Living Below the Poverty Line

This post is designed to engage food secure individuals in a challenge to help raise awareness on food insecurity in the community. For individuals who deal with food insecurity, this post also offers example meal prep ideas at minimal costs.


During 2019, the United States Census Bureau estimated that 34.0 million Americans were within the poverty threshold, also referred to as living below the line. This means individuals and families have an increased risk of household food insecurity and malnutrition (Oliveira 22). The increased risk results from having less money to spend, and so a higher percentage of income and personal savings is used to secure food. 

Poverty and hunger are not always visible in communities, but all towns and cities have a population of people who struggle to make ends meet. To bring awareness to food secure individuals about this serious crisis that millions of Americans suffer from, the Living Below the Line Challenge was created. The purpose of this challenge is to help bring awareness to those who suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition as a result of poverty. It can also be a source of ideas and inspiration for those who are living on a tight budget and struggle to maintain nutrition and food security. The idea was for food secure individuals or families to set a food budget similar to that of someone who lives in poverty, and to use that budget on food for a week. Most food insecure budgets average between $10-12 per week, which comes to about $1.40-1.75 per day. This intimidating price range may seem impossible for some food secure individuals, especially those who appreciate take-out over cooking, but it is possible. Millions of Americans are forced to live on such a limited budget every day. 

The Challenge

There are plenty of recipe ideas, food hauls, and vlogs from those who have tried the challenge. But if you are food secure and would like to try the challenge, try to be creative and figure out for yourself how you would spend your limited food budget. Whether you are willing to live below the line or only wish to come up with a theoretical grocery list with some low-budget recipes in mind, take the time to see how hard it might be and how many sacrifices must be made to not overspend on food. You may find that you cannot afford to buy something, like a snack you usually enjoy. Instead, you will have to try something new to save money. Many of those who have attempted the challenge have said that they feel hungrier and don’t have as much physical or emotional energy by the end of the week. 

Resources for Nutritious Meal Plans on a Budget

If you are a food secure individual who decides to take on the challenge, remember that this is temporary and voluntary. The real purpose is to learn more about people who live below the line every day. Notice the feelings that the challenge might bring up—hunger, frustration, stress or exhaustion—and imagine these emotions lasting a full month or a full year. You may have a new understanding of the value of supplemental programs such as SNAP, CHIP, and food shelters, and you may find ways to get involved in the fight against food insecurity. The Maize and Blue Cupboard food pantry here on campus is a great place to start, and it’s easy to volunteer or donate. 

DISCLAIMER: Please keep your health and schedule in mind if you are a food secure individual planning on attempting the limited food budget challenge. Consult a nutritionist if you have concerns about reducing the amount of calories you consume or experience any issues during the challenge.