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Monday Mission: The Dilemma of Donating and Sharing Real Food (& a $7 Challenge!)

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to brainstorm some ways that you can bless others with food without compromising (too much) on your real food philosophy.

Food Donations for the Poor

We’ve talked about donating food before and how tricky it is to find non-perishable real food that folks would actually know what to do with.

You can read that Monday Mission HERE (it’s an interesting one) and check out the real food donation printables I created, which offer a list of non-perishable foods to package together to donate to a food bank along with a simple recipe to help people be able to use and enjoy them:

For this week, I want to encourage you to think both about donating food to the poor and also those opportunities you get to share food with friends in need – meals for the sick through your church, meals for friends who have recently had babies, or just hosting other moms in the neighborhood at your house for fellowship – and how you can integrate real food in those situations without offending (or starving) those you’re trying to help.

Not that I’m assuming your cooking is bad! I’m just saying that for people who are used to the taste of very processed foods, sometimes the meals we real foodies adore are unpalatable to them, and there is little worse than trying to help someone by giving them a gift that hits the trash.

I’m excited to share some thoughts from a reader on this subject tomorrow in a post that is both touching and thought-provoking and will challenge and conflict you.

Since my guest is going to do such a wonderful job of unpacking the art of sharing food, I’m going to explore a topic that’s been on my post list for years, literally.

Food, Inc.

Ever since I saw Food, Inc. (found on Amazon) for the first time, I keep thinking about the family who felt they had to eat at McDonald’s. Truly, every couple of months, something makes me think of this situation, and I try to solve it for them.

The family are either migrant or farm workers, and their small abode has nowhere to prepare or store food, so they feel forced to eat out. They stop at McDonald’s and order from the dollar menu, I believe, spending $7 on four people for a meal.

That scene has always killed me because I just can’t believe that fast food can ever be the most economical option, even though I realize it is truly truly cheap food and it would probably be impossible to buy the same raw ingredients to make the equivalent meal for the same low price.

I wander through the grocery store and think, “Could I feed a family a satisfying meal for $7, all nourishing foods, no leftovers that have to be refrigerated and no cooking necessary?”

Whether I’m right or just deluding myself, I always think I could.

Dilemma of Donating and Sharing Real Food

What do you think about these possibilities?

  1. Bread + natural peanut butter + 4 bananas + bag of baby carrots (would have some bread and PB left over for another day and could stock up on something that day)
  2. Avocado + tortilla chips + can refried beans + 2 cucumbers
  3. 8 oz. cheese + 1 lb. peanuts + crackers (are there any crackers with decent ingredients that don’t cost a ton?) or bread
  4. Cottage cheese + canned fruit in juice + bread + lunchmeat
  5. Can of beans + jar of salsa + cabbage to wrap (might be able to save half a cabbage at room temp for the very next day, well wrapped?) + 8 oz. cheese + a bit of produce
  6. 1-2 cans tuna fish + bread + 8 oz. cheese + bag of baby carrots + maybe even some fruit or applesauce
  7. $5 rotisserie chicken (just eat all of it!) + cabbage to wrap it in + a piece of fruit (apple?) to split, maybe with some mustard packets from the deli counter

Whenever I could save 50 cents or a dollar, I would, and I’d try to buy a pound of butter (can keep at room temp for a while!) for the bread, maybe a little knife to cut things up, mustard to dress up sandwiches or some nuts or sale items something that could supplement other meals with nutrient and calorie dense foods in small quantities.

If you only had $7/meal and had to buy on demand, checking the sales and saving a dollar on an item (or even 50 cents) suddenly makes a huge difference. I’d try to only buy tuna, canned fruit, cottage cheese, and regular cheese when it was on a decent sale.

