Tomorrow, I start the Food Stamp #SNAPChallenge. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the program where low-income individuals and families gain federal support to buy food. It overall aims to help with food security.
I heard about this challenge through the St. Louis Metro Market who participated in the challenge throughout April 2016. As part of the challenge, I have a budget of $28 to spend on all my food for a week. That’s $4 a day which is the average benefit given to a person who is living on food stamps.*
At Craveity, we talk about food security, but I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to worry if I can afford my next meal. This challenge is an opportunity for me to better understand what it’s like to live on food stamps. According to Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), participants “often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy.”
My goals for the #SNAPChallenge
Through this challenge, I hope to…
- Get a better understanding of the difficulties and restrictions for people living on food stamps
- Demonstrate that you can still have delicious and nutritious meals if you’re living on a food stamp budget
I feel confident going into this challenge. I believe that I can make healthy, nutritious and filling foods on the $28 budget because I think of myself as a savvy shopper and cook. I already check nutritional content and unit prices carefully for the foods I purchase, and I almost always check the store ad for sale and in-season items whenever I make my grocery list.
As for being a savvy chef, my fiancé says that he’ll look in the fridge and see nothing to eat, whereas I’ll look in the fridge and craft a whole meal with the same items. Even still, it’s very possible that I’m over confident.
Step 1: Purchase Food
So far, so good. Step 1 has been successful: I bought my week’s food within the budget.
I had a few things going for me. First of all, I already purchase a number of versatile, healthy and inexpensive food items, so I was able to craft a shopping list fairly easily. Not everyone, especially people who don’t enjoy cooking, may not have the same advantage.
Not only do I know how to use the items on my shopping list, but I also buy them often. I was able to estimate the total cost of my shopping list before I went to the store fairly accurately. That saved me a lot of time and frustration during check out.
Here’s What I Bought:
- 1 Bunch Spinach
- 1 Sweet Potato (about 1 lb)
- 1 lb Broccoli Crowns
- 1 Cantaloupe
- 2 Tangelos (1.25 lbs) – Imagine larger tangerines
- 2 Roma Tomatoes (About 0.5 lbs)
- 1 Sleeve Garlic (3 Bulbs)
- 2 Large Avocados
- Approx 1/2 Cup Walnuts (from bulk section)
- Approx 1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries (from bulk section)
- 1 Dozen Large Eggs
- 1 Loaf French Bread
- 1 Bottle Basalmic Vinegar (16.9 oz / 500 mL)
- 1 Small Bottle of Olive Oil (8.5 oz / 250 mL)
- Chicken Thighs (about 5 lbs)
- 2 Small Bananas (About 0.5 lbs)
- 1 Jar Peanut Butter (16.3 oz)
- Total Cost: $27.90
I bought the tangelos instead of navel oranges which were originally on my list. Tangelos were the same price per pound and overall smaller so I could get two fruits for less money. The cantaloupe, tangelos, sweet potatoes and chicken thighs were on sale which helped me buy more food for my $28 budget.
The peanut butter and bananas were not originally on my list, but I was able to add them to my purchase since I apparently estimated high. One item that I considered buying but was not able to afford was a 3lb bag of yellow onions for $0.99 which would add flavor to the soup, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, and more.
I haven’t planned my meals day by day, but I put together a menu of options that I’ll reference throughout the week:
- Scrambled Eggs w/ Veggies (Tomato, Spinach and/or Broccoli)
- 1 Egg Over Easy on Toast w/ Tomato and Avocado Slices
- Egg Sandwich
- Plain Scrambled Eggs with Side of Toast and Fruit
- Toast w/ Peanut Butter (Optional: Add Banana Slices)
- 2 Hard Boiled Eggs
- 1/4 Cantaloupe
- 1/2 Veggie Sandwich
- 1/2 Avocado with Salt
- 1 Tangelo
- 1 Banana w/ Peanut Butter
- Walnut and Dried Cranberry Trail Mix
Lunch or Dinner
- Oven Roasted Chicken Thighs w/ Sauteed Spinach and Garlic Bread
- Basalmic Glazed Chicken Thighs w/ Roasted Broccoli and Sweet Potato
- Spinach Salad with Chicken and Orange Balsamic Dressing
- Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries, Walnuts and Balsamic Dressing
- Veggie Sandwich w/ Avocado, Tomato and Spinach
- Shredded Chicken Sandwich (Same as above w/ Chicken)
- Chicken Panini w/ Roasted Tomato and Spinach
- Poached Egg over Veggie “Hash” (Spinach, Broccoli, Sweet Potato) w/ side of Toasted Bread
- Chicken Soup made from Shredded Chicken, Spinach, Homemade Chicken Stock (Chicken Bones, Veggie Scraps, Garlic), w/ side of Garlic Bread (Optional: Add Dropped Egg for Egg Drop Soup) – This one will be an experiment depending on what I have leftover.
I am going to try to calculate the cost and calories for each meal; however, that could be extremely time consuming. I will do the best to track what I can within a reasonable amount of time.
Difficulties & Anticipated Challenges
- Variety of Food – I have a limited set of ingredients so I will need to be creative.
- Enough Nutritional Content – I don’t know the nutritional content (i.e., protein, vitamins, nutrients, calories, etc.) of each of my meal options. It’ll be a challenge to get enough nutrition in terms of amount and variety.
- Purchasing Small Portions – Smaller sizes tend to have higher unit costs. Typically, I buy larger sizes with the intent to use that item over many weeks or months. For this challenge, I had to buy smaller sizes (of olive oil for example), so I got less bang for my buck.
- Not Using Existing Foods – To stay true to this challenge, I won’t be using any ingredients, spices, condiments or pantry staples from previous purchases (with the exception of salt and pepper). I can only make meals with the items I bought this week, so I am somewhat restricted on options. Fortunately, I planned this challenge after a trip so my fridge is cleared out, and I don’t have to worry about wasting perishable foods.
- Inability to Eat Out – My week usually consists of meals with friends and networking happy hours, but food stamps aren’t valid in these situations. I’ll be avoiding food and drink at these events. This’ll be a test of my will power.
- No More Budget Available – I spent the full $28 budget on my first purchase so I have no option to add other items that I find out I need.
If you are interested in joining me in this challenge, let me know and we can try it together. I plan to start on Monday, May 2nd and go through Sunday, May 8th.
If you are currently living on food stamps or interested in easy, inexpensive and delicious recipes, try Leanne Brown’s cookbook and free PDF “Good and Cheap: Eating Well on $4/Day.”
* $4 is a commonly stated daily average for the federal SNAP benefit per person; however, data supplied by the USDA suggests an average of $31/person per week (roughly $7 per day) for January 2016, calculated by taking the initial national January 2016 benefit divided by number the of persons participating in the program in January 2016.