Reflections on ending the week eating on $4.50 a day

Ok, it happened! Day 6, I hit the wall! I couldn’t face any of the food I had purchased for the week. So, I changed my strategy for Days 6 and 7.  I figured out how much value remained in the food I had left and I shifted my focus to purchasing food by the day for Day 6 and Day 7. I had saved enough food to actually allow myself $4.50 a day and to keep 1 pear ($.25) and 2 eggs ($.18) from my weekly purchases, just in case.

Day 6: After midnight on Day 6, a friend invited me to IHOP. The idea of food I hadn’t been eating for 5 days was exciting! We agreed to share a meal. My friend ordered pumpkin pancakes, bacon, eggs and hash browns ($5.99 special). I ate several bites of everything and one whole pumpkin pancake. It was absolutely delicious! I didn’t eat the rest of Saturday, except for half of my pear, as I decided our shared meal counted against my $4.50. So for dinner on Saturday I had a $1.25 cheeseburger from Bionic Burger (which was so thin I could have read through it had I held it up to the light) and a handful of fries. Lettuce and tomato cost $. 30 extra each, so I didn’t get any. The burger and fries also tasted incredibly yummy!

Observation: Day 6, I had more “filler food” than nutritious food. Except my half a pear, I didn’t eat any fruits or veggies and almost no lean protein. L

Day 7: I typically have brunch with friends on Sunday mornings. When I arrived at our favorite place I told my friends that I didn’t plan to eat that day as I was going to make it on $4.50 for the whole day. One of my friends stated, “Then you can’t eat out!”… Crickets… After an awkward pause, another friend replied… “Well, that’s not fair. Anyone should be able to eat out at least occasionally”… The first friend replied, “Not on $4.50 a day, you can’t!” “That’s why I just came to hang out with you today”, I said. “I don’t intend to eat. I’m just here to visit”. Another friend said, “Well, then I’m not going to eat either. If they can’t find something you can afford, I’m not going to eat in front of you.” “Ok”, I said! “We’ll ask!” I tried to explain to our server that I was eating on $4.50 for the day and asked what 2 scrambled eggs and toast would cost. She replied, “I don’t know.” She checked with the manager who stated, “We can make you a breakfast for $4.50”. I reaffirmed, “No, $4.50 is for the whole day. I’m trying to find out if there are any low cost items I can purchase.” By this point, I had thoroughly confused the restaurant staff, so I just ordered toast and jam for $1.75. I found it interesting that my friends were much more comfortable with me eating something rather than nothing. They also understood that I would not share food with them. We ended up having a very enjoyable brunch. When I got home, I scrambled my eggs and ate the rest of my pear.

Sunday night, a friend was having a birthday party, so I went. We had pasta with homemade sauce, salad, Italian bread, and birthday cake. I ate a little of everything.

Observation: Day 7, it is really tough to eat out on $4.50 a day – unless your friends have a party!


  • It is so much cheaper to eat low quality, minimally nutritious food on $4.50 a day. Healthy food is much more expensive. As a friend noted, “I can get a huge bag of chips for $1 or pay $3.50 for a container of fruit. On $4.50 a day, I’d go for the chips every time. A full stomach is better than an empty one”.
  •  Doing this challenge with someone else might have been easier as together we could have purchased more variety in our food. Food fatigue was one of my worst issues. I simply got tired of eating the food limited food options I’d purchased.
  • Families who use SNAP probably build staples like flour, sugar, salt, pepper, seasonings, etc. over time. We didn’t allow ourselves to count much of that in our efforts.
  • Families who use SNAP are probably better bargain food shoppers than I am and probably have longer term strategies than 1 week which allow them to build more variety in their diets.
  • It’s hard to get enough healthy calories on $4.50 a day.
  • In addition to purchasing inadequate calories, I also ended up having a problem eating the bulk of food I needed to eat each day. What I had to eat to get 1044 calories a day was simply too much food, so I averaged 750-900 calories a day. This was a very different food issue than I had anticipated.
  • Grazing, a couple bites here and there throughout the day, rather than eating meals was a great hunger abatement strategy. I carried my allotment of dried cherries and raw almonds with me and ate them, 2 or 3 at a time, throughout the day (20 of each).


