baked oats green chile chicken enchiladas chow mein bakery-style butter cookies

copyright jennifer yu © 2004-2023 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

funny how hunger changes things

NaBloWriMo day #13.

Eat on $30 day 3.

Don’t forget about the (2) $25 Macy’s gift card giveaway. You have until this Friday to enter. Even if you don’t shop Macy’s, you can always give the card to someone who does.

NaBloWriMo has me on a manic posting schedule, but this week in particular is the intersection of so many things at once. Add to that, the Daring Cooks reveal tomorrow! Oy. So let’s cover what we have eaten and will eat for this, Day 3 of the Eat on $30 challenge. Then I’ll share a few more thoughts with you.


For breakfast this morning, I had 3/8 cup plain oatmeal with a pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon.

Jeremy had 5/8 cup plain oatmeal with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and some milk stirred in. He also had a soy sauce egg and 12 ounces of non-fat milk.


I had 3 ounces of chicken left after the enchiladas (so apparently, I used 5 ounces instead of 6 on the enchiladas last night) which I didn’t want to spoil in the refrigerator. So I chopped the chicken up and realized that I had forgotten to leave myself one stalk of celery for the chicken salad. I had used it up for another dish (to be shared in a few days). Doh! Chicken salad is always better with something green and crunchy. I grabbed a few of the leftover broccoli florets from the first night and diced them into the bowl.

making chicken salad sandwich

When planning the meals, I needed a couple more lunches for Jeremy to take to work, so I knew I was going to reserve some chicken for the salad. And even though the man says he doesn’t like white condiments, mayonnaise is what makes a chicken salad stay in the bread and not fall into your lap. I only needed a little bit, but wasn’t able to afford a tiny jar of the stuff. So while shopping, I grabbed two packets of free mayonnaise from the pre-made food section of Safeway (I’ve been known to do this with all manner of condiments when we go backpacking). A little salt and pepper, and his bagel chicken salad sandwich was ready to go with enough left for a second sandwich tomorrow.

hopefully enough calories to help jeremy unlock the secrets of the universe

My lunch was a bowl of beef stew with a cup of cooked rice, and a soy sauce egg.


Dinner is going to be some manner of leftovers. Maybe Chinese noodle soup again or perhaps the beef stew? All I can tell you is that for the past two days, I get peckish around 8 or 9 pm and I gladly devour that little gala apple which placates me for all of ten minutes and then I crave sweets. I’m a little worried because we are not going to have enough apples to last us the week. We have no sweets on our menu this week except for the dessert we are taking to a party on Saturday. I don’t normally crave sweets, but lately…

I’m guessing it’s because we aren’t eating any snacks and we don’t have nearly as much fruit in the house as we usually do. Let me tell you, my pantry is STOCKED. I have enough food in our house to last us a few months – or more! And what I’m realizing about myself is that the container of prunes which I passed over for the past several months are now looking like the best, tastiest, most tempting treat in the world – especially because they are off limits. Everything has taken on a magical appeal. It’s like beer goggles! So clearly, eating on $30 for the week is starting to take its toll. I think that is in part because we are rationing our food from the get go so we don’t leave ourselves high and dry come Friday.

I say we. Jeremy is such a good sport. He never agreed to this, I just informed him, “Hey, I’m doing this eat on $30 challenge, and now so are you.” But he’s been helpful and we’ve had some great discussions on the socio-economic factors that contribute to the state of the hungry in this country. A reader asked how Jeremy was faring without his coffee. He’s a little frazzled around the edges, but he’s none the worse for wear… so far :)

Just a few more thoughts:

1) My savings from my Safeway Club Card (free, aside from letting them track your every purchase for the marketing hacks) was: $10.69 and from Target (just a price reduction) was: $1.25 = $11.94

2) I didn’t use any coupons. I used to use coupons when I got out of college and found that I wound up purchasing complete junk because I had a coupon for said junk. Over the years the intersection of the foods I buy and the foods that have coupons has steadily decreased. On occasion there are coupons for good deals, but I only use them if we wanted the item in the first place.

