SNAP Challenge 2010 – Archived Posts

The ACAA 2012 SNAP Challenge was created by ACAA and participants were drawn primarily from ACAA staff and our Board of Directors. This is an archive of posts from the 2010 Challenge.

If you are interested in viewing our 2010 SNAP Challenge blog, please visit

For more archived posts, please check here, herehere and here.


SNAP as Social Insurance

Americans are quite risk-averse and we love to have insurance. We spend thousands of dollars every year on all types of insurance: health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, renter’s insurance, professional liability insurance, flood and fire insurance, travel insurance. We buy warranties on our MacBooks, our cars, and our phones. Some people even have health insurance for their pets. The list goes on. The purpose of insurance is to smooth consumption over time and over different states. We want to enjoy a relatively consistent quality of life, even when unexpected, costly things happen to us. In order to maintain that consistency, we’re willing to pay a smaller, regular amount of money ahead of time for use in the event that, God forbid, the dreaded thing occurs. We join with lots of other people to do this so that a third party can apply the law of large numbers and accurately estimate the risk and the expected payout. The third-party conveners, insurance companies, tend to make some money on the deal because we are incredibly risk averse, but basically, this is how insurance programs of all types work.

Though we may not always think of it this way, the government is one of the great insurance providers in this country. The government provides Medicare and Social Security, insurance against outliving your saved resources. Unemployment, insurance against the event that you’re temporarily without work. Disability, insurance against the event that you are permanently without work due to a debilitating condition. The “social safety net” in the US is actually made up of a large number of social insurance programs. The government usually takes on a social insurance program when private provision fails in some way; the premiums are mandatory taxes and the payout is available to anyone who finds him or herself in the adverse state (read: becomes “eligible” for benefits).

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) is one such social insurance program. We, taxpayers, pay into the system so that, in the unlikely event that our household resources are cut, we can still eat. We pay a small premium for the program in taxes and, in exchange, we are eligible to receive a payout in the adverse state. We are legally entitled to receive this assistance from the government because we are legally required to pay taxes.

It is curious to me, then, that there is so much stigma around the use of SNAP benefits. We do not look down on people who send in claims to their health insurance companies to pay for doctors visits. We would not begrudge a family their homeowner’s insurance check after their house burned to ashes. We don’t hesitate to send our Apples back to the factory when the screen cracks or the fan makes a strange-sounding whirr. In fact, we feel entitled to do these things because we bought insurance. We paid in, we should get the pay out. In fact, I would venture to say that we would think a friend unwise if he paid for those repairs out of pocket while he had a warranty on file. The gift of social insurance is that, as citizens and taxpayers, we always have a warranty on file in the event that something should happen.

Almost all able bodied adults have, at some time, paid something in the “system” and therefore deserve to reap the benefits of that contribution. It is high time that we stop treating SNAP users as anything less than rational, responsible, proud individuals who know their rights and expect, like we all do, for our government to make good on its legal obligation to protect us from the worst-case scenario. We are all insured; we need to stop judging and villifying those who seek to call on that insurance for help.



Heightened Awareness

My ideas about food stamps before the challenge were minimal. I, luckily, did not have to think about how they affected ME or my family. I knew many of the families we served were using food stamps and that many more of them qualified than were enrolled.

When presented with the challenge, I was pretty confident our family could do it as we had a food budget and had usually eaten pretty healthy. Well, we did it, but not without a lot of thinking, planning, rethinking and not going out….something that has become our “treat” to ourselves.

Since the challenge I have a heightened awareness about how easy it is for me to just go buy what I want, eat what I want and not worry. That is no longer the case. I am MUCH more cognizant of others’ struggles in this area and I am more mindful of what I spend and eat.



Closing Thoughts

When I committed to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge I thought, no big deal I like beans and rice, I can stretch my food budget and make this work. What I learned was how far out of touch I was with the reality many of our clients face every day. I spend an amazing amount of money on “luxury food items”, those things which do not necessarily nourish my body but I have become accustomed to the taste or convenience of the items. I also realized much of my social life revolves around food. I meet friends over lunch to visit, my kids will call and ask me to meet them for coffee, and when I am tired and headed home after a long day at work I would rather go out to eat than shop and prepare a nutritious meal on $2.50. Things I learned about myself; I am cranky when I do not get the food I am accustomed to, I depend on comfort foods to see me through challenging times, and I am not a skilled bargain shopper. I am glad I took the challenge and will encourage others to do the same.



Shift of Views

Before starting my internship with ACAA I hadn’t given much thought to what the SNAP program actually provides to the individuals and families that are using it. Overall I viewed the benefits as a positive way to maintain a healthy diet. My views quickly shifted as I began to think about personally experiencing a week on a Food Stamp budget. My thoughts about maintaining a healthy diet throughout the week went out of my mind when I was going through the grocery store. I found myself choosing foods that I knew would last longer and make me feel fuller, and they were not necessarily the best for me. My experience made me realize that it is extremely difficult for families that are on Food Stamps to maintain a healthy diet.

I also thought about how difficult it would be for families that were on their own without other supports. Thinking back to when I was growing up, I cannot remember a time that I was hungry or went without a meal. My mom was a single parent who worked at least two jobs to support my sister and me. I can remember shopping with my mom at a place similar to a food bank in Iowa. Looking back, my grandparents were a huge support for us and I don’t know what we would have done without them. We would often go over to their house for family dinners throughout the week. Now I realize that that support must have been a huge help to my mom and one of the reasons that prevented her from having to apply for food stamps. In trying to connect my experience I realized that many of the families that are on Food Stamps do not necessarily have the support system that I did so they are not able to receive free dinners throughout the week. I am truly humbled by the families that do whatever they can to feed their children.

Throughout the week I was surprised about the amount of money that I typically spend on meals, and the number of times that I go out to eat or have food provided for me. As a student I am constantly on the go between school, my internship, and work so I typically take the ‘easy route’ and grab something to eat between running around and it most definitely adds up. I was almost embarrassed about the amount of money that I would typically spend and the things that I would eat. I especially noticed a difference in my eating habits on the days that I wouldn’t have any food with me and I became hungry. Instead of walking to the restaurant or vending machine I would wait until I got home to eat my food that I was able to purchase for the week. This experience helped me open my eyes to what it is like for a person who is not able to take the ‘easy route’ and what they may through. I also realized just how much extra time and effort has to go into shopping and planning so that people have food when they get hungry. Although I feel like I was able to experience what it was like to be on Food Stamps for a week, I don’t think that I have anywhere near the understanding about what the Food Stamp participants truly go through day in and day out. I am truly thankful for the experience and I hope that I can use my new awareness to better serve families that I come in contact with throughout my future.



