Day 5: A family takes the Food Stamp Challenge

Annie and Dan Wilson, co-chairs of the United Way of King County campaign, tackle feeding their family of six on food stamp allotments. On Day 5: Lessons learned.
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Dan Wilson shopping for rice during the Food Stamp Challenge.

Annie and Dan Wilson, co-chairs of the United Way of King County campaign, tackle feeding their family of six on food stamp allotments. On Day 5: Lessons learned.

Friday, March 29th: It is our last day taking the Food Stamp Challenge. It’s amazing how much this experience has raised our awareness and changed perceptions about food on many levels. It’s been a difficult week and, while I know that the whole family is excited for me to go on our ‘normal’ grocery shopping trip tomorrow, there are several things we will all take from this going forward. 

One thing that became very clear through our experience participating in Hunger Action Week was how much less food we've thrown away this week than usual. Today for example, the kids are all bringing leftovers to school for lunch and using up the last of everything. We will be paying attention in the coming weeks to how much food we are wasting. It’s shocking to look at how much food is wasted in this country, especially when we know that there are so many people who don’t have enough to eat.

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Last night, we talked again about what a relief it was to have the egg casserole from mom (I’ll put the recipe at the bottom of this post) and how important it was to us, both for the extra food and for the thought behind it. Quinn mentioned that he felt the same when his friend gave him that piece of pizza earlier in the week. We all decided that preparing a meal for a person or family we know who may be going through a hard time or struggling with illness could be a really powerful gesture and something that we will definitely do.

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We also decided that we are going to volunteer and donate as a family to a local food bank or community garden. The kids are very invested in this issue after this week. They think getting to know people who work in this field or talking with people who are struggling with food insecurity will bring more understanding and empathy towards the problem in our community.

Although it was tight, we were able to feed our family and house guest on the $35 per day ($175 per week) allotment for the 7 of us. It makes us realize we need to be more intentional with our shopping lists and conscious of how much we are spending. Most of all, we are committed to using what we buy.

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We are grateful that United Way of King County is helping to raise awareness around the issue of hunger in our community. Not only is United Way passionate about helping struggling families put food on the table, they are also helping people and entire communities gain access to healthy food. These efforts and the work of thousands of volunteers, donors and staff will, over the long term, help our community become healthier, stronger and hopefully end hunger in King County. 

Thanks to all of you for reading these posts and for helping to raise awareness about hunger in our communities. This has been a very rewarding experience.  – Dan and Annie

Nancy’s Breakfast Soufflé  

(Make the night before)

Butter 8” X 13” baking pan.

  • 8 slices of bread – crust removed butter 1 side, cube and line bottom of pan
  • 8 oz.  shredded swiss cheese
  • 8 oz.  mild or sharp shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 pkg. Oscar Mayer precooked bacon cut into bites (our kids love bacon)

Mix bread cubes, cheese and bacon in baking pan.

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups of milk
  • 1 t. dried mustard
  • ½ t. pepper
  • 1 t. salt

Combine eggs, milk, dried mustard, pepper and salt and beat in a bowl until foamy. Pour egg mixture over cheese, bread and bacon in baking pan very slowly. Cover with wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, bake uncovered at 325 for 45-60 minutes.

Thursday, March 28th: So — the kids are kind of in the routine of Hunger Action Week now. I made pancakes for breakfast today from the HUGE package of mix we were able to buy at the beginning of the week. That brought smiles for sure and it really felt good to be able to say, “Yes, there’s plenty more left!” That’s not something I’ve been able to say much lately. 

We are all out of chips and the other snack items that tend to be some of the most expensive things in our shopping cart each week. So, I made popcorn today for the kids’ lunches. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve made popcorn in the morning before!  Yesterday I was able to purchase turkey with some of our remaining budget, so the kids had sandwiches today to go with their popcorn and their bananas.

Speaking of which, I  have found bananas to be very reasonable and so have continued to stock up on them whenever I go to the grocery store. They are proving a great source of vitamins and a good way to fill the stomach! I don’t think everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about the constant supply of bananas however. Dan made a joke that "Hunger Action Week is driving us Bananas"! Ha!  But, we only have $10.00 left — and we are out of peanut butter, so the bananas will remain on the menu.

