Food Stamp Challenge: Living on $31.50 a week

October 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm 6 comments

Here's a sampling of the food I got for the week.

About a month ago during one of our weekly meetings, our fearless leader Ra suggested that our team take the Food Stamp Challenge, a national call to action to live off the food stamp allotment ($31.50) for one week. I was personally interested in taking it because I wanted to get a better understanding of where our participants are coming from.

Here are the guidelines (modified from the Fighting Poverty with Faith rules):
1. Keep your total food and beverage purchases under $31.50 for the week.
2. Include fast food and other restaurant meals and beverages in the total cost.
3. You may use pantry items you have at home like spices, but avoid staples like canned tomatoes, which should be included in purchases.
4. You may include free meals to you.
5. You can start and end anytime, and if you don’t make it, that is ok. You will know what it is like to live on a food stamp budget.

Most of us decided to start Monday, which coincided with Food Day, a grassroots effort to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.

When prepping for my week of eating on a food stamp budget, I took a long look at my habits and likes. I know I drink way too much coffee and don’t pay enough attention to what I buy. I try to make lists that I inevitably forget at home and even though I try to plan my meals I end up eating out a lot more than I should. I love to go out for lunch and dinner with friends and family … both of which are luxuries that one on a food stamp budget can’t afford.

I sat down to write a list and after I thought I had a pretty good variety of food, I set off for Kroger Sunday to buy food for my week of eating on a food stamp diet.

At Kroger, I bought:

1 pound of yellow onions, $.81
1 head of garlic, $.75
4 jalapeno peppers, $.50
1 pound of Honeycrisp apples, $1.99
1 bag of brown rice, $.82
2 cans of black beans, $1.72
1 green pepper, $.52
Stonyfield yogurt on sale 4 for $3 with card
Loaf of whole grain bread, $1
Package of corn tortillas, $2.29
1 can of diced tomatoes, $1.39
1 container of romaine lettuce, $1.59
2 bananas, $.31
Collards, $1.29
Kroger total: $17.98

Then I went to Meijer and bought:

¼ pound of deli turkey, $1.08 ($3.99/lb)
Dozen eggs, $1.79
Shredded cheese $2
Granola, $2.79
Package of chicken breasts, $4.68 ($2.49/lb)
Meijer total: $12.34

Total between both stores: $30.32

Yikes! Now I only have $1.18 for the rest of the week. Not much of a cushion. I figured I could use that to get more apples or bananas when my fruit runs out.

When I get home I realized I probably should’ve gotten a tub of yogurt instead of the individual cups of Stonyfield, which is my favorite but I got distracted by the pretty sign that said it was on sale. Despite the gimmick, it was still expensive. I also should’ve gotten a whole chicken instead of the chicken breasts. In terms of fruits and vegetables, I feel like I am woefully lacking in this department. I kicked myself later when I saw apples were $.59/pound at Meijer but I rationalized it by saying I only like Honeycrisp so they wouldn’t have gotten eaten anyway. I also don’t have enough dairy … definitely not enough for 3 cups a day.

While planning my meals, I figured meat and seafood would be out of the question since these are usually the budget busters. So I figure I could get some chicken and plan on making two things to last me the week. Luckily for me I like leftovers. I decide to make a huge pot of black beans that I can use in a variety of meals from my morning eggs to rice and beans at dinner. I also poach the chicken breasts and save the liquid to use like broth (I added some onions and garlic while cooking) and then I can shred up the chicken to add to the rice or to salad. Using the poaching liquid, I also made a batch of tortilla soup. Finally I cooked two cups of brown rice.

Also, I decide that this is the week that I’m going to attempt to forgo coffee because at $9.99/bag for my favorite coffee, that is a third of my budget. Even Folgers or Maxwell House coffee would be $4-5, which is not budget-friendly. For those of you who know me, no, I haven’t been abducted by aliens. Going from at least 6 cups to zero is going to be rough. But I figure I have to cut down anyway so might as well start now. (I apologize in advance to my friends and co-workers for my bad behavior.) I have a coupon for a free coffee at Starbucks that I will be cashing in when I’m going through withdrawal, probably this afternoon before my teen class.

I worked a long day Monday (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. between two jobs) so this required planning the night before. Usually when I’m doing a long day like this I get takeout, which can run up to $10.