As I mentioned when I first began planning for this event, I immediately put myself in a place of scarcity. I knew I would have to “go without” certain foods and experiences, I knew that I would likely get hungry at times during the week, and I knew that when I shopped, I would go for the cheapest items possible, and likely not eat healthy meals.

I found myself upset and sometimes angry that this level of funding is thought to be appropriate for an individual to live on for a week — and I spent the $30, not the $21. I did have some food left, and was ultimately surprised that if I made meals that lasted a while, I could get by fairly comfortably. However, I did get bored with those meals – white chicken chili is good once or twice during the winter, but daily for a week is a bit much.

I had occasional thoughts about just quitting the Challenge – but didn’t.

While I don’t consider myself a “foodie” by any stretch of the imagination, I did miss going out to eat, I missed an occasional glass of wine, and I missed the social interaction that takes place around eating.

However, and more importantly, this exercise made me face a number of issues.
· I do not ever want to be in the situation that would require me to be on food stamps, for that would mean that I would have much more going on in my life than not being able to eat and drink in a manner I choose.
· I feel reinvigorated about developing some strategy to help members of our community understand the plight of the low-income, and feel some empathy and then support for them as valuable individuals deserving of an opportunity to become “successful” or return to a life of success/abundance.
· I also feel reinvigorated about how to change opinions and destroy the myths about families in poverty. I am not ignorant to the fact that in any system (look at banking) there are those who take advantage and manipulate their circumstance. However, they are the minority and need to be dealt with appropriately. Those who are honest and living by the rules deserve our trust, our respect and our friendship and support.
· We all have a lot of work to do, in what appear to be difficult times – a $1.3 billion state budget deficit. But persevere we must, and succeed we must.

My thanks to Heidi, Marie and Katie for their work to make this Challenge happen and to bring this experience to ACAA. My thanks also to those of you who participated.

I am truly grateful to you all for the work you do every day and the interest you have in making Arizona a place where everyone can Thrive.



Past Experience

During a difficult time in my life and my family’s, food stamps were a true blessing. It was a relief to know I did not have to worry about where my family’s next meal was going to come from. There were other things as head of household of a low income family I had to worry about for example: paying rent, utility bills, clothes and etc. While being on food stamps, I knew in my heart that it would only be temporary. I knew this was not the ultimate plan for me and my family. Although I am no longer eligible to receive food stamps due to becoming a full-time employee, we as a family still live on a food stamp budget. My children are enrolled in the reduce lunch program at their schools. I do though have a little more freedom to purchase what I want to purchase instead of having to limit myself. The food stamp challenge reminded me that God is definitely moving me glory to glory. I was once on food stamps and, yes, although I am still on a food stamp budget I am still moving forward.

During the challenge I realized that shopping for one was more difficult and more boring. For example, as a family you are able to pull your money together so you have more options. It was also refreshing to witness others’ willingness to do the challenge and gain an understanding of the people they serve. Thanks to all of you who participated!



Thoughts on the SNAP Challenge

People with medical issues must have a hard time meeting their nutritional needs like me who has diabetes

I forgot one day & went out to lunch & that put me behind on budget!!!!

I do not make grocery lists or budget my food so this was a wake up call on how much I really spend!! It is better not just to go up & down the aisles throwing anything you want in the cart. They must really have to be careful.

There are lots of items you cannot buy with SNAP that you need on a regular basis

Meal planning made a difference

No impulse buying was really hard!!!

I was coming back on vacation the first day & airport food was expensive & fast food was cheapest but not the best nutritionally.

I found it is easier to buy economically for a larger group than one?

My overall impression of this “challenge” made me respect their ability to feed their families on this limited budget but we are failing them on their health


Challenge Week Reflection

Pick up the pear and feel the weight of it in my hand.

Put the pear back on the shelf.

Pull out the spinach, notice it’s wilting around the edges, and decide it’s salvageable.

Take pear out again and decide half of it, sliced, will be enough of a salad topping.

Package second half in plastic baggie and wish I could eat it.

Add a handful of grapes, cottage cheese and dressing.

Wish I had some protein to add.

Eat salad and notice that I am still hungry. As in: as I finish the last bite I can still feel my stomach growling which is no doubt a cumulative effect of not having enough to ever really feel satisfied all week.


It’s like this at every meal for seven days. Every time I open the fridge or the pantry, I am mentally calculating out my choices to try to determine which one is smartest. Which one will maximize my food most effectively? How can I stretch two pears and two bananas so that I have some fruit every day? Should I eat the celery in egg salad, or dipped in peanut butter? If I have the corn tonight, am I really going to regret that choice come Saturday? Is there any way around this persistent headache and the gnaw in my belly that seems to have found me sometime Tuesday afternoon and hung around all week?

Every decision during Challenge week has felt momentous. It took me 40 minutes of grocery shopping (alone, because if my two kids had been with me it would have easily taken me twice as long) to spend twenty one dollars and twelve cents. Forty minutes of walking up and down aisles, selecting a food I like that was a good price, and then seeing how many other foods I liked at a good price I could match it with to get the most meals from the least ingredients. I put several things back. I chose packaged over fresh more than once. I left out meat (thank goodness I am nearly vegetarian so I didn’t miss them too much) and dairy, save for some eggs and fat free cottage cheese. I sacrificed volume for healthfulness and while it’s not a decision I regretted, it is one I doubt I would make week after week if I was on Nutrition Assistance benefits. There was some sort of smug satisfaction in being able to eat healthy foods for $21 a week at first. There was a pride in the nutritious foods and absence of junk or filler.

And then, by Thursday, the smug satisfaction was gone and replaced by regret that I hadn’t found a way to buy something – anything – that would feel like a ‘splurge’. I turned down free food several times. I went to dinner with family and pulled out a baggie of cut celery and a plastic container of peanut butter, and washed it down with water while they ate wings and nachos and lush salads tossed with bright and beautiful strawberries and golden pecans, dripping in sinfully mouthwatering dressing and accompanied by a steaming hot piece of bread so slathered in garlic I could still smell the smell when I went to bed hours later. And as the weekend approached, my positive attitude waned.

By Thursday night, I was dreading the weekend.

By Friday, I was feeling depressed. Heavy on my mind were thoughts of all the things that would change in my life if I had to live like this every week. The times I would have to say no to my kids or send them to bed knowing their blooming muscles and growing bones had not received enough nourishment that day and their bellies would be growling them to sleep. The every day pressure of worrying whether we’d have enough food to last the day…the week…the month. Saying no to an ice cream cone on a Saturday afternoon or an invitation to the State Fair (because who wants to go there and just have water?) or a leisurely breakfast of piping hot pancakes topped with a scoop of whipped butter and drenched in heavenly maple syrup all served with a fresh cup of coffee. Yes, by the time Friday had arrived I was feeling sorry for myself. I was almost feeling a bit depressed about the whole thing.

