Monday, April 8, 2013

Food Bloggers Against Hunger...My Personal Experience With the SNAP Budget Guidelines

44.7 million Americans used SNAP on average per month during FY 2011.  This is over 4.4 million more participants than FY 2010.  Almost half of these are children.
 (Source: USDA Food and Nutrition Services)

I am so honored to be taking part in a very special initiative today: the Food Bloggers Against Hunger event, organized by The Giving Table. Today, more than 200 food bloggers -- including The Weekend Gourmet -- are uniting to shine a spotlight on hunger in the United States. I don't normally get political on this page, but this is a cause that I will make an exception for. I find it totally  inexcusable that that anybody should go hungry in a country as affluent as ours! That said, millions of our fellow Americans are taking part in the federal food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Participants are limited to $4 per person each day to supplement their food budget. For a variety of circumstances, SNAP often becomes the only source of food for many Americans. Before you say, "This could never happen to me," think again: anyone can lose their job or have a catastrophic economic event that finds them in need of food assistance. 

An eye-opening documentary called A Place at the Table was released last month. If you can't find it playing in your city, the link will show you how you can watch it via iTunes or On Demand. Fifty million people in this country -- including one in four children -- don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The film's directors look at the issue of hunger in America via three people struggling with food insecurity. The film depicts how hunger creates serious economic, social and cultural implications for our country. It also shows that hunger could be solved once and for all, but only if the American public decides — as they have in the past — that making healthy food available and affordable is in everyone's best interest. Watch this trailer to learn more about this powerful documentary:

I decided that instead of featuring a budget recipe today, I would instead take a one-day SNAP challenge and see what it was like to feed Michael and I three meals each for only $8. We're blessed with steady jobs, so I often spend $8 on one ingredient for a recipe that I post here. I knew it would be a challenge, but I felt that it was important to really see what this struggle is like -- even if it was only for one day. Unfortunately, the cheapest foods are also often the least nutritious. My goal was to stretch my $8 allotment as far as possible...and to eat as healthfully as we could for that small amount of money. It was hard, but I think I succeeded.

Here's how I spent my allotted money. First up was breakfast: oatmeal and bananas.

I lucked out and found the oatmeal (five packets per box) on clearance for $1.oo. It was originally $2.50, and it contains flax seeds and added Omega 3 for added nutritional benefits. The two bananas were .20...bananas were on sale, and I picked the two smallest ones I could find. I figured this would get our day off to good start, with plenty of fiber.

Lunch was a bigger challenge, because I had only allotted $1.50 for each of us, so I needed to get as much bang for my buck as possible. Both our meals included soup.
Michael thought a bowl of hearty soup would be enough to fill him up, so he got a large can of Progresso soup that I found on sale for 1.48 using an in-store coupon. I found the ranch-flavored baby carrots for .99 and picked them up so I could add some fresh veggies to my lunch. Since that was most of my lunch allotment, I opted for a package of ramen soup. It was a staple of my college diet, so I knew it was cheap and filling. I ate my ramen at lunchtime and saved my carrots to eat a couple hours later for an afternoon snack.

Last up was our dinner. I wanted to include some protein since Michael likes to have meat with our dinners. I only had about $4.00 of our daily budget left, so I had to choose wisely. 

I found fresh corn on sale 2 ears for 1.oo, so that was part of our simple menu. I also found fresh chicken sausages on sale, so I bought two links to grill. One link was larger since Michael has a bigger appetite. I was getting down to the end of my money, so I rounded out our meal with a box of store-brand mac and cheese for only .59. It wasn't the most healthy side, but it was inexpensive and filling. I managed to include fresh produce at all three meals, so I didn't feel too bad about including mac and cheese. I got lucky and found a package of white-chocolate instant pudding in the clearance bin for .25, so we were able to have dessert by using milk I already had in my fridge. 

Total spent for our food: $7.99...I hit our $8 almost to the penny. I feel like I did pretty well with the SNAP challenge. It was a real eye opener! It really took planning to make sure we got as most nutrition into our menu as we could for the small amount of money we had to work with that day. I'll admit that we were both hungry between lunch and dinner, and I had a slight headache late in the afternoon. However, we resisted the urge to eat extra food. I thought it was very important to really experience was like to live on $8 worth of food -- and ONLY $8 worth of food -- for one day. We simply drank water to curb our hunger and reminded ourselves that it was only a one-day experiment. Others aren't so lucky...they often contend with challenges like this for extended periods of time. 

If you feel so inclined, I hope that you'll visit Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry website and send a letter to Congress asking them to support anti-hunger legislation. The more letters that are submitted, the more likely they are to take action! Hunger in America is a problem that can be solved...but only if Americans join together and demand that something be done. I let my voice be heard, and I hope my readers will too!

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