The ACAA Arizona SNAP Experience 2011 drew in 50 participants from across Arizona as well as participants from Kansas and as far away as Thailand. We asked our SNAP Experience participants to blog about their week on a SNAP budget and share their reflections with us. This is a complete archive of those blog reflections. Thank you to all who participated and shared!
In Your Words: Stretching the Food Dollar
Starting last Thursday, I began to think more than usual about what I was going to buy/eat with $29.00 that would fill me up, be healthy, and have enough food for seven days.
My routine on Saturday mornings is to pull out the cookbooks to plan my menu for the week. This Saturday, instead of pulling out the cookbooks I went to the computer and Googled vegan recipes for less than $4.00 a day (my life style diet is vegan.) I also researched different grocery ads, and found that Sprouts had some great deals. While I was online, I realized how fortunate I am to have a home computer to plan my weekly menu.
It took longer than usual to do the food shopping. I wrote down the price of everything that went into the cart and added up the prices to make sure I was staying within my budget. This was quite a change from my regular routine which is: if I want it, I buy it. Another change: I found myself weighing a lot of the items before putting then in the cart. During my shopping trip, it occurred to me how fortunate I am to have transportation. I cannot imagine shopping this way with children and getting on a bus. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have no transportation or may not have access to a full service grocery store.
My lunches so far have been leftovers from the night before: Chickpea Curry with brown rice and zucchini and Kale and White Bean Stew (below right). Breakfast has been oatmeal, a banana, two strawberries, and two tablespoons of blueberries.
One thing I have learned already from the SNAP Experience is the amount of time and planning it takes to stretch the food dollar. I have missed having my usual BIG Salad with LOTS and LOTS of veggies, daily handful of nuts, and more to drink than just water. It is difficult to not walk to the refrigerator anytime I want and grab a snack. The photo above shows the all groceries I purchased for $28.54. I have 46-cents to splurge!
In Your Words: I Miss Variety
As a former SNAP recipient myself, I thought the SNAP Experience would be no problem. I already knew a thing or two about planning my meals, cooking from scratch and stretching my cupboard towards the end of the month as my SNAP allotment dwindled.
But my own real-life SNAP experience was different. I received the maximum monthly allotment of benefits, $200 per month for a single-person household, which translated into a more comfortable $45 per week. Since more than ½ my monthly income went towards rent and utilities, it was a relief not to have to worry about being able to afford food.
However, my SNAP experience was the exception rather than the rule. Arizona households receive an average of $126.61 per person per month. Benefits calculations assume that these families can afford to make up the $73.39 difference and afford a healthy diet from other sources of income. But many families faced with high utility costs, unemployment, medical bills, transportation costs, and large rent or mortgage payments try to stretch their SNAP money to cover all their food needs.
So how is life different on a more typical SNAP budget? I still prioritized buying vegetables, but with limited funds I skipped the salad and cooking greens in favor of cheaper, more filling produce like carrots, cabbage and sweet potatoes. The only fruit I could afford was a bag of apples. All those veggies left no room for grains in my budget other than the oatmeal I eat for breakfast and a few cheap corn tortillas. The lack of carbs means I get hungry often, and I’ve stopped exercising this week to save energy.
And…I miss variety. This is Day Six of my SNAP Experience, and I’ve had the same meal (peanut sauce over veggies) 7 times.
A typical day has looked like this:
Breakfast: ½ cup raw oatmeal, one apple, 1 cup soymilk, 1 mug (2 cups) of coffee = $1.16
Lunch: Peanut sauce over 1 and ½ sticks of celery, ½ a boiled sweet potato, ½ an apple, and 2 carrots = $1.31
Dinner Peanut sauce over 1 and ½ sticks of celery, ½ a boiled sweet potato, ½ an apple, and 2 carrots = $1.31
In Your Words: Day 1 On the Road
My Arizona SNAP Experience – Day 1
The Arizona Community Action Association (ACAA) has invited the community to participate in the 2011 Arizona SNAP Experience as part of Arizona Hunger Action Week (September 12 – 18). (Take the Arizona SNAP Experience ). In a nutshell, participants are living on a $29 budget,
which equals the average amount of SNAP (former food stamps) benefits received per week, for 7 consecutive days. But the experience does not stop there; participants will also attempt to eat according to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov (this has replaced the food pyramid we are familiar with).