3) Many of my cohorts in the Eat on $30 challenge have stated that they hate math which made figuring their budgets even more of a task. I like math. Math is your friend. I’ve taken more math than I really care to recall (math and I cooled our relationship after tensor analysis). I stand in the aisles of stores and determine per unit costs in my head – something my mom taught me (she’s a human calculator). What I noticed is that stores do not often try very hard to HELP YOU FIND THE BEST DEAL. Seriously. The big bright red sign that says, “Buy these on sale!” sometimes fools the non-calculating into purchasing the more expensive package than the non-sale larger (or smaller!) quantity of the same product right next to it on the shelf. And even if they have the per unit cost displayed, I love how they sometimes mix up the units which inevitably discourages some folks from calculating which is the better deal. So what percentage of people on food assistance do you think have strong basic math skills? I don’t know the answer, but it’s one more thing to ponder.

4) Several commenters have noted that one key advantage I and other food bloggers have over most folks is that we know how to cook. I agree 100%. Cooking allows me to utilize nearly every ounce of every ingredient I purchased for this week. It is a life-skill that is getting edged out by convenience and pre-packaged food pumped full of preservatives and additives. These days fewer and fewer people cook and that costs them, not just financially, but health-wise too. And if you are poor and don’t know how to cook, I can’t imagine it is possible to feed yourself well (i.e. with healthy food) AND within such a small budget.

That’s all I got. See you tomorrow!

27 nibbles at “funny how hunger changes things”

  1. Sara says:

    I’ve been following bloggers do this $30/week thing from it’s onset and it’s starting to get interesting (i.e. the cravings you mentioned).

    Another interesting point about grocery stores and not looking out for the people who need discounts is that studies show that often, the poorer a neighborhood is, the harder it is to access grocery stores. In poorer neighborhoods there are often only convenience stores like 7-11, so people’s dinner ends up being things that have ridiculous shelf-lives and are jam-packed with preservatives. This holds especially true for organic grocery stores. Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (which I’m presently boycotting because of their stupid CEO) are even farther from low-income communities because obviously they cater to those who can afford to pay $5 for a dozen eggs or whatever. Anyways, just another interesting thing to think about.

    I think this project is great and I really commend all of you taking part (especially Jeremy because sacrificing your coffee can be really scary!), I’d definitely like to try this out sometime.

    Good luck for the rest of the week!

  2. Margie says:

    Trying to stick to a budget when grocery shopping can be a REAL challenge. Years ago, early in our marriage, hubby and I were very limited, financially. It never occurred to me to use a food coupon, instead, I spent my time working towards all things crockpot related. Buying cheaper cuts of meat and learning how to be creative with dried beans, rice, and even a jar of peanut butter, saved the day.

    Your journey is a reminder of simplier times, bittersweet, yet so special and rewarding. And I agree, coupons do not necessarily translate into multiple savings, unless one is willing to steer farther away from their relationship with whole foods.

    Kudos, again, to you and the gang, J!

  3. Tartelette says:

    Yay for day 3!! Anyone who has been on a diet (and my mom put me on 3K before age 18) can agree that the hardest days are around 3 and 4. Any habit changing decision gets harder around those days too. You guys are doing great! I am cheering you on! And I promise not to talk butter past 8pm :)

  4. peabody says:

    Math is your friend!

  5. Bridget says:

    I was wondering how Jeremy felt about this. My husband has no problem eating cheaply, but he takes his non-water drinks very seriously – he probably drinks $30 per week just in coffee and beer (he isn’t a heavy drinker, he just doesn’t have cheap tastes), not to mention the tea and mineral water.

    Sadly, I think knowing how to cook helps you eat more healthy on the cheap, but if you don’t mind eating processed crap, you could probably eat for less. Healthy food often costs more.

  6. Mrs ErgΓΌl says:

    Jeremy is such a good sport! I can only imagine how other hubbies would be whining away!

