Food Stamp Diet: Day 1

November 27th

Food for the week1

In Arizona, a single person earning less than $16,000 per year qualifies for $95.40 per month in food stamps. This does not include the additional 25% they are supposed to include out of their own budget to pay for groceries. The equivalent for this 5-day experiment is $19.88.

With that in mind, I headed to the grocery store yesterday. In typical fashion, I did not have any coupons. I’m lazy, although I suspect if I was living on food stamps, I might find the time to cut them out. Then again, if I was living on food stamps, I probably couldn’t have afforded the two hours I spent at the grocery, with pen, pad and calculator in hand.

As many of you suggested, buying bulk seems the cheapest. Buying healthy food is certainly expensive. A few examples: a regular baking potato — $.45. A more nutritious yam — $.92. (And that is a scrawny one. I only bought one.) White tortillas or corn tortillas are far cheaper than the whole grain ones I love. One whole grain tortilla is $.23. They didn’t make the cut. Neither did my soy milk, cottage cheese, wine or gingersnaps. Instead, I purchased:
6 eggs — $.69
1 package of string cheese — $3.99
1 can of chicken broth — $.50
1 bag of lentils — $.89
1 bag of brown rice — $1.59
1 yam — $.92
1 can of green beans — $.50
1 can of kidney beans — $.50
1 bag of carrots — $.79
5 gala apples — $1.97
1 spaghetti squash — $4.51
1 jar of spaghetti sauce — