Hey Frugal Fitness Fans! As an elite cheapskate and poor twenty-something, I knew I wanted to take the #SurviveOn35 Challenge of surviving and thriving (eating healthy) on a $35 food budget for a week. Why $35? Because that is about equivalent to the amount of government assistance a typical impoverished individual might receive, often in the form of food stamps. This challenge sheds light on the very serious hunger, health, and poverty problems we have in the United States, other 1st World nations, and all over the world. While there are some critics of the challenge, I think they are missing the point and that it is an excellent educational opportunity benefiting some great causes (food banks and Cooking Matters). If you couldn't tell from my websites and videos, I have always been very Frugal and I'm used to making the best out of minimal supplies. Sometimes this has been by choice or habit, but most of the time it has really been out of necessity just to survive in a tough world and a tough economy. I have always made it my mission to prove to others that they can in fact eat healthy even while on a very tight budget.
I have never had or made much money, and have often earned at or below the legal poverty levels for annual income. Please understand that I don't take this challenge lightly at all or consider it a publicity stunt. This is an accurate depiction of my life nearly every week of the year. I empathize greatly with others that struggle to pay basic bills and hope to help those that are even more financially distressed than myself. I think my purchases are excellent examples of foods and products containing large amounts of lean and complete protein, fiber, whole grains, antioxidants, heart healthy fats, micronutrients, and electrolytes as well as maximizing longevity, portability, and simplicity. I even made sure to hit all of the stores in one 4 mile drive so to not waste time or gas.
My approach to eating on a very small budget seems to be significantly different from most of the other participants in this program. While I am all for tons of fruits and vegetables, I also take the macronutrients and calories very seriously. Also, as a man and a natural bodybuilder / powerlifter, I require more calories than some other participants and I am also focused on minimizing bodyfat while maintaining as much lean muscle as possible (survival comes first though). That means enough protein and healthy fat. I am a 165 lb man so I require more calories and protein than some of the other entrants, but everyone has different genetics, goals, time and resources for cooking, and food preferences.
Also, I am a minimalist when it comes to meals and recipe ingredients. I like it quick, simple, and on the go if possible. Minimal time, preparation, and cleanup, are very important when I am spending a lot of time working to try and make ends meet. So you won't find extremely complex recipes or meals here, just a lot of healthy snacks and simple staple healthy meals, designed for eating small meals around 6 times per day. And yes, like Jerry Seinfeld before me, I like cereal and breakfast foods at all times of day and therefore utilize a lot of (Kashi) cereal and oatmeal! I like versatile foods and I like snacking foods so there are plenty of those in here that fit that description along with being healthy and cost-effective.
Total Week's Food Costs: $34.52
Grocery Cost By Location:
1) Target ($20.88)
2) Dollar Tree ($9)
3) Stop & Shop ($4.64)
Items By Store:
-2x Generic Gallon Skim Milk ($6.78)
-Jif Natural Peanut Butter ($2.99)
-Kashi Crisp Toasted Berry Cereal ($2.99)
-Kashi Heart To Heart Warm Cinnamon Cereal ($2.99)
-Quaker Oats Quick 1 Min 1 lb ($2.54)
2) Dollar Tree: (everything is $1)
-Canned Turkey Breast
-Canned Chicken Breast
-Canned Tuna Light
-Green Tea 80 Bags
-1 lb Instant Coffee
-Honey Wheat Sticks
-Sweet Potato Chips
-5-Pack of Peanuts
-5 oz Sunflower Seed (roasted, shelled, and salted)
3) Stop & Shop:
-Spinach Salad ($1.99)
Nutritional Strategies Utilized
So as I mentioned earlier, I have all of these foods chosen for specific nutritional reasons in addition to their low cost. It also matters how you eat them and pair them up. I eat 6 times per day, spread out, never a huge amount of calories at once, and usually getting a good mix of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and heart healthy unsaturated fats in each meal. I consume more calories in the first portion of the day when my metabolism is at its highest. A lot of the food choices that I made have relatively low GI (Glycemic Index) values which means they won't spike my blood sugar and provide long-lasting energy throughout the day. They also have a lot of protein, fiber, and heart healthy fat in them to keep me feeling satiated. These simple yet effective strategies help translate to staying full, energized, lean, and healthy!
