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They tried eating on $25 a week

Challenge participants learn that it's not easy -- or nutritious.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 8:00PM

The $25 Challenge is over in Illinois, and we're sure the participants are thrilled about that. They agreed to spend no more than $25 on food for a week -- that's about $3.50 a day -- and blog about what they learned during the experience.


It was a real eye-opener for most. When you have so little money for food, you realize that "there is food all around you, all the time, but you can't eat it," wrote Frank Finnegan, who was planning yet another dinner of ham and beans. He added, "Forget nutrition. When shopping, the only thing that matters is price."


He makes a number of good points. It is difficult -- but not impossible -- to buy fresh vegetables and fruit when you're working with a tiny food budget. And you'd better make sure you can stomach repetition in your diet. You quickly learn that when you're buying and cooking in bulk to stretch limited dollars, food becomes a means to get necessary calories rather than a delicious treat.

Unlike some others in the challenge, Chris Strupp didn't take advantage of free food when it was available. It's a choice he likely regrets. On Day Four he wrote, "I have lost a lot of concentration and patience due to the challenge. I have become extremely agitated for no decent reason."


The food budget for the challenge wasn't selected randomly. The $25 a week is about what the average food stamp recipient is expected to survive on in Illinois. Many who took the challenge wrote eloquently about the deprivation they felt.


A poster named Becky accepted the challenge on behalf of her family of four and found that $100 was doable, but just barely. In a post called "We are out of milk," she said, "As the week has progressed, I feel an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt for not providing for my family. I cannot help but to think of the families who face this every week."


The challenge was organized by the Illinois Food Bank Association, which notes at its Web site, "Illinois has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of working families who are turning to food banks and pantries to make ends meet."


Published Oct. 6, 2008

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