Working Within The Rules – Live Below The Line

Preparing for the Live Below The Line challenge has been our main focus around here this weekend. What we’ll eat, what we won’t. What to buy, what we won’t. How to maximize our food budget of $1.75 per day.

Gerry has mentioned repeatedly how this would be “much easier in August when there is plenty of food to forage around Toronto.”  

As soon as I tell anyone I’m doing this they immediately start coming up with creative ways to get us fed.

“Oh that’s no problem for you with all the food events you go to”, one friend said.

It’s hard to imagine someone living like this for 5 days without taking advantage of every opportunity to get something for free.

Another suggested I “go to the closest food court or McDonald’s and stock up.”  They are both great places to get lots of salt, pepper, sugar, creamers, ketchup and vinegar in small packages.  But really you should buy something to get these, and that’s not in our budget.

Sugar In Public

“Squirrels, now is the time to eat those damned squirrels my father recommended when I told him what I was up to. They should be pretty well fed since they have their choice of all the food that is thrown out in downtown Toronto.  He even offered his Brunswick Stew recipe (which I already have and, yes, traditionally it’s made with squirrel.)

Frankly, when you are hungry and broke these are all options work, though there are some ethical elements to consider and there is a point where  snagging creamers and sugar packets for your breakfast wears you down emotionally.  It doesn’t take that long.

I won’t be taking advantage of the ideas suggested above, though I appreciate the thought behind them. However, I will be taking advantage of the following loop holes:

The Pantry Loop Hole

I have a full pantry since by nature and training I am a stock-piler.  Why buy 2 potatoes when you can buy 10 lbs.  I have followed the rule to “shop with just the cash in your budget” to the best of my ability, but I’m using my pantry for things that I could buy within my budget but that I already have.  This includes potatoes, chili flakes, cooking oil, and a couple of other items I don’t remember right now.

Sour Dough

I also have sour dough starter that is essentially dried bits of my fathers 30-year-old sourdough that are left around the edge of the sour dough container. It’s been stored dried in my freezer and I’m hauling it out to get some sour dough rolling. While I’m paying for a little yeast to kick it up and the flour, this will keep me in fresh flavourful albeit small batches of fresh bread for the week.

The Foraging Loop Hole

While I won’t be scooping up salt and pepper at the nearby fast food joints, I have already started foraging.  I’d be delighted to find ramps.  Unfortunately I don’t already know of a patch in downtown Toronto. Even if I did I seriously doubt I’d get to them in time since so many people are clued into ramps these days. But I’m putting it out there, just in case.

The Grocery Store Foraging-ish Loop Hole


One of my favourite foraged goodies is beet greens!  People buy beets for those luscious red bulbs but forget there is another whole vegetable attached to the top.  They twist and rip them off to fit the beets into their bag, and cast aside the best part of the beet!   If you see a produce guy doing it you can usually get the beet greens for free! Sometimes a lot of beet greens.  One time I came home with 5 bunches.  Beet greens and swiss chard are my favourite leafy greens!

Yesterday at the Metro I found a pile of beet greens shoved in with the beets sneakily. As if the person who did it was doing something wrong.  It was right for me.  I found a produce guy, and he priced those greens at zero dollars and zero cents!

Rejected Beet Greens!


I did not forage these, but I seriously considered it. This entire batch of asparagus was sitting on top of a compost bin at the end of the day at St. Lawrence Market. Not in top shape, but some times it’s worth it.

Rejected Asparagus!

The Garden Loop Hole


I have a deck full of chives which are perennials from a small patch we transplanted over 10 years ago. They come up every year and we couldn’t kill them if we tried. We’ve tried, they started a coupe and now grow in all our planters every spring. I see some chive dumplings in my future.
Deck Chives & Maple syrup

Maple Syrup

As my regular readers know I recently made maple syrup for the first time. Absolutely free to make, but I am limited myself in it’s use in this challenge. Still I want to make sure I document it.

So there you go… my starting point.

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.  You can support me in this challenge by donating on my behalf, donating to Bloggers Living Below The Line, or supporting one of my two local hunger charities: 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.

