Food Stamps and Potlucks

sandwichSo my very first dayof the hunger challenge I am faced with a dilemma, that I did not deal with last year, and that’s social dining and guests.  Just because you’re on a limited budget and using food stamps, this doesn’t mean you don’t want to connect with family, friends and community.  Perhaps eating in a communal setting actually helps feed more and gives more variety too.  But how do you create meals that can be expanded to feed more on the same $4 a day?

You’ll note I added some large loaves of bread, veggies and goat cheese to my list.  I was to bring a main lunch item to a family gathering and I made my Big Veggie Sandwich from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry, with a few adjustments.  I used japanese eggplant instead of mushrooms and doubled the recipe for two sandwiches.  In looking at the recipe I just realized I omitted the artichoke hearts on my shopping list, since they were already onhand.  I’ll add another $3 to my bill.  (Good thing I added some cushion).  I even have a few left-over veggies that I cooked, but didn’t add to the sandwiches (I’ll use them later in pasta). The two sandwiches cost about $22 to make total (more than 1 1/2 days of total food bill).  This also made me realize that shopping and planning is crucial.  And why doing the challenge determining grocerieis rather than individual pricing of meals makes more sense, and is like we all shop and plan.  We don’t buy $4 of ingredients per day.  If I hadn’t factored in the event and it had been toward the end of the week, I may not have budgeted for enough food.  Thus I can see another issue of not having enough food and finance – and that’s feeling isolation.

The really good thing is that while the sandwiches were a hit, and there was so much food (which usually happens at a potluck) that I took home an entire sandwich.  This meant we had a few bites for dinner (we were still a bit full from the lunch) and ate it again tonight with a can of minestrone soup.  There’s even one square left which I plan to eat for my lunch tomorrow.  Each sandwich (about $11) is a hearty 8 adult servings, but with sides at the original luncheon it was certainly stretched to 16 servings.  So about .70 per serving.

Here’s the recipe…

Makes 8 (2-inch-wide) servings, or 16 (squares) 


1 (1-pound) ciabatta or pugliese loaf, about 14 × 7 inches

1 organic red bell pepper

1 zucchini

1 summer squash

1 portobello mushroom

3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1 (14-ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, chopped

4 ounces goat cheese (rBGH free)


Preheat oven to 440 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray a 12 × 9-inch glass baking dish with oil. Slice vegetables lengthwise into ¼- to 1/3-inch-thick slices and layer in prepared dish.

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the oil, the vinegar, and thyme. Brush vegetables with oil mixture. Bake for 25 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Remove from oven and set aside. Leave oven on.

Cut the bread lengthwise down the center so you have a top and bottom. Lay pieces, cut sides up, on prepared baking sheet. Spread the artichoke hearts on bottom half and goat cheese on the top half. Drizzle artichokes with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until warm.

Layer vegetable slices on bread over artichokes and top with remaining bread, goat cheese side down. Press sandwich together and weigh top of sandwich with a baking dish or heavy plate. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.


Packing Tip. If taking these for travel, be sure to wrap tightly and place toothpicks in each section to hold together. Remove picks before serving.


The Hunger Challenge Grocery List

grocery bag
grocery bag

Before I even started thinking, shopping and planning (but forgot to amend in my previous blog), I revised my rule number one and cancelled my CSA box for the week.  With all the extra produce coming free from the “pantry”, I decided the $44 could be used elsewhere – like more of my necessary staples and kid favorites.  More cereal, usual lunch box items and my husband’s favorite iced tea.  Also while I love getting the produce box, part of the fun is the surprise.  My kids and I open the box with great anticipation, as we unpack, wash and put away.  While we’re looking it over, I’m trying to determine what I’ll make and how to cook some of the items.  The box luckily comes with some yummy recipes too.  However  this week, I didn’t need the added and last minute surprises – I needed more of a strict plan.

 I must say the list isn’t too bad.  Although some of the variety is missing.  My son and husband’s cereal cocktail of 4 or 5 types, will be limited to 2.  There also is a lack of animal proteins – fish, chicken, meat.  I must say this won’t be too bad for a week, especially since my sister was just visiting and is approaching a vegan diet.

