The longer I forgo animal products in my diet, the easier it becomes. In fact, it almost feels weird to label my food vegan—these are simpl...

The longer I forgo animal products in my diet, the easier it becomes. In fact, it almost feels weird to label my food vegan—these are simply the foods that I eat. Why do I eat them? Because they are the foods that I like and the foods that get me where I want to go.

For many months, I was frustrated by constant fatigue. I blamed a lot of it on dietary changes; perhaps I was lacking in key nutrients or not getting enough protein. As it turns out, I just wasn't sleeping enough. Once that was cleared up, I began to trust my diet of greens, beans and other plants. That's when it really started to thrive.

The trip to Connecticut is another opportunity to really eat well. To take all of the question out of my shopping for the week, I used the plane ride to plan out my meals and make a shopping list.

Dinners and Lunches:
Grain bowls with curry
Grain bowls with BBQ sauce
Curried split pea soup
Pasta with broccoli and tomato sauce
Peanut butter sandwiches
Oatmeal with nutritional yeast and spices

Oatmeal with peanut butter, instant coffee, banana, cinnamon, etc.

(Normally I would have some sort of soy products as well, but they are ridiculously expensive at the grocery store here, so I decided to opt for more beans and less soy this week. Looking forward to seeing if I notice any differences.)

To make sure I got enough, stayed within budget and didn't stray too far from the shopping list, I did some quick calorie estimate. Figuring I needed 3000-3500 calories a day, for 9 days, I planned on getting around 30,000 calories worth of food.

I brought some food along (breakfast for my first day, leftover snacks from the plane, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, gatorade powder, spices) but I still needed to buy around 27000 calories for the week. I knew I wanted most of it to come from grains and beans, so I set to work figuring out how much oatmeal, rice, pasta, bread and beans I should be buying.

A lot, it turns out. 

Previously shopping on the road, this has been my biggest mistake. Because we stock these things in the pantry at home, I underestimate their contribution to my diet. I bought 4.5 pounds of oatmeal, 3 pounds of rice, 6 cans of beans, two pounds of split peas, a pound of pasta and two loaves of bread. A few fruit and vegetables and a medium jar of peanut butter later, I checked out with a total of $52.

Not bad, considering I eat nearly as many calories as a normal family of two.

Would a nice piece of cheese add something to my daily meals? Maybe. But just as likely I'd be suffering the consequences halfway through the afternoon session. It might just be acclimation, because I don't know many people who would choose curry over cheese for their pre-workout meal.

Another trick has been pre-cooking. Canned beans solve a lot of the issue, but brown rice and beans take a long time to cook. After a workout, the last thing I want to do is watch rice simmer for an hour. So I pre-cook. And it seems that when it's just as easy to grab a spoon and a container of rice as a spoon and a jar of peanut butter, I'm just as likely to go for the rice.

Making soups, beans and grains ahead of time—or even soaking the oats overnight to shorten cooking times—makes eating good, cheap, wholesome, healthful foods that much easier.

The most important thing I've learned, though: Trust my food.

Hello from the East Coast. That's right—another day of travel in the books. My day started bright and early with a 5am wake-up. Good th...

Hello from the East Coast. That's right—another day of travel in the books. My day started bright and early with a 5am wake-up. Good thing the days are so long right now. We had enough time to sit down to eat breakfast before we were on the road.

Many thanks to my grandparents for lending us a car so Dan could drive me to the airport this morning! On the first flight, I was lucky enough to have an empty seat in my row, so I curled up in the window and tucked in to a good book.

Yesterday, as I was packing, I logged on to our local library's website and browsed the available titles—for electronic download. I'm finally finding ways to use the internet productively, rather than just staring into the empty spaces filled by memes and celebrity gossip. I made a huge wish list of books I'd like to read, although many of them were already checked out.

Ultimately, I settled on one ebook and one audiobook—Born to Run and a Jack Reacher novel.

Never a fan of headphones for long periods of time, I decided to start with the ebook. I don't think a flight has ever gone by so quickly.

In fact, during my layover in Minneapolis, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to run laps around the airport or finish the book. I opted to walk the airport, which was ultimately a great choice.

