Tuesday, January 1, 2013

SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge - Day One

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Several weeks ago, Bob and I agreed to participate in a SNAP challenge. Those who accept the challenge, agree to limit their food intake to what can be purchased on the budget set for food stamp recipients in their states. They may not resort to food gifts, meals provided by others or their own pantry stores. Here in Oregon, based on numbers that can be found here, the monthly food allotment for an individual is $128.24, which works out to a little over $4 a day. The purpose of the challenge is to give participants an opportunity to experience what life is like for millions of low-income Americans.

A little over a year ago, Bob and I became acquainted with a family whom relief agencies would classify as Working Poor. We were charmed by their children and we hope the challenge will give us a deeper insight into the limitations of their daily lives. There is an unfortunate stigma attached to food stamps and those who use them.  Many assume that the program is rife with abuse, and, while no one would deny there are problems, most who receive SNAP benefits are law abiding citizens and much like you or me. In 2006, 26.5 million Americans received food stamps. That number spiked during the recession to over 45 million people, many of whom are still on distribution rolls.One in seven Americans gets food stamps and in some states that number is one in five. A breakdown of the numbers is interesting; 49 percent of recipients are Caucasian, 26 percent are African American and 20 percent are Hispanic. I hope my attempt to muddle through the constraints of this week, will illustrate that life on food stamps is not a free ride or get rich quick scheme. For starters, the maximum SNAP allotment is not large enough to cover the cost of food that would meet the minimum nutritional requirements established by the FDA.

While I think I've risen to the challenge, preparations for it were intense. It began with a five hour scouting expedition to determine where needed items could be purchased most reasonably. I quickly understood that it pays to shop around. Milk, at the most expensive store in town is $2.83 a gallon. It's $4 a gallon everywhere else. The situation is the same with eggs. Certain dairy products appear to be loss leaders at our more expensive stores. A dollar or two makes a huge difference in what you can do within the confines of this challenge. Everything, save spices and condiments, must come from your weekly allotment. That meant that items such as cornmeal and oatmeal had to come from bulk bins, if costs were to be kept in check. My lowest moment came when I had to buy cornstarch, baking powder and baking soda from the bins in tablespoon quantities. I had hoped to use the self-check lane, but the bags wouldn't scan so I had to use the express register. The look on the cashier's face was priceless.

Once I had priced ingredients, I tackled the recipes I needed for the week. Many of the dishes I had hoped to use didn't fit within the constraints of the program. I never dreamed that a dish like Chili-Mac would be too expensive for the SNAP Challenge, but it was. That slowed me down a bit, but using Bob's protein requirements as a guide, I developed recipes of my own to use for the program. I can promise you that, while they may seem strange, they are delicious and reasonably good for you. More importantly, they are also filling. I ask only that any RDA's among you treat me kindly. I really did do my best, but fresh fruits and vegetables were just too expensive for this exercise. Beginning tomorrow, I'll be featuring the recipes I've develop for the challenge.

The provision run came next and while I had to visit several stores, a detailed shopping list made quick work of it. I must tell you that I became quite familiar with the aisles at Walmart, a store I had never frequented before the challenge. You can see the contents of my SNAP pantry in the photos below. I spent a total of $ 59.31 on food for the week.

                                   Produce - $ 9.53

                 Frozen Foods - $ 4.58

                      Staples - $ 15.29

                        Meat - $ 14.72

                       Dairy - $ 12.15

             Bread - $ 3.04 (Outlet Store)


One Year Ago Today: Brioche a Tete

Two Years Ago Today: 2011 Year-End Round-Up

Three Years Ago Today: Guinness Bloody Mary


Red Nomad OZ said...

Happy New Year! Can't wait to see how this challenge pans out! Are you going to offer your shopping list/recipes to the SNAP program afterwards?? And it's an interesting contrast with your 1, 2 & 3 year ago recipes!!

Ginny Hartzler said...

I have a friend on food stamps. I will be very interested to see what comes, Happy New Year!

What's Baking?? said...

It will be interesting to see what you'll be whipping on a tight budget. I think this SNAP program is a great idea. All the best.

Coleens Recipes said...

This is fascinating!! I'm amazed you got all that meat for 14.72, I totaled it up and it would cost me about $25 and that bread here is over $4 a loaf!! I will definitely be checking in to see what you make!! I don't think I've ever met anyone who hasn't grocery shopped at Walmart before, lol.

Taste the Rainbow said...


How saddened I was to read that fruits didn't make the budget. It's very eye opening that these foods which are essential to our health have to given up.

I only hope that the people with young children have free school breakfast and lunches available to them, so they can get fresh fruit there. One case in point is that you have purchased green peppers, most likely for the lower cost than the red pepper is. Although the red pepper has much more calcium in them, they are double the price.

This is very eye opening and I will be following your posts this week to see what receipes you have come up with.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Regards, Mary

Alicia Foodycat said...

This is so interesting. I am very impressed you took on this challenge - highlighting what for some people is daily life is really important. Looking forward to seeing what you eat!

Rhodesia said...

An interesting challenge.
Happy New Year to you and your family. Take care Diane

Lsarpolis said...

You are truly amazing! What an angel you are to put yourself in others shoes, and do your best as you have done.
I would like to tell you I am not in the snap program, however I do live on a very strict budget of $40 a week for groceries. This helped me tremendously and opened my heart so much this morning, thank you for great start to a new year'

Allie and Pattie said...