If I could really save up enough, a slow cooker or a small hot plate and fry pan would change our lives. (Fried eggs! Stew and root veggies that could stay warm until morning in the crockpot – leftovers for breakfast…)

Notice I never included lettuce or a salad, even though that’s something easy to make without a stove. I just feel like most lettuce is too expensive for the amount that it will fill a belly and keep someone satiated, which is why I waxed poetic about the frugal and nourishing nature of cabbage earlier this year.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Could you spend $7 at a grocery store and feed four people without a kitchen? What could you make for $7 with a kitchen and shopping and cooking the way you do right now?

Once you’ve thought it through for yourself, here are 70 other ideas from an old conversation on Facebook, back when Facebook was still a good place for engaged conversations (one of those many times I must have thought of the issue over the past few years!) They’re such an interesting read!

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

43 thoughts on “Monday Mission: The Dilemma of Donating and Sharing Real Food (& a $7 Challenge!)”

  1. Every time our church has a food collection, the list of requests makes me so sad. Processed food… I said to my husband that if only we could show people how to shop wisely and for healthy food economically! Yes, I could cook and serve my family of six fresh unprocessed food for $7 consistently and and that includes its of organic veggies! I used my crockpot a lot!

  2. Janelle Troyer

    I think one of the challenging things a out nutrient dense foods is that we get used to the feeling of fullness, so even if your body is being sufficiently nourished, you may not feel “full”. It’s hard to change the habits/thought processes of people who don’t know or don’t care. I think education is essential. I just moved from California to West Virginia and I’m amazed at the difference in food selection. The ONE natural foods store hardly gets any business and I can’t help but to think it’s a lack of information about real food. People tend to stick to the familiar and really need to be taught/shown that healthy is worth it, because a lot of people just don’t care.

    1. Janelle,
      You’re so right – lack of information is a huge problem at many income brackets! Such an interesting perspective on fullness too – in France they say, “Are you satisfied?” and teach that you should stop eating when you’re about 75% full or so. What a difference from Americans!! 🙂 Katie

  3. I have not read all the previous comments, but I think you’re absolutely right, it would be possible. Further, it would be possible to grow micro-greens on a windowsill for a few cents.

  4. I may be mistaken because it’s been 5 years since I saw Food, Inc., but the way I recall it, it’s not that the family had no kitchen but that they “didn’t have time” to cook because they spent so many hours working multiple jobs. My uncle pointed out that for $7 they could buy one of those frozen meals in a bag (like “Chicken Voila!”) and heat it up in the time it takes to go to the drive-thru. Might not be any healthier than McD’s, but as you pointed out, there are many healthier meals one can serve for <$7 that take very little prep time.

    I lived without a kitchen but preparing about 15 meals a week for myself, for two years. One thing you have to take into consideration is how often you can go to the store–carrots, cucumbers, and cottage cheese will be good only on the first day. Living alone, I did not buy these things, but I did buy things like 15 oz. cans of fruit (instead of more expensive single servings) and jars of spaghetti sauce and simply plan to use it up over multiple meals as soon as I'd opened it. Lots of things don't need refrigeration as much as people think: butter, eggs, mustard (unlike many condiments, it doesn't have sugar and does have vinegar) all are good for 2 weeks or more at room temp.

    After a week of eating food instead of McD's, a family could save $15 and buy a Rival Hot Pot. This is not the healthiest cooking appliance as it has some plastic touching the food. But it beats the heck out of eating only cold food and having no way of heating food that might be slightly spoiled but safe if you heat it. I used mine to make various rice and pasta meals, oatmeal, canned soup, scrambled eggs (lots of fat and stir constantly!), cooked vegetables, and hot drinks.

    Did you see my article Could you feed your family on a food stamp budget? It’s an interesting question. My conclusion was that if my family cut out restaurants and made all our meals at home, eating the kinds of things we do eat at home, we’d be within that budget–and we love the way we eat! But it does take some time, skills, access to multiple stores (some of which aren’t convenient to public transit), and kitchen equipment, not all of which everyone has.

    Sometimes I wonder why projects that distribute food to the needy so rarely request donations of cooking equipment. If you have no kitchen, acquiring a mini-fridge, toaster oven, hot pot, or slow cooker vastly expands that range of foods you can make use of. If you do have a kitchen, a pot and spatula and can opener will use up a day’s family food budget.

    1. ‘Becca,
      I’m not sure I’m accurate either, but I have had that idea written down for a long time….?? Either way, I was imagining them buying the cottage cheese, carrots etc and eating them in the car (right away) just like fast food! My family of 5 (but with a toddler in there) can polish off a pound of baby carrots in a meal, but maybe we’re just crazy. 😉

      You’re SO right about the basic cooking appliances! Someone else mentioned that they might not even have a can opener, which I didn’t consider in my ideas…so they’d have to budget a buck or two for that first. I’m glad I’m not in a poverty situation…but I do think there are so many better solutions with knowledge than what many encounter as reality. 🙂 Katie

    2. I’ve often thought that a business that would offer mini fridges, crock-pots, microwaves, toaster ovens, and apartment sized washers (so many people have to use laundromats!) in small monthly payments would be perfect for places like where I live.
      It’d be even better on loan or donation basis from a food pantry!

      My husband and I are blessed with generous relatives who were in a position to make sure we never went hungry even when he lost his job…but we did live 6 months without an oven or full sized fridge. It’s really very hard to eat real food and do without appliances. Fortunately we already had a toaster oven, a crock pot and an electric skillet (and the tiniest of mini fridges!) so it was more managing our time and space instead of having no place to eat but out (although we did a lot of that too).

      We also lived for 2 years without a washer/dryer. I actually started handwashing many items and hanging them to dry in the shower -just to save up for a washer that hooks up to your sink. It’s really hard to save for an appliance that will save you money when you’re forced to spend money just to have clean clothes or food to eat.

        1. It was rough! Looking back I’m like…um how the heck did we ever make it work? But the bonus is I now know how to properly wash clothes by hand and we’ve learned how much we love eggs and greens for dinner. (Cheap and easy real food right there that doesn’t need refrigeration!)

  5. Our family’s food budget is tight–we live on just my husband’s income so that I can homeschool our sons. But we farm as well, so we have cheap access to eggs, poultry, beef, and produce (of course, we put a lot of work into getting those products!) I would like to suggest that if your own food budget is tight, consider growing a couple of tomato plants. You’ll have enough tomatoes for your family and extra to share! Or if you have the space, plant an extra row of spinach, peas, carrots, or any veggie in your garden. Commit to donating the full row to a local food bank or shelter all season long. Even if you can’t afford to buy real food to donate, growing even a pot of bush beans in a sunny window will allow you to have something to give away. Here’s just one organization that promotes growing food to donate:

  6. I founded and manage our local certified Farmers Market. I offer the SNAP/WIC program. I find a large majority of the folks using assistance do not know how to cook or have the “things” to cook (pots and pans, casserole dishes, etc.). Part of what I offer at my market are very easy cooking classes. I’ve even shown folks how to make a very quick and easy rocket stove in their back yard…or how to make a backyard bbq.

    1. I would love to hear more specifics about how you do this! It breaks my heart that so many people that can’t eat healthy, nourishing meals because they’ve never been taught basic cooking skills. I would love, love, love to teach people in my community (on gvm’t assistance or not) simple healthy cooking strategies. I wish I could show people that using whole, real ingredients doesn’t have to be too expensive or difficult.

      1. I would love to do that too! I’m just not sure how to start.

        The local hospital, FFA, and extension office started giving out recipe cards to local businesses for things like homemade oatmeal cookies or a chopped tomato and cucumber salad with beans. The ingredients were all cheap and the recipes were simple. I think recipe cards can be a good start!