My last visit to MSP was memorable in a bad way. After spending nearly 45 minutes wandering its terminals in search of fresh produce to eat, I came up empty handed save a very brown, overpriced banana. This time, although I'd packed enough food to see me through the following morning, the food selection looked much more friendly, fresh and healthy. Not to mention there was a 1.4 mile marked walking loop in the airport. I would definitely schedule a long layover here, pop my bags in one of their lockers and jog some laps!! Great people watching and window shopping along the way.

The second flight was also uneventful, other than chomping my way through another 100 pages of Born to Run. After landing at La Guardia, and making the drive up to GMS, I'm all tucked in watching my own personal fireworks show thanks to the neighbors. Quad selection camp starts tomorrow morning at 6am. More on that to come...

Many of the families whose accounts I read chose to simply purchase less food to meet the budget requirements of the challenge. This was in ...

Many of the families whose accounts I read chose to simply purchase less food to meet the budget requirements of the challenge. This was in no way realistic, either for my current needs or for the needs of those who actually live in poverty. Consistently falling below your caloric intake is not a sustainable practice, and for me currently would severely impact my training.

Instead, we opted to focus on calories per dollar, and were dismayed at how much that narrowed our selection. My caloric needs, at 3500 calories per day, definitely made the challenge quite challenging, putting even the cheapest peanut butter out of our grasp. In fact, the only items that really made the list were rice, oats, oil and pasta. Even dried beans were too expensive on their own: we could only afford them by buying things that were below budget and using the extra money for beans.

Fortunately, by mixing beans and grains, and supplementing our calories with free and foraged foods, we were able to pull together a pretty decent week of food.

The hardest parts:
No snacks! Our budget didn't allow for much variety or any pre-prepared foods. Snacks were the uneaten portions of meals. I eat pretty constantly during the day, so it was tough to limit my intake to three types of food.

Bland food. We got better over the course of the week, but I wouldn't wish plain oatmeal on anybody.

No fruit. Fruit was definitely not a part of our budget. We harvested loquats from a few local trees, which are a phenomenal fruit, but by the end of the week I was hankering a banana, some plums, a nectarine, anything more satisfying than the tiniest of tiny loquats.

Shopping with a strict budget. Although I'm usually fairly conscious of prices when grocery shopping, it was a lot more work to figure out the cost per calorie of everything that went into the cart. Having a third person really expanded our options, but the first few days were still pretty dicey. Uncertainty about the ability to feed yourself is really uncomfortable.

The best parts:
Some awesome new, cheap recipes. Many of the dishes we made this week, we would happily make again—and they are really, really inexpensive meals. Our cabbage-bean-fried/herbed rice wraps were a definite hit, and our homemade rice milk is going to become a regular addition to our fridge.

Price comparisons. I don't expect to eat for $1.50 a day for the rest of my life, but if we can bulk out our calories with foods we ate this week, we'll have more money to spend on other things. And now, we know where to get the cheapest oats, rice, beans and more!

Empathy. There are a lot of people who don't know where their next meal is coming from, who don't have a garden to feed them, and who can't afford to eat well. Somebody took me out for coffee (without knowing about the challenge) and it was an incredible treat—that kind of generosity is something I'd like to extend to others, regardless of what I know about their financial situation.

A different approach to eating. For me, eating is a huge source of pleasure. This week, it was more a source of sustenance. Usually, I have to restrict second helpings at dinner. This week, I had to force myself to eat seconds, just to get enough calories. It helped me reevaluate the reasons I eat—and oftentimes, sleeping, stretching or drinking a glass of water provided enough pleasure to deter the need to eat.

It's tempting to say that we "won" at the challenge, but it was only five days. I can hardly imagine the stress that kind of restriction would cause over the course of months and years. And not that we threw away a lot of food before, but it pains me that much more to throw it away now—money going down the drain.

Last week, we completed the Live Below the Line challenge . The week before, we slowly ate down all of the perishables in the fridge, and s...

