Choices – Live Below The Line

When you are doing a poverty or hunger challenge like Live Below The Line and shopping for 5 days food with only $8.75 per person you don’t think you have a lot of choices. But you do. Especially here in downtown Toronto where it’s a short walk to 7 or more grocery stores, 2 major markets, 2 Chinatowns and countless corner stores.

Live Below The Line Banner

You can choose where to shop. You can choose alternative proteins like TVP or tofu. You can choose from a wide variety of cheap carbs to fill you up.  You can even choose from a vast array of bulk spices at places like the Bulk Barn where it’s easy to get 5¢ of cinnamon or 7¢ of black pepper.  You even have choices of how finely ground you want your pepper.

As I was shopping I was thinking about how few choices many people have in what they can buy.  In some cases the cost of transportation can affect their ability to get to the stores with better prices, or more selection or better quality.  In others, it’s just the lack of choice.

My Food Choices

Groceries for 5 days of Live Below The Line

Note: this is for 2 people, so our budget is $17.50. There should be a ¢ sign beside most of the numbers. The editing tool dropped that when I hit save and I’m too lazy to do it all over again.

What I did chose:


I spent 50¢ on salt, pepper,  cinnamon, celery seed (which packs more punch and is easier to buy in small quantities than celery) and chili flakes.  I got a little sugar, molasses, and 2 heads of garlic.  And I got them all because I don’t want to get bored with what I’m eating on top of being hungry.  I also find that the bigger the flavour the less I need to eat, so flavour helps in portion control for me.

Extra Flavour for 5 days


I got a number of things just before the St. Lawrence Market closed. I got them cheap because they were bruised or just on the edge of overripe and wouldn’t last until the market opened up again on Tuesday.  Not a problem for me.  They all got cleaned up and trimmed. The apples immediately went into a compote. The pepper got diced and thrown in the freezer and the mushrooms are in a paper bag drying nicely.

4 mushrooms for 5 days

Off Cuts

Most of the meat I got are considered off cuts. I got 3/4kg of beautiful salmon belly for $1.65 just by asking the guy behind the fish counter if they sold fish heads or bones for stock.  We’re going to have a wonderful meal tonight on that and the rest will go into a fish soup.

The turkey back I got for 93¢ still has a lot of meat on it, so I’m planning on roasting that too and then make a soup with chive dumplings (flour, water, a pinch of salt and a pinch of baking soda.)

Meat for 5 days

What I didn’t chose:


I went into the stores expecting to get rice. Rice has been a staple in my home my entire life. Day in and day out, I prefer it to pasta or potatoes, however when checking out the nutrient charts at Bulk Barn even the white pasta beat out the brown rice in a nutritional value comparison. We figure it’s because the flour is fortified, but what ever way you look at it 99¢ for 900g of pasta is going to serve us better than the equivalent amount of rice (which as I priced it would be over $3 at the bulk barn.)

Didn't Make The Cut


I drink one cup of coffee every morning but coffee is not in this budget, at least not the way I was choosing things.

I thought I might be able to get away with buying 5 chocolate covered coffee beans, but those came in at 5¢ a piece! That’s more than a 1/4c of my apple compote costs. So no coffee, not even chocolate covered coffee, for me.

Mini Cookies

Okay, no one really thought we’d get cookies on this budget. But when I saw that the Bulk Barn also had mini cookies I had to at least check if we could squeeze one mini cookie in a day. I tested with 5 oatmeal for Gerry and 5 gingersnaps for me.  Turns out they cost 4-5¢ each.  Not bad if you have the budget for it.  This week we do not.

Homemade Pasta

I considered making pasta, and even price the semolina. I thought it would be a nice and distracting way to get some pasta into our menu.  But again, I can’t make the equivalent of 900g of dried pasta for 99¢. Not a chance with each egg costing 17¢ and flour setting me back between 25¢ per 100g.


What do you think of my choices? What choices would you have made?

There are a lot of things I would have liked to add, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got for the next 5 days given the constraints.