  7. When my husband lost his job we had to rely on the local food pantry for food for at least a month. There are many people in the same position who don’t like feeding their families junk. It’s sad that there’s such an us vs them mentality. “those people don’t like real food,” or “those people don’t know what to do with real food, just give the lazy slobs beans and rice” (not inferring that’s your message here!).

    I think recipe cards are a great idea to go along with real food donations. Not everyone will know what to do with the food, but the mistake shouldn’t be made that everyone who has to rely on food assistance is a lazy, junk food eating bane on taxpayers. This article isn’t saying that, but I’ve seen waaaay too many Christians look down on others needing food assistance when Phillipians 2:4 tells us to “in humility consider other’s better than yourselves.” I’ll admit I have a hard time with that one too!

    1. Jamie,
      When I first posted this similar mission a few years ago, others chimed in to say that they’ve been in that situation and were so thankful to see the dried beans, but the sad truth is that the minority grabs those and the majority lets them collect dust. BUT education is key, and anyone can accept that. Thank you so much for sharing your story…I often think back to Erin’s (the Humbled Homemaker) tale of being on WIC and enduring “those stares.” So very sad…I’m glad our government is wise enough to help, even if the system needs a lot of tweaks!
      🙂 Katie

  8. I am on food stamps, receiving $320/mo for a family of 5 (one 1yr old, 16, 17, 21, and myself). That amounts to just over $10/day for a 30 day month. I am able to feed us nutritious meals by buying smart. I buy larger cuts of meat (pork loin, steaks, etc) so that I can get several meals out of them. A $12 pork loin will usually yield us at least one batch of chops, if not 2, and a roast for a dinner. I don’t buy a lot of veggies because we are growing our own, but when I don’t have fresh I buy frozen. I will admit that it’s tight…no processed food, but it can be done.

  9. With a kitchen…I just made 4 GENEROUS servings of chicken Alfredo fettuccine with broccoli for $7 for dinner tonight.

  10. What a great concept! I love the idea of sharing health and good foods with people who need it instead of the easy junk. I’m impressed with the amount of thought you’ve put into this. What an inspiration! Thank you!

  11. shonda chapman

    I have to say that I can’t imagine trying to feed my family of 4 (though this includes a teenage boy which counts for two adult men with regards to food quantity) on $7/meal. We follow a Weston A Price diet leaning towards Paleo, so light on grains which are the cheaper part of this diet. My husband makes a decent income and we definitely give stuff up so we can eat this way and we almost never eat out. Our grocery budget would be obscene to many. My mother-in-law once asked me what it was and I could not bring myself to tell her. And we do not shop at Whole Foods. We do the whole circuit of farmers’ markets, direct to farms, members of a CSA, and I make everything from scratch. I am constantly sourcing and trying to do the best I can with our food dollar. We often collaborate or barter. (This year we are helping a neighboring private school care for their bee hives in exchange for the experience and for half of the honey crop.) I have found that when everything you put in your mouth has to count (i.e. no filler like crackers and snackies), it is quite expensive. Plus, we avoid cans as best we can. This being said, I am blessed to be able to eat this way even with making sacrifices to do it and I thank God each day during my quiet time for nourishing food. However, it is a constant struggle to buy the best food and still make the mortgage payment. So, I would be hard pressed to help someone do it consistently for $7/meal. However, I have often seen lower income families paying with gov’t food stamps and they buy drinks…and not milk or even orange juice. And other total c**p. So, I am sure there is room for improvement even if it would not meet WAPF standards. This was a bit of a rant–just did the budget for the month and was trying to figure out how I could buy a 20lb bulk box of pastured pork bacon with no nitrates:) Thanks for enduring with me!!

    1. Shonda, years back in CO my husband was unemployed for a time, and since I was pregnant and had a toddler, we got on WIC. It was so shocking to me how I could buy almost no real food of any kind on WIC. For example, I could buy lots of boxed cereal, but could not buy whole oats–the reason given me was that they were not iron fortified, but I suspect the real reason is because they were not subsidized by a large company. I could buy dairy, so that was something real at least, and I could buy dried beans. But pretty much WIC just paid for the kinds of foods we never ate. : ( And most of it brand name, which really made me think there were arrangements made between the government and the food companies.

