The Challenge is Over
Last week I embarked on a culinary adventure where I would limit myself to eating just $29 worth of food for an entire week. It was not to determine if such a thing is “possible” or not. Humans are very resilient eukaryotes. The average healthy person with a body fat percentage of 20% could survive multiple weeks consuming nothing but water — although it wouldn’t be very fun. 😕 But much like the “no spend days” challenge, I wanted to experience what it’s like to live on a tighter budget like so many poor people do.
Now that it’s all over, I’m going to make like a mirror and reflect on my experiences. Thankfully I managed to keep to my rules as mentioned in the original post, and didn’t eat anything outside of my basket of groceries. I even had some food remaining as of Sunday night. Woohoo! I passed the challenge. 😀
Here are some simple homemade dishes I put together last week, using the ingredients from my list.
Breaking Down the Week
Days 1, 2, and 3
The first three days of the challenge were spent eating a little bit of everything from my food basket — although there was a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables as the tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash had to be taken care of before they start to spoil. I put the bread in the fridge so it would stay fresh longer. During this time I ate mostly sandwiches, salads, and roasted vegetables.
Days 4 and 5
These days were more focused on a protein and carbs rich diet — literally the meat and potatoes of my basket. 🙂 I also boiled and seasoned the large white radish. Around day 4 I began to feel weary about eating the same food over and over again. By the end of day 5 I had finished consuming all the fish, crackers, and most of the produce.
Days 6 and 7
These last two days were mainly for eating leftovers from my basket. I tried out different ways to cook the remaining turkey and potatoes. At this point I felt peckish for other types of food, mainly something sweet. I realized I should have added some apples or oranges to my food basket. I tend to season lightly when I cook at home. After nearly a week of not eating salty food from restaurants my tastebuds have gotten use to consuming a lower sodium diet. On day 7 I made turkey soup, using leftover meat and produce remains. At the end of the challenge I had some bread and 2 turkey drumsticks remaining out of 14 total. A turkey drumstick is about 13 ounces, compared to a chicken drumstick which is about 4 ounces.
Here are two pictures comparing what I had in my entire basket at the start of the challenge, and then at the end. The leftover bread is a little stale, but would taste fine if made into french toast. 😉
Throughout this food challenge there were times where I daydreamed a lot about pizza, burgers, ice cream, and other processed foods. But overall I didn’t have too much trouble suppressing my desires. Living alone makes this challenge easier since I have full control over what I bring home and will not be tempted by surprises in the fridge. 🙂 $29 per week works out to $125 per month. This is not a huge departure from the $150 per month I already spend on groceries throughout the year anyway. So I think that also helped make the challenge a bit more manageable in my particular case. But that being said, I normally also spend $50 per month on eating out, which makes my total food expenses $200 per month.
All in all, I have learned a great deal from doing this challenge, like how to cook with a limited basket of ingredients. And I’m grateful to everyone who followed my one week journey and provided meaningful feedback. 🙂 Throughout this series of food related posts there have been many interesting discussions in the comments section. Regarding household budgets it’s good to keep in mind that food can be a very emotional and sensitive topic for many individuals. When it comes to expecting people on the internet to behave reasonably, it’s probably best if we don’t set our standards too high. Here’s a public conversation on Twitter about someone seeking financial advice that aptly illustrates my point.
As with other budgeting challenges, this one saved me more time than anything else. I did my entire week’s of grocery shopping in one trip and didn’t spend any time going out for lunch or dinners. So unlike Gwyneth Paltrow, who gave up on the challenge half way through, I managed to make it all the way to the end. However, one week is a relatively short time to form a habit. And if I had failed the challenge, it would be no big deal. I earn more than $60,000 a year and was never facing any real risk of food deprivation. But unlike myself, those in poverty who depend on food stamps don’t have a large income to fall back on. And they live on a restricted budget for months, or even years.
How Sustainable is Eating on $29/week?
So one week is no problem. But could I live on $29/week for a long period of time in a sustainable way? I honestly don’t know. But I don’t think the answer really matters anyway, because I would never want to do it and find out. After experiencing the limitations of this budgeting challenge I realize I wouldn’t let myself live that way for any prolonged period of time. If I lose my job I will apply to every suitable work in the country until I’m gainfully employed again. I will even work overtime every day if I have to in order to make enough money to afford the kinds of food I want to eat. The trivial financial gain of adhering to a restrictive diet is not worth the loss of enjoyment I get from my current eating habits. 🙂
There are other factors that make it hard to know for sure if I could live on social assistance alone. Gwyneth Paltrow created this challenge based on the $29 per week the average recipient receives from SNAP. But this is a supplemental food stamp program so I don’t know what the actual total cost of food would be per person. Also, $29 USD is worth $37 CAD today, so it could be argued that Canadians should do the challenge using $37/week, which is more accommodating. Lastly, the cost of living in different cities also affect how much consumers can make a fixed budget stretch.
It was a fun challenge, but I’m glad it’s over. 🙂
Random Useless Fact:
I could save so much time in the morning if only I didn’t do this.