Hunger Challenge Wrap Up

I’m glad my family participated in the hunger challenge.  I learn more from each year’s experience, which will not only help me for next year’s, but the way I shop, cook, teach and think about food without the challenge. 

I did have some items from my list, that I didn’t use including:


chinese pasta


And I do have some ingredients remaining, which were opened and partially eaten:

sunflower butter

fruit spread


veggie broth

goat cheese

You realize some items you’d buy that would last a long time, such as sunflower butter and not have to worry about finishing.  However others such as fresh fruit, you’d have to consume quickly.  Thus you may have more fresh produce during the beginning of the week, vs. the later, or whenever you went to the pantry.  Also I felt bad about the “free” pantry items that I didn’t use, because someone else could’ve used them.  However you would plan to use them the following week if something like chinese noodles.

Here are some of my take-aways:

It can be done.  Parents and caregivers are ingredible at making things work and sacrificing for their children and families.  Cooking and eating healthy may be harder to do than giving in to fast food, however it can be done with lots of planning and disclipline.

An extra $1 makes a huge difference.  I hope the awareness the hunger challenge brought to others will enable the extra money to be supported beyond the Jan 2010 deadline.

Everyone likes variety, however sometimes too many options can lead to waste.  Take for example my usual whole grain bread purchases: lavosh, mini wheat bagels, crumpets, whole wheat sandwich bread, mini pita bread, tortillas.  Sometimes a few pieces of  one variety will go stale as we’re eating the others.  How about choosing 2 or 3 this week and then 2 or three the next?  Same goes for cheese, snack items, cereals, mustards, dressings etc.

Being prepared with a stocked pantry and refrigerator is great.  This means you’re ready for last minute playdates or hosting a dinner.  However waiting for something to actually run out, gives more money for the items you actually need.  By this I mean, sometime I buy an extra item to have on hand (peanut butter, fruit spread, whole wheat crackers, etc)

Stick to the list and budget.  It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially with children as your shopping helpers.  Remind them of what you actually need and explain the idea of a budget. 

Out of sight out of mind.  I think if doing the challenge again, I will clean out my pantry and refrigerator, so we don’t see the extra food we’re not allowed to have (that was already there).

Left-over planning is key.  Some of the items I made were just too much.  The bean stew/soup was quite heavy.  Especially after the pasta.  And not something I would usually eat for lunch (but certainly wanted the food).  I felt better when I made “my food” (reference to Top Chef again), meaning things I know my family likes and feels good after eating (such as the fish tacos).

Next time I’ll plan to shop more than once.  I was so afraid to go to the store more than once because I would be tempted by things I couldn’t buy.  But really this would’ve allowed me some room to learn and create new menu items and not be so overwheled by thinking of every meal for 7 days.  (I finally did it at the end and glad I left some money left-over)

We take for granted that we’ll always be able to go to the grocery store and buy whatever we want.  It’s sobering to know that many food stamp recipients have jobs or recently had jobs, and how quickly economics and circumstances can change.


Final Challenge Day


So yesterday was the final day.  Although probably the easiest.  We were so busy, there was not much time for eating.  The days started early, as my son had a 9 a.m. soccer game.  Once again I only finished half my bowl of oatmeal.  We were out of berries, bananas and nectarines, so it was plain.  The kids and my husband finished the last of the granola (there’s a bit left of the Mighty Bites) with milk, and the kids had plain yogurt sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon.  We all had a quick glass of O.J.

We were headed for miniature golf after the game so I packed a quick lunch/snack of sunflower butter and fruit spread sandwiches, along with some trail mix, and sliced apples (last 2) and cheese.   We also had my son’s friend with us.  Luckily there was enough bread.

Later we went to friends’ to swim.  My kids were offered some snacks of crackers and cheese, grapes, watermelon and grape juice.  It looked good, but I passed and luckily had some apple slices left-over.  I explained about the hunger challenge and they said, but you’re not paying for this.  Seems I could eat what was offered at someone else’s house right?  Then I started to think about all the places you could go and sample food if you wanted.  Even when I shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s there’s usually something to taste and nibble.  In fact sometimes my kids want to go back repeatedly.