When I do this again (and I will), I will do it differently. I will try to make meal plans for each day rather than a week plan and work for more food variety. I will also spend more time shopping for the best deals. I did that by focusing on managers’ specials and sale items, but was unable to wait for some things to go on sale.

As I was approaching this effort, I was nervous. I had never tried to do anything like this before. I wanted to eat healthy food AND I needed the food I purchased to last the whole week. This has been an extremely insightful experience. Eating on this kind of budget is not easy. Eating healthy on this kind of budget is even more difficult.

Final thought:

I encourage anyone who wants to recognize the importance of SNAP programs and the minimal level at which they are already funded to try to eat on $4.50 a day. It makes me wonder about the links between low cost/low nutrition food, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. My hunch is that there is a link and that food insecurity likely contributes to these critical public health problems in the most vulnerable Americans.


Hunger is a public health problem – Kansas Public Health Association, Virginia Lockhart Health Education Award, 9/19/13

Dr. Deborah Ballard-Reisch’s remarks upon receipt of the Virginia Lockhart Health Education Award from the Kansas Public Health Association, September 19, 2013


1) I wish to thank Pamela O’Neal a former student, constant friend and support, and public health cliff jumper for nominating me for this award

2) I am thankful to the KPHA for honoring me with an award named after a true KS public health pioneer, Virginia Pence Lockhart

3) I am eternally grateful to the Kansas Health Foundation for endowing Wichita State University and the Elliott School of Communication with the gift that funded the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication which I have been honored to hold since August 2007. This position has allowed me to follow my passions in support of community-based approaches to research & health promotion 

4) I would like to thank my students, friends and family who both jump off cliffs with me and show me other cliffs to conquer

5) I would like to especially thank my son Stefan who is with me today and my daughter Alyssa who is a junior at UNLV for their constant love, support, and adventurous spirits. 


 I would like to build on the perspective of Virginia Pence Lockhart – who stated in 1965 “Health cannot be given to the people, it demands their participation – beneficial action follows self education”. From my perspective, individuals and communities need to educate themselves on public health issues, while public health educators need to educate themselves on communities. Effective public health initiatives must be appropriately tailored to contexts.


 In the words of Rick McNary, founder of Numana Inc. of El Dorado, KS, I am in the hunger space. 

1) It gives me PAUSE that in 2012, 14.5% of US households were food insecure – 72% of them families with children. Food insecurity impacts more than 49 million Americans.

2) It gives me PAUSE that the US House of Representatives is considering a proposal to cut the SNAP program while millions of Americans are struggling to find good jobs and to afford healthy food for their families.

In public health, we talk about obesity epidemics – 1/3 of adults and 17% of children – 25.5% of the total U.S. population are obese – that’s 79 million people.

We talk about a diabetes epidemic – 8.3% of the U.S. population, 25.8 million people have type 2 diabetes.

However, it gives me PAUSE that we often overlook the potential role food insecurity may play as an underlying contributor to these problems.

 While these issues give me pause, 

1) I am INSPIRED that there are legislators who “get it”. More than 30 legislators took the SNAP Challenge to eat on $4.50 a day during August. I am grateful for the insights they gained.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly  IL stated – “You can’t get the healthiest foods because they’re too expensive”. 

Congressman Jim McGovern MA concluded – “People in this country should have a right to food, to have enough to eat, to have access to nutritious food. 

2) I am INSPIRED by Numana, Inc. and Stop Hunger Now and their food packaging efforts that allow people to “get their hands dirty” to “feed the starving” people around the globe. Empowering people leads to sustainable change.

3) I am INSPIRED by my students who even today are planning what has morphed from a WSU Hunger Awareness Day in 2010 to a month long campus-wide collaboration.

4) I am INSPIRED by our community and university partners around the world who have shared their experiences with us and invited us to speak on their campuses using our experiences as a model to help them form their own initiatives.


 1) We can educate ourselves:

Join the Wichita State University Hunger Awareness team and me. Take the SNAP Challenge and live on $4.50 a day for food! We’ll be doing this over the next two weeks. We want your blog posts, facebook posts, tweets, emails.  We understand people best when we can walk in their shoes.

2) We can take steps in our daily lives to make a difference:

Shop the Feed USA Target/ Feeding America collection sponsored by Lauren Bush at local Target stores.

