of the budget.

Day 1. I cheated and bought some of the food “take-out”. Because I  procrastinated and didn’t plan today’s meal.

AM:  1 serving cottage cheese and a bagel, plain; coffee with generic brand flavored creamer.

Cost: about $1.80

Lunch: A veggie sub w/cheese from Sheetz. Bought a 12 inch so I could have the other 6 inch for dinner

Cost: $3.98

Evening snack: 3 pretzel rods and a banana.

Cost: $0.47   Total for the day: 1.80+3.98+.47= $6.25 ($0.25 under budget and about 300 calories under the suggested 1200 calorie intake.)

Day 2:

No breakfast as I ran out the door for a meeting. Which is good because I spent

$2.47 X 2 on coffee since we met at The Coffee Tree and it would have seemed weird to not get coffee. I could say it was a business expense, but if I was living on a tight budget, that would have been my reality.

Lunch was however paid for at the next meeting. Thankfully.


Ate the non-meat sides from the meal I made my children. High in carbs, low in protein. Added a salad.

My portion of the cost- about $2.00.

A package of cheese crackers as a snack later- $.50

Total for the day- $7.44 (.$94 over budget)


I wake up hungry. I do not usually want to eat right away, but today I do.

Cereal with milk- $0.75 Banana- about $.27 Coffee with creamer. Total- $1.72

Lunch- MSF Chix patty on a Sandwich Thin with sprinkle of grated cheese.  Cost: $1.65

Dinner- I forgot to write it down. And by Thursday I was so tired, cranky and hungry, that I just can’t remember what I ate.

Snack, Nutella on  4 pieces/(1)Graham cracker- about $.23  Total w/o dinner- $3.60


You get the idea of how I had to keep track of every bite I had, so I’m going to let that part go and tell you what happened now.

You see, I was getting hungry and tired.  It was so frustrating to not just be able to go grab something from the cupboard and eat.  Trying to dollar out every meal, every choice was nerve wracking.
And if you think this isn’t the way it is for people eating on a budget, if you think they are so lucky because their budget is provided with food stamps- DON’T.

It’s exhausting worrying about making the best choices for nutrition this way. By Friday, I almost gave up.  I have personally had this struggle before- where I maybe only had an extra $40 to put a week’s worth of groceries on the table for 5 of us.  I did not put my kids through that again, but I chose to do it because I think it reminds me to be humble now that times are better.

The hardest part was trying to eat healthy. If you put a lot of forethought into it and really work at buying things that can be used multiple days during the week, it is possible. Sort of. Fresh foods cost more and run out more quickly. But it is time consuming and like most people, we have a busy life here. I spent so much time focused on food.

By Friday, I had no salad components, the fruit was gone and I was feeling fatigued and stressed out from calculating how to feel full on a budget. And, other than those crackers, I had no budget to buy anything “sweet” or “snacky.”

It did not feel good to go to bed hungry every night.

By Saturday, when the offer was made to take me to lunch during PodCamp, I was almost in tears from hunger. It just so happened that the week of the Challenge, I had people offer to take me out to eat. I would not have been able to do that if I had really  been dealing with poverty issues. But, I felt guilty that my $14+ tab at Tavern 245(double my budget for the whole day) had been picked up. So…

I ate breakfast on Sunday because I knew I had to be sharp-minded to present my PodCamp session. But, I skipped lunch because had I needed to pay for it, my week’s budget had already been busted.  It sucked to not be able to join with the other #pcpgh6 -ers like I wanted. It felt horrible to not be able to socialize through a meal with such a fun and intelligent group of people. But, I had taken the challenge and had that been my reality, I would have lost out on that social situation.

If you have never done a food stamp challenge, you do not need to be invited by a group to do it. I challenge you to do it on your own. Can you make it through even 3 or 4 days?

On Monday, when I could eat as I wanted, the relief was so great and the stress so reduced, that I could function again and had a very productive week.  It’s amazing what hunger does to a person.

For more information on CHS go here. To donate to the Oakland Food panty via CHS, go here.

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