The rules to the Hunger Challenge do allow you to use things that you have on hand already. I am using spices, sugar, and oil that I already have on hand, and after checking prices of spice blends, etc. I am deducting 30 cents each time I cook with spices or oil. But, you can also use food that you already have on hand, which I may do a little bit.
I have a whole vegan lasagna with good quality ingredients sliced in individual portions in my freezer for instance. I did price it out, even with the higher quality ingredients, and it comes out to 92 cents a slice. Inexpensive when you break it down, but I think even if I had a monthly food budget of $132 it would still make me a little nervous to allocate $12 to making a whole lasagna. The difficulty would be, which week do you buy what? You couldn't buy all of the ingredients in one week, I couldn't even figure out how to buy 2 ingredients for a fresh salad for this week, but with some planning and time you would be able to adjust your budget and shopping habits.
This challenge has definitely shown me how difficult trying to be economical with shopping is another barrier to a person on food stamps. I mean, you can buy huge quantities of things at a cheaper price at Costco to save money! But a person on food stamps can't afford the membership for Costco. You can save money by going to different stores that have different specials for the week, but who has the bus fare, the time, or the gasoline to get to all of those different stores?
I am trying not to use too much of what I have on hand, like coffee for instance, because the taste and quality of food stamps food is much different. And boy, am I already noticing some of the differences. The instant coffee that I am using (Nescafe) is actually pretty good, better than Starbucks coffee! But I don't care for Starbucks.
I do notice the extra sugar and salt added to things like pasta sauce and oatmeal. You can buy cheaper oatmeal with 16 grams of sugar, or spend a little more for some that has just 4 grams of sugar. Or buy plain, which would be the healthiest thing to do! By last night,however, I was growing tired of the lack of fresh foods and the higher sugar and salt in cheaper, processed foods.
On day 2 I had a bit of a stressful day. My routine was thrown off visiting a friend at the hospital, which also delayed my dinner or making dinner. I did munch on free saltine crackers and free coffee in the hospital waiting room, but felt pretty weak by the time I ate dinner at 9:30 p.m. Luckily I had pasta leftovers and zucchini leftovers from the night before so I didn't have to spend time making rice, and beans, both things that take a bit of time to make.
Coworkers and friends are all being very supportive. When you don't eat with others, go to lunch, or you are eating a simple meal, people start to notice. Plus, I've been telling people that I work with and friends about the Hunger Challenge. Most feel bad for me and bring me food or offer to make me a meal! But the reality is that if I was on food stamps, most of my friends and coworkers would be too, so they likely wouldn't have much to give. I likely wouldn't have the job that I have, and would be more likely to be working a minimum wage job, if I had a job at all.
Day 2 I spent $4.72 (really $4.22 but I had to account for pretzels, two mini-candy bars and a mini-cupcake that was at a work meeting - in which my coworkers shouted "there's food for you, for free!")
Oatmeal, coffee, sugar & banana $0.81
PB&J and apple $1.23
"free" pretzels, candy & mini-cupcake $0.50
Whole wheat pasta with spinach & sauce, spices/oil, side of zucchini, baby carrots $1.88
$4.72 per day