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Final Thoughts on #SurviveOn35

by Meghann on July 25, 2012

Last week Anytime Fitness kicked-off the #SurviveOn35 challenge with the question “Could you survive on a grocery budget of $35 a week?”

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Ten FitFluential bloggers accepted the challenge (myself included) with the guidelines that we had $35 to spend per person, per household, to create healthy meals for the week, and we couldn’t utilize any items from our pantry (spices and oils were ok). We would all be competing for a chance to win a $1,000 donation to a food shelf of our choice. The winners would be selected based on healthiness, taste, creativity, and community interaction.

I started the #SurviveOn35 challenge with $70 and a simple meal plan.

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Here’s how I did.

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$70 (for 2 people!)

21 healthy meals

7 days

Done!

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It took me an hour to create my meal plan and grocery list. Planning 21 meals (+snacks) for 2 people was a challenge just in itself. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not typically a meal planner and I bow down to those who are. Families with kids and picky eaters? You are my heros.

My goal for the week was to keep it simple. Short ingredient meals with lots of fruit and vegetables that were easy to prep. I also went the vegetarian route for most meals, replacing meat with budget-friendly simple proteins such as legumes or eggs.

All of my budget went towards the main meals, meaning there wasn’t much added “junk” or snacks – no money for it. For snacks, I had to get creative, trading in my usual granola bars or pricey handfuls of nuts with simple mini quesadillas, leftover fruit or vegetables, or variations of oats. Oats seemed to be one of the most versatile ingredients I purchased. There also were no desserts. I was able to appease my nightly sweet tooth with granola or fruit, while Derek stuck with granola and milk.

Because of the limited amount of food, I was in constant fear that we would run out. There were times I found myself grabbing simple items such as eggs, bread, or certain vegetables for meals, only putting them back when I remembered those items were needed for meals later in the week. Last night’s final meal was supposed to be a frittata, but the 18 eggs I had purchased were gone before that meal came up in the rotation. It was eye opening to realize how much I take for granted the ability to use what ever I want, knowing we can easily go to the store to grab more.

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You can probably tell from the meals listed that Derek is not a big eater. He usually leaves for work at 8:30 and has coffee at the office. Sometimes he’ll have breakfast before he leaves, but usually doesn’t (this is typical, not just for the challenge). For lunch, he packs two sandwiches (again, typical for any week, not just the challenge) or he’ll have leftovers. He gets home around 6:30ish on most nights, and by then I’ve usually started dinner. He’ll eat what-ever I make, then typically has a bowl of cereal before bed. The only difference for the challenge was I made him portion out his bowl of cereal to make the granola last, otherwise the box would have been gone in three days.

Also, his portions are typically larger than mine, which isn’t always stated in the numbers above. All of the price-per-portion numbers are very rough.

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I had a few comments asking whether this challenge has had any impact on my weight. Since I don’t weigh myself regularly, I honestly do not know. This was probably my “cleanest” week of eats in a long time – and I use the term “cleanest” loosely, as in not a lot of junk, desserts, or dining out, not saying it was all clean, un-processed food.

I did feel my energy levels dip, especially during workouts. The “mini quesadilla” I made before my swim workout on Wednesday night was not enough fuel to get me through the workout. I was complaining of hunger before the swim started and ended up cutting my workout short so I could go home and make dinner. I also found myself eating my lunches earlier (like yesterday), because my breakfast didn’t have enough sticking power to keep me full. I’m not sure what I could have done this challenge if I was training for a major event. Fueling for workouts is tricky, especially when you take nut butters away.

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This challenge was an experiment, and just like any experiment, you can learn and grow from them. I learned that I didn’t buy enough protein. I should have bought a bag of beans in bulk and had larger portions of it through my meals. I learned that I can live without dessert, though I do miss it. I learned that Derek and I rely on eating out way more than I thought we did. I learned I’ve taken for granted my haphazardly way of grocery shopping. Food has always been plentiful in this house, a fact I didn’t appreciate as much as I do now.

I also learned that it is possible to eat healthy on a budget, though it does take extra effort and time – luxuries I know not everyone has.

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The idea behind the #SurviveOn35 challenge developed from Anytime Fitness‘ co-founders’ joint experience on the show, Secret Millionaire. When they appeared on the show last year, they were each handed $35 for food for the week based on an average of what most individuals receive on government assistance (obviously that amount varies all over the country). Their goal was to continue creating healthy – albeit simple – meals through the week with the limited funds. During the show they realized it was indeed a challenge, but not an impossible one.

Once the #Surviveon35 challenge was born, the intentions behind it were noble. Challenge bloggers to create healthy meals on a food stamp budget, and in the end two would win a $1000 donation to a food shelf of their choice. While Anytime Fitness was hoping to simply show that healthy meals are doable on a tight budget, I’m not sure they realized it would do something so much bigger – start a conversation.

If you haven’t already – check out the comments in my kick-off post. Lots of interesting things be said there.

You guys were right. I’m lucky to have the things that I do and there is no escaping those privileges. I live in a great area of town where, no matter which turn you make out of my neighborhood, you are bound to run into a grocery store within two miles. I also have a car full of gas that will take me where I want to be, and a very flexible job that allows me the opportunity to grocery shop whenever I need to.

Even if I give myself a “food stamp” budget, I can’t generalize that it’s the same thing as living off of food stamps. It’s not, and I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ve never had to rely on government assistance for food, and hope  I never do. If you want to check out a #SurviveOn35 challenger that has had to rely on government assistance in the past, check out Mama Dweeb’s post, it puts a few things in perspective.

And while I can sit here and say it is possible to eat healthy on a limited budget, I also have the education and knowledge to do so. I have years of experience of cooking with healthy foods and know how to prep and store them, as well as flavor them to make combos work. I can eat healthy on a budget because I already know how.

The hard truth is that one in seven Americans are on food stamps(source) and if we want them to thrive on the healthy foods out there, we need to give them the tools they need to do so.

That’s why I love that Anytime Fitness has partnered with Cooking Matters, an organization which teaches low-income families how to prepare healthy, affordable meals.

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I might not have the knowledge or resources to understand what it’s really like to cook on a food stamp budget, but these people do. This organization is set-up to teach low-income families how to work healthy meals into their busy schedules, and that’s a cause I can get behind.

I’ve already donated the $50 Derek and I saved this week by not going out to eat. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Click here to learn more how you can help.

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