    I believe that desperate times call for desperate measures. (I hope) in times of poverty, people would be pushed to get the best out of their situation. They might eat simple food but more often than not it is made from real ingredients as that can be more cost effective if cooking for a bigger family.

    I have totally abstained from instant noodles or cup noodles ever since I got married. Never had a pack or cup of that in my pantry. We try to cut down on processed food to the best of our ability and buy a pack of hotdogs probably just once or twice a year. Having said that, my hubby still has an occasional craving for corned beef and we usually have a can or two of tuna for emergencies. That is about it.

  7. Hailey says:

    Such good points! I agree that, I too, am suddenly quite taken by random things in the pantry – baker’s chocolate? Yuck. The other thing that keeps creeping in is COFFEE. I seriously need to let that one go. Also, without a doubt, the fact that we have the skills to throw together breakfast/lunch/dinner out of a mishmash of leftovers is a blessing. Had I attempted this challenge ten years ago, my cart would have been full of ramen noodles and frozen pizzas. Jen, I’ve been a fan of your blog for so long, and now I feel like you’re my friend :) Yay! Tell Jeremy to be strong!

  8. maybelles mom says:

    After posting yesterday, i got the math mojo back and I am feeling good about this budget thing. And, like you I didn’t budget for sweets–after all dinner seemed more important at the time. But now i am really craving them. Also, like everyone said, brilliance on the mayo packets.

  9. Dani says:

    I commend you and Jeremy, and all of the others who are in the Eat on $30 challenge, for bringing the spotlight to the issues of poverty and hunger. Things that you really can’t factor in when participating in a project like this are the worry, stress, and exhaustion that people who have no other choice are dealing with. Many times the hopelessness and helplessness overwhelm a person to the point that he/she can barely function, let alone calculate costs, and meal plan for the week, and cook from scratch three times a day. And/or the person is working 2 or 3 jobs, or riding the bus 2 or 3 hours a day to get to work, or taking care of six kids under age 6 and barely has time to sleep. Food is probably actually enjoyed by a minority of the world. Too many are just trying to get enough to survive. And then there are the “luxury” non-food items which food stamps do not cover at all such as toilet paper, disposable diapers (because they don’t have a washer and dryer), tampons or sanitary napkins, bath soap, dish soap, toothpaste, deoderant, shampoo, etc., etc., etc. All I know is that I take all of the good fortune in my life entirely too much for granted. Thank you for challenging us to really think about these issues. And hopefully to commit to helping others.

  10. Cate says:

    I totally agree with the points you brought up – especially coupons (almost always for total junk that’s more expensive, even with the coupon, than the store brand or a healthier alternative), math (which I’m too lazy to do in the store most of the time), and cooking. I’m sure the fact that you’re not juggling 3 jobs and feeding multiple children makes this easier than it would be for other people.
    This is so eye-opening in terms of making me see all the things I take for granted!

  11. TheWoman says:

    I’m so with you on nr 4.

    What people don’t get though, is that it’s not an unattainable advantage, but rather a skill which ANYONE can learn. Granted, your creations might not be Nigella-worthy, but it will be tasty, nutritious and good value for money. I get so annoyed when people think that it’s cheaper to buy prepackaged convenience (read: super unhealthy) foods, but then they forget to factor in the per serving cost and also the longterm health cost.

    Sure, it might be a bit more expensive to cook something from scratch, but you’re probably getting quite a few servings out of that big pot you cooked up and you’ll be needing less medications to keep you on track too.

    That’s my 2c for what it’s worth.

  12. farmerpam says:

    I think over the years we’ve been duped by advertising from billion dollar corporations to believe that the “food” they sell in little boxes is how to eat. I worry that skills, known and used by past generations, are getting lost. It kind of annoys me to see food labeled “artisanal”. to me that just means it’s something rich people can afford. I’ve noticed that really bad stuff is cheap, really cheap! 5 bucks for three cases of soda? (Don’t even get me started on high fructose corn syrup.) How do people know about these new boxed items. I wonder? Advertising. How many people sit in front of a TV and become a captive audience for these corporations? I’m hoping the tide is turning and everything we can do to make people more aware is a help.