Take part in the No Kid Hungry Campaign – You eat at their restaurants; they donate. Participating restaurants in the Wichita area taking part are Arby’s, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, Cici’s Pizza.

Join me for the 4th Kansas Hunger Dialogue – which will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Wichita on February 26, 2014. Join university and community partners to discuss strategies to wipe out hunger here in Kansas and talk about model programs we have already developed.

Lobby Congressional representatives! Critical decisions that impact the most vulnerable Americans are under consideration now. We must make our voices heard.

In closing, I would like to quote Bob Dole & Tom Daschle in their LA Times article published September 19, 2013. “As a nation blessed with a bounty of food, we are a nation with a duty to fight hunger”.  

Food insecurity is a public health problem.  

Food insecurity is a public health problem that impacts many other public health problems.

ImageEducated, we’ve got the power to end hunger and food insecurity, perhaps not by 2015 as the UN Millennium Goals outlined, but in our lifetimes. 

Thank you again for bestowing this prestigious award on me. 


Eating on $4.50 a day – Ooops! Not enough calories!

Day 2

Ooops! I didn’t consider calories as I bought my food for the week yesterday. With a focus on trying to afford healthy food, I lost track of calorie requirements. The total calories in the food I purchased yesterday was 7311. That’s an average of 1044 calories a day. A healthy weight loss diet, based on my basal metabolic rate (BMR) would be around 1458 calories per day which would lead to a 1-2 pound weight loss per week. So, the food I have for this week isn’t a decent weight loss diet for my body, and it’s absolutely not a health sustaining eating plan. To maintain a healthy weight, I’d need 1700 to 2200 calories a day. I have a feeling I might get cranky later this week.

I decided to do some research on calorie needs to maintain health. In perspective, the average 5 year old needs about 1800 calories a day to maintain healthy growth. Of course, the average will vary by child depending on growth rate and activity level. A healthy average diet for an adult is considered around 1800-2000 calories a day. While calorie needs vary depending on sex, age and activity level, women from 19-30 typically need 2,000 and 2,400 calories daily; women 31 to 50 need 1,800 and 2,200 calories per day, and women over 50 need 1,600 and 2,200 calories a day. Men 19 to 30 years old need 2,400 to 3,000 calories a day; men 31 to 50 need between 2,200 and 3,000 calories daily and men over 50 need 2,000 to 2,800 calories a day.

The calories in the food I bought aren’t enough for anyone! 

On another note, I have a sensitivity to wheat and dairy, so I didn’t include them in my shopping list. A loaf of gluten free bread and ½ gallon of lactose free milk were over $3.50 each, too large a chunk of my budget.

To recap – what I ate on day 1: Grazing worked! If I felt hungry, I ate several almonds and dried berries.

Almonds & dried berries – 150 calories
2 tbsp peanut butter – 190 calories
1 piece celery – 2 calories (probably my worst food choice was celery – no calories, minimal 1 nutrients. It’s a great vehicle to hold my peanut butter, and it offers food texture, but not much else)
20 grapes – 68 calories
1 oz chuck roast – 70 calories (I didn’t want to eat too much of the meat outside the soup, but needed some protein and it was DELICIOUS!!! I highly recommend McCormick’s montreal steak seasoning!)
1 carrot – 30 calories
2 hard-boiled eggs – 120 calories

I also had a sip of wine my friend Jessica shared with me and a sip of framboise my friend Pam shared with me and 2 free samples of macaroons ( ½ a cherry limeade macaroon, ½ a carmel sea salt macaroon at Cocoa Dolce – DELICIOUS indulgence). I have a feeling free samples will be how I treat myself this week.

Total calories: 630

I’m beginning to understand the need for high calorie, low nutrition fillers. There aren’t a lot of calories in fruits and vegetables. Chuck roast has a higher fat percentage than some meats, a plus for this eating plan, protein and fat content.

Food day 2:

My morning eating plan for day 2 included – 1/3rd of my soup allotment for the day, 1 hard-boiled egg and 1/5th of a pear, 6 almonds and 6 dried berries. My pears aren’t ripe, so I’m going to leave them out for a couple days to ripen more fully. Crispy pears aren’t bad in terms of texture, but they aren’t very tasty.

The next thing I’m going to look at is the percentage of calories I’m getting from protein, carbs and fats in what I’m eating this week.


Is it a SNAP to eat on $4.50 a day?

