Gwyneth Paltrow lasted four days: Could you eat for $36 a week?

Shine On
Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow vowed to live on $29 (about $36 CAD) of food for a week. She lasted four days.

Last week when Gwynnie tweeted her paltry pickings as part of the SNAP Challenge in support of the Food Bank for New York City us regular people snapped.

“I almost feel sorry for her,” Tim Caufield, author of the new book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, said in a phone interview with Yahoo Canada.

“She was trying to bring awareness of poverty from a nutritional perspective… but she’s curated a very particular brand for herself.”

The actress, worth an estimated $140 million (USD), has certainly curated an expensive, often tone-deaf, brand for herself via her website Goop. The lifestyle website is currently promoting the SNAP Challenge, but it’s also promoting Soupure, which sells a five-day soup cleanse starting at $375 (about $458 CAD). That’s more than some Canadians can afford to spend on food for an entire month.

Paltrow responded to the “brouhaha” on Goop posting three budget-conscious, healthy recipes and gave herself a C- after failing the SNAP Challenge.

The SNAP Challenge challenges high-profile celebs, and low-profile everyday Americans, to live on the average daily food stamp benefit. According to the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges website participants “often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy.” On this side of the border we don’t have a food stamp program, but offer an array of social assistance programs that vary from province-to-province. On both sides of the border food banks often help people and families, whether getting government assistance or working low-wage jobs, that can’t make ends meets.

When the first food bank in Canada opened its doors in Edmonton in early 1981 it was supposed to be a temporary measure. Instead, food banks are now found across Canada and a whopping 841,191 Canadians use one each month, according to Food Banks Canada.

Trying to get enough calories and nutrients on a tight budget can be very challenging. The amount of money it takes to eat nutritiously varies from region to region, but generally it costs at least $50 per week for a single adult, said Shawn Pegg, director of policy and research at Food Banks Canada.

While there is no one official "poverty line" in Canada, those who have a net income of less than 18,000 to $20,000 per year living in a big city like Toronto or Vancouver generally will struggle to afford to be able to eat nutritiously, said Pegg. Once rent and other bills have been paid, there is often little left over for healthy food. If a person is vegetarian or vegan it can be even trickier. That’s why Matt Noble founded the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank, which runs on donations and provides fresh food, such as bananas and tomatoes, as well as non-perishable items such as rice, once per month.

Registered dietitian Melissa Baker knows first-hand how hard it is to eat well on a budget.

She is currently a student living in one of Canada’s most expensive cities. Before returning to school to do a master's in nutrition at Ryerson University in Toronto she took part in a welfare food challenge in B.C. in 2013. She lived on a mere $26 of food for week, compared to Paltrow’s $36. On that amount there was no eating out with friends, or the daily Tim Hortons coffee run many Canadians take for granted. Baker said other things many of us take for granted, include: having a car to go buy groceries; being educated about food nutrition and preparation; and having the proper tools, such as a stove, pots, appliances and cutlery, to properly prepare nutritious meals.

Unlike the Goop princess, Baker did manage to complete her low-income food challenge. Here’s the registered dietitian’s tips and sample menu for eating healthy on a tight budget:

Baker’s tips for eating healthy on a budget:

  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. While many people believe they are less nutritious than fresh, that’s actually not the case.
  • Meat can be the most expensive part of meals. To save on protein use alternatives such as tofu and beans.
  • Stock up on non-perishable items when they go on sale.
  • To cut down on food waste, buy fruits and vegetables that last longer, such as apples and potatoes.
  • Make meat, such as minced meat, stretch by mixing in lentils.
  • Buy a whole chicken and butcher and season it yourself. Precut and seasoned meat will cost more.

Baker shopped at grocery store Metro and bulk-food store Bulk Barn in Toronto and put together what a meal plan for under $5.15 per day, or about $36 for the week, would look like in Canada:

Breakfast (total $0.80): Cinnamon & banana steel cut oatmeal with a hard-boiled egg

  • 1/4 cup steel cut oatmeal ($0.12)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon ($0.02)
  • 1 banana ($0.27)
  • ½ cup milk ($0.14)
  • 1 large egg ($0.25)

Lunch (total $1.51): Tuna salad sandwich with carrot sticks

  • ½ can light tuna packed in water $(0.63)
  • 1 tbsp Life Smart mayonnaise ($0.05)
  • ½ large celery rib ($0.15)
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper ($0.02)
  • 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread ($0.26)
  • 1 cup carrot sticks ($0.40)

Dinner (total $1.97): Loaded cheddar & black bean baked potato with sautéed green beans

  • 1 russet medium potato ($0.24)
  • 2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese ($0.20)
  • ½ roma tomato ($0.30)
  • ½ cup black beans (cooked from dried $0.15)
  • 1 green onion ($0.14)
  • 2 tbsp 3% plain yogurt ($0.10)
  • 1 cup green beans ($0.72)
  • 2 tsp olive oil ($0.08)
  • Salt and pepper ($0.04)

Snack 1 ($0.67):

  • Apple ($0.40)
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter ($0.27)

Snack 2 ($0.19): stove popped popcorn drizzled with olive oil

  • ¼ cup popcorn kernels ($0.12)
  • 1.5 tsp olive oil ($0.06)
  • Salt ($0.01)

Grand total: $5.14/day

Gwyneth Paltrow couldn’t hack it, think you could eat healthy for an entire week on a mere $36 for the week? Weigh in below on how would you do it.