Instead of a new diet (see my other recent blog posts where I tried out different trending diets), this week I focused on trying a way of life for some individuals. Since May 2018, nearly 40,000 Americans participant in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the new name for food stamps.
What is the SNAP Challenge?
The SNAP Challenge originated in 2008 when individuals were challenged people to eat for a week on the budget allowed by food stamps as a part of Hunger Action Month (which is this month!). It varies by state, but the national average is $4.18 a day per person or about $30 for the week. $30 for 7 days of meals. That’s it.
Buying $30 worth of food for the week is hard enough, but I wanted to up the challenge even more by not only eating cheap, but eating healthy and satisfying food as well. I feel this is where the true challenge in our society lies. Sure, it’s great having a dinner consisting of wild caught salmon, fresh kale, and organic quinoa, but the reality for most people is these kinds of meals are not attainable on a regular basis. How do we bridge the gap between nutrition and expense?
After watching YouTube videos on cheap meal prep, searching Pinterest for budget-worthy meals, and typing up my grocery list, I thought I was set for the challenge. Then, I went on King Soopers ClickList to get an estimate of costs and I realized I was way over the $30 budgetary allotment. After cutting out more expensive foods like meat, nuts, and herbs, I ended up with the following grocery list:
- 2 5.3oz Plain Non-Fat Greek Yogurts: $2
- Old Fashioned Whole Grain Oats: $1.59
- Peanut Butter: $1.39
- 2 Sweet Potatoes: $1.74
- 1 Avocado: $0.99
- 12 oz canned tuna: $3.29
- 1 can chicken broth: $0.59
- 1 cans chickpeas: $1.58
- 1 can corn: $0.69
- 1 can diced tomatoes: $0.73
- 1 can white kidney beans: $0.89
- 1 yellow onion: $0.41
- 2 potatoes: $1
- 16 oz spinach: $1.50
- 4oz feta cheese: $2.49
- 1 dozen eggs: $1.69
- 4.4 oz blueberries: $2.99
- 1 Celery bunch: $0.99
- 5 large carrots: $1
- 4 bananas: $1
- 1 broccoli head: $0.69
- 1 bunch of kale: $1
I did not include buying kitchen basics like olive oil, salt, pepper, and basic spices as these typically do not have to be restocked often. For my meals, I made frozen oatmeal cups, sweet potato quiches, tuna chili potatoes, hard boiled eggs, ants on a log, veggies and homemade hummus (made with peanut butter instead of tahini!), and spinach salads. I got a lot of my inspiration for these recipes from Mind Over Munch.
On Sunday when I was prepping the food, I felt super motivated and thought perhaps this wouldn’t be too hard. I quickly realized I was very wrong. By Thursday night, I was down to close to nothing. I was sick of eating the same foods and frustrated I wasn’t able to have my usual extras over my salads and oatmeal like strawberries, dried cranberries, nuts, chia seeds, flax meal, etc. I also realized since I exercise regularly, my hunger demands were greater than I planned food for. For someone with limited food supply, I could see how recreational exercise could be avoided with fear of not having enough food to fuel the extra energy expenditure.
By the end of the week when I ran out of food, I found myself out to eat at a restaurant with my friends, realizing my immense privilege now more than ever. Everyday, I am fortunate enough to be able to eat without fearing where my next meal might come from. This is not the reality for everyone.
Luckily, there are resources out there that can provide some relief. I did some searching and there are some neat food assistance programs locally where I live in Fort Collins, Colorado. We have a program called Vindeket Foods whose mission is to end food waste by partnering with local stores and nonprofits to rescue food and provide it to the community. There is another program called Double Up Food Bucks where those with food assistance can benefit from getting matched up to $20 in farmers’ market fresh produce purchases. EFNEP is another food and nutrition focused program that often offers free cooking classes with nutritious recipes and food provided. We also have a local food bank, the Larimer County Food Bank, who provides food to anyone who needs assistance on a daily basis. In 2017, they served 37,500 individuals. I have had the privilege to volunteer as a kitchen assistant and help prep healthy meals to be served. To find a food bank near you, click here. If you are from the Fort Collins area, this website is a great resource to connect you to other resources for affordable nutrition such as food pantries and soup kitchens, government and community programs, and food deals.
Throughout this week, I learned that the SNAP budget can definitely be a great supplemental tool in addition to income, as it’s intended to be, but alone this amount is not substantial enough to healthfully feed an individual. This experience reminded me that food is our fuel and nourishment for our bodies, and is not something that should be taken for granted.
There are many issues surrounding food such as environmental issues, food safety, diet related diseases, obesity, malnutrition, food insecurity, and expenses. Eating healthy on a tight budget is an issue that many Americans, especially those with limited income, run into. Although it’s no easy task, try out a few of these tips to cut your costs when shopping:
- Purchase shelf stable foods like oats, beans, and rice in bulk
- Snag the sales by looking ahead at weekly sales flyers
- Shop the “misfit” produce section that features discounted fruits and vegetables (these items are often blemished or imperfect to store standards but still have comparable nutrition, quality and taste)
- Buy frozen produce for long-term use (plus, typically produce is frozen at its nutritional peak!)
- Purchase less expensive proteins like beans, eggs, peanut butter, and canned fish
- In order to avoid boredom, try meal prepping for a month at time, and freeze various meals. This way, the meals will be different each week (Grab a slow cooker at your local thrift shop and make large batches of meals like soup or chili!)
- If you have a Farmers’ Market near you, utilize the Double Up Food Bucks Program to maximize your intake of delicious, local produce