I realize this sounds trite. I realize that this was one week of my life, and that many people live with more difficult circumstances than I did, but they are not pretending. And so I worry when I tell people that this was my experience that I am coming off as elitist and priveleged and totally out of touch with the true experience of a family struggling to put food on the table.

That doesn’t make the way this Challenge made me feel any less real. This Challenge, for me, was not pretending for a week. I put myself in the shoes of someone receiving Nutrition Assistance as well as I could, and as a result by Thursday I was feeling helpless and sad.

We hear a lot of rhetoric about ‘those people’ on Nutrition Assistance. We hear about how ‘they’ are lazy. Fat. On drugs. Selling their benefits for a carton of cigarettes or a 12 pack. Living off the system. Not contributing to society. I always wonder with that last one whether a person might be deemed a better contributor to society when they have the inability to eat.

What we don’t hear is this: ‘They’re our mothers. Fathers. Sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles. Your grandma. Your neighbor. Maybe your co-worker or even your best friend. Some of them got there, to a place where they are putting food in the fridge thanks to Nutrition Assistance, by way of hard luck. Some got there by way of generational poverty. Some were born into it and some fell into it. And of course it’s also true that for some, a bad decision got them where they are.

We talk a lot about the choices people make. The choices we perceive them to have made which no doubt (we say) got them in this situation in the first place. We love a good Cinderella story in this nation. We want to hear that this little girl was born into nothing, got pregnant at 16, dropped out of high school and then, through sheer hard work and nothing short of that, pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made good. And now? Now she’s running an inner-city school and keeping kids off drugs!

We never talk about how this pulling-up-by-bootstrap is supposed to happen when that little girl doesn’t even own boots.


I saw a news story online recently, and maybe you did too?

And I almost laughed, except that it’s actually not at all funny. It’s condescending and judgmental and atrocious. And it’s running rampant, this attitude that ‘they’ are living off ‘us’ and as such ‘we’ need to tell ‘them’ how to live. We need to make them uncomfortable. We need to tell them no to soda. We need to teach them how to eat healthy foods. It’s about choices, after all, and if ‘they’ made the choices ‘we’ tell them are best, ‘they’ could eat healthy food inexpensively, get a great job and live the American Dream. Only, the American dream for far too many in Arizona right now is less “two kids, dog, white picket fence” and more “job that pays bills, food on table, and house not in foreclosure”. We are disappointed because we perceive that they made bad choices, so we deem it best to take away their choices altogether.

I’ve heard more than once, from people from all walks of life, that it can’t be ‘that hard’ to live on a smaller budget. That every day, families make choices that are difficult and trim the fat and tighten their proverbial belts and that if people only tried, they could live on beans and peanut butter sandwiches and in-season fruits and veggies. And I can’t say that I disagree entirely, except that it’s just not that simple. When the choices your family is making aren’t whether to go out to eat tonight or stay home and have leftovers, but instead are whether that pear should go on tonight’s salad or be packed with tomorrow’s lunch, the dialogue has to change. We have to stop thinking of how it’s affecting us to ‘pay for’ these families to eat, and instead think of how it would affect us if they couldn’t. How would we feel if we knew we were sending our kids to school with a balanced lunch, only to sit beside a classmate whose family couldn’t afford to send their child with more than a simple peanut butter sandwich? How would we feel if the tables were turned, and that was our sweet preschooler showing up with nothing more than two thin slices of white bread smeared thinly with peanut butter? How hard would it be to go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and have no hope of ever being able to change our circumstances?

People will tell you it’s about choices in life. If you do the right thing, you can have it all. If you go to school. If you work hard. If and if and if and then. So why do so many hardworking families find themselves wondering where their next meal is coming from? Who would choose that?


Weekly food log for Challenge Week:
B: 2 scrambled eggs, water
L: 1/2 a wheat pita with panut butter and banana slices, grapes, water
D: 1/2 a Pasta Roni with frozen brocolli
B: 2 scrambled eggs, water
L: Leftover Pasta Roni, grapes, water
D: Egg salad on 1/2 a wheat pita, 1/2 a pear, water
B: 2 scrambled eggs, water
L: Egg salad on 1/2 a wheat pita, grapes, water
D: Spinach salad with 1/2 a pear, handful of grapes and dressing, 1 cup of fat free cottage cheese, 1 small potato cooked with olive oil and spices
B: 2 scrambled eggs, water
L: 1/2 a wheat pita with peanut butter and banana slices, grapes, water
D: Egg salad on 1/2 a wheat pita
B: 2 scrambled eggs and water
L:Egg salad on 1/2 a wheat pita, grapes, water
D: Celery and peanut butter, water
B: 2 scrambled eggs, water
L: 1/2 a wheat pita with egg salad, pear
D: Corn on the cob, spinach with dressing, 1/2 a Pasta Roni, small potato cooked with olive oil and seasonings
B: Cottage cheese, water
L: 1/2 a Pasta Roni with frozen brocolli
D: No food left for dinner

Total: $21.12



SNAP Challenge 2010 – Archived Posts

The ACAA 2012 SNAP Challenge was created by ACAA and participants were drawn primarily from ACAA staff and our Board of Directors. This is an archive of posts from the 2010 Challenge.

If you are interested in viewing our 2010 SNAP Challenge blog, please visit

For more archived posts, please check here, here, here and here.


Food Planning

In preparation for this week, I spent $12.00 at the dollar store for packaged and canned items. I then spent $18.78 at Frys. I bought some fresh veggies. There was a bin of packaged bruised/a little wrinkled veggies. My package had two onions, 2 green bell peppers and a small bruised zucchini.

My son lives with me and I explained the challenge to him. I then threatened him with dire harm if he touched any of MY FOOD. He promised not to, but I am watchinghim!

Usually dinner is already cooking by the time I get home and we have dinner together. The challenge week changes this. Because I leave home early and get back late, I knew I had to prepare items in advance or I would end up having dinner at 9:00. This challenge reminds me of how my mother would plan to ensure food for the entire week for our family of 13. We never went hungry. Looking back I know it was a difficult task!

When I got home, I sliced up the veggies and put them into separate portions. I parbroiled about half, packaged and put in freezer. I put the pinto beans on the stove to cook. After the beans cooled, I took half and made refried beans. The other half I left “en bola” (whole). I also cooked some rice. I separated all and put in containers for separate portions.

Monday: I had my regular breakfast – a toast slice w/cream cheese and a cup of coffee. I had it black since I wasn’t sure if creamora qualifies as a spice or condiment. For lunch, I had a tunafish sandwich, applesauce and water. For dinner, I had oriental snack ramen to which I added some fresh veggies.

