Tag Archives: I took the SNAP challenge

SNAP Challenge Week Lessons

 

So today (Tuesday) marks one week of the SNAP Challenge for me. (If you don’t know what the SNAP Challenge is or why I’m talking about it, take a peek at my earlier post).

The week went very closely according to plan. I ended up having so much leftover from the soup I made that I did not use the can of tuna. I had coffee 6 out of 7 days, but only one cup. And I only needed an extra boost from green tea on three days.

FOOD BREAKDOWN

Here is a breakdown of all the food purchased and consumed throughout the week:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 7.59.07 PM

If I calculated out the exact costs for the week, it would be quite a bit less than my target, as I still had 2 eggs, 1/2 bag broccoli, all but 4 tbsp margerine, plenty of garlic salt, 6 slices turkey bacon, half a jar of peanut butter, a few slices of bread, some rice, potatoes and lentils, and 6 bags of oatmeal left! Even with the full price added in, I had $2.44 left to spend at the end of the week.

There were only a few cooking-intensive meals, then several meals consisting of leftovers. Peanut butter sandwiches were always a go-to in case I didn’t want leftovers for lunch and dinner, or just needed a hearty snack throughout the day.

SNAP MEAL PLAN

Here is a break-down of all the meals I ate this week:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 7.57.01 PM

This ‘diet’ may actually have been for the better, as I was eating less meat and calories in general, and slowly cutting down on caffeine. I actually felt quite healthy throughout the majority of the week, though energy spikes and troughs as well as a growling tummy was more frequent.

LESSONS LEARNED

Overall, this week was not as difficult as I imagined it being, but I recognized some significant advantages:

1. I have a fully functional kitchen. This includes a microwave, stove-top, oven, refrigerator, and freezer. I have ample containers in which to store excess cooked food to be eaten again later. This all helps in stretching the food you do have.

2. I do not mind the process of cooking, eating leftovers, or the same meal multiple times. In fact I enjoy those things. There are tons of people who do not like one or all three. Being able to cook, even simple methods, is limitlessly helpful in stretching your food dollars versus convenience foods. And being willing to cook large batches and re-eat that meal later is also a huge money saver.

3. I have access to fresh, affordable produce and very reasonably priced staple food items. Many, too many, people do not have access to fresh produce, the ability to stop at four different stores to price-compare, or to pick up 2 cucumbers for $1 just because they’re on sale, they look fresh, and you want a snack.

4. I have been in the practice of planning, shopping, and cooking for myself on a very tight budget for a very long time. Many people who end up on SNAP due to unfortunate circumstances have no practice with coupons, budgeting, or meal planning. They may not know how to stretch a dollar because they never had to before. This just adds to the overall burden.

Over the next few posts I will be posting the recipes of meals I cooked during the challenge, so stay tuned!

 

Final Thoughts

I decided I am going to buy a duplicate of all the foods I had this week, and donate them to a local food pantry so others in my community can be fed. I am also hosting a food drive at my work place until the end of the month.

I hope you took something away from this, and if you’re not inspired to take on the challenge yourself, at least you’re more aware of the daily struggles millions of your fellow Americans face, and know more about how you can help.

 

 

 

**UPDATE: All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

SNAP Challenge – Tracking Week

 

If you don’t know what SNAP is, or why I’m talking about the SNAP Challenge, check out my earlier post about SNAP.

Wednesday ended my week of tracking for meal costs. I calculated every thing I ate each day, and used receipts and records to add up how much each day’s food and drink cost. You can see on the graph below that I averaged just over $5 per day.

SNAP track week

This does not include costs of food given to me by other sources, such as shared snacks at my work place, cupcakes a new neighbor baked for me (so sweet), or food and drinks at a party. I also cook and eat the majority of my meals at home.

Days 2 & 3 included half a Chipotle burrito and that is why the cost is significantly higher. Eating out is (almost always) more expensive than a home-cooked meal.

For the upcoming week, my challenge is to live off only $28.70 worth of food and drinks.

My strategy is always to make cost effective foods the center piece of the meal plan, supplemented by as much fresh and frozen produce as possible. I know I have a significant privilege and advantage over the average SNAP recipients in that I have access to no fewer than five different grocery stores, each offering rotating sales.

Sprouts Farmers Market is always my first stop for extremely reasonably priced fresh produce. I got a 5 pound bag of potatoes, and a few small amounts of fruits & veggies. With a rough idea of a meal plan, I headed to King Sooper with the change and rounded out the week. What you see below is what I will be eating.