Here’s how Day 1 went:

Breakfast
2 scrambled eggs wrapped in 2 tortillas with some beans

Lunch
Food Day lunch, which we ordered from our volunteer chef Alison at the soup kitchen. We brought healthy lunches for our fellow Gleaners at our different distribution sites. Ra said as part of our challenge we could include free food, so here’s today’s freebie. I picked the turkey sandwich and there was also a small cup of potato salad, an orange and granola bar. I ate the sandwich and potato salad and saved the granola bar and orange for a snack later.

Mid-afternoon snack at about 4 p.m.
Now I’m at my second job. At this point I’m getting really hungry (not to mention sleepy as this would’ve been coffee time) so I scarf the granola bar and an apple that I packed in my bag for dinner (I’m saving the orange for another time since eating an orange at a keyboard is not an easy feat). And then about an hour or so later I’m hungry again! I think it’s all in my head. But it is worth noting that I can’t just dig into my bag and pull out a snack or hit the vending machine. I drink more water.

Dinner
Rice and beans with some cheese … really craving something else, like veggies for a more well-rounded meal
1 orange

This is more or less what I’m going to eat every day; the only other variations would be to have granola and yogurt instead of the eggs in the morning or have a salad with chicken instead of a turkey sandwich for lunch. The only other thing I’m going to cook is the collards and I’ll probably do that on Wednesday so I can eat something new other than rice and beans.

What do you think of the food I got? If you’re doing the Food Stamp challenge, share your thoughts with us this week!

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Volunteer spotlight: Alex Zurkiwskyj Volunteer spotlight: Phil Jones

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sharon, San Francisco, CA  |  October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Good for you for giving this a shot. I think doing this every so often is a good eye opener, to how some of our habits cost money. Carrots are cheap and make good snacks as well as a nice addition to chicken and rice soup. If I were buying what you did, I’d have bought a whole chicken, and roasted it. That would give you a couple of dinners and you could make chicken salad for a sandwich or two as well. You could make chicken and rice soup from the carcass.
    You could make your own yogurt, too. It’s easy and cheap!

    Reply
    • 2. dorothy hernandez  |  November 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Sharon,
      It was definitely an eye-opener for me … I didn’t realize how much food I was wasting. By getting a little creative I could make my food go a long way.

      I like your ideas, especially with the chicken. There is so much you can do with a whole chicken and that’s what we try to teach in our classes.

      I would love to hear about how you make yogurt!

      Reply
  • 3. dcommunicator  |  November 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I loved reading this! I had no idea about little things like using the poaching juice or using the beans in multiple meals!

    I think the interesting thing is that while poor people many not have success with things like using poaching juice–at the same time, we would’ve known how to shop w/that 31.50$–like, I would’ve gotten bags of beans instead of cans, and I would’ve replaced the chicken with like you said, either a whole chicken (with bones that can be boiled for soup) or peanut butter, which would’ve gotten you a more substantial lunch and would’ve lasted longer!

    It’d just be interesting to me how poor folk and chefs can continue to share their knowledge past this one week!

    Reply
    • 4. dorothy hernandez  |  November 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      My mom uses poaching liquid as broth all the time in her cooking so I can’t take credit for that one! But you are definitely right on with your ideas on the PB and whole chicken … I’m thinking of doing the challenge for a whole month and see how I do, another challenge beyond just one week.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • 5. Link Love | communicatinginthed  |  November 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    […] Food Stamp Challenge: Living on $31.50 a week About a month ago during one of our weekly meetings, our fearless leader Ra suggested that our team take the Food Stamp Challenge, a national call to action to live off the food stamp allotment ($31.50) for one week. I was personally interested in taking it because I wanted to get a better understanding of where our participants are coming from. […]

    Reply
  • 6. Judey  |  January 29, 2012 at 6:39 am

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Leap-Year-Challenge-2012/103228786464357
    I started the Leap Year Challenge 2012 to encourage people to really use the extra day we all receive this year and make a difference in their community.
    Each day a different way to do that is featured. Today I offered the Food Stamp Challenge, and a link to this post.
    That you for all Gleaners does to make a difference in our communities every day!

    Reply

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This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720- 6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (855) ASK-MICH. Space-Limited USDA/DHS/MNN Credit Statement This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. These institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. People who need help buying nutritious food for a better diet call the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline: (855) ASK-MICH.

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