Mary, as we start a New Year, this is a wonderful way to remind ourselves to include compassion among our personal resolutions. I shared this on my Facebook wall- I'd love to see all my friends follow you on this journey
xoxo Pattie

Schnitzel and the Trout said...

I will be very interested in how you do this. We usually buy our meat at Costco and figure out that we spend from 5-6 dollars per meal for the two of us on meat by doing this. You just may have to start teaching people who receive food stamps how to do this.

Unknown said...

What a great challenge this is! I think it's very wise for all of us to know what it's like to live on such a tiny little budget. About 10 years ago, I wasn't on food stamps, but I was darn close - it's definitely a challenge to come up with new and creative ways to cook dinner, can't wait to see what you come up with!
Happy New Year, Mary!!!

Kim said...

It is really a great challenge... a challenging challenge!!!! I can't believe how many people who struggles to eat right! I'm pretty excited to see what you will come up with!

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

Mary, what an important message. When I shop for produce I am always struck by the prices and ponder the implications of this post. Why is a single red bell pepper more expensive an overly processed box of hamburger helper? Why are government subsidies going to Corn farmers but not nearly as much to Green bean farmers? Processed foods, loaded with additives and high fructose corn syrup are always on sale, with plenty of coupons to make them even more attractive, but a family living on $4 a day could never afford a full dressed salad...


I did take a second and "pinned" your post. Hope lots of folks take the time to see this

Dave, who used to be Year on the Grill

What's next said...

I can't wait to see what you come up with. I'm the nurse at a school where lots of the families are on Snap. I wish I could share the idea of nutrious meals with them rather than the junk food route they seem to take.

Janice said...

It's great that you Are raising awareness in this way. I recently did a wartime ration challenge and it certainly focuses your mind when your supplies are so limited.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Happy New Year everyone. I want to jump in here to address the anonymous comments that I have been receiving. First, anonymous comments are never published on this blog. If you want to be heard I, and my readers,need to be able to contact you. Moving right along. this post clearly states that that $4 is the daily allotment for an individual. Thirdly, SNAP is only one component of possible assistance an individual may receive. This is a SNAP challenge, not a welfare challenge and it will focus only on what can be done within the confines of a SNAP food budget - the focus of this challenge. Blessings...Mary

KimH said...

Cant wait to see what the days ahead bring. Some 20+ years ago I spent about 4 or 5 years need to use Food Stamps.. While I hated every minute of it, we actually ate very well. I had a garden that supplemented fresh veggies most of the time & I really learned how to stretch those dollars. I live far differently now, but I've not forgotten how to make something go on forever in a good healthy way. Looking forward to your posts! Blessings!

mellissina2 said...

Happy New Year!!!

Susan Lindquist said...

I will be following your series of posts with great interest, Mary! It was a really hard challenge when SB and I did it ...

Sheherazahde said...

I have been looking forward to seeing your SNAP Challenge. As a SNAP recipient the only comment I have about your purchases is that Cube Steak and Kielbasi are usually out of my price range. I tend to stick with chicken and ground beef. It's amazing what you can do with spices. Tomatoes and onions are a blessing I could not live without. There was a time when chicken liver and gizzards were less than .49/lb now they are closer to 1.49/lb. I can get chicken leg quarters for .59/lb. There is a reason most of the world lives on rice and beans.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Sheherazade, I'm so glad you stopped by. The smoked sausage costs $2.98 here. I had to remove the cube steak from the menu because I couldn't afford the other ingredients needed to complete the recipe. I had already taken the photo of my purchases before I discovered that. I hoped no one would catch it :-) Goes to show you!!! I'll be visiting your blog later today. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Melinda said...

I applaud you and look forward to seeing how this works out!

M :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I will be interested in your recipes, too!
I try to spend $75 or less - a week for our household of 3, so it is good to find I am doing well.
No prepackaged foods, no soda, no chips, etc.
It is a very satisfying challenge to actually make all our food, especially since I love to spend time in the kitchen!
What a great inspiration!

Buttercup said...

Look forward to your recipes. I was running some of the prices through my mind and it would take a lot of running around in New York City to make this work.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year.

Allie said...

Hi Mary,

After looking at the pictures, I just wanted to throw out a couple ideas to help you streamline your costs:

- A head of lettuce is usually cheaper than buying salad mix.
- You can usually get tea more cheaply than coffee.
- A loaf of bread costs, generally speaking, less than 50 cents to make, which makes it cheaper than even the discount store bread. You can usually get a 4-ounce jar of
off brand yeast for about 2-3 dollars.
- Chicken thighs that come with meat are a better value. Not only do they cost less per pound, but you can render down the fat attavhed to the skin to use in cooking (on days you don't want to use meat), but you also get the bones for making stock. Alternately, buying a whole chicken is often a great value since 2 people can usually get up to 5 meals plus stock out of it.

Lucia from Madison said...

Looking forward to your next posts. I am still shocked about the amount of money per month.
Happy New Year.

tender b. said...

This is a great way to bring exposure to an issue that a lot of people in politics just seem to brush under the rug.

Sheherazahde said...

I want to point out something that hasn't come up yet. Many people on SNAP don't have cars or the time to go to several stores to get the best prices. Imagine your shopping trip if you had to travel by bus while working two jobs and caring for two children. Try living on SNAP when the only store you can get to is a "convenience" store.

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