Below the Line Challenge: The Math of Eating on $1.50 a Day

One of the most oft-repeated phrases that escapes my lips is this: I’m no mathematician. Truly, I am not. I thrived in English Literature classes and writing courses and fancy myself more literature literate than math literate. Add that to the fact that grocery shopping and meal-planning are not things over which I preside in our home and you can see why figuring out this Below the Line challenge is difficult for me. Luckily, I have a great partner in The Cuban and he’s willingly supporting me while still making plans to feed himself this week as well.

Team World Food Program USA
Team World Food Program USA

Actually, since I’m updating this on Tuesday night I can report that while he doesn’t have to do the challenge with me nor has he signed up, he has actually eaten the exact same meals thus far save for an extra late night snack last night of fruit.

The trick, we are finding, is in creating meals and doing the cost per serving. To do that, we started with a list of our groceries with the price of the item and then the cost per serving. In fact, now we are using CPS as shorthand for cents per serving as we talk about food. Honestly, that’s another thing we’ve learned about ourselves through this journey. We are talking about food, about poverty, and about what it must be like for people who do this out of necessity. I know how lucky I am to do this as a choice, but getting conversations going about food politics has been an amazing side effect.

To help people understand what this looks like, I’ve broken it down to show you how it looks.


Tuna (2 meals per can) = 68 cents per can, 34 CPS

Hot dogs are .75 cents for a package = 9 CPS


Fruit bowls in syrup $1.69 for 4 of them comes out to 42 cents We quickly realized this was too expensive so I won’t get to eat fruit this week!


Kidney, black and Great Northern beans are 59 cents a can, come in 3.5 servings = 17 CPS

Pinto beans are $1.19 but there are more servings (7) so it comes out to 17 cents, too

A dozen eggs ends up being 10 CPS

Fresh vegetables are NOT an option this week
Fresh vegetables are NOT an option this week

VEGETABLES (we learned that frozen are far more expensive)

Green beans (or French green beans) in a can provide 3.5 servings at 49 cents which comes out to 14 CPS

Sweet peas in a can are 65 cents with 3.5 servings and comes out to 18.5 CPS

A bag of 11 carrots for 99 cents ends up being 9 cents per carrot

A bag of sweet potatoes for $1.99 ends up with 7 servings for 28 CPS

CARBOHYDRATES $15.84 total

One loaf of whole grain white bread (with no high fructose corn syrup!) was $1.29 With 20 pieces that ends up being 6 CPS

Beef and chicken Ramen comes in a pack of 12 for $2.19 and comes out to 18 CPS

Whole kernel corn – 49 cents divided by 3.5 servings = 14 CPS

Whole potatoes 65 cents, 2.5 servings = 26 CPS (that’s 1/6 of my daily budget)

Elbow macaroni 1.69 divided by 16 servings was 10.5 CPS

Penne rigate was .99 divided by 8 servings was 12.4 CPS

Quick oats 2.19, 30 servings, 7 CPS

White rice 1.79 for 30 servings, 6 CPS

Flour 1.48 for 75 servings in a 5 lb bag, 2 CPS

Oyster crackers (for crunch!) 19 servings, 89 cents, 4.6 CPS


canned, diced tomatoes 59 cents (same as beans)

tomato sauce 29 cents, 3.5 servings = 8 CPS

sloppy joe sauce was 85 cents, 7 servings, 12 CPS

tomato soup 59 cents, 2.5 servings, 24 CPS

1.19 divided by 5 servings for spaghetti sauce (over rice, on bread) so 24 CPS for the JAR size

BBQ sauce 2.39, 21 servings,  11.3 CPS


25 bouillon cubes for 1.69 are 6.7 cents per cube

chicken broth 69 cents, 2 servings are 34 CPS

I realize that’s a tedious looking list, but it really puts into perspective how much we eat and checking to see if we’re following the portion and serving sizes. Here’s a sample:


oatmeal 7 cents

1/4 c. milk 7 cents

cinnamon/syrup 6

TOTAL = 20 cents

Beyond that, we’re writing everything down. Heck, even when I have been on strict diets before I haven’t bothered to be this stringent about money. That’s because it costs money to eat well enough to lose weight. OH, THE IRONY. Hopefully, you’ve got a good picture as to what that looks like as I do this and that it’s caused you to think as much as I am right now about the poverty line. I’ve not been compensated to take on the Live Below the Line challenge, but I do hope you’ll join the conversation or even make a donation if you can. For every $250 I raise (and I’m at $340 of my $500 goal!) then 1,000 school children will get to eat a healthy meal.
Read more from Kelly at her personal blog, Mocha Momma. You can follow her journey by clicking this link for all Below the Line posts.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago
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