A Week in Someone Else’s Shoes
March 17, 2014 | Christine Hradek
Last week I wrote about my experience with the SNAP Challenge. I limited my food budget to what I would receive if I participated in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). I learned a lot and put my cooking and shopping skills to the test! Dr. Ruth Litchfield is a friend and colleague of mine who is a dietitian and teaches nutrition courses at our university. She took the SNAP challenge as well. I was fascinated to learn about her family’s experience.
Ruth is married with two children. Her daughter is away at school and her son is at home, so her budget for the week was for three ($84). Ruth teaches college courses about nutrition including food assistance programs but has never “lived it” herself. This gave her the opportunity to practice some of what she teaches.
Given Ruth’s extensive knowledge and background in nutrition, she was able to approach the week with a lot of strategy and planning. Ruth also had the advantage of being an experienced cook. So with all of this knowledge you might wonder what she chose to buy.
Ruth described breakfast as a challenge, “We are accustomed to more convenience items for breakfast including cereal and instant oatmeal.” Those foods didn’t fit in the overall budget so they stuck with toast, canister oatmeal, and pancakes.
Typically Ruth packs sack lunches for everyone in her house. If her family actually qualified for SNAP, her son would receive free lunch at school. As part of this experience, he ate school lunch for the week. He enjoyed the lunch provided at school, but the weather threw the whole family a curve ball. Winter weather meant one day of no school, two early dismissals and one late start. Ruth described how this unexpected change created some problems with her plan. “That meant two additional noon meals at home that I had not planned on, if I had been really depending on the school meals that would have been a big issue,” she said.
Chicken hindquarters were on sale at Ruth’s grocery store, so she purchased a large bag and built several meals around using this chicken. She chose meals that would stretch the meat as much as possible like chicken noodle soup and wild rice soup with chicken. In addition, she planned some meatless meals like egg casserole and pasta with tomato sauce.
Ruth’s experience was similar to mine in that she had to fall back on her cooking and meal-planning skills in order to make the budget work and feed her family nutritious meals. They also had to make a few changes to their usual habits.
- She reduced their usual variety of fruits and vegetables. They ate a mix of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and veggies throughout the week based on what was available at a good price.
- She avoided convenience foods and replaced them with less-expensive options.
- She built meals around items that were on sale and stretched more expensive items like meat as much as possible.
- Her son ate school lunch instead of his usual sack lunch.
Though Ruth’s family had enough food to get through the week without going hungry, Ruth shared that she was preoccupied with thoughts about food during the week. “I was thinking about food much more that week than I typically would, it was surprising how much food occupied my thoughts.”
We would love to hear your cost-saving strategies in the comments section below. Do you have some go-to-meals that help you save money while still eating healthy?
Be sure to check next week’s blog for another SNAP challenge story. We’ll hear how Vickie and Paul Rhoads as well as their teenage son Wyatt took on the challenge.