Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hunger Pains and Shopping for the Hunger Challenge 2009

First a confession -- while I'm developing recipes and menus for the week-long Hunger Challenge, I'm not really following it for a consecutive week. Business, personal, professional and travel commitments made that unwieldy. What I am doing is following the food "budget" of $4 a day whenever I can, including today. Under the guidelines from the San Francisco Food Bank, the Hunger Challenge's sponsor, that is allowed.

In the morning I was out running an errand and I was dreadfully thirsty. I forgot to fill my reusable water bottle. I couldn't spare a dollar for a bottle of water, that literally would have taken food out of my mouth. After work, I decided to run out and price ingredients for my menu and shop for some of them at the Grocery Outlet. I shopped until after 8 p.m. and I was starving. There were tempting taco trucks and a southern bbq wagon right by the store but after I priced what I could eat on the remaining budget for the day, I took a pass. I barely said hi to my husband after I returned home before I wolfed down my dinner portion. I was so hungry that it really affected my ability to make decisions in the store and drive home. For me it was a very dramatic and unfamiliar example of what it is to be hungry and try to function at a job or educational environment.

A word about the Grocery Outlet. If you are unfamiliar with this chain, I urge you to check it out. There are real values among popular national brands as well as unfamiliar store brands, near-expiration date refrigerated products and failed-to-sell frozen foods. The chain also carries fresh dairy, fruits, meats and vegetables. You do have to know your prices a bit on some stuff, but most foods are good deals. The store I shopped had everything from organic canned tomatoes and other canned and packaged "health" foods to 10 pound bags of poatoes for $2.54, Be careful though there were also such things as "jumbo" bowls of ramen noodles with almost half of a day's sodium in a single serving. Check out the store's website for "bargainista" tips and locations.

One caveat: You need to be flexible. The only vinegar I saw this trip was balsamic and while it was a deal it wasn't part of my food planning or budget. I wanted to buy one head of garlic, the store only had larger packages. I was revising my menu on the spot or making decisions to make another stop and shop elsewhere to stay with the plan. I was particularly impressed with some of the fresh fruit and vegetable prices. I can work much more of that into this year's challenge than last. (Of course have $1 more a day per person makes a big difference, too.) Bargain food shopping is work, you can't just pick what's appealing or easy. Keeping in mind nutrition and developing recipes that don't take all day to cook have to be considered, too.

Watch for future shopping installments about ethnic markets, 99 cent and dollar stores, and farmer's markets.

Dinner tonight was baked chicken thighs on a bed of tomatoes and potatoes. Recipe to come.

To read more about my participation in this year's Hunger Challenge, click here, including links to the participants and more. For links to last year's recipes, shopping lists, etc., click here.

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