Many that I spoke to about the challenge had stories about college or struggling days on their own away from home.  Remembering back, you had a certain amount of money and knew how to budget to feed yourself.  It often meant lots of baked potatoes, spaghetti, PB&J and boxed macaroni and cheese.  And let’s be honest you had to factor in beer.  One friend joked that the beer would be a name brand favorite at the beginning of the month and then get more generic and watery by the end of the month.

So dinner tonight was a kid favorite – breakfast for dinner.  I still had 6 eggs so why not?  If you remember I was just under $99, then I went to the store and bought the fish and tortillas, putting me at about $106.  Well I decided to buy (from my own pantry) a can of pureed pumpkin for $2.29 to make my kid’s favorite pu,pkin pancake recipe.  Getting everything out I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make the usual pumpkin pancake recipe as I needed to use 4 eggs.  Luckily I had created a recipe for a mom who wanted to give her son (who was allergic to eggs) pancakes  and out it my book, The Petit Appetit Cookbook.  Aha!  I will add the pumpkin to get the veggie factor in and please my kids, to the “no yolking around pancakes” recipe. (see my new recipe below).   I made a double batch which makes quite a few.  Left-overs will be welcome as a lunchbox snack or a quick re-heat for breakfast. 

While these are rib stickers I also wanted to make eggs.  Thinking of TopChef, I made eggs two ways.  One way was over easy, my son’s favorite.  While the other was a simple omelet with cheese (one thing I still have plenty of), my daughter’s fav.  A typical breakfast for dinner night would also have turkey bacon, but not tonight.  That’s was o.k.  We were all so tired from the day’s activities, no one missed it. 

Pumpkin “No Yolking Around Pancakes”

 Makes about 15 (5-inch) pancakes

 2 cup organic wheat flour

2 tablespoon organic cane sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups organic milk

1 tablespoon expeller pressed canola oil

1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree 

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and oil. 

Add milk mixture to flour mixture all at once.  Stir with a rubber spatula until just blended.  If batter is too thick, thin with milk.

Heat a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Lightly grease skillet with cooking spray or melted butter. 

For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle or skillet.  Cook until bubbles form on top of pancakes and bottoms are golden and set.  Flip with spatula and brown other sides until golden.   Warm finished pancakes in a 300 F oven, while continuing to use batter to make more batches.



Drink Up for the Challenge

So what we were drinking during the challenge?…lots of things.  Most of what I drank was water.  Although I did factor in two bottles of Tejava iced tea.  This was mainly for my husband, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it too.  I don’t reglarly drink coffee (sometimes a decaf drip or cappucino).  However I do have a glass of unsweetened iced tea per day (either fresh brewed or Tejava).  I woke up with a headache a few days into the challenge.  My mid-day I think I missed the caffeine and had a glass of iced tea.  Abracadabra!  I felt better.

My kids drank their usual – milk, water, juice (1/3 juice mixed with water) and splashes.  What’s a splash?  It’s simply a way of getting more flavor from water, but lots less juice.  This is a good money saver (and sugar saver), which works well anytime and especially during the challenge.  I even put it in my book, but there’s really no recipe required.  Simply add a splash of juice to water.  We had orange juice this week, but would also usually have cranbery or pomagranate.  We also do this with bubble water.  Makes a refreshing drink (and good non-alcoholic drink) for all ages during the holidays, etc.  Along the same lines of adding flavor to water is what I call “hints”.  This is simply squeezing a citrus slice into water.  Kids love to do this.  This week we used some lemon and lime slices.

There were two other drinks we made this week with the ingredients on hand – smoothies (see previous post) and a watermelon juice.  This simply means place fresh watermelon (remember we had a whole one) in the blender.  You can even add some bubble water (not this week) for a special watermelon spritzer.  Super refreshing.


Fish Taco Night!

tacos 008
my son's fish taco creation

I did it.  I went to the store and thankfully I was able to buy some fish.  At Whole Foods, there was a sale on Dover Sole for $5.99 a pound.  This is a thin fish, so 4 fillets came in at about 2/3 of a pound or $3.29.  I had to rethink my idea of stir fry and the chinese noodles.  I just can’t do noodles again.  So I factored in the cabbage, cheese (I still have cheddar), black beans, and onion and came up with fish tacos.  I was missing tortillas, but figured I had enough cushion (remember I only spent $95 and change) and bought those for $2.99.