  13. LizzieBee says:

    Keep going Jenn! You’d doing SUCH a fantastic job! I am really enjoying reading how everything is going. I bet those prunes are looking gggreat :) I find the hardest thing about not having anything in the house, or being very restricted in what you can buy, IS that you crave sweets after dinner. Even if it’s just an apple, but if you don’t have the apple, you feel like the world is ending. We have a drawer of chocolate now, and a 100gm bar can last us a week, especially since we’ll have like 3 pieces a night and that’s it. Because it became an unable-to-buy-commodity, we really learned how to make it last. Which was really hard for me, since I love my chocolate.

  14. L. says:

    Sara makes a good point. Although we live in the biggest city in the area… that’s not very big. Downtown there is one true grocery store. It is a food co-op that offers a lot of organic options; the city helped start the business. Great for people like me who can pay a little extra for such things, but their prices are only middling for the items that someone on a limited budget would buy. So a lot of poorer folks do shopping at a Rite-Aid nearby. As you might guess, while Rite-Aid has a cooler section, they’re not so much with the fresh produce. If they want to get to a supermarket with more affordable prices, they need a car, or to take the bus.

    Selfishly, I admit, I’m glad the city funded a co-op that carries a varied selection heavy on local and organic options, instead of yet another giant chain supermarket. I don’t know how to sort all that out, either.

    In addition to the time investment required for cooking from scratch, and the need for the cooking skills themselves, there’s also the equipment. I save time with a good sharp knife, a food processor, and a pressure cooker, among other things. But of course there we are again with the significant up-front expenses.

    Michael Pollan recently wrote an interesting piece, inspired by Julie & Julia, about the decline of cooking skills in America. More about the middle and upper-middle classes, though.

  15. Tawnia says:

    I really love that so many are doing this challenge–and kudos to you all. I work with poverty and hunger issues everyday, working with clients to help them stretch the dollars they have and referring them to food pantries when they just can’t make it. I love that you bring attention to the coupon issue–this has long been a peave of mine.
    It really goes beyond hunger; food insecurity is the worry of not having enough food or being able to purchase more before the next payday. Not knowing how one will feed their children is devastating and very stressful.
    I love the updates!!

  16. jimmy says:

    Good observation on being able to cook. I thought about this last night. As I was trying to be creative, leave little waste, and cook a wide variety of foods, I realized that the amount of effort involved was probably too high for most busy people, not to mention the food experience some of the dishes require. Not that I’m an expert, but I just can’t see a lot of people spending 3 hours in the kitchen on a Tuesday.

  17. Fiona says:

    This is such an interesting project. Your anxiety about the end of the week echoes common problems people face on this kind of budget. Lots of people on disability and other forms of assistance run out of food towards the end of the month, and just have to wait until there’s something in the bank account. So if there’s any glitch – they’re in serious trouble.

    As for coupons, they’re mostly useless to me, too. But recently our Mieijer (sp?) started popping out $1 off coupons for produce and even a $1 coupon for anything (“your next visit”). Those are great, and I do use them.

  18. farmerpam says:

    Just read the article that L (are you from Burlington, VT by any chance?) recommended and that is exactly what I mean! We need to demystify the process of cooking and empower folks to realize there are no secrets involved! Great article, thanks for sharing.

  19. Carolyn Parker says:

    I’m riveted to this series and know that it will be helpful somehow, somewhere . . . for those who especially need the info, from bureaucrats (sp?) to the poor. Are any of the $30 a week contributors vegetarian?

  20. Sarah says:

    My mother and father (who were refugees) raised 8 kids on a blue collar salary without government aid. As an adult, I’ve grown to fully appreciate how my mom fed us by growing a large garden, keeping an eye out on deals, and cooking everything from scratch (I never had a tv dinner until I was 21!). She is always proud of the fact that although her kids didn’t have many “things” they never went hungry. I agree that cooking is a life skill and am proud that my mom has passed said skills along to me.