There is an additional $12 optional budget for purchases that do not qualify under SNAP. Not thinking this through very well, I foolishly opted out of the additional $12 budget, which forced me to “build in” a cheat from Day 1.
Being out of town for an extended weekend, Day 1 for me was on Tuesday, September 13. Based out of Phoenix, I visit our Flagstaff facility every six weeks or so and today was the day. I also had signed up for a free workshop on navigating census.gov, which was held at the Coconino College. I got up bright and early, had my milk and oatmeal (which is actually a normal breakfast for me) and started heading up the hill. As I am driving, I finally had time to think about what food to buy and where and how to plan my meals. From there my thoughts wondered to the lunch plans I had, realizing the plans would not work well under this experience. I had opted out of the $12 cash fund, restaurants do not take SNAP benefits, and even if they did, I would be spending a big chunk of my budget and would go hungry the rest of the week. Trying to find a sensible solution that would allow me to network and meet up with friends and family this week, I build in a cheat: I can go to restaurants but I can only have Ice Tea, no food, no milk shake, only Ice Tea. Once in Flagstaff, I went to my seminar, which let out at noon, and lunch was scheduled for 12:30 at Pita Jungle. By now I was getting hungry but there was no time to drive to one of the grocery stores in town. Next to Pita Jungle is a locally grown, organic food market called New Frontier Natural Market. I decided to go to the market to get me something small to hold me over. Standing in the entrance I looked for a sign that would tell me that the store accepts SNAP benefits, the SNAP logo etc. Not seeing anything to that effect, I went to the information counter and asked. It seemed less embarrassing than asking at the register and having to leave the food behind if the store did not have a FNS authorization to accept food stamps in place. The young woman let me know that food stamps are accepted but not for certain items that are considered supplements and not for any of the ready to eat, hot foods. Wondering if she wondered why I was on food stamps, I thanked her and looked around the store. It didn’t take long for me to decide to tough it out without buying something to eat, cheaper than a restaurant; the price was still out of my league. So I set through lunch with my Ice Tea watching Lizzie eat Tzatziki and Pita Bread. In her defense, she offered to skip lunch but I insisted – it was definitely part of the experience!
In Your Words: My Experience So Far
– I’m a bit worried. ½ the groceries I planned to get for the week are either too expensive for this $29 budget or not available. I’m not sure how to readjust everything. It’s going to mean another trip to the store later this week. This requires a lot of planning!
– I was planning to grab a banana for breakfast. Unfortunately, they aren’t ripe yet. No time to grab cereal, so it’s off to work with no breakfast.
– I planned on drinking water at work today. The water cooler is almost empty so I was only able to get ½ a glass. It’s so inconvenient not to be able to just run down to Circle K for a bottle of water!
– The bananas are mostly ripe! I also grabbed some cereal to munch on if I get hungry at work. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.
– Darn! A friend asked me to dinner. I’m not sure if he was planning to pay, or if he was just planning on joining me, as he thought I was going to grab some food anyway. I only have $14 left for the week, so I declined.
– Somehow, I misplaced the bread I took to work yesterday. I had to buy another loaf. I could not afford to lose that dollar!
– I bought $2 worth of fresh vegetables for spaghetti tonight. I hate to cook, but this will last me for 3 or 4 meals. I hate eating the same things over and over again!
– I forgot my lunch today. I must decide whether to go home for lunch or if I should grab something cheap at Taco Bell. Not healthy, but closer to work. Hmmm.
– I’m starting to worry that I’m going to fail this challenge!