Last week, we completed the Live Below the Line challenge. The week before, we slowly ate down all of the perishables in the fridge, and started stocking up on cheap eats. Below, see my summary of how we made it through the week, broken down day-by-day, meal-by-meal.

We were fortunate enough to have access to a car to comparison shop at a couple of local stores. 

After the initial visit to Walmart, our housemate decided to join us on our challenge. This increased our budget to $22.50, but also added another full-time athlete to the calorie budget. In need of protein and more calories, we stocked up on lentils and split peas, and another round of cheap pasta from Walmart.

We also grabbed a few cans of tomato paste—opting for the concentrated flavor over pre-made sauce.

Sunday night, we roughly sketched our a plan for the first few days of the challenge. Lots of oatmeal breakfasts and repetition from dinner to the next day's lunch.


Breakfast was a huge, huge bowl of oatmeal. 3500 calories is a lot when it's rolled into just three meals. This bowl of oats was about 800 calories, including the sugar. It was also really bland. Cheap oats taste cheap and water doesn't help.

Lunch, on the other hand, was a treat. I scavenged rosemary and fennel fronds during my Sunday morning run. We sautéed the rosemary in some oil and then added tomato paste and pasta cooking water to create a nice pasta sauce. I cooked the pasta briefly in the sauce and then tossed in some fennel fronds at the last minute. Half of this was Monday lunch; the other half we broiled to crisp up the top and then ate on Tuesday.

Dinner was rice and beans: a split pea soup made with half of a small onion, peas, water, and a few cabbage leaves pulled from the garden.

We were also fortunate enough to harvest around 20 loquats from a local tree! I think I've also spotted a cherry plum tree in the neighborhood; I'm hoping to snag a few on Friday if they're ripe.

Breakfast: boring old oats again. I eat most of the oats before practice, and replace 2nd breakfast with the remainder. For lunch, we ate a nice big helping of pasta and a small salad. The lettuce was from the garden, and we topped it with beans and a salad dressing made with foraged lemon and loquat blended with some of our oil. It definitely needed more lemon, but we only had what we had. We also came across a free cookie; it wasn't vegan, but free food is free food.

For dinner: more beans and rice! A dinner I would make again, we pan fried the leftover rice from the previous night with herbs harvested from the garden (including green onions which we previous replanted from store-bought green onions). We also purchased some dried chilies for 10 cents from the local market, and used half of them in this. We wrapped the rice up with red beans in giant steamed cabbage leaves, again from the garden.

I also managed to find two avocados from our local tree; they weren't ripe yet, but I'm hoping they'll be ready by Friday.

I never thought I would be this sick of oatmeal. Dan discovered that microwaving on half power for longer makes the oats seem a bit creamier when they are made without milk. I've decreased the amount of sugar I've added as well, because it seems so cloyingly sweet without any fat to cut it down.

Another treat this morning: a work conference had coffee (!) and pastries. I said a silent thank you to the animals whose hard work brought me two delicious muffins.

In the afternoon, it was time to restock the pantry. We'd nearly finished our oats, and a few more beans seemed in order. I decided to head up to a local store called The Food Mill—what an incredible resource. Although their beans were slightly more expensive than what was available at Walmart and Grocery Outlet, I picked up oats for 99 cents a pound, cheaper than the Great Value brand and considerably tastier. I also managed to get 8 cents worth of cinnamon and a dollar of yellow split peas.

From there, things just kept getting better. We made a lentil soup with our carrot and the other half of our onion; I made rice as well, but Dan brought home some almost stale bread free from work—so we made croutons!! Instead, we used the rice to make rice milk with cinnamon and sugar. Dan also managed to bring home some pastries, leftover hummus, salt, pepper, soy sauce and more sugar.

In the evening, we went out to pick some loquats from a local tree and came home with quite a haul. We also managed to get a $5 free coupon at the CVS, so we used it to get some candy and some jam. I've never been so excited for breakfast!

Oh incredible oatmeal!! This morning's oats were made with rice milk, salted and sweetened with raspberry jam. Yumyumyum.