The 2 gallons of skim milk allow me to have over 18 oz of milk per day for excellent sources of complete protein, calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium. The Kashi cereals provided plenty of high quality whole grains for complex carbs, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and pretty low amounts of sugar and fat. The spinach gave me several salads throughout the week and providing Vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants. The cans of tuna, chicken, and turkey gave me cheap lean additional protein for my salads. The fat free cheese was also used on the salads for more lean complete protein and extra calcium and vitamin D. I even had some left over after salads and just ate it out of the bag by hand! The coffee was for some extra daily caffeine (with cinnamon and skim milk) to enhance metabolism, and so was the green tea which also added high amounts of the antioxidant ECGC twice daily. The JIF Natural Peanut Butter, sunflower seeds, and roasted peanuts provided plenty of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, micronutrients, and protein. The bananas and apples both provided antioxidants, fiber, and electrolytes. And finally, the sweet potato chips and honey wheat sticks provided some snacking options that were low in sugar and saturated fat (and also another salad topping).
(Because I am a man of habit and simplicity, all of my daily eating patterns were like this throughout the week)
-Coffee with Skim Milk and
-8 oz Glass of Skim Milk
-Cup of Kashi Heart To Heart Warm Cinnamon w/ 1/2 Apple Slices, skim milk, & 1 bag of crushed peanuts
-Handful of sunflower seeds and handful of Kashi cereal
-Scoop of natural peanut butter & banana or apple
-Handful of honey wheat sticks
-Spinach Salad w/ can of Chicken / Turkey / Tuna + Sunflower Seeds, Fat Free Cheese, & Crushed Sweet Potato Chips
-Kashi Crisp Cereal with 1/2 apple or banana and skim milk
-Handful of sweet potato chips
-TBSP Peanut Butter with toasted oats
1.5 cups of Oatmeal with 1/2 banana and cinnamon
-8 oz glass of skim milk
-1 tsp JIF Natural PB
*Lots of free tap water daily!!!! 96 oz daily spread out throughout the day
So I used up a lot of things by the 7th day but I still have plenty of left over Oatmeal, Instant Coffee, and Green Tea (oh and my landlord pays the water bill...well not hot water but you know what I mean haha)! I also had a bit of fat free cheese that I just finished by hand right out of the bag, 'cause I'm classy like that! :) These are all super-frugal items that will last you a long time and get you plenty of bang for your buck!
Although I love the products, I think I should have eliminated the Kraft Fat Free Cheese or JIF Peanut Butter, and 1 of the Kashi Cereals, to have freed up about $5.75 to be put towards more salad and additional fruit variety. I still had a good week of nutrition and plenty of fiber / antioxidants but in hindsight I would have made those adjustments. This would have also helped if you were watching your sodium intake or trying to eat more of a Paleo diet. And lastly, I would have utilized that extra .48 to buy another banana! :)
This past week was certainly another great experience in my Frugal Life. Although I am always on a very tight budget, this week really made me tighten my finances and lifestyle to fully empathize with those that are in even worse financial situations than myself. I didn't indulge in some of the "extras" for food products that weren't completely necessary so it certainly got me more disciplined. I walked to stores and meetings even more often than usual and tried to give back to the community what I could spare. I would like to reiterate that this is a very personal matter for me and really hope that it has helped to educate and inspire you to improve your nutrition, work as best you can with the budget you have, and to help the impoverished and hungry communities of the world.
Also, Please Donate to the Cooking Matters organization!
Also Thanks For Joining Me In The Twitter Chat!!