The Real Food Guide

Live Below the Line: Food for the 5-day Challenge



I’m doing the Live Below the Line challenge, where I’ll be feeding myself for $1.75 per day. As I wrote previously, I’m buying food as though feeding my family of 3, giving us a family budget of $26.25 for five days. (While my husband will be participating in a show of solidarity, we’ll be sparing our growing, school-age son from this challenge since we are fortunate enough that this is an experiment and not our reality).

I’m following my own tips for eating healthy on an extreme poverty budget, and between April 29th and May 3rd, I’ll only be eating:

  • 2 lb / 3 chicken legs with back attached (Price: On sale for $1.28/lb, sub-total =$2.56)
  • 11 eggs (Price: On sale for $2.00/dozen, $0.17 per egg, sub-total =$1.87)
  • 1 tin of sardines (Price: On sale for $0.89 a tin)
  • 2.5 cups of cooked rice (Price: On sale for $6.99 for 8kg, about $0.13 per cooked cup, sub-total =$0.33)
  • 1.3 lb / 4 potatoes (Price: $2.99 for 10 lb, about $0.10 each, sub-total = $0.39)
  • 0.6 lb / 2 boiler onions (Price: $4.99 for 10 lb, about $0.15 each, sub-total = $0.30)
  • 1.22 lb / 5 carrots (Price: $1.47 for 3 lb, about $0.12 each, sub-total = $0.60)
  • 1 lb / 1 bunch of spinach (Price: On sale for $0.99 a bunch)
  • 1 bulb of garlic (Price: $0.99 for 5 bulbs, about $0.20 per bulb)
  • 4.5 tbsp butter (Price: On sale for $2.75 for 1 pound (or 2 cups), $0.08 per tbs, sub-total = $0.38)
  • 2 tbsp of distilled apple cider vinegar (Price: $1.89 for 1L, or $0.03 per tbs, sub-total = $0.06)
  • salt (Assume a cost of $0.01 per seasoning, plus the extra 3 cents I have, sub-total = $0.18)
  • tap water, boiled or straight-up: free

Total = $8.75

Coming up with this list was much harder than I thought it would be, since the first time I attempted to budget, I was $5 over. My second attempt still had me $3.42 over budget. Aside from food quality, the main differences between this menu and my typical menu are:

  • quantity: there’s no question that the amount of food is much less than what I normally have available to me for 5 days. I’ve planned meals with the above ingredients, but there are no snacks.
  • lack of fruit:  I normally have a piece or two of fruit per day as snacks, but at 20 or 30 cents for an apple or banana, it’s simply not in the budget to include fruit when I’ve only got 58 cents per meal to work with.
  • meat: the bulk of the meat that my family eats is from the half a grass-fed beef that we bulk-purchased and have in our freezer, and it would definitely be a budget-breaker if included in the challenge.
  • eggs: our usual eggs are from organically-raised, pastured chickens and, although very reasonable in price, they still cost twice the price of ‘on sale’ store-bought eggs.
  • rice and potatoes: I only eat rice occasionally (usually no more than in one meal a week), so including rice and a few potatoes in the menu is atypical, but I thought it would be necessary to help stave off hunger and act as starchy filler (that doesn’t contain gluten).
  • cooking fat: I normally use organic extra-virgin coconut oil, but even the bulk-purchased gallon of coconut oil I have costs twice as much as butter.
  • vinegar: I’ve included a couple of tablespoons of inexpensive apple cider vinegar (ACV), that is less than half the price of the raw, unfiltered, organic ACV I usually use. In a challenge were every penny counts, I had to substitute with lesser quality.

I was feeling rather confident about doing this challenge when I saw all the food I had for the 5 days, until I input the total amount of food I had into Calorie Count: 3705 calories, or 741 calories a day. (While the chicken legs are calculated without bone, I plan on squeezing more nutrients and a few calories out of them by making bone broth, but I can’t imagine it would add that much more).

Real Food Guide – Live Below the Line Challenge

Calorie and some nutrient info of the food on the menu. Ignore the colors, as I’m not sure what they signify.

To put it in perspective, my resting metabolic rate – the energy needed to maintain breathing and organ function in my 5’0″-tall, 118 lb body while at rest – is about 1295 calories. So technically, what I’ll be eating is not enough to fuel me lying down for the day. I’m starting to second guess my food choices, but alas, I’m committed with my groceries!

The challenge officially begins today, so I’ll be posting the first day’s meals tomorrow. What do you think of what I’ve bought for my 5 days? What would you have bought if you were limited to $1.75 a day for food?

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This is the third post in the Live Below the Line series, where I’ll be attempting to feed myself Real Food for $1.75 per day, for five days. You can also support me in the challenge and donate to the cause – I’ll be raising money for Raising the Village. Or, you can donate to my team Bloggers Living Below the Line; make sure to check out our collective blog of our challenge experience.


Vivian is the founder of the Real Food Guide and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) who believes that each individual needs to go on their own Real Food Journey to find what works. While she herself eats a diet of real food (aka a paleo diet), some people may find that they can flourish on a vegetarian diet instead. However, universal to optimal health and well-being is good quality, nutrient-dense, Real Food.

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April 29 |

One thought on “Live Below the Line: Food for the 5-day Challenge

  1. Jess says:

    Having various health ailments in my family, we have been pressured to not eat processed foods. We do not eat processed foods out of choice, we have less than $200 a month for a grocery budget to feed a teenager, a toddler and ourselves. We get WIC and that food goes strictly for the growing toddler, we are just barely over income for any financial aid for food and we have bills like anyone else. We stock up on boxed foods and meat at income tax time and pray it lasts. We have pets as well-while this is a luxury I understand, we acquired them when we had more money. We look for homes for them but are careful about where they go and what happens. I’m young, my doctor doesn’t want me to work at all and I have been adamant the best I can do is work part time. I’m enrolled full time in college to hopefully in 2 years be somewhere near climbing out of this rut. I crave salads and good food-but it’s awful hard to stock up on veggies. I grow my own in the summer but was just able to do that last year for the first time so I’m still learning. In any case we are going to try your 5 day challenge and see how we do. Wish us luck! I’m glad there is more information out there now as many people scoff at what you buy in the grocery store-but you feed what you can afford and what will fill bellies. It’s just the way it is.

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