Come to think of it, I probably will get some more peanut butter today because there isn’t enough turkey for everyone’s lunches tomorrow.   Wasn’t it Elvis that loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches?  

Tonight will be leftovers for dinner from all our previous meals this week. Tomorrow night, I just don’t know. It may be nothing more than cheese and crackers!

It really has been interesting to see the kids ration food. They think about what they are bringing to school... and what will be left when they get home. They have commented that, as different as it is, if you are careful and really think about it, you can have decent nutrition and even feel somewhat satisfied. However, what I notice, as a mom, is how much work and effort it takes. I am fortunate to be able to drive myself to the grocery store, I have access to fresh produce and I have enough time to plan and cook a fresh meal.  

We are taking the Food Stamp Challenge for just ONE WEEK and I am tired. I’m certain that if we relied on this budget week in and week out, I would gravitate to things that were cheaper, easier, and more filling. I understand more clearly now how important it is to have community gatherings to reinforce and help provide fresh food and healthy eating. I’m so grateful to know that there are community gardens providing fresh produce in ways that are quick and easy for people to access. These same gardens that are run by groups like Seattle Tilth are also teaching people how to cook and serve the produce.  

At times, this seems overwhelming to me and yet it is really so simple. I think if we really had a food revolution and changed the way we think about and access food we could . . . WE WILL eliminate hunger in our community.  I hope that, from this experience, my kids will have a passion for fighting hunger. No one should be hungry in our community and part of that is providing food, but a bigger part is providing the right kinds of food.    

A couple of readers of this blog (Thank you for reading! This is the first time I’ve done anything like this!) have asked that I share some of the recipes Dan and I have talked about.     

The protein bars are actually a recipe from our family friends and Dan’s former teammate from the Mariners, Rich and Michele Amaral.  

Michele’s Protein Bars

  • 4 cups oats
  • 5 scoops of protein powder
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of almond butter or peanut butter
  • (we also add chocolate chips)

Just mix all the ingredients together, press into a 13x9 inch pan and refrigerate!

I’ve asked my Mom to send the recipe for her egg casserole and will post it up as soon as I get it.

One day to go!

- Annie

Wednesday, March 27th:  It’s Wednesday morning and the fridge is looking very empty. We have $65 remaining and have had many discussions about how we can best use these dollars. I am going to the grocery store today and the kids all agreed I should shop where I could get the most for our money. They even suggested sacrificing quality for quantity. 

We had chili last night for dinner and had a discussion about hunger issues and Abe was very invested.  All the kids agreed that community gardens were a great way to bolster people’s food supply and an effective way to help food banks increase their supply of fresh veggies. They were all curious if people who receive food stamps are also allowed to go to food banks. It was a good opportunity to explain a little about the food banking system.  We definitely want to visit one at the end of the week and make a donation.  

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Sophie using the last of the cheese.

I actually went to the grocery store yesterday just to get an onion and bananas (which I have just now realized are a great buy to stretch our dwindling budget!) and I realized that part of what makes the chili I am making for dinner so good is the fresh cilantro. I debated about whether I should really spend the $2 on cilantro when really it would taste just fine without it.  In the end, I decided to splurge and go for it.

I then thought that since I was there I should grab some turkey since we are completely out for lunches. I knew I could not get the expensive deli turkey that we usually buy so I started looking at other options. It was shocking how cheap some of them were, but I realized how much was compromised in order to get it to that price.

It became so clear to me that people who are on food stamps or a tight budget are often forced to make unhealthy choices for their family in order to stay on budget. As a mom that is really frustrating. That is something I am passionate about seeing change. As a result I ended up not buying the turkey and even put back the cilantro. I went with chips and cheese for our chili instead. The total cost of the stop was $13.  I walked out feeling stressed that I had spent more than I originally intended. This is really eye-opening. 

I hesitated while typing this, because some of it makes me sound like I am clueless to the struggles of those on food stamps. That isn’t the case; however, I think it puts things in an entirely new perspective when you are living it in a way that affects your family. I’m beginning to understand and to feel just a shred of the pain other mothers must feel in making some of these choices in their daily lives. It is heartbreaking.  

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The last thought for now was that I came home from running errands yesterday hungry (because I really wanted to stop at Menchies even though I knew that also was not in the budget) so I went to grab some of the peanuts we had left in the pantry.  