Tuesday: My regular breakfast. Did I mention that I have breakfast while driving to work? Anyway, too much going on at work, got busy and forgot to eat my lunch. Fortunately, I had put it in the breakroom refrigerator so it survived. So I took it home and had it for dinner. I had a tunafish sandwich, applesauce, and hot tea.

Wednesday: My regular breakfast. For lunch I had a sliced veggie with cream cheese (spread really thin) sandwich and hot tea. For dinner I had a bowl of pinto beans “en bola” mixed with some white rice and a little diced onion. I had iced tea. My son is concerned that I am not eating a balanced meal and tempts me with his dinner – Steak and potato grilled outside and broccoli smothered in cheese. However, I am strong in my resolve, do not succumb to temptation, and accidently spill my iced tea which made him spill his broccoli when he jumped up. Oh well…. These things happen.

Thursday: My regular breakfast. I forgot my lunch and went to Subway. I will repent by reducing my food stash by equal $$ value. And I was doing so well and feeling really full of myself. Oh well… These things happen. What will I have for dinner???



This Challenge Has Been Quite an Experience!

I was on vacation for Sunday & Monday & really had to stretch the budget for the rest of this week!!! My Mom lives with me & she cooked some budget casseroles to use this week which helped. Also, I am a diabetic and have to be careful with processed foods which is harder on a limited budget. Wow, don’t know how our clients manage…..



I’ve Been Lucky This Week

I was provided breakfast and lunch on Monday and Tuesday as I was in a pre-paid conference. Then Thursday, had lunch with a friend that paid. Sunday before this activity started, I went to Fry’s where they mark down half price perishable products that will expire within two days. Bought a supply of corn dogs (package of 8 for $1.49), breakfast sausage (10 pack for 49 cents), one pound burritos (49 cents each), Hebrew National hotdogs (one pound package for $1.29) and put them in the freezer. With a teenager that brings her friends over on a daily basis, they can just pull something out of the freezer, micro wave it and eat.
The challenge is trying to find those items on sale that my daughter will eat. Having fun!!!


*ACAA recommends declining free food during the SNAP Challenge



Having completed the Challenge, I can say with no hesitation that $21 is an absolutely insufficient amount of money for a weekly food budget. I sometimes felt hungry, but, contrary to what I was expecting, physical hunger is not what bothered me most during the week. It was (1) social exclusion and (2) the inflexibility of my budget, which caused a small but nagging stress. Thankfully, our office is very friendly toward those who choose to brown bag it for lunch (I have worked in places that were not), but outside of work I missed out on going to the farmers market (where I couldn’t as easily compare prices and budget for other items simultaneously), eating at In & Out Burger, and sampling the yummy baked goods at Tammie Coe. And while this sound like insignificant whining (and really, it is, in the grand scheme), I can’t help but feel like I missed out on important social interactions this week. After all, sitting around a table together, eating from a common platter is the way that people come to understand and appreciate one another. One week on the Food Stamp Challenge did not threaten my friendships, but I wonder about the effects if I lived on food stamps for nine months. And perhaps even more significantly, it was hard for me to know that I could not simply open my refrigerator and graze when I was hungry. There was no extra apple or granola bar or handful of snap peas to eat as a snack. I was prohibited by my food stamp budget from eating between meals, enjoying any beverage other than water and my breakfast-time juice, and from taking “seconds” after my first helping of a meal. This was a huge psychological shift for me. The food stamp budget forced me “trim the fat” from my shopping list such that I had no options outside the strict menu I’d planned for myself. It’s hard to convey that type of stress in words; but, put simply, I had no wiggle room. That lack of wiggle room is what I’m taking away from this experience. Low-income people, who are trying to stretch a too-small budget across rent, utilities, child care, gasoline, car payments, car insurance, health insurance, and other bills are left to rely on a federal program that just barely covers what a person needs to eat in a week to be healthy. I would argue that it does not begin to cover what a person might want to eat in a week. The food preferences and physiological needs of food stamp users are not yet being met by SNAP.



Difficult Week for Food Shopping

I realized that I go out to eat too much and that it is very expensive. The shopping became a bargain challenge for me – I waited for the Wednesday shopping ads in the newspaper and found some great deals at Bashas – whole chickens for 69 cents per lb and apples for 49 cents. Couponing is something I normally do, so this was easy to go through all my coupons to find the best deals. I found that this took more time out of my week to plan and realized how difficult this would be for a single mom with a couple of children. The newspaper also had some great inexpensive recipes for ground beef this week, so the chicken and beef were my only proteins. I tried to balance my diet, but this was difficult as well with only $30. I was especially disappointed when a meal was not satisfying for me, knowing I had no more to spend on something else. The amount provided would be especially difficult to feed an infant, especially if he/she were drinking formula. One positive note was that I cooked more at home and I think the entire family enjoyed that aspect of it.



Carrying On

This exercise has been very enlightening and helpful to me. What I have learned is that I must stop spending money on prepared food, and go back to doing it myself as I did when my family was growing up. . .although It’s not so easy for a one person household. One of these days, I’ll retire and I’ll really have to watch my budget and I feel better prepared.

However, the Oct. 18 week was a particularly bad one for this particular experiment. It fact, it was a disaster. During the Food Stamp Challenge week, I had no fewer than 10 meals at events that I didn’t pay for (at least directly) – AzRISE breakfast, AdFed lunch, fundraising dinner (10/19); AZPublic Media breakfast meeting (10/20); EEF Luncheon, GTL dinner (10-21); ATC pre-show dinner (10/22); Homecoming lunch and dinner events (10/23); and journalism grad lunch (10/24).

That said, my plan is to carry on for another 3 days, especially since I have a medium pot of beans, about 3 servings of chicken and vegetable soup, ½ hunk of what my mother called “rat” cheese, ½ loaf of bread and about ¼ chicken left from my grocery shopping. I’ll have to boil the beans and soup tonight and Tuesday, to make sure they don’t go sour, but this is plenty of food for 3 days. I also have a shmushy banana and a few strawberries (good for smoothie tomorrow morning), some granola, about 1/3 box crackers and peanut butter (I got the small one, but it’s lot’s more expansive than the larger ones, which I couldn’t afford last week. Having spent my money as I did for the week doesn’t allow for as much variety as I’m accustomed to, but it won’t be awful. Tasty stuff will be gone tomorrow and although beans and soup are nourishing, they’re not very exciting, which is the challenge I found: inexpensive foods (beans, rice in bulk, for example) make a huge amount but the other things (fresh veggies, berries and bananas) only last a few days.