This meal was a real treat after the heavy dinners I had been making.  And it looks like a lot, since there’s many dishes of individual things (shredded cheese, cabbage, diced onion, beans).  Tacos are always so great because everyone can make their own choices and participate.  Without holding back some of my budget, I wouldn’t have been able to alter my meal plan.  I was worried if I went into the store another day during the week, I would buy too many other items.  I did buy a few more, but told myself and kids we couldn’t eat them until next week.  I realize that through this challenge I need to go to the store less often.  Out of sight out of mind.  Instead of waiting until we run out of something or we only have 2 kinds of cereal (and not the usual 4 or 5), I go out and rebuy, along with other things. 

Tonight I even got creative with a bit of dessert and made sugar-cinnamon tortilla crisps.  So easy and the kids love them.  Simply cut desired shapes in tortilla with a cookie cutter.  Don’t toss the scraps (those make tasty/funny crisps too).  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and brush with melted butter.  Sprinkle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon (we keep some handy in a shaker) and bake in a 375 oven for about 8 minutes (turning half-way through) until browned and crisp.

sweet tortilla crisps
photo before baking

I also used more of the watermelon and feta for my salad again.  And there was the rest of the broccoli which I roasted in the oven with olive oil and rosemary salt.

Let’s get to one of my addictions…rosemary salt.  This perks up everything – roasted veggies, potatoes, meats, dressings, etc.  We get it at the farmer’s market or order it online at Eatwell Farms.  I realize that while I only use a bit at each meal, this would be a cash layout of $8 for a jar.  Kind of a luxury given the hunger challenge.  You’d have to give up something one week to have this (althugh for a while).  For me it would be worth it.  Even if you couldn’t do the rosemary salt, a sea salt is so much better and smoother than traditional Morton salts, and not so salty.  A big shaker is worth the extra money, say $3.50 vs. $1.00(?) for Morton.


Snack Time

So I’ve got kids and like to graze, so this means snacks.  Snacks sometime get a bad reputation.  There’s the thought that a snack is something big on carbs and suagr, low on nutrition and processed out of a bag.  Not at our house.  I like to think of snacks as mini meals with various textures (a little creamy, a little crunchy).  They could even be left-overs.  I think it should have some carbs but also some protein to sustain energy and not give a sugar rush (which will leave you hungrier and unsatisfied).  I factored in snacks when making my hunger challenge food list.  Both for packing for my son’s lunch, when we’re on-the-go and eating at home. 


Here’s are some favorites:

pita with cheese (pita could be toasted or not)

pita with hummus (pita could be cut or not, or baked in the oven for “chips”)

organic carrot sticks and edamame with hummus

organic apple alices with sunflower butter (we like nutspreads too, but not duing the challenge) – above

smoothies – any combo of yogurt, and fresh and frozen fruit (see yesterday’s below)

fruit with yogurt dip – a simple dip of plain yogurt and lemon and squeeze of honey, syrup or agave is good with fruit.

slice of cheese and trail mix – we usually create our own trail mix from raisins, cereal, seeds and nuts (though too expensive this week to buy all thins individually)

organic apple sauce and fig bar

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

You can make just about any smoothie with some fruit and yogurt and either milk or juice.  I like to have bananas in the freezer waiting and ready (or just think ahead an hour or two).  This makes the smoothie creamy and thick and there’s no need for ice, which can be a choking hazard for little ones.

makes 2 cups

1 frozen banana

4 strawberries (about 1/3 cup), tops removed

2/3 cup organic milk

1/3 cup plain organic yogurt (can freeze too for thicker texture)

Blend all together in a blender.  Adjust thickness and consistency with milk. 

kids drinkingsmoothie


Should I Feel Full?