However, I stopped myself because I knew the kids would come home from school hungry — and what a good, healthy, full of protein, and filling snack that would be for them. So, again, I realized what moms must go through and the sacrifices constantly made in order to provide for their families.

Taking the hunger challenge has made me see how important it is for all of us to stand up against hunger in our community. One way to do that is to volunteer to help find out who is hungry through the food security survey. Sign up if you’d like to help stand up to hunger this Saturday.

More tomorrow,


Tuesday, March 26th: Well, it's day two of the Food Stamp Challenge and we successfully fed everyone breakfast and got the kids off to school. It’s remarkable the changes already visible in our house after just one day of  Hunger Action Week.

The kids in general were much more hungry than usual when they sat down for dinner last night. I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with the fact that, in preparation for this week, we boxed up and put away all of the snacks in the house, and our $35 a day food budget doesn’t leave much room for snacks. Especially when you’re shopping for 7! One benefit of this is that everyone was much less picky about the menu for dinner than usual. We had rice and teriyaki chicken. We bought a LOT…of rice.

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Abe with the teriyaki from last night's dinner.

This morning we ate more of the egg casserole that Annie’s mom made for us. It’s been a huge hit, especially as we’re noticing how quickly things are disappearing from our first shopping run, which was supposed to get us all the way to Wednesday.

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Josie eats egg casserole for breakfast.

The kids made their own lunches this morning and they used up the rest of the vegetables, meat and sandwich toppings. We’re having fun and saving $ by making food from scratch this week. The home-made protein bars were a huge hit, but like everything else, almost gone. Eli even commented on how much he’s appreciating leftovers, but that even those are depleting quickly!

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Eli cutting the last of our homemade protein bars.

A final thought as I look across at the at the egg casserole. Quinn, our house guest, was hanging out after school yesterday and some guys from his grade offered him a piece of pizza. He remarked on how big it was and that someone was willing to share with him. As you can imagine, he was hungry! Offers from friends and family have much more significance this week.

I think we all will have a greater appreciation of the hunger issues that so many people in our community face on a daily basis. Hunger and people affected by hunger has been a focus of our family’s conversation at meal time this week. We feel it's a valuable conversation to have with our kids. Here are some questions to spark conversations around hunger at your table too.

More soon!  - Dan

Monday, March 25th: As campaign co-chairs for United Way of King County, Dan and I have seen many caring people and organizations come together over the past year to build a stronger community. We’ve been so impressed with how much people here in King County give back and it has given us the motivation to get out there every day and make this the best United Way campaign ever. So when United Way asked if we’d participate in Hunger Action Week by taking the Food Stamp Challenge we jumped in with both feet. We are joining more than 3,000 others who will live on a food budget of $7 per day per person, the maximum food stamp benefit. We’ve got four great kids and a house guest this week so our daily food budget is $35. 

I must say in the days leading up to this challenge, my confidence started to wane a little bit. For example, when our youngest son Abe came in last week and asked me if I’d make him a sandwich, I suddenly noticed for seemingly the first time, just how much the deli sliced turkey I’ve been buying for years actually cost per pound. Or when on Friday I grabbed a few things at Trader Joe’s to get us through the weekend before we had to scale back: Just bread, strawberries, oatmeal, a premade salad, trail mix and some peanut butter was $50! Way over my daily allotment.

Throughout this week, Dan, I and the kids will be writing, talking and taking pictures about our experience, the challenges and how we’re doing. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot, and excited to share this experience with everyone reading these blog entries. Thanks for reading!

Dan and I went to the grocery store together yesterday afternoon. We decided that we would spend 1/2 of our week’s allotment at this stop and then hopefully that would last until about Wednesday.

I have to admit it was kind of fun comparing prices and realizing we could actually get a lot more for less of some things if we bought a bigger quantity. We know we will be eating a lot of rice, so we bought a very large bag of that! We also were surprised and happy to find we could afford some fresh broccoli and apples!

One of our biggest realizations was how HUGE it is to have family or friends that care and are a support. My mom brought over a big egg casserole for the week. This was such a relief because we realized it would provide a couple days of breakfast. It made me want to do the same for someone who was on a tight budget. Our kids are totally invested and a little bit nervous. I am hoping we can end the week by bringing a donation as a family to the food bank.



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