What I found most difficult was the planning, calculating part of the exercise. Specifically, trying to figure out how I would deal with special diet issues in my household due to my husband’s medical needs. Not grabbing the extras was not as hard as I thought it would be. I held to not spending more that $60 for two people and went over by $12 due to eating lunch out one day. What I discovered is that I waste a lot of food. My husband took lunch to work all five days and I took my lunch to work three days. Two dinners were left over smorgasbord. I was upset that I could not go the vending machine for candy but that was good thing in the end. We ate more fruit and still not enough vegetables, fresh vegetables are pricey! I actually began prepping for this by bringing lunch to work the previous week and realized that my homemade sandwiches are better than take out. With the exception of pizza Friday night and the two lunches I stayed away from eating out or fast food. Obviously, this was an exercise meant to make us see the challenges faced by folks surviving on food stamps. It reminded me of that but it also showed me how I can control my own bad habits. In addition, I shared my participation with my adult children who do not live at home and we had a good discussion about challenges faced by people living on a limited income.


SNAP Challenge 2010 – Archived Posts

The ACAA 2012 SNAP Challenge was created by ACAA and participants were drawn primarily from ACAA staff and our Board of Directors. This is an archive of posts from the 2010 Challenge.

If you are interested in viewing our 2010 SNAP Challenge blog, please visit

For more archived posts, please check here, here, here and here.


Food Preparation

Reflecting on the experience of food preparation, I would say that I have already had successes and failures on the Food Stamp Challenge. During my breakfast food prep on Day 1 I used the broiler function on my oven to toast my bagel. Unfortunately, I burnt my bagel to a blackened crisp. I didn’t have any bagels to waste, however, so I scraped off the worst bits and washed it down with some orange juice. This evening I made rice and beans for dinner. This was a much greater success. I used canned beans, which cost more but cut down on prep time, and added onions, lots of cumin, thyme, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. I added a few tablespoons of hot sauce (which I was considering a condiment) and let the mixture simmer for a bit in a large saucepan. I put this over my white rice and had a great, filling meal. This certainly lifted my spirits after the lean day I had during Challenge Day 1. I suppose, overall, I’m spending a similar amount of time on food prep (I love to cook and don’t mind spending time to make something nice), but I’ve never been so cognizant of the risks of crisis during food prep. When I have a full fridge, I have to admit that a badly burnt bagel might have ended up in the trash and been replaced by a bowl of cereal or oatmeal. Food preparation becomes a more time and effort-intensive task if only for the reason that there is little room for error when everything in the cupboard is designated for a particular meal on a particular day.



Day 3

It turns out, limiting my grocery bill to $21 (and $0.12 in ‘discretionary’ money out of my own pocket) wasn’t the hard part after all. The hard part is reframing how I think about food.

I grew up in a family that did not have a lot of money. We never used food stamps and as far as I know we never accessed the emergency food system (food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens), though my parents made sure all four of their children volunteered at these places on a regular basis. But we were, in the context of the neighborhoods where I spent my afternoons riding a bike down wide streets swathed in a feeling of complete suburban safety, poor.

Once, I wore the same pair of shoes for 8 months after they got two large holes where the upper met the soles. And that was in high school, where I watched my classmates pull into parking spots in brand new F-10s, Grand Cherokees, and Corvettes with THXDAD license plates. To say we were one of the ‘poor’ families who couldn’t afford luxuries and sometimes couldn’t even afford things that were more under the ‘necessity’ column than the ‘luxury’ column would be a fair assesment. But one thing my parents always prioritized was healthy food.

Oh, sure, we ate our fair share of boxed macaroni and cheese and popsicles during the summer months when we were home alone while our parents worked. And when my mom went out of town, my dad defaulted to scrambled eggs or sloppy joes as those were the only two meals he knew how to make well. But on the whole, our food was…well…whole. Our bodies were nourished with whole grains, eggs fresh from the chickens out back, lean meats, and fresh produce. The only time I remember eating a canned vegetable was at the summer camp where I volunteered as a counselor. My mom used a light hand with salt and butter and other fats, and a heavy hand with vegetables. We tease her lovingly to this day over her pat response to our request for dessert: “There is fruit in the fridge!”

It is to her credit, then, that I was raised knowing what food tastes like. Real, wholesome, fresh and healthy food. I can tell you by smelling the stem if a melon is ripe, I know that tomato slices make a great substitute for banana or apple in a peanut butter sandwich, and I knew well before it was considered forward thinking and sustainable to own chickens exactly how much work they are, how much of a mess they make, and how amazing fresh eggs truly taste.

I also learned, because we were poor, how to stretch a budget. We were the family who needed two shopping carts to carry our haul. With four kids born in five years, and the middle two being boys, our grocery receipts were a mile long. And there, in the cart my mom pushed, was the list to shop from and a filing bin chock full of coupons. We ate goulash at least once a week, mixing the week’s leftovers with pasta and cream of whatever-was-on-hand-soup. We only went out once a week, and it was either for pizza or fast food burgers, meaning my parents could take out our family of 6 for around $12. And my mom, amazing cook that she is, would offer one option only at mealtime. If we didn’t like it, we were welcome to make a peanut butter (No jelly! Never jelly, as it was added sugar, calories, and money.) sandwich.

There was a time, when I first moved into my own place in college, where I rebelled against the thrifty and healthy eating I was raised to know. I filled my cart with soda, Lucky Charms, pop tarts, macaroni and cheese in the box. I never cooked at home, favoring dinner with friends after work or a meal on campus between classes. It pains me now to think of how much money I wasted in those carefree years, but I suppose the positive side is that I came back to eating more healthfully on my own. I shudder to think of the kind of judgment my shopping cart would have opened me up to in the grocery line if I’d been pulling out my EBT card to pay for those choices. I shudder to think that anyone would have thought it was ok to judge at all.

And so, when this week started out, I made an effort to shop ‘like I always shop’. I shopped the perimeter of the store, choosing fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains without any HFCS, first. Then I supplemented with other items, creating what I thought to be a healthy selection of foods to carry me through the week. And every day, I open the fridge and the pantry, stare at the bags of food for the week, and wonder if it will be enough to get me through. I understand now, without any question, why many people on Nutrition Assistance might be found buying what the collective taxpayer conscience deems to be ‘unhealthy’ foods. I could have, quite easily, purchased twice the volume of food I did had I shopped the packaged aisles and skipped the fresh produce. It was a choice I made, to try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and the trade off is a painful, gnawing hunger that has been a constant companion for me all week.

This morning, my 18 month old son woke hungry. Hungry is sort of his default state, so after a morning snuggle and diaper change, I aim to get a banana into his hands as quickly as possible. It keeps him happy while I make breakfast, but lately one banana isn’t enough. Lately, he wants two. Also? He wants those eggs I am scrambling and 12 ounces of milk. And in another hour, he’ll take his snack on the back patio, thank you very much. Just this week, he figured out he can open the fridge, so after his first banana, he pulled the door open and pointed to the bunch on the shelf and said, “I want moooore.” And so, I laughed at him as I gave him more.