Day 1 –

I literally started shaking at Aldi this morning as I approached the aisles of tasty food and not a lot of money in my pocket.

I have to admit that I’m beginning this exercise in eating on a budget of $4.50 a day (the average budget for a person relying on the SNAP program) with some real fear—no joke! Not since my daughter Alyssa decided we should go “raw food only” in 2010 have I been so overwhelmed thinking about food. I have never tried to eat on a specific daily budget, and trying to purchase enough food to make it through an entire week on such little money is simply terrifying.

I purchased food for the week in one trip. I wanted to be mindful to purchase healthy, nutritious food. I avoided cheap, processed food as much as possible. I didn’t have time to calculate calories to make certain that I’m getting adequate nutrition. I’ll try to do that as I go.

I decided salt, pepper and spices won’t count against my food fund. I did cheat a bit – if food I assumed was cheaper one place when it was actually cheaper in another, I repurchased and traded. This is something I obviously would not have been able to do if I was actually limited to $4.50 a day.

Thanks for my friend Sandy Kramer, I am approaching this week with a grazing strategy, so my approach to shopping was to get as much protein, fresh veggies and fresh fruit as I could buy with an eye toward portioning everything by the day.

I shopped at both Aldi and Dillons Grocery stores. I went to Aldi first; as I couldn’t get everything I wanted there, I went to Dillons. As it turned out, some food was cheaper at Dillions than Aldi. Because I had not anticipated this and because this is my first time trying to budget food in this manner, I also didn’t try to use coupons (I don’t typically collect them and didn’t have any). Were I to try to do this for the long term, I would certainly collect coupons, although I learned today that those on SNAP who use coupons have to pay taxes on them.

So, what did I purchase?

I decided the foundation of my eating this week was going to be a beef veggie soup I make that my family loves. While they’re not taking part in this journey with me, I know (hope) I can make this soup stretch as a foundation for my eating efforts this week. This soup cost $13.89


1.61 lbs of chuck steak – $6.42 (I got this on sale)

2lbs frozen vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans) – $2.99 (gulp! These were much more expensive than I anticipated.)

2 cans diced, spiced tomatoes (basil, oregano, onion) – $2.00

½ Vadallia onion – $.59

1 container beef broth – $1.89


Slow cook the meat in a crockpot (4-6 hours), top with ½ diced onion, salt and pepper and montreal steak seasoning (I couldn’t help myself. It’s just delicious!)

When the meat is done, remove from crockpot, shred, remove fat, put back in crockpot

Add canned tomatoes

Add beef broth

Cook until broth is hot. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Add 1 lb frozen veggies (We prefer carrots, peas, corn and green beans). The frozen veggies retain consistency for several days.

Cook through. Enjoy!

I’m not sure how many servings this makes. When my son Stefan is eating, he can clear the whole crockpot in a little more than a day. It takes Alyssa two days. J Mine will last 7!

Other food I purchased to flesh out the week: $17.22

1 lb grapes – $1.59

1 pomegranate – $.99

1 lb celery – $1.29

2 lbs carrots – $.99

Raw almonds – $3.70

Dried fruit – (mixed berries)  $2.49

Peanut butter – $3.49

Eggs – $1.69

4 pears – $.99

Total food bill (minus tax – SNAP participants don’t pay tax on food) – $31.11

Today so far, I ate 3 almonds and 3 dried fruit berries – 9 a.m.

3 almonds, 3 dried fruit berries – 11 a.m.

½ stalk celery, 1 tsp peanut butter and 5 grapes – 1:30 p.m.

3 almonds, 3 dried fruit berries – 3:00 p.m.

I’ve decided to carry almonds and dried fruit with me throughout the day. About to have 3 more of each.

It’s now 4:30 p.m., and I’m heading out with my friends Jessica and Pam to watch them each enjoy a glass of wine. Pretty sure I’m not going to enjoy watching, but their company will be well worth it. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.

So, here’s an invitation! Would you like to join us on this adventure? The WSU Hunger Awareness team is taking this challenge during the next two weeks. We’re each doing 1 week solid, beginning and ending when it works best with our schedules. I chose to start today! Follow us on Facebook Hunger Awareness at Wichita State University, Twitter @WSUHunger, #WSUHunger or check out our webpage WSUHunger.wordpress.com.