Feasting on Food Stamps

When Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker tweeted he was accepting the Food Stamp challenge, we were already into Day 8 of our Thanksgiving turkey. I figured we’d get thirteen meals for two from this proud bird. How would maximizing this holiday feast fair in the SNAP Challenge?

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as Food Stamps. The SNAP Challenge was initiated to help educate the public on what it’s like to live on a limited food budget, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy. Most participants commit to eating within the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per person) for one week. While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month, it does provide those who take the Challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding.

Let me tell you, there is no feasting on food stamps. Let me also tell you that if you have any food issues, like celiacs disease which I have, you might as well start fasting now. I can battle with the best of them for cooking on a budget, but I would be in serious trouble if we were limited to $4 per day per person in our household.

Here’s how I approached our Thanksgiving feast. If I’m going to cook a turkey, I go all the way. I roast the turkey and that’s good for several days of turkey and side dishes. I boil the bones down, making my own broth for soup, good for several more days. This year I decided to also cook up the giblets for gravy. I don’t usually use the giblets because they are so disgusting and I have this aversion to eating organ meats known as filtering systems, but I wanted to maximize my use of this bird. The giblets actually allowed me to extend my gravy, so I’m glad I included them.

My gluten-free diet means have to travel to find the foods I can eat. Not only do I read labels, I don’t eat anything that’s genetically modified, enhanced, antibioticed … you get the idea. I have learned to embrace these restrictions and, as a result, we eat very healthy and rarely eat out. Our local grocery store cannot accomodate most of my food needs, so I  travel to nearest city which is 60 miles away to grocery shop. I don’t think our rural town will be getting a Whole Foods anytime soon. Because we only make the food trek every five weeks, I plan my menus. Thankfully, we can travel to shop; people on food stamps can’t.

Just the turkey and the soup it made came out to $3.54 per meal for two people for thirteen days. That left $4.46 for us for the rest of each day’s food. We’re fortunate that we work from home so we can eat our big meal midday. We usually have gluten-free cereal and rice milk for breakfast and something light (popcorn, sheep or goat cheese and gluten-free crackers and fruit) for dinner. Coffee or tea compliment our (tap) water intake for the day. Frugal, but still more than $4 per day per person.

Hunger is often hidden, yet it is a major concern for a substantial proportion of American families. Have you figured out what it actually costs for you to feed your family for a week? How many trips to the grocery store do you really make each week? How often do you eat out because there isn’t anything at home or because it’s easier? Can you feed your family for $4 per day per family member? What would your holiday meals look like if you were limited to the average daily food stamp allotment? Would you be able to bake those holiday treats?


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