If my family was truly on Nutrition Assistance, I could not have done this. I asked a friend, whose family was on Nutrition Assistance when her children were very young, “How did you do it? When your kids looked up at you and said, ‘I want moooore.’ what did you do?”

“I hid the food,” she told me. “I had to ration it out and hide the rest, and then I would tell them, ‘The bananas are all gone. See?’ and they knew there was no more.” I picture doing that every day – looking into my son’s eyes and telling him I am sorry but there is no more – and hoping the food I’ve hidden is enough to last the week or the month, and I want to cry.

And then I remember, again, how lucky I am that this is just one week for me. That I had the option to let my kids and my husband carry on eating on our normal grocery budget while I experiment with my $21. And I think of the 1.04 million Arizonans for whom there is no choice. And I know that, more often than not, they will have to look into the eyes of someone they love and say, “There is no more.”



I’ve Been Thinking

When I was first informed of the food stamp challenge I was intrigued. I heard that I could spend $30/week on food for myself or better translated $120/week on my family’s food bill for the week.

It got me to thinking….

I know my husband and I budget $125/week at the grocery store for our family of 4. I didn’t think keeping it under this amount would be so difficult. It turns out I was almost right. Before my husband went shopping, we went through our coupons. We paid special attention to the coupons that gave us the most bang for our buck. We then planned our week, and my husband went out the door. Here’s where I state I am amazingly blessed to have a husband that not only shops but cooks. I know I am very unique and understand that most people have to do all things for their family. I am lucky to have a partner.

When my husband got home from shopping (he was aware of the CHALLENGE) I checked the receipt. The total receipt was $135 which was high for us. When I investigated a little further I found out that a lot of the food groceries were “SNAP eligible”. What brought up our total was all the other kinds of household necessities or maybe just “niceties” , like all the products that the teenage members of our household “require”.

This got me thinking…….

I remember when our girls were little. I was a stay at home mom. There was a time when they were both in diapers, and my youngest was still drinking formula. I remember trying to make sure we didn’t run out of both in one week because we could not afford it and would have to be creative with our shopping list. My thoughts immediately turned to the families currently using SNAP that also have all the additional expenses like that outside of food. I take for granted that I don’t have to worry about that.

I thought about how grateful I was.

One of our “bad habits” as a family is eating out. A household of 4 with 4 different schedules lends itself to rushing around and eating on the go. We all enjoy eating dinner as a family and are so thankful when we can, but we sometimes take the easy way and eat out. We haven’t done that once this week. My husband has made dinner every night and used the crock-pot more than ever! We’ve eaten as a family and even had some leftovers for extra teenagers that always seem to be around our house, or for the next days’ lunch or dinner.

I was thinking this was pretty easy if you put your mind to it and were disciplined.

Typically and traditionally, during the week my husband and I make a point to meet for lunch one day. We pick a restaurant, meet there and reconnect before going back to work.

Why should this week be different, I thought? Luckily my husband was thinking…..

We met in a park and brought lunch items from home. Although we both agreed the restaurant route was easier, we enjoyed our time and vowed to do it more often.

We’ve still got a few days to go and I am nervous about the weekend. We almost ALWAYS go out on the weekend. Our feeling is “we deserve it”.

Well, I’ve been thinking….




In the past couple of days I have noticed that in my downtime I have been thinking about all of the food and drinks that I can’t afford on my food stamp budget. I have found myself craving a morning drink from Starbucks, nighttime ice cream, and even a soda (which I don’t usually drink off of the Challenge). The other night as ice cream and sprinkles were running through my head I realized that people that are actually on food stamps may be thinking completely different than I am. While I am dreaming about all of the food that I am not able to afford they may dreaming about the food that they will be able to afford. I quickly reframed my thinking and became grateful that I was even able to afford eating earlier that day. This Challenge has definitaly given me a different perspective of how I think about food and I hope to carry on past this week.




It’s Friday morning and I must admit I’m looking forward to the end of the Food Stamp Challenge – largely for selfish reasons. When I shopped, I purposely planned for meals that would last a number of days – white chicken chili, potato soup, pasta, lots of yogurt and apples, some green vegetables, and now I’m frankly bored with the meals. I’m also feeling restricted by the meals I have access to as well as the amount of money to purchase the food.

I become more and more grateful each day for my life and what I have been afforded, and at the same time more and more committed to make sure that everyone else has the same opportunities and for the life they choose. One that would include no worry about food insecurity, no ongoing hunger or poverty.

I read the article in yesterday’s paper about the elimination of AHCCCS services to thousands of families – essentially the preventive care we all need to stay healthy, and began to worry again about the human implications of the policy decisions being made in the State. I certainly understand you can’t spend what you don’t have, but I also understand there are ways to improve the current budget crisis that are simply not being considered. And that hurts us all.

So I am off to meetings today in a somewhat somber frame of mind, wondering what I can do today to make a difference, and what I can do tomorrow, and the next day and the next day . . . . . . .



Food Access

I have been very tempted to eat things offered to me “free” of charge this week. I believe pretty strongly that eating those things would have been a distortion of my experience. It is important not to stereotype the experiences of all food stamp users, but I do think that many low-income people have less access to free food than medium- or high-income people. I have medium- and high-income friends who do not find it inconvenient to share things with me when I may not be able to return the favor. My family, if they lived here, would not think it an imposition if I came over for dinner and did not contribute anything or offer to help pay the cost. I have not worn out my welcome at their house, and they are economically stable enough to support me, whether the need is small or large. I work in a nice office where we keep a “community” stock of sodas. Taking from the stock regularly means I have to bring in a 12-pack of soda on a rotating basis. The idea of bringing in a 12-pack is not stressful for me and I don’t feel burdened by that social responsibility, so I can take from the community stock. These factors—where and with whom I work, where and with whom I live, and the incomes of my friends and family—result in an environment which allows me greater access to free food (and a host of other advantages). I haven’t always beaten those temptations this week—I had some candy from a jar in our office—but I now have a more critical understanding of how my social position and the wealth of my social circle allows me to spend less on food than if I were lower-income. In this small way, as Barbara Ehrenreich wrote, it’s expensive to be poor!



