I know what it is to be hungry. I was fortunate never to go hungry as a child, but as an adult as I struggled to learn to feed myself and later my young family, there were many days when I was hungry. I remember the days when I was a single woman living with my roommate who was still in college. My employer was late on payroll. My roommate came home from class and she had not eaten at all that day. Her blood sugar was low and she looked extremely ill. I went into the kitchen and could not find anything to eat. I’d been learning to make potato soup about that time, but we were out of potatoes. We had flour, though, so I boiled water and thickened the water with flour. I added salt and pepper as if it had the potatoes in it, and then I served the disaster to my roommate. Do not EVER try that recipe, by the way. It does NOT work. She looked at the pitiful offering that I’d come up with and laughed after trying to eat it. It did snap her out of her stupor, however, and before long she’d taken me into the kitchen. The cupboard was bare, but we managed to make a decent flat bread from flour and oil and we had some ketchup to put on it. We pretended it was pizza. I changed jobs a few days later.
When I saw this article/video by CBS on Hunger in the US I was inclined to be sympathetic. I looked at those children talking about hiding their hunger at school or just going to sleep to avoid thinking about food, and my heart went out to them. And then came the line that made me crazy: you can’t feed a family of 4 in the US for $100/week. I stopped and quickly reviewed my food budget — sure enough, yes, I’m feeding a family of 5 for $100/week. Do I occasionally have oopses and over-runs? Yes. But then our budget isn’t as tight as it once was. In fact, this blessed $100/week is a relief and a splurge from the days when I fed a family of 4 on $50/week. But then costs are higher these days.
I decided I must be missing something and called a few friends. Yes, they also could feed a family of 4 for about $100/week or less, but as one woman said, "that takes skill and training. Maybe the women in that video don’t have that training." Considering she was one of the women who had trained me to survive, I took her comment very seriously. She remembers the shock of finding out that a young American woman can grow up with absolutely no sense of what to do in a kitchen. There’s a reason my children learn to cook at an early age — I don’t want them trying to eat flour soup!
The women in that video seem to be mostly low-income, but I’ve done some research over the past few days and I’m hearing stories of people struggling who’ve been living on $70,000/year incomes or even higher. As I’ve thought about my experiences cooking over the years, I realized that I’ve heard this same struggle before from people who have not learned some basic cooking tricks to lower the budget. In our world of pancakes in a canister and other high-priced convenience foods, it is no wonder families are starving.
Let’s get real and do the math. $100/week — that breaks down to just over $14/day. We’re feeding our theoretical 4 person family 3 meals plus snacks. The meals may not be creative for this example, but I’ll do better on the site once we get going. Our family can start the day with sourdough pancakes. I’ve seen numbers ranging around 28 cents/batch back in 1985 so let’s assume they’re around 50 cents now. Maybe we double the batch to make sure everyone starts the day out well-fed, so let’s say that’s $1. (I like sourdough pancakes. Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon would cost about the same as would 1 egg for each person.) The next major meal is lunch. We’ll be boring and go with Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. Cost for 4 is around $1.20. The last major meal of the day will be dinner. I’m going to recommend potato-leek soup and chocolate cake for desert. Using this chart for a rough price estimate, our family will spend about $9.75 on dinner. Total for the 3 meals is $12. That leaves $2 for snacks. Milk and apple slices, raisins or carrot sticks would be a good way to use that $2. Now, there are ways to cut that budget even further. The amount for dinner is high — if you look at the site I used for the calculations, you’ll see right away that these were not "budget" recipes. Also, all portions I’ve used to calculate this day’s meal plan were adult sized portions. As a family starts creating these meal plans, the average dinner will make 6 servings. The remaining 2 servings will do well for lunch the following day. This sample menu has problems on many levels. It is high in carbohydrates and low in protein, for one. While it does include some vegetables and fruit, it probably doesn’t include enough, but I was setting this up for a family just starting to cut costs. As the family learns to budget, they’ll most likely start adding things like home-made yogurt, more fruits, whole grain products and much more into their diet. My point is that in the meantime, this family does not have to be hungry.
Since I started my food site, www.home-cooked-meals.com, I’ve received emails from all over the world looking for ideas. It is time to pass on what I’ve learned. If we pool our knowledge, experience and creativity to help struggling families, many children can be helped. I know there are many other people out there with family recipes to help get by. I created the site thinking of my extra kids, my recently widowed father-in-law, and many other folks that I know and love who are struggling to put healthy meals on the table each day. Now I need other folks to join in with me and help out. This is something practical we can all do to fight hunger. It may not do anything on a global scale, won’t help the people who have nothing, but we can do a lot to help these folks with their $100/week budgets. And who knows? Maybe if enough people with larger budgets learn to cut their budgets down to $100/week, maybe folks can save up that extra money and send it to those who don’t have the luxury of such a large food budget.
I should mention that much of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Rhonda Barfield’s Books. If you want to study the art of eating cheap, she is a great teacher!