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

16 thoughts on “Working Within The Rules – Live Below The Line

  • April 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I’m not sure I could have passed up all that asparagus, and I wish I’d thought more about foraging before getting my food for this challenge. I will have to try some beet greens though, even without the extreme budget limitation. They sound pretty good!

    • April 30, 2013 at 11:07 am

      realfood_guide The asparagus was pretty thin and wrinkly, but I agree.  If I had already been hungry at least 3 of those would have come home with me.

      • April 30, 2013 at 8:12 pm

        AlexaClark realfood_guide They looked pretty good, actually. I might keep that in mind next time I go to St. Lawrence and see if anything hanging about outside is a good candidate for juicing or dehydrated snackies. 🙂

  • April 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    It’s awesome to see people taking up this challenge. Can’t wait to read about your progress–I’ll be cheering you on, Lex! I’ve tried a food budget of $3 per day before, and I’ll admit it was a bit of a stretch. I found a few things helped, though:
    – Baking my own bread.
    – Consuming as much of a vegetable as possible, i.e. beet and carrot greens (though, I didn’t know you could just ask for them–Thanks for that tip!!).
    – My parents’ garden–tomatoes abound!
    – Soup, soup, soup. Leek and potato is particularly filling and cost-efficient.
    – Bananas are cheap and they fill you up. A lot.

    Ever consider freeganism? 🙂


    • April 30, 2013 at 11:09 am

      JulieTyios Thanks Julie.  
      I will be baking my own bread, though flour is surprisingly expensive in small quantities. 
      I’m using all the vegetable trimmings in a broth with I’ll dump some noodles in later this week for lunch.  That gets me all the nutrition available and an almost free lunch. 
      I didn’t even think about the bananas since I don’t usually eat them. Great tip though!

      • April 30, 2013 at 8:07 pm

        AlexaClark That is true about the flour, unfortunately. Especially if you buy organic. 🙁
        One more thing I forgot to mention is okara, which is the leftover pulp and fibre from tofu making. It’s super cheap to buy as it’s a waste product, and adds tons of fiber and protein to round out an otherwise weak dish. You can mix it with carrot pulp to make “leftover” veggie burgers, or put it in soups, stir frys, and other such dishes for protein. I pick it up for about $1-2 a pound at Ying Ying Soy Foods in St. Lawrence Market.

    • April 30, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      JulieTyios I’ve considered freeganism. I don’t know where to find any such things in Toronto. I do shop the racks of produce that’s gone off. Usually I juice it.

      • April 30, 2013 at 8:10 pm

        Andrea Toole I think the best place to look would be the backs of grocery stores. I used to work at one and they’d dump “old” produce by the ton. 🙁
        I don’t think I could be a freegan, but I definitely do that same as you in buying reduced produce. Most of it is only slightly marred on the outside and you get such great discounts that way!

  • April 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Greens rule!

    • April 30, 2013 at 11:10 am

      andrea from the fishbowl It’s amazing how often they get tossed.  Though I’ve found it more often at the chain stores, independents generally  know how to make a dollar from extras, and I’ve never seen it happen at a farmers market.

  • April 28, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    What a great challenge, I can’t wait to read about your meals each day

  • April 29, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Fantastic! I just read your blog–no wonder you’re showing us your greens like snared food. Another freebie are the cauliflower trimings–they are always thrown away, which is a shame because they’re delicious!

  • April 29, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks guys! And Gillen, I didn’t know about the cauliflower trimmings. I’ll be on the look out now.

  • April 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Because I read all of your Live Below posts this afternoon (I caught one of your links on Facebook), they were on my mind when I was at Walmart and No Frills earlier shopping for dinner.  I stopped to consider what could be done with cheap chicken hearts, pork snouts and internal organs. I’d never seen pork lungs or intestines on styrofoam trays. It could all go in soup but neither of us could bring ourselves to buy “meat” from a styrofoam tray for dinner when we’re so used to getting our meat at the butcher. I felt weird even referring to it as “meat”, hence the quotation marks. No protein was purchased.
    The next time we do a pig roast it might be worth keeping the extremities for soup. Usually we devour the cheeks first and the brain, eyes and snout are left behind- though I tried brain and eyes for the first time last fall.

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