Meal or No Meal Activity Kit

Thinking with our Hearts: How “Meal or No Meal” Came to Be

It all started simply in a meeting with a small group of four who wanted to do some advocacy work connected to the Nutritious Food Basket costing tool for our area. The facts and figures were clear.  Each year, the results show that households with a low income struggle to pay rent and bills and to buy enough nutritious food for their families.  But how could we put a “face” on these numbers?  How could we make the connection between the cold, hard facts and living, breathing people?

That’s when the idea was born. The name Meal or No Meal, inspired by the Deal or No Deal television show, would be an activity where people would put themselves in the shoes of others living on a low income. We wanted to protect people’s privacy and dignity, but to tell their stories.

The activity was carried out with a group of invited guests in March 2011.  The participants used fake money to pay bills for fictitious people but their involvement was very real.  All around the room, groups budgeted for Murray, 46, who had lost his job; Margaret, 75, with an ill dog as her only companion; and the Reds, whose low-paying jobs made it hard to pay the monthly bills for their family of four.

At the end of the spending exercise, a facilitated discussion showed that the participants had used both their heads and hearts to investigate the subject.  We invite you to participate in this intriguing and eye-opening activity.  If you do, we’d love to hear how it went.  Please click here to email us at


Resources for the kit:
     What Will You Need
     Sample Invitation
     Sample Agenda (with details for organizers)
     Sample Participant Agenda
     How “Meal or No Meal” Works
     How to Set Up Your Team
     Considerations to Keep in Mind
     Money for Envelopes

Envelope #1 – Basic Budget:
     Scenario – Margaret, 75
     Scenario – Murray, 46
     Scenario – Red Family

Envelope #2 – “Life Happens”
     Scenario – Margaret
     Scenario – Murray
     Scenario – Red Family
Payment Station Layout
Possible Discussion Questions
Sample Participant Feedback Form
Nutritious Food Basket