If I didn’t call this failure, it would be hypocritical. That said, I,m reporting back on the outcomes of our food stamp challenge. Challenge – it was. As a full-time working mom, could I feed my family of five, nutritious meals on a food stamp allocation of $30 per person per week?
Let me get the failure part out of the way first. There are a couple things that might cause the purists amongst us to think we didn’t meet this challenge. First, my darling husband ended up being out of town for five of the seven nights. This wasn’t a problem except that I didn’t cut back our food budget to accommodate. I suppose if this was a reality show, we’d have received the money regardless so perhaps that isn’t the failure that I’m calling it. And, at the end of the week there were plenty of left overs which could theoretically be “his portions”. Second, with the exception of one day, I was able to scrounge around the office and “find food” meaning that some meeting group had sandwiches left over or that I raided pretzels from the break room. And finally, we had one evening out during the week already planned where we ate quite well and it wasn’t included in our budget. Call it failure or call it real life.
Monday: White bean soup with arugula and parmesan, salad
Tuesday: Okra and vegetable curry with brown rice
Wednesday: Black beans and brown rice with salad. (chicken thighs for the meat eaters)
Thursday: Leftover night
Friday: Pizza made from prepared dough and left over toppings, salad
Saturday: Dinner out
Sunday: Salad, bean soup, potatoes and steaks for the meat-eaters
For breakfasts, we had a mix of foods like waffles, eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal and potatoes. I even managed to slip in one green smoothie. Weekday lunches for the kids were exempt since they would be included in a free-lunch program and my husband could take from the fridge leftovers as desired. Kids snacks were fruit, tuna fish sandwiches and quesadillas. One of the hardest parts of the challenge was that I didn’t clear the cupboards before we began so when I got home from work and the kids were eating something that wasn’t on a menu or hadn’t been purchased with our psuedo-stamps, I added it to our list.
Despite the fully disclosed failure, we did it. The largest ticket item was our CSA subscription at $23. All of our produce was local and organic. Our eggs were local as was the honey on our cereal and the white cannellini beans for our soup. The meat was organic and sustainably raised. This can be done but that doesn’t make it easy. Read on.
The Lessons Learned
1. I have to start with the notion that this was easier because I do have a family of five and hence, with more per person allocation, I had more flexibility. This may be much more difficult for a single person with $30. For inspiration on one-person meals, take a look at Poppa John’s blog. Information about how to shop and prepare for one may be an unmet need.
2. Access to good nutritious ingredients is crucial. A few weeks back, Laura Silverman posted this link on my blog and I believe that the issue of food deserts must be addressed.
3. I quickly adopted a hoarder mentality. This was especially true at lunch time where I was looking for a way to not buy lunch and therefore, possibly eating more than I otherwise would have. Does the thought of scarcity cause one to consume more? It’s another concept worthy of exploration.
4. Planning is essential. Rather than wait until dinnertime when we were all hungry, I had a plan that was both nutritious and cost conscious. If I’d have left it to whim, and waited until spur of the moment pangs, prepackaged foods would have been much more convenient. What types of tools are we providing for individuals who are forced to budget this way?
5. We were able to rely on our knowledge of healthy foods in order to prepare nutritious meals. Remember from Jamie Oliver’s experience that it’s not just about educating kids but that many of the parents today grew up eating convenience foods. There is an opportunity to create a stronger knowledge base.
6. Knowing how to cook is paramount to making healthy meals. Clearly, this was not a fancy menu but knowing how to use a crockpot and what vegetables to throw together contributed to our experience. Are we offering food preparation classes to folks who live within a budget? How about the development of a crockpot camp?
The total cost: $135.77
The experience: Priceless