Managing Balance

My husband & I started out the project by getting sick (bad colds) on Sunday! My daughter pitched in and helped to shop and cook a large pot of vegetable soup. This was not only nourishing but a very thrifty idea because the most expensive ingredient was the Campbell’s broccoli & celery soups which were the base of the flavor. We ate from this for 2 1/2 days…and the bonus was feeling a lot better!
Lunch consisted of P&J sandwiches, generic Fry’s chips. No sodas…we drank coffee, iced tea & water. We discussed as a family to incorporate the “less or no sodas” on a permanent basis.
Our other evening meals included: hamburgers & tater tots, beef stroganoff in the crockpot, and tonight will be salmon tostadas!
Here’s the recipe for the salmon tostadas:
1 small can of skinless/boneless salmon (cold, not heated)
1/2 chopped plum tomato
1 chopped green onion
chopped diced jalapeno to taste
1 T mayo
Mix ingredients together in bowl. Fry shells. Toppings can include olives, cheese, etc. Serves 4.


Change from the Past

Sunday: I spent the better part of the day going thru the grocery store sales and my coupons matching them up, my planning included two different stores. As I finished my first stop and was feeling pretty smug about my acquisitions, with my coupons and calculator in hand. I pushed my cart into a line and discovered there was a lady with two heaping full baskets in front of me. I was more than slightly annoyed since I still had one more grocery store to get to and this was taking up entirely too much of my day off. Standing there I couldn’t help but hear how much her bill came to, $534.00 dollars!! But after the clerk gave her the total, she handed her a huge stack of coupons.. Final total $29.84!! I was almost embarrassed about my little stack of coupons, she did give me some pointers and told me she spends at least six hours a week Coupon clipping and matching them with sale items. Don’t know if I’m ready to do that but told her she should teach a class. Spent the rest of the afternoon cooking for the week, bean burros, breakfast burros, baked some chicken so I wouldn’t have much to do after getting home from work.

Monday: My daughter discovered that instead of the usual five dollars a day for lunch, she’s a junior in high school she was going to be allowed only two dollars. And she would be eating at the school cafeteria. The challenge to her had sounded like no big deal the day before, but now!! That evening I asked her how it went, all I got was eye rolling and that cafeteria food sucks….

Wednesday: The evening came and nobody including myself is looking forward to dinner. Left-over’s again!?! I did tell the kids that I had fourteen dollars left from our budget and maybe we could splurge this weekend!! Even planning ahead this cooking every night is a drag, I’m ashamed to say that at least once or twice a week It was my habit to run by somewhere and pick up something for dinner.

Thursday: I think the thing I miss the most is my glass of wine in the evening, can’t afford that this week. Maybe my neighbor who sometimes will drop by to visit with some wine at the end of the day will be by tonight. And yes it’s time again to get the left-over’s out, maybe I’ll change it up and serve the chicken (yuck) with a salad instead of canned vegetables (frozen was too expensive and had no coupons for them).

Friday: Oatmeal for breakfast all week, my cholesterol is probably better but my taste buds are very unhappy….

I have a meeting today I’m sharing my food with the group for lunch-why should I be the only one that suffers…


SNAP Challenge 2010 – Archived Posts

The ACAA 2012 SNAP Challenge was created by ACAA and participants were drawn primarily from ACAA staff and our Board of Directors. This is an archive of posts from the 2010 Challenge.

If you are interested in viewing our 2010 SNAP Challenge blog, please visit

For more archived posts, please check here, here, here and here.


My Challenge Began A Little Differently Than I Planned…

For the past couple of weeks I have had some anxiety about shopping on $31 for the week and not being able to eat out for any of my meals. Throughout the week before the Challenge while reporting my baseline measures I realized just how much I rely on grabbing a quick meal or snack between classes, my internship, and work schedule. I also realized that by doing so I was spending large amounts of money on meals that I could have made at home for at least half of the price.

The difference to my Challenge began when I came down with a flu bug early Sunday morning. I quickly began worrying about being able to fit some 7UP into my budget to hopefully settle my stomach. Instead of doing my grocery shopping for the week on Sunday evening as planned I was only able to buy some 7UP and a can of soup for Monday. I hoped that I would feel well enough Monday to shop for the rest of the week.

Monday evening came and I began feeling well enough to make my trip to the grocery store. I left with my list, pen, and my reusable grocery bags (which would give me a small discount at the register). I had only made it to the produce section and I realized that I began bagging vegetables and then putting them back onto the shelf. I did this with a few items because I remembered that the last time I had purchased them I didn’t eat all of what I had gotten before I had to throw it away and I didn’t want to waste anything on my tight budget. As I continued to move through the store I continued to stand in front of sections of food and do the same thing that I had done with the produce, I wanted to make sure that I would be able to use and more importantly afford everything that I was putting into my cart. Even though I had gone with a list I began to deviate a bit because I was trying to be as practical about my meal planning as possible.

Overall my trip took a little longer than I had planned. I left with apples, bananas, tomatoes, a green pepper, a cucumber, bread, peanut butter, jelly, 2 cans of tuna, turkey, eggs, pretzels, and some cookies. My total was $25.32 including what I had spent on soup and soda the day before. I specifically tried to leave a little extra in case I ran out of food or I felt like “splurging” over the weekend because I know that will be the hardest part. This shopping experience definitely gave me a valuable experience and I know that in the future I will be more critical when evaluating what I will spend as well as what I will use.



Participant Reflections

I think I did rather well on my shopping trip yesterday. I planned carefully around the food ads, and bought sale items in the fresh fruit and vegetable section mostly. I only spent around $8 because I have a very well stocked pantry and plan to “buy” my groceries from there as needed. I gathered current prices for things like eggs, canned tomatoes, etc. and will deduct that amount from my $30 budget as I shop from my pantry. So far I have identified another $6 worth of existing groceries to add to this weeks allotment.

I’m pretty dedicated to eating healthy, even on a tight budget. I have always tried to eat foods closest to their source (un-processed, packaged, ect.). I made calabasitas last night for lunch today. Squash, onions, corn, tomatoes and garlic with a sprinkle of cheese. It’s one of my favorite foods. The challenge here will be having enough variety. I don’t eat large volumes of food, so boredom will be more of a challenge than hunger.

Forgot a couple important things: I have two “eating” events tomorrow. One I prepaid a long time ago, the other is a long meeting with few other lunch options. That’s ok. Neither is very expensive, and I will have enough to pay for those by following “pathway 2”. I don’t enjoy being restricted this way, but if this is the only discomfort I feel, it should be an ok week.


Hello – just a few comments on the $30 per person per week food stamp challenge. My spouse and I were going to try to live on the $30 per person per week, but immediately ran into problems.

I usually buy food in somewhat large amounts (for example, to make soup for several days). The bill at the grocery store was $70 on the first day we attempted the challenge, and further trips were necessary.

Next, we make our own bread using whole grains (a savings). But it requires a grain mill; the one we have cost $500. The same with the cereal we make at home using an oat flaker (cost $100). Both appliances produce fresh flour/grains for eating. So the resulting homemade bread and oatmeal can only be accomplished with suitable home appliances.