So here’s my list, with a thought about what I’ll do with it.  I went under budget so I could shop again if I ran out of something such as eggs or fruit and wanted to build in cost of small ingredient amounts such as butter, oil, vinegar, soy, salt, pepper.  Remember I created this list at home (using past receipts, since many of these items I already had onhand.  This was also easier to buy just the few items on my list (I didn’t already have) and not take my kids.  Because we always tend to buy more when we’re hungry and seeing everything looking so yummy in the market.  I avoided the emotional please of “Mommy can we buy these huge mushrooms?” or “Mom let’s buy a whole chicken!”

Pantry Items – SF Food Bank

Granola Bars – free – good for on-the-go or son’s snack for school

Chicken Apple Sausage – free – add to pasta and/or bean dish

Chinese Pasta – free – perhaps chinese long life noodles or put with veggie stir fry

Black Beans – free – good in veggie salad or as a side 

Watermelon – free – alone and for a salad

Strawberries – free – snack, good breakfast and lunchbox item

Nectarines – free – snack, breakfast and lunchbox

Carrots – free – snack, lunchbox in stir fry

Garlic – free – perk up main dishes

Onions – free – stir fry and added spice to bean dish

Potatoes – free – serve with beans or with sausages and cabbage

Cabbage – free – with stiry fry or above beans and sausage


Garden – my home

Cherry tomatoes – free – snack, lunchbox

Mint – free – perk up fruit

Basil – free – for pasta and pizza


Purchased at Trader Joe’s and Farmer’s Market

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread 3.99 – toast, sandwiches

Milk (gallon) 4.29 – drink and cereal

Eggs (12) 3.99 – hard boiled, egg salad, scrambled

Cheese Cheddar 3.99 – pizza, cut in lunchbox, grilled cheese, on noodles

Cheese Feta 1.69 – salad, pasta

Mini Wheat Pita (8) 2.29 – lunchbox, bake for chips

Crumpets (6) 1.69 – breakfast

Cereal (Hemp granola and Mighty Bites) 3.39 x 2 = 6.78 – husband and son breakfast

Yogurt – large 32 oz. 2.49 – cereal, snack, to make smoothies

Penne noodles  1.19 – main dish hot pasta or cold salad, left-over in lunchbox

Dry Beans and Barley Mix 2.69 – main meal with sausage

Bananas 4 x .19 = .76 – breakfast, snack or lunchbox

Apples 4 x .59 = 2.36 – snack with sunflower butter, sliced for lunchbox, baked for chips

Lemon .50 – kick to plain water, seasoning

Lime .50 – ”

Orange Juice 3.39 –

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough 1.29 – pizza, breadsticks

Veggie Broth 2.29 – stir fry, bean soup/stew dish

Oatmeal 2.29 – breakfast, made cookies or muffins

Hummus 2.19 – spread on pita or dip for veggies, lunchbox

Frozen edamame 1.69 – lunchbox, snack, side

Sunflower Butter 4.69 – spread on crumpet, pita, apple, sandwich with fruit butter

Apple sauce (6 cup individual) 3.29 – on the go snack or lunchbox

Fruit Spread 1.99 – on crumpet, toast, sandwich, flavor plain yogurt

Fig Bars (12) 3.99 – lunchbox, snack

Trail Mix  3.99 – snack, salad

Tomato starter sauce 1.29 – pizza, pasta

French/Olive Loaves (1 lb) 2 x 3.99 – potluck sandwiches

Goat cheese – $3.99 – potluck sandwiches, pasta, salad

Broccoli (bunch) 2.29 – stir fry, steamed for lunchbox or with hummus

Firm Tofu 1.29 – stir fry or baked for tofu fries

Minestrone Soup 2.69 – dinnerside, lunch

Heirloom Tomatoes (6)  $4 farmer’s market – gazpacho, pasta, salad

Summer squash (3) ,zucchini (5), bell peppers (3), japanese eggplant (2) -$8. Farmer’s market – potluck sandwiches, pasta, with hummus and pita

Tejava Ice Tea 1.19 x 2 = 2.38

Total $96.82

extra for butter, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper


Got Food? The Hunger Challenge

hunger logo
hunger logo

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).