I never suspected how hard this would be. I hate having to plan out every single meal. I also eat on the run a lot so I tried getting things that don’t take a lot of work- like spaghetti, roticerie chicken, and cereal. Unfortunately, I still have to grab my food in the morning before work instead of eating out, which is a habit that is difficult to adjust to. Also, I have decided that spices, cooking oil, and condiments make the best gifts ever for people who rely on SNAP. I would never stand a chance if I had to include them in my $29 budget!
In Your Words: SNAPing in Scottsdale
Yesterday was day 4 of the SNAP Experience and I’m doing better than I thought. Although, for the first time ever I’ve had to brown bag it to my Scottsdale appointments. I had 5 appointments in Scottsdale with about a 2 hour break in between where I usually would have went to a sushi place or went to my friends restaurant LimeLight Dipping Bar and Grill. But I brought my Slim Rite nutritious shake and a half imitation crab meat sandwich with a serving of cream cheese. I don’t know if you can really call it a sandwich, because it was on one slice of white bread I got on sale and quite frankly it’s stale (which I realized why it was on sale). For dinner I had a little over $2.00 left to spend for my $12.00 supplement for the week and I used it to buy 2 99 cents Jr. cheeseburgers at Wendy’s.
At this point I was starving and when my husband kept asking me what I want, all I said was food. I didn’t care what I wanted, whether it was healthy or not I just wanted something to help my stomach not feel the way it was feeling. Not to mention that when I was driving, my eyes were a little more sensitive to light and I was feeling light headed. I was focused enough to make it through, but it’s not a feeling I want to really feel behind the wheel.
At the end of day 3 when I was sewing at 2am, it really hit hard about hunger and my mom’s own hunger story about my grandfather trying to feed 9 children. My mother always told me that in the Philippines, my grandfather use to sell fish everyday. He would buy 50 pisos worth, save two for the family’s dinner and sell the rest just to break even. When my stomach was growling and cramping while I was sewing, I was reminded of that story and wondered how anyone could feed 11 people with fish and rice and not be satisfied.
My mom also told me a somewhat funny story about a bag of peanuts, which I also thought of when my tummy was cramping. My mom had saved enough money for a bag of peanuts and the bully at school stole them. She was so upset, because that was the only thing she was going to have for lunch that she confronted the bully, but she got in trouble for yelling at him. As long as I can remember, I use to think that was funny. Fighting over a bag of peanuts and risking a beating for a bully for it too. And although, I don’t fully understand, the story is less funny when I think about the daily worries my grandfather endured to be able to feed his family.
In Your Words: Day 3
Today’s lunch is last night’s leftovers, plus some grapes. I estimated the meal to be about $1.14. My daughter made the comment this morning: “We are eating a lot of beans this week” and my husband explained that beans were an inexpensive and healthy way for us to get our protein for the week. My husband and daughter were pretty excited about the tostadas because it was actually something I’d never made for us before. I didn’t spend precious dollars on hard shells, I took the corn tortillas I got for $.98/dozen at Fresh and Easy and brushed each side with canola oil and threw them in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. I used the other half of the meat/mushroom combination from the chili and made taco seasoning out of spices I had in my cabinet and will do the same for fajitas later in the week (see the recipe below).
I’m reading in other blog entries about headaches, and I’m glad that I am not experiencing those- however, I’m not a caffeine or soda drinker, so “scaling” back to water wasn’t a sacrifice for me or my daughter. My husband, on the other hand, is having those headaches. The biggest issue I’m having is my caloric intake. I track mine daily on Sparkpeople.com and through the sparkpeople app on my phone. I’m projected to eat only 1,029 calories today and 25 grams of fat.
1 T. Chili Powder
1 t. ground cumin, rounded
1 t. black pepper
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. paprika
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
¼ t. red or cayenne pepper (I leave this out because it’s too spicy for my 5 year old)
1 T. cornstarch
Mix all together in a bowl.
Brown meat in skillet.
Add ½ c water and seasoning mix, stir to combine and bring to a boil.