IMG_5124

And to prove that I am still within budget, in fact with $4.31 to spare, here is the spread sheet where I figured out exactly how much each item cost and how much I had left to spend:

IMG_5126

I also calculated the cost of a cup of coffee (16oz is a cup for me…) with cream as $0.17, including the filter, so depending on how often I need coffee I will add that in at the end.

Wish me luck! (To participate in the challenge yourself, check out Feeding America).

 

**UPDATE: Challenge complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

The SNAP Challenge

 

September is Hunger Awareness Month, I’ve recently become aware of a social movement being dubbed “The SNAP Challenge“.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and is how millions of low-income Americans obtain the necessary food to survive. The benefits, lowered in November of 2013, now equate to on average $28.70 per individual per week, or $4.10 per day, roughly $1.36 per meal.

1in6

The premise of the challenge is that you will only spend the equivalent amount of SNAP benefits on all food and drink for one straight week. No eating out, no bulk buys, no food sharing or freebies. This gives the challenge-e a peek into the lives of those who live on this budget not by choice but out of necessity.

THE CHALLENGE

I decided to take on this challenge in two parts. As touted on this blog, I already cook and eat in a frugal manner. Years of school-life budget have forced me to find shortcuts and substitutions to keep my bank account out of the red while still enjoying my meals.

So, the first part of this challenge will be to track every food expense for one week. Then I can see just how much more than SNAP I spend daily in my usual routine.

hunger action month

The second, likely more difficult part of the challenge, would be to take $28.70 to the store to get all the food and drinks I would have the following week. Then I will track every item and post every recipe.

I am going to allow myself one “cheat” rule here.

I am always looking for deals, and keep a detailed record of each food purchase. Therefore I will allow myself to use some previously purchased, but unopened, food items which I have a receipt record of for this challenge (such as oatmeal).

This is because people on such a budget likely do not spend it all in one day (though the majority of those households on SNAP have run out of benefits by the third week of the month) and have some non-perishable items they use throughout the month or beyond.

THE PLAN

As of now, I am planning my week’s meals around staples which I know from experience give the most “bang-for-the-buck”, nutrition for the price. I intend to build in a $5 “cushion” if I can manage it, for food emergencies. I am also going to try to get as much fresh fruits and/or vegetables into my budget for the week, and build in snacks. Because I am human, you know.

This week of tracking will end Tuesday, and my week of SNAP meals will begin on Wednesday. I will post an update on the tracking on Thursday, and check in on the lessons I learned soon after the week is over.

CALL TO ACTION FOR READERS

If you are intrigued and want to learn more, or if you are interested in taking the challenge yourself, check out Feeding America, the USDA website, or FoodShare.

It is estimated that one in six Americans go hungry every day. Your colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors may be quietly struggling. You can do small things to make a big difference.

Host a food donation drive in your church, work, school, or community and donate the food to a local food bank. Volunteer your time to sort and distribute donations, or drive meals to home-bound people in your neighborhood.

Donate money, because in the right hands a dollar still has a lot of buying power to feed a kid who otherwise couldn’t have more than one meal today. And just start conversations about hunger and food insecurity, learn about it and share.

orangeHere are some suggested questions to ask yourself during your SNAP Challenge week from Feeding America:

DAY

PROMPT

1

How did your shopping cart look compared to a normal week? What choices did you have to make about the types of food you could afford, where you shopped, or the nutritional quality and variety of food?

2

What have you cut out of your routine to stay on budget (e.g. COFFEE)?

3

How would this experience be different if your spouse and children were also eating off a limited food budget for the week?

4

How has eating on a limited budget impacted your mood? Your concentration? How has that impacted your interaction with family and coworkers?

5

Are you worried about your groceries running out before the end of the Challenge? Do you feel you are you eating a healthy, balanced diet? What nutrition decisions did you have to make?

6

We know that low-income Americans have to make choices between groceries, prescriptions, gas for the car, utilities, and other household necessities. After living on a limited food budget this week, how has your perspective changed about the decisions families facing hunger must make?

7

In November 2013, the government will cut SNAP benefits for all recipients. These cuts will be $36 for a family of four – dropping the average benefit per person per meal to under $1.40.  How would this week have been different for you if you had even less money to spend on food?