Another benefit of this year’s challenge is factoring in foods that someone would have access if going to the SF Food Bank.  This was a big improvement.  Not having to factor in some fresh items such as potatoes, strawberries and melons, plus adding a few staples such as beans and pasta goes a long ways when you’re using such a limited budget.  However in looking at the pantry list, I’m sure some items do not appeal to everyone.  I think those in need can’t be picky, however I’m surprised to learn from my friend Adrienne at Leah’s Pantry (a non-profit educating people living in transitional housing about nutrition and shopping choices) that some recipients do not take some items offered by the pantries because they are unfamiliar with the food (bok choy, even cabbage) or it does not fit in their culture (such as Chinese pasta).  However I’m also thinking of those people on food stamps who have health issues and are elderly.  Having some processed items such as sausages (high sodium and possible nitrites) and chai tea latte (possible high fructose corn syrup and additives) is going to make someone with diabetes or high blood pressure feel worse, not better.

Here are the guidelines I set up for myself and family for the challenge.  Those with a * are new items that make the challenge different from my rules for last year (good be good or bad – we’ll see):

  1. Buy food how and where I would normally shop.  I frequent Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and farmer’s markets.  I will buy most items from Trader Joe’s because of price, as I did last year.  *However this year I need to factor in my bi-weekly produce box, which happens to come this week.  Every other week I receive a CSA box from Capay Farms.  This is $44.  Thus I will reduce my $112 by $44, for a total of $68, since my box will arrive on Tues. during the challenge.
  2. *Use some of the free pantry items provided by the SF Food Bank, that I would normally buy. 
  3. *Use items from my garden.  Last year I didn’t have a garden, but this year the kids and I have been working hard to grow herbs and veggies.  While we don’t have as much as we had a month or two ago (no more peas and beans).  We will enjoy our free and very tasty cherry tomatoes.  I’ll also appreciate the fresh mint and basil to add some flavor to some of our dishes.
  4. Stick to my usual values and food philosophy of fresh, whole foods when possible.  Buying organic for the dirty dozen.  Thus I’m not going to buy a conventional apple just because it is cheaper and sacrifice health and pesticide exposure.  If it doesn’t fit the budget I will make another choice.  Also I’m not just going to buy a $1 on-sale chicken pot pie because it will satisfy hunger (but little else).  Although I do understand how someone could make that convenient choice.
  5. Buy usual items my family enjoys and I feel good about feeding them. 
  6. *Create a menu and list of groceries based on past grocery receipts.  (The benefit of keeping receipts is knowing the cost of foods, my family’s usual staples, and creating my plan and menu before shopping)  Some items I already have and a few I will buy.  I will use these items only.  This will keep me from having to determine the cost of each ingredient for each meal (I did that last challenge and it was painstaking).
  7. The challenge was accepted by me, not my family.  Thus you’ll see in my day’s food journal below I went over (as noted) budget when my children asked for more.  I didn’t think it fair for them to go hungry (but explained the challenge and wanted them to appreciate what they have).
  8. My husband will participate in breakfast and dinner, but not lunch.  Again it was my decision, and he has lunch meetings that were out of my control.  Going to an office with a limited budget means brown bagging the same lunch as my kids’ or heading unfortunately to fast food.  Quickly you realize how someone with few means goes there because their hunger will be satisfied for $1.  Unfortunately cheap food and convenience rules over nutrition and health.

While I’m behind on my posts, I did start the challenge yesterday.  I am hungry, but the real challenge so far was setting up the blog…so stay tuned to what I’ve been eating and recipes I’m working on.

Want to learn more about the challenge and read other bloggers recipes and experiences?  Go to  Also learn how you can help make sure Tyson Chicken donates 100,000 pounds of free chicken to the Food Bank.  All it takes is a quick tweet or a blog.