I find I do better throughout the day with smaller meals spread out.  Especially because with my kids in school and increased activities, I’m out and about more.  This means eating part of a lunch now (1/2 sandwich) and then the other half later (other 1/2, or soup, or veggies and dip).   This works well for the challenge too, because I don’t let myself get too hungry.  However for some reason at dinner I’ve been feeling very full.  Is it because I’m making heartier meals for dinner to make sure everyone is full?  Or is it because the one dish meal is just heavier?  Or is it that I’m really not eating enough during the day and then am overdoing at night?  I guess it’s all of the above. 

Last night’s pizza was good.  Simple wheat pizza dough (Trader Joe’s) with tomato sauce, shredded cheese and fresh basil (from the garden) with a side of roasted broccoli.  However it came on the heels of pasta the night before.  Also being that there is left-overs of both, there’s more heavy lunch items for me to eat (not wanting to waste).  Tonight I planned for Trader Joe’s bean and barley mix.  The funny thing was my son had been asking to make this before the challenge, and I hadn’t.  He’s not a big soup guy, but liked the colors and look of the variety of beans (black eyed peas, kidney, cannellini, pinto, lima).  Being that the price was under $3, and made over 6 cups I thought it would be good.  It took some planning to soak the beans overnight and then cook 1 hour.  I added some canned tomato sauce and broth and sauteed some onion and garlic and 2 of the left-over sausages (all free pantry items) and salt and pepper.  After I soaked the beans I realized my husband would be out of town and not around to eat.  So much for planning.  More for me…this is both good and bad. 

beans and barley

The kids finished the broccoli from the night before (I only cooked half to reserve the rest for a stir fry) along with the last of the pizza and some beans.  I had raw carrots and tomatoes (garden) and the beans (like a chili or stew, really).  While it was pretty good.  Again tonight, I just feel heavy.

leftover pizza

Last night I watched Top Chef (as always) and longed for the light sea scallops and salmon.  I realized I should’ve cut back on my list (why did I do three cheeses?) and factored in some fish.  I did go under budget on my shopping, so I may just have to check out the store for some budget friendly (but eco friendly) fish and see if we can do a lighter meal tomorrow night.


What’s for Breakfast?

Unlike some bloggers thru this challenge I haven’t discussed each and every meal.  Many are similiar, such as breakfast.  Here’s the breakdown:

Me – oatmeal with sliced fruit (loving the pantry “free” strawberries).  I simply cook old fashioned oats with milk and add sliced fruit a sprinkling of granola for texture and a dash of cinnamon.  This is hearty and keeps me full through morning.  I should note this is my usual and preferred breakfast, with or without a challenge.  (In fact I priced it all out when I took the challenge last year and it’s a clear winner under $1). However on Monday I didn’t even have breakfast.  This was not due to the hunger challenge, but the challenge of getting my new kindergartner to school on time.


my oatmeal
my oatmeal

Kids – some variation of plain yogurt sweetened fruit spread or just a dash of cinnamon and brown sugar, and maybe a sprinkle of granola.  Sometimes a toasted crumpet as well or instead.  Sometimes (usually my daughter) also likes cut fruit too (nectarine, apple, strawberries or combo)

Husband – bowl of cereal (usually up to 4 kinds, prechallenge) with milk if time permits midweek.  Maybe a banana.


The Challenge Continues…Last Night’s Dinner

Aside from my son’s comment “Only two things?” when he came to dinner table, I think the hunger challenge meal was a success.  My kids are used to variety – more than one low sugar cereal, more than one bread type (pita, mini bagel, sandwich, lavosh),  more than one “butter” (peanut, almond, sunflower, pumpkin), etc.   At dinner as well there are usually, my son pointed out, and least three things.  They have many choices and are lucky.  This is certainly a luxury for many, and I tell them.

Tonight was a use of the last of the roasted veggies from the potluck sandwich, with penne noodles, goat cheese (again from the sandwich ingredients) and 3 of the 5 chicken apple sausages.  Because of my son’s disappointment of only 2 things.  I split one sauage for he and his sister.  Sometimes I serve my kids meal deconstructed – same ingredients but not all added together, thus the sausage alone from the pasta.

The other item at the table was a watermelon salad.  This is my new favorite, after having on a few restaurant menus recently.  So I was very excited to see the free watermelon on the pantry list.  It’s also a great use of the fresh mint in our garden.  My kids really enjoy this.  It’s very surprising how the ingredients work together and really quite refreshing.