Training this week has burned a lot of calories—probably more than I anticipated. I was ravenous when I got home from the three hour morning session and quickly gobbled up the rest of my oatmeal, more than my fair share of loquats, candy, a free pastry and a big bowl of rice and beans, seasoned with hummus.

Dinnertime brought a sweet potato and yellow split pea soup—absolutely incredible, although it would have been even better with sea salt and fresh pepper, and maybe a few garlic croutons tossed in at the last moment.

We were feeling in-the-clear on our budget, so we splurged on homemade bagels. We'd made a batch the week before and calculated them to be 14 cents apiece, given the price per pound of flour, yeast, salt, molasses, etc. and the amount we used. It was nice to have not just oatmeal for breakfast, although one bagel was not enough food for breakfast.

Lunch was focused on finishing up the leftovers in the fridge. I noshed on oatmeal, split pea soup, lentil soup and rice. Candy and another free pastry also made it into my lunch.

We rounded out the week with re-purposed rice and beans: fried in oil and chili peppers, we could have fed another mouth or two with this delicious crispy, creamy concoction. Satisfying, and a good sendoff for the week. Dan even threw a pinch of cumin into his bowl—a luxury we could afford.

The totals:
We ended up spending just over $20 to feed three people for five days. Two of those people are full-time athletes, mind you. We also had 2-4 portions of leftovers at the end of the week. Overall: a success!

This week, we undertook the Live Below the Line challenge . Our final day is tomorrow and we're still going strong. To get an idea of ho...

This week, we undertook the Live Below the Line challenge. Our final day is tomorrow and we're still going strong. To get an idea of how we strategized, take a look at a recap of our first shopping trip, below.

For my first round of shopping for the Live Below the Line challenge, I visited our local Walmart to stock up on some staples like rice and beans. The whole experience was very different from my normal food shopping experience.

This time, instead of considering organic normal rice versus fancy conventional rice, I was trying to decide between a small bag of white rice, a small bag of brown rice and a large bag of white rice. They are listed in decreasing cost per pound, and it ultimately came down to whether I could afford the whole large bag for just five days.

I ended up doing some quick math on the back of my shopping list, figuring that I had to come up with 27500 calories for the week, and the big bag was 8000 calories. At $2.98, into the cart it went.

I budgeted 5 cents per 100 calories, so the rice was below budget! Woohoo! That meant I could splurge on some oatmeal. At $2.88 for only 4500 calories, this was pretty expensive, all things considered. Still, oatmeal is an incredibly filling breakfast and will help us get some whole grains in our week.

The pasta was incredibly cheap: just 25 cents for a little under half a pound. At 700-800 calories per package, these fell well below my target of 5 cents per 100 calories. This bodes well for the purchase of  fresh vegetables.

I almost bought a little bottle of olive oil for $2, but decided instead to pick this canola oil for $1.28; not only was it much larger, it was also cheaper. The whole bottle has 3840 calories, again bringing me in below budget. 

I looked at Walmart's bean offerings, but couldn't decide if they were cheap enough in the time I had available. They also didn't have any dried chickpeas—a more versatile bean option than black or pinto. Overall, this trip yielded 18090 calories for $8.14, or around 110 calories for every 5 cents.

This left me with $6.86 to come up with around 9500 cal, which brought my target to 70 calories per 5 cents—a big improvement.

After looking at the macronutrient distribution from this trip, I purchased 66% carbohydrate, 26% fat and 8% protein. I usually aim for closer to 55-60% carbohydrate, 25-30% fat and 15% protein. My focus for round 2 of shopping would be purchasing protein and vegetables.

I'm not even sure you can call this a sandwich it's so simple. Start with herbs, whatever you have on hand. I used basil and marjo...

I'm not even sure you can call this a sandwich it's so simple.

Start with herbs, whatever you have on hand. I used basil and marjoram. Thyme is another favorite. Parsley and rosemary would also be good.

Chop them finely.

Next, choose your bread. If you've got light, fresh herbs like parsley or lemon thyme, use a rich, dark deep bread. If you've got super powerful herbs like rosemary, pick a lighter bread. Toast it.

Slather your toast with tahini and sprinkle with chopped herbs.

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