  21. barbara says:

    The supermarkets in New Zealand and Australia have unit pricing on the shelf labels. From memory I think it is broken down to cents per 100grams. The printing is quite small. If I don’t have my glasses I also work it out in my head.

    Your pho looks superb Jen. I plan on making it at some point.

  22. Collette says:

    I’m following your progress this week with great interest. It’s been the topic of discussions at our house so anytime you can start a conversation, it’s a good thing.

    I was thinking about what Sara said about supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods. Every week while taking my son to OT, I drive by 2 supermarkets about 4 blocks apart. They’re both about the same size but one is markedly cleaner and brighter than the other. And, according to the prices advertised outside, this store seems to have more produce at better prices than the other grocery. But, the clientele (at both locations) have self-segregated and no one from the “other” neighborhood ventures the 4 blocks to the other grocery store. Not exactly on point but an interesting phenomenon that I notice each week.

  23. Amy says:

    I’ve been really interested reading this series and it really is eye-opening (even for someone who has lived on a budget similar to this). I agree that cooking skills are the key. It changes one’s whole perspective on food.

    I had a conversation this week with a work colleague about eating cheaply – He seemed grossed out when I suggested that a bag of rice could feed my boyfriend and I for weeks. He said he would never eat rice when you could eat for nothing at McDonalds. It was like we were living in two different universes….

  24. cindy says:

    my fiance tells me math is my friend too! ha! he taught me the wonder of calculating price per unit ;)

  25. Karen B says:

    I totally agree with you on coupons – and the only thing worse than grocery store coupons are coupons at Costco! Even bigger quantities of things you didn’t actually need, but they had a coupon!

    Yesterday I bought two small cans of diced tomatoes rather than one large can, because it was far cheaper (and the same brand!) I drive my kids crazy as they wait for me to calculate the per unit cost of things at the grocery store, but it does make such a difference!

  26. Jeanette says:

    Cooking skills in combination with math skills are the key to eating healthy on a budget.

    Some have compared this to being on a diet, and that by day 3 or day 4, it is hard?

    I don’t get that at all. Everything Jen has prepared looks and sounds tasty to me, should be filling too. People have to get their mindset out of fast = good because most of the time it does not.

  27. jenyu says:

    Sara – this is a fascinating (and disturbing) point you bring up. Very true. Thank you!

    Margie – I think the crockpot is a fantastic device for cooking wholesome foods at lower cost (cheap cuts of meat have better flavor and are awesome for slow cooking).

    Bridget – healthy food does cost more, it’s true. Those cheap processed foods will take their toll in the long term :(

    Mrs. E – I actually think when people become desperate, those cheap, convenient and unhealthy options scream the loudest for attention. It’s unfortunate, but when you are hungry and you have no time… what would you do? I’ve been guilty of it as a student when time is short (because of studies) and even with the money available. The problem with food and healthy food is that it requires a little work and some folks may not have the time, the energy, the knowledge.

    Hailey – yes! Things that I couldn’t care less about suddenly become appetizing, because they’re off limits! ;) ha ha.

    Dani – so very very true. Thanks for pointing that out.

    TheWoman – yes, longterm detriment is rarely ever factored in. Heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol… just to name a few. Problem is, when you’re underwater, those details are very distant concerns.

    Farmerpam – Good points. The marketing of junk to young people is rotting a generation from the inside.

    L – yes, equipment can be a large investment that many can’t make. I didn’t realize that some folk don’t have appliances like stoves or refrigerators. Lesson for me!

    Tawnia – stress is a nasty nasty beast. It is true.

    Carolyn – I think one of them might be?

    Collette – but I do think it is relevant. Thanks!

    Amy – indeed! It’s incredible how differently people can view the issue of food and cost.

    Jeanette – I don’t diet so I wouldn’t really know, but I think by day 3 or 4 the body starts to reject the new eating pattern. I know when we backpack, we don’t eat much the first couple of days, and then the body catches up and says, “I’m calorie-starved!” and we start eating A LOT of food on day 3 and it levels out by day 6 to some sort of equilibrium.

leave a reply