I was pleased with dinner.  It was easy to make and I did it ahead of time and had it in the refrigerator for when my family got home hungry from soccer practice at 6:30 p.m.

Here’s the recipes and photos:

Veggie Sausage Pasta Salad 

4 cups cooked penne noodles

1 cup chopped roasted veggies (eggplant, peppers, squash)

2 chicken apple sausages cut into chunks

about 2 Tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup torn basil leaves


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablesppon balsamic vinegar

1 teablespoon red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

This all went together and tossed in a big bowl.

Watermelon Salad

about 3 cups watermelon, cut into chunks

about 1 cup cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 – 3 Tablespoons nuts (I picked these out of the trail mix)

about 3 Tablespoons fresh mint, chiffonade


about 2 teaspoons olive oil

about 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Combine watermelon and  cucumber.  Sprinkle nuts, cheese and mint.  Drizzle with dressing.



Risk it or Toss it? Lunchbox Challenge

Today I packed my kids’ lunch (pretty much the same items as yesterday).  They’re on an egg kick – which fits well with the hunger challenge as an inexpensive protein.  My son likes hard boiled and my daughter likes egg salad, so I can easily satisfy both for a healthy lunch.  Plus I was able to boil the eggs ahead, Sunday night and be prepared to pack quickly in the morning.


The lunchbox is pictured above.  It contains:

egg salad salad in 1/2 pita (hard boiled egg for son)

edamame and carrots

half a banana

apple sauce

For my son I had to pack a snack as well – a fig bar and cheese.  Luckily my daughter’s preschool supplies her with a morning snack.  We’re doing o.k. for the challenge as far as lunches for them, I think.  I hope I have something left by Friday to pack.

It was a really hot day and when I picked my son up from school at 1:30 he said he wanted to eat his lunch at home and didn’t eat much because “I wasn’t hungry, just hot.  And they don’t give me enough time to eat”.  My son is a slow eater and so we’ll have to figure that out.  As I unpacked his lunch at home, I realized I forgot to put the ice pack in my son’s lunch.  Oops!  Not sure how that happened but anything is possible as we’re trying to get into a kindergarten routine. 

I realize that if I throw the egg away, I am not only wasting precious food but cutting into my reserve for another lunch or snack.  Being that my son’s safety comes first, I toss the egg.  Poor food safety and an honest mistake happens all the time, but it may seem like a luxury to some to throw it away.  Other’s may say “It’s fine.  Just eat it.” and may have been, but I don’t want to take the risk.

For my lunch I had the final piece of the left-over veggie sandwich from Sunday dinner and a few edamame.  I would like something more, but will wait until I am truly hungry.

Daughter’s lunchDaughter's lunch

Got Food? The Hunger Challenge

From Lisa Barnes

I participated in last year’s Hunger Challenge led by the San Francisco Food Bank.  I didn’t realize how many were effected overall and especially in San Francisco.  We know what an expensive place this is to live, but there is the assumption that those living here are doing well.  Not so, as 1 in 4 San Francisco children lack regular access to food they need to learn, grow, & have a healthy start in life and  60% of the clients served by The San Francisco Food Bank are working families.  This year when asked to participate I’ve learned the numbers of those served is even higher and over 34 million people in the U.S. received food stamps in April 2009, up about 20% over April 2008.

While the numbers have increased, thankfully so has the amount given to food stamp recipients.  Last year the average family living on food stamps has just $1 per person to spend on each meal (example my family of four would have $4 total per meal).  So the challenge was to try spending just $3 per day on food (per person in your household).  This year the amount has been increased to $4 per day, or about $1.33 per meal.  Thus $4 x 7 = $28 per person for the week.  Thus a family of four would get $4 x 28 = $112.  This increase is good for my own family’s challenge since my family’s appetite and food bills have increased as my children get older (now ages 3 and 6).  There’s no factor for age.  I can imagine this is quite a bit harder for a family with a few teenagers.  Unfortunately the increase is due to a stimulus bill that is only temporary (through December 2010).

Keep reading at Lisa’s new blog