      1. No oats, what a joke!!! I didn’t know that one. 🙁 You two should both read the MM from 2 years ago on this topic and my experience with a low-income young mom:

        Flavored water indeed!! 🙂 Katie

      2. I’m surprised…oats, brown rice, barley and even tortillas are ok on the approved list…no name brands. Each state has approved lists of WIC foods…one just needs to Google.

        1. This was over 10 years ago in Colorado. I hope the WIC offerings are better now, or in other states. I was just sharing my personal experience.

          1. And to put the time in perspective–it was long enough ago that “google” was not yet a verb. ; )

              1. No I had not seen your new post. : ) But it is so true–having the internet at my fingertips and the ability to quickly search for any topic I want to know more about–we forget how recent of a thing that really is. Now if I end up handed a food item I am not sure what to do with–real yucca root, for example, which a friend gave me!–it takes me just a few seconds to research and know how to cook it. Of course, that is not necessarily pertinent to the discussion of helping those in need feed themselves well, because they will likely not have access to a home computer even in this day and age. But for the rest of us–it is a HUGE real food luxury.

      3. WIC doesn’t allow you to buy whole milk, only skim or 2%. They also only allow peanut butter with hydrogenated oils and refined sugar, not natural. Many of the products they allow you to buy are owned by Nestle (Gerber Formula, the frozen juice).

          1. Wic allows natural here. Just not refrigerated (which is usually the kind with just peanuts). But you can get the kind that is just peanuts and salt.

            1. We actually get an extra pound of beans instead of peanut butter, since there we make our own PB anyway. You can also get less milk and more cheese. My WIC office is great with working with me to find more real foods. I’m able to get oats as the whole grain, but not as the cereal. If you really look at the WIC handbook you can find some real food options. And one of the biggest issues is finding the exact brand listed. I can only get the right brand of oats at one of the grocery stores that I visit.

  12. Part of what stood out to me in that particular family was their perspective on what real food really costs. One daughter saw a pear in the grocery store but her sister pointed out the price per pound. They seemed to think that the single fruit would cost that whole price/lb, blowing their entire meal budget on just 1-2 pears which they would all have to share. Part of a permanent change would need to include proving to them the real cost of food and how easily they could fill themselves with small changes adding up to real long-term savings.

  13. I am a volunteer at our church food pantry and we struggle with this concept often. Often times real food items will go untouched because families don’t know how to use them. Thanks for encouraging me to really get my act together and create some recipe cards to hand out. Once we had huge bags of dried blueberries that went untouched until I began telling people how much my one year old loves dried blueberries as a snack. Then they flew off the shelves. Another thing we have taken in to account is the availability of can openers. We have a stash for guests who don’t have access to one.

    1. Triscuit used to be a staple in our house too-esp. the rye. Mmmmmm. But Mal, I would like to point out that as crackers go, Triscuit are pretty unhealthy. They have preservatives (might even have food coloring–would have to check the label) and the oils they use are genetically modified. : ( So I can’t buy them any more for my family. But you are right that crackers in general *can* be pretty acceptable meal components–I would just recommend choosing organic crackers, or at least whole grain crackers that don’t have canola, soy or corn oil and artificial preservatives, coloring, etc. Ak-Mak is one of our favorite crackers now!

      1. My Triscuits are just whole wheat, soybean oil, and sea salt. Do I wish they were made with olive oil or coconut oil? Yes, but they’ll do in a pinch.

        1. I guess I was thinking of the flavored Triscuit with all the really bad stuff. You are right–three ingredients would normally be a very good list for crackers! I am still choosing to avoid GMO ingredients, but the plain Triscuits you describe are certainly better than many out there.

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