Sunday, February 7, 2010

Food Stamp Challenge

I've been thinking about doing this for a while, but I've decided I need to quit "thinking about doing something" and start actually doing it.  The food stamp challenge is living a week off what the average person on food stamps has, on average this is $21 (though from what I've read this misrepresents the program because it is designed to supplement food not be the primary source of food, hence the amount one family receives is on a sliding scale).  So February 21-28 I will take the food stamp challenge.  And the big point is that I will donate the difference between my usual weekly bill (which I should probably compute, but I'm going to say is $44, on average) to a local food pantry.

What this means (and this is something I should maybe think about doing anyway) is that I have to actually compute the cost per meal of everything I eat.  I'm cheating a little by using my what's in my pantry (though I will include the cost of everything of course) because in reality, lower income families must often buy based on what's available and on sale and I've kind of already done that (I know that my box of elbow macaroni only cost $0.80 because I stocked up a few months ago, but that isn't always an option with a limited income).  But also, I don't have a car so I can't go to the specialty lower cost supermarkets like Aldi or Mayfield foods (which I've seen ads for on the train).

And if it's not already obvious, I will be eating strictly vegetarian for this week.  Part of the reason I'm putting it off for a few weeks is to give me time to come up with a detailed budget, which again, is kind of cheating.  I get 2 weeks to plan for this, in reality this doesn't happen, families are consistently living off food stamps, they don't have the option to plan two weeks in advance.  But I still have farmer's market food I need to use up and potentially some dinners out or at least weird eating patterns when the Case swim team comes to Atlanta (yay!) so instead of making exceptions, I'll start after I know these things are occurring.  Again, this is clearly not realistic, but I don't think it defeats the purpose of the experiment.  Pardon the double negative.  So thoughts, at least at this point include split pea dahl (the spices are super cheap when bought in bulk as I do), eggs, some sort of cheap lentil soup (bouillon cubes are cheap).  I'll have to look into what the least expensive breakfast food is, oatmeal, maybe?

Please leave comments on this post, either suggestions for meals I can make for under a dollar per serving or, I would love this, if you are interested in joining me.  I think it would be really cool to make this an actual event to raise money for food banks, but I don't know how other people would feel about that.


  1. I love this! What a great idea. I'm not sure if you're an Alpha Chi (I found your blog through @amy_z) and actually, whether you are or not this applies, but you should check out Melissa D'Arabians Meals under $10. All of her meals are for a family of four, which means cost per meal = $2.50. I am sure you can find a way to use her recipes and make them vegetarian and/or use the ingredients in different ways (Like part of an avocado on a sandwich for lunch, make guacamole with the rest and put that in an omelette for breakfast.) I also highly recommend "Food Matters" by Mark Bittman. He has a lot of really great recipes, and also touches on why vegetarianism is so crucial to the environment. He has a recipe for bean soup (out of this world) and veggie pancakes that are so delicious I can't even begin to describe them. If buying the book isn't in your budget, I can see about scanning the recipes and emailing them to you if you want. Good Luck! I will be following along!

  2. Sorry, I thought of one other thing to look into for the food stamp program, do they list any information for just one single adult, what their average amount is? Because obviously some things cost less/the same whether you are feeding one or six. And with children, a lot of the time they eat with the free school breakfast/lunch program. So at least for people with children the amount of money they have to work with is inflated. Ie: A family of 6 with 2 parents and 4 children would get $126 for 86 meals per week for about $1.46 per meal vs. $1 per meal if they were providing every meal throughout the week.

  3. The challenge, as I've seen it, just uses a straight allotment of $3 per person per day, which is actually an extra challenge for small families. I've been reading blogs all morning and I found a woman buying for a family of 10 who had little trouble working on $140 per week, but I'll have to be much more strict. For instance, a half gallon of milk is only 50 cents less than a gallon, but that is 2% of the weekly budget, so it's actually a big difference.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  4. It looks like you are going to try to do this, but I would love to see a food stamp challenge that incorporates quick home-cooked meals and fruits and vegetables. I've read a lot about how health problems / obesity in the poor is due to the fact that people on food stamps are not able to afford healthy options (either due to cost directly or the amount of time it takes to prepare meals using affordable minimally processed ingredients). I wonder if this is actually true, or whether an education/nutrition program could have an effect on this problem. I know that buying minimally processed foods is significantly cheaper for me, but I don't know that I could get down to $21 a week. (I spend an average of probably $35 a week on groceries - $10 on meat, $5-10 on premade foods like bread, pasta, almond milk, and tortilla chips and $10-15 on fresh fruits and vegetables... but due to my stomach issues cutting out meat isn't an option and I don't often eat breakfast... I'm sure that where I live makes a difference in the cost and availability of produce though).

    I would say that oatmeal is a good breakfast choice (prepare with water, flavor with salt, spices, and honey). Peanut butter toast (optionally with honey) is probably another decent option.

  5. Such a great idea.. I 2nd Lexi's thoughts on checking out Melissas meals.. pasta is always a great cheap choice, it is filing, but not always the best for you. can't wait to see how things turn out!