We eat lots of vegetables from the garden – free! Except for the thousand dollars worth of sprinkler systems, cold frames, water, seeds, etc. etc.

Our food budget is relatively frugal, and we seldom eat out. But yet, we couldn’t meet the challenge unless we planned and purchased food for only a day or two at a time.


I made it to work without lunch today. On my way back from a meeting with a colleague I asked if we could stop by Safeway so I could get something to eat. Safeway had a sandwich deal, two for $1.99 each. I asked my colleague if she would buy a sandwich so I could get one for just $1.99. She agreed to do this and so I saved $1.50 on my sandwich. I need to plan better tomorrow for lunch.



Encountering Challenges

So this is day two of the food stamp challenge. I started this challenge thinking I would be one of those individuals committed to making it through the week on $30. Now at day two I know I will be struggling to make it through on $42. I also think I will be fasting Saturday and Sunday or going to the soup kitchen.



To Diet Coke or not to Diet Coke?

There are a few things in this world that I don’t ever really want to live without and Diet Coke is one of them. I could figure out how to if necessary – I’ve done it before – and at some point will probably do it again. I know the stuff isn’t good for me but I like it. I buy hormone free milk, and grass fed beef, and wild fish, and I do Bikram yoga, and I have an existential crisis every time I’m in the cleaning product isle of Target (not Walmart – although this is probably a lesser of 2 evils situation) about the global ramifications of my purchasing decisions. The thoughts of mercury levels, and animal cruelty, and greenwashing, and supporting countries with my purchases that blatantly disregard human rights can frankly, be exhausting. And I’ve been exhausted by this desire to be a “conscious consumer” for some time now but as I was standing in the grocery store isle trying to stay under my $30 budget deciding whether I could afford a 12 pack of Diet Coke (which sometimes feels like the only thing I like that I very guiltily have left)*, I broke.

When did and why is this burden solely the responsibility of me – the consumer? When in our history did companies stop bearing any responsibility for what they marketed, sold, and stocked our shelves with? When did our country start to value the making of a profit over all else? People’s health? The environment’s health? Human dignity and rights? And when did the supply and demand excuse become more acceptable than doing the right thing?

Recently New York City has batted around the idea of banning the purchase of soda and sugared drinks with Food Stamp dollars. In my opinion, this is an unfair demonization of the end user instead of the manufacturer. The balance of responsibility is not equally weighted. As a society we demonize both the tobacco companies and the tobacco users. Why are we not applying that same logic to our food? This is not an issue about “poor people” drinking soda, but rather about ALL people drinking soda. And yes there has to be to be certain level of personal responsibility. And yes if we all stopped buying Diet Coke there would be no need to sell it. But I’m sick of carrying the sole responsibility of doing the right thing. The CEO of Coca Cola is a person too – why is he granted the ability to look at things from a business perspective (not a human one) because he runs a company? But I as a consumer feel guilty about taking that same luxury. Believe me the toxic dishwashing soap is a lot cheaper than the Seventh Generation stuff.

And so, I ask you in the end, to think about which is worse — the exhausted single mom working 2 jobs in order to provide for her family that allows her kids to drink soda with Food Stamp money or the company that knowingly produces a product that has been deemed unhealthy, then markets that product to young children, gets it through FDA approval, and makes an enormous profit off of it? Today’s children are the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents – I think that should be EVERYONE’S problem.


*If you don’t feel guilty about drinking Diet Coke or any Coca Cola product, watch The Corporation.


Shopping and Preparing

I shopped Saturday, and it’s not that bad. My shopping bill was $33.61 but I think it’s Ok since I bought some things that will last more than a week, and a bottle of wine for a party Sunday (subtract $6.99). That also includes a pre-roasted chicken and a bottle of beer which I couldn’t do on food stamps. I know I’ll have to go back for fresh fruit, but I’ll have enough $$ to do that. I bought a slab of ham (the cheapest there) for $2.69 which is plenty to flavor my beans, to make one meal with rice and to make a sandwich for another meal. I made a huge amount of cole slaw – stretched with a pack of top ramen noodles which makes it crunchy the first day. This will last a few days.

I did prepare some food over the weekend, which I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but it’s really necessary. And it’s good training for when I retire. I haven’t cooked a pot of beans in years, but I love them so this is good. I made soup stock with the chicken bones, skin, etc. which I drained in the colander leaving a tasty start. I added some rice, a pkg of frozen veggies and a few chicken pieces. But it will get better as the week goes on with flavors blending and with the addition of my leftovers daily. This was what we did in our household as I was growing up in the 40s. You have to reboil occasionally to keep it from getting sour which also helps it thicken. A little beer added to the soup mid-week is good – it doesn’t taste like beer, but it’s great (and you can drink the rest of the bottle of beer). PS It’s not easy to buy one bottle of beer at the grocery store.


*Wine and beer are not allowed to be purchased on SNAP. Pre-roasted chicken may be an option at approved retail locations for seniors 60+, persons who are homeless, and persons who are disabled.


Beginning the Challenge

Food for one person, $21

Food for one person, $30.

Monday was my first day eating from my Nutrition Assistance allotment. In general, my breakfast and lunch were similar to what I would normally eat, but with less quantity and less variety. For breakfast, I made scrambled eggs, but realized I didn’t have milk to mix in, so I had to use a splash of water instead. Two eggs were all I allotted myself, and I didn’t have any fruit, bread, veggies, cheese, or yogurt to accompany it. I also missed my morning cup of coffee.

By 11 a.m. I was feeling very hungry, so I joined my co-workers for lunch. We all commiserated about feeling hungry and wishing we had something more ‘exciting’ or ‘tasty’ to eat. We joked because we can – this isn’t day-to-day life for us – and because it helped us better handle the way some of us were feeling by lunchtime. How were we feeling? Hungry. Dizzy. Overwhelmed. Sad. Grateful. Extremely, intensely grateful.

The afternoon was difficult and I really wanted a snack. By the time I left work for the day, I was more than ready for dinner. As I drove home I considered what I would eat, and decided on pasta and broccoli, and then I realized I needed milk to make the pasta. So, using my discretionary money, I stopped at a convenience store for a small single-serving milk that cost me $0.99, and I grabbed some instant cappuccino to get me through the week for $3.99. As I ate my dinner, I found myself thinking how a slice of garlic bread would be perfect with it (but I hadn’t bought bread, butter, or garlic) or how it would be really filling with some chicken mixed in (but chicken wasn’t on the menu). Overall, my goal when shopping had been to pick foods I like to eat and which were healthy and I think I did that. The problem is, those foods aren’t leaving me feeling full or satisfied. After dinner, I was craving something sweet so I made a very mild cup of cappuccino to take off the edge, and went to bed.