Midnight In A Supermarket by Cyril Caton

Could you live on $1.38 per meal? The Food Bank for New York City wants to know if you can do it. From their website:

What is the #FoodBankNYCChallenge?

Attempt to live on a food stamp budget for one week. That’s only $1.38 per meal.

Why now?

Congress cut food stamps twice since 2013 , and soup kitchens and food pantries saw an immediate increase in visitors.  New Yorkers can’t afford any cuts to Food Stamps – learn more about the cuts here. The #FoodBankNYCChallenge raises hunger awareness and deepens your understanding about the struggle to afford food on a food stamp budget.

How do I take the challenge?

Use $29 per person for all your food for 7 days. Share your experience, challenge a friend, and challenge Congress to strengthen food stamps.  For more info, check out our Challenge Toolkit.

Celebrities like Mario Batali have risen to the challenge, but Batali’s pal Gwyneth Paltrow has recently drawn criticism after posting a pic of what many felt were unrealistic purchases in her attempt to stick to the $29 a week budget.

I shared a link to this article from ScaryMommy.com which concluded: “Poverty challenges are tone deaf at best, self-congratulatory and obscene at worst.” The comments from friends on Facebook, many of whom have lived on food stamps and one time or another, agreed. Families who live in “food deserts” (places without close access to markets) could not reasonably subsist on limes and kale and beans, people argued. You have to buy things that last and that are easy to carry on public transport. You need cheap protein and carbs, and food that will keep kids feeling full. You need the most bang for your buck that you can possibly get. Tuna, people said. Macaroni and cheese. Based on these comments, here is what I found at Walmart, which is the closest and most affordable grocery store in my neighborhood.


  • Great Value Powdered Milk, $0.98 – 12 servings (2)
  • Ground beef, 73% lean, 1 lb. – $3.98
  • Great Value Dinner Mix Macaroni & Cheese – $0.58 (5)
  • Precious Part-Skim Mozzarella Stringsters, 12 ct. – $3.44
  • Great Value Creamy Peanut Butter, 18 oz. – $2.18
  • Price First Wheat Bread, 20 oz. – $0.88
  • Great Value Light Tuna Chunk In Water, 5 oz. – $0.78 (2)
  • Price First Real Mayonnaise, 30 fl oz. – $1.94
  • Great Value Long Grain Enriched Rice, 16 oz. – $0.66
  • Campbell’s Pork & Beans, 11 oz. – $0.50 (4)
  • Foster Farms Turkey Franks, 8 ct, 12 oz. – $0.98
  • First Light Large Grade AA, 12 ct. – $2.24
  • Red Washington Apples, 1 lb, approximately 2-3 apples per lb. – $0.97 (2)
  • Bananas, 1 lb. Approximately 2 Bananas per lb. – $0.59 (3)

The purchases, which did not include any sale items, totaled $28.43. I focused on what I thought I could use to provide satisfying meals for my family of four, two of whom are school aged children. Green onions and fresh garlic did not make the cut.

What would be on your list if you had to feed your family on $29 a week?

*UPDATE: In rereading, I see that the challenge is for $29 per person. Which means I would add in chicken, fresh veggies, ramen, Spam (I’m from Hawaii and this is an affordable staple – judge if you like), granola bars, and cereal. Also, coffee. Which I have been sadly lacking this morning, hence the error. Still, it’s a learning experience to see what $29 worth of groceries look like and what is practical in terms of keeping a family fed.


Photo credit: “Midnight In A Supermarket” by Cyril Caton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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