Note: this post is part of my Live Below The Line series where I will be on a $1.75 food & drink budget from April 29th-May 3rd.
This is a game for me but a serious reality for 1.4 billion people in our world today.  Help support me by donating, or supporting Second Harvest and Daily Bread Food Bank.  

If you want to know more about what I’m involved in, you can read my disclosure statement here.

36 Comments Add yours

  1. The Real Food Guide says:

    Looks like you scored some great deals!

  2. Daniele Rossi says:

    Psst. You’ve misspelled “choose” a few times 🙂

    1. AlexaClark says:

      @Daniele Rossi Fixed I think.

  3. Jennifer Daly says:

    what is a salmon belly 🙁 now pork belly I know 🙂

  4. April Pepper says:

    45 beans?

  5. Tamera Kremer says:

    Such a great project Lex. I have to note that it’s amazing what you can live off of if you know how to cook. I spend about $125 each week on food for the girls – all fresh produce, etc. but I tend to feed them a la carte style vs. majorly prepared meals because I wouldn’t know how. Most cookbooks are all about large family meals and with myself being a veggie that is a waste. I’ve tried doing stews and chili and such but I find that once I freeze them they don’t have the same flavour. All that being said it would be great if you could post some tips on how you’re cooking these too!

  6. says:

    The Real Food Guide I sure did! I also spent a LOT of time shopping. Or in fairness Gerry and I spent a lot of time shopping.
    Daniele Rossi it’s my their, there and they’re… thanks for the grammar check my friend!
    Jennifer Daly well imagine where the pork belly comes from, now imagine that on a salmon ;-> It’s the fatty cut of the belly that is often trimmed from the steaks so they don’t flap around. And it’s damned tasty, this was a serious score whether I was doing the challenge or not.

  7. says:

    Tamera Kremer thanks. I will be sharing recipes and tips for anything that turns out.
    That may seem like a lot of food, and I’m certainly crowing about my scores, but I’m worried about making it through the 5 days. We won’t starve, but we won’t be full very often either. And it’s not great nutrition. I’d be much happier with that table being a lot more green.
    I also have the luxury of working from home this week, something that makes this challenge much more doable. I don’t envy the folks going into the office surrounded by other people’s meals.

  8. says:

    April, since the challenge includes only eating $1.75 of food per day and I have limited vegetables, I need to know how much adding a couple of beans to my pasta will cost… E.g. I used 8 beans for our lunch – which cost 16cents.

  9. PatAnderson says:

    Looks like you made great choices, Lex! 
    Would I have done differently? Maybe, but I haven’t priced things out. I think you’ve done a great choice at choosing ingredients that serve for multiple meals.
    One place I found really great for cheap veggies is T&T — the cabinet where they have the veggies that are past their best date. I find that the veggies they have on that cart are frequently fresher than what I get at Loblaw’s (I’ve got a crummy Loblaws in my ‘hood: apparently it’s known within the corp. as the “mistake by the lake”). 
    I’m not a sweets fan, but I do love chickpeas, so I might have bought some of those instead of the maple syrup, and I might get curry powder instead of cinnamon. They’re a cheap protein that can be turned into a soup, puree, curry, or crunchy snack.
    Good going; I look forward to seeing and reading more this week!

    1. AlexaClark says:

      PatAndersonGood tip on T&T, and we’re both still chuckling about that grocery store nickname. You do remember that the maple syrup is free right?  Foraged from taps and buckets which had been left behind after the owner stopped collecting the sap, so nothing invested and a couple of cups of maple syrup gained.
      Gerry can’t eat chickpeas or any legumes, so my shopping shifted a
      bit when he came on board or I’d be whipping up some hummus for sure!   
      Off to get that salmon belly roasting.  I’m salivating!

      1. PatAnderson says:

        AlexaClark I totally forgot about the maple syrup creation! Of course, otherwise it would have taken up most of your budget. And aaah, didn’t know about the no legumes, so it makes sense that there aren’t any on your list!

        1. AlexaClark says:

          PatAnderson I’m also pushing the eggs a bit since I have a bit of a sensitivity, but I wanted to make sure we had a safe cheap protein. I would probably have gotten another dozen instead of those pork chops otherwise..

  10. grrrr says:

    Really looking forward to trying the salmon tonight…. and tomorrow, in chowder!

    1. AlexaClark says:

      grrrr How did you like it?

      1. grrrr says:

        AlexaClark grrrr wow…. that salmon was jaw droppingly good… almost took some from your plate when you weren’t looking. 
        now to crisp up those salmon skins for a snack, for later!

        1. AlexaClark says:

          grrrr What do you mean “almost” I saw you snicking a snick.  It’s okay, I snicked one back.  Thanks for doing this with me love!

        2. grrrr says:

          AlexaClark grrrr damn… you saw that?
          no probs… can’t wait to try the salmon belly again!

  11. Noel Wright says:

    Yummy healthy

  12. phdinparenting says:

    I’m enjoying all of these Live Below the Line posts. 
    I noticed your beet greens were “0”. Was that a typo or did you get them for free somehow? 
    Most of the posts I’ve seen so far are people who are doing the challenge alone and it was interesting to see how much more variety you were able to get just by doubling the budget (and cooking for two). I think the choices would be significantly greater too if you were cooking for a family of four. It would still be a challenge, of course, but I think easier to get variety, protein and vegetables in once you add more people.

    1. AlexaClark says:

      phdinparentingNope – the greens were FREE. They were left behind on the shelf when someone bought the beets but didn’t want the greens. It’s actually pretty common when beets are available to be able to get beet greens for free (or close) at major chains. They don’t really know what to do with them since they’ve already “sold” them.   I wrote about it here:
      re: shopping for 2 – yes it makes a huge difference having the cash flow to make better purchases and share some of the items one person alone wouldn’t eat all of, but can’t buy in smaller quantities.

  13. Rhonda says:

    Pork chops, turkey breast, salmon belly – Are we doing the same challenge? I’m dying over here – it sooooo doesn’t pay to do this alone. 
    I’m going to show your pic to my plus one and see if that’ll convince him to join the fun. If he doesn’t don’t be alarmed if you hear a scratching at the door – it’s just me and the dog hoping for any table scraps. Off to bed now to suck on some ice cubes.

    1. AlexaClark says:

      @Rhonda Turkey BONES with a little meat hanging on them.  Not turkey breast, I wish! And I admit the pork chops were a splurge which having grrrr involved allowed me to do. 
      I feel a little bad watching everyone struggle so much doing this alone, but in fairness I have done this for real and I learned some lessons about how to make this work… including pressuring your “roommates” (in this case spouse) to share food.

  14. Jody Haynes says:

    I can’t wait to see what you put together!

  15. Gillen Reed says:

    Fantastic. But I guess there’s no room for wine, huh? 🙂

  16. Alexa Clark says:

    Lois MacMartin Thrift if you are interested, you can see my food choices here. This is based on the Live Below the Line Canada challenge with a budget of $1.75 per person for 5 days for food and drink. Our drink is water.

  17. Nice choices!  I’m amazed at the resourcefulness of the participants.  Thankfully you know your way around a grocery store and a kitchen, which is an advantage people who are living this way don’t necessarily have, and I imagine it’s still not going to be easy.
    I considered doing the challenge, but with a number of food allergies (including eggs and wheat) I really don’t think i can do it… I don’t know how anyone with food allergies could get by on that little allowance, which is another sad facet of this issue.

    1. AlexaClark says:

      Maranda CarvellYou raise an excellent point Maranda.  I do have an egg intolerance and have been off wheat (by choice) for 3 months, and my spouse simply can not eat legumes so beans were totally out so eggs and wheat get thrown back on the table.  However I am definitely feeling the impact of this change in diet which is so wheat heavy.  
      Thank you for joining in the conversation, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the next post where one of my other readers said ” I worry about having talented, knowledgeable, confident cooks tackling the #livebelow challenge….” and more.

  18. Sue Worth says:

    I’m fascinated by this challenge.  My husband and I are vegans and very budget conscious… I wonder how much farther the challenge could be stretched without having to worry about any meat! Nice going!

    1. AlexaClark says:

      Sue Worth It would be interesting, thought I have to say I wasn’t worried about getting meat so much as making sure we had protein we could eat.
      Beans, lentils and nuts would all be viable alternatives but I didn’t price them out.  A friend told me about a tofu byproduct that is something like $1/lb and high in fibre, but I don’t remember the details. My spouse can’t eat legumes, which means no soy or bean products, so animal protien is generally the most effective for us. 
      I spent $6.03 on animal based products, of our total $17.75 budget.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’d spend that instead and how far it would go on other forms of protein.

      1. Sue Worth says:

        AlexaClark Sue Worth I’ve recently been experimenting with seitan (gluten flour) as a meat substitute which is extremely high in protein.  I think at Bulk Barn it’s fairly resonable and the recipe doesn’t involve a lot of ingredients.  It makes excellent ‘suasages’ which we incorporate into our meals as ‘bangers and mash’ or break up into spaghetti sauce etc.  a good protein alternative I think which makes a change from beans and nuts.

        1. ruyoung says:

          Sue Worth AlexaClark 
          i love seitan!
          i used to buy a package of pre-made seitan from whole foods for $6.99 but that was only enough for a meal for two.
          we now buy a 623g package of vital wheat gluten from the grocery store for i think $5.99 and it is enough to make a meal for 10, plus it only takes an hour to make and freezes well.
          i poach it with vegetable broth that i make myself from the stems of broccoli, bit of vegetables, etc, so the cost of the broth is already included in the fresh vegetables. 
          i like to add a bit of soy sauce to the flour when mixing it (if only to see the beautiful marbling) or garlic powder to add a bit of flavour, and i’ve had some success with adding a bit of curry powder or ground pepper as well.

        2. AlexaClark says:

          ruyoung Sue Worth
          At  $5.99 for 10 servings that comes out to roughly the same as what I paid for my animal proteins.  $6.03 for 10+ servings.

  19. Stephanie Reid says:

    Where the hell do you find 12 eggs for 2 dollars? In make believe land?
    Tell me your secrets please ’cause where I shop, eggs, peppers, pork chops, hell, EVERYTHING, is way more expensive than that.

    1. AlexaClark says:

      @Stephanie ReidWell, I didn’t say it was easy.   I shopped a lot. I mean a LOT!  I went back to one grocery store 3 times until I was absolutely sure they had the best price on eggs.  (Though based on the fliers, you can usually get 12 regular or large eggs on sale for $1.99 if you shop around. Usually No Frills, Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys… the big name stores.  Or even Giant Tiger if you have one. They have good deals on some off-brand staples.)
      The pasta was another item where strategic shopping saved me 1/3 of my food budget for a day.  An almost identical bag on non-generic pasta was on sale just a bit further down the aisle at Loblaws… but cost 50¢ more.
      The vegetables were almost all purchased at the St. Lawrence Market at the end of a Saturday when they sell things off that won’t last until the following Tuesday.  They all have bruises or dents, but sometimes that means you get a great deal, sometimes a little bit of a deal. And frankly, sometimes it’s not a deal at all. it’s not.  Again, you have to  pay more attention than I generally want to. 
      The meat – well that was just luck. I got the pork chop and the turkey back at the Metro down near St. Lawrence Market.   Those pork chops were very thin and in the discount meat area.  (and that’s not a happy phrase “discount meat”.)  You have to shop in that section both strategically and with a very keen eye since sometimes the “deals” are way over their good-to-eat date.   Watch your meat for colour, smell, off-gassing when you are buying this way. 
      I’m not sure if your question was rhetorical or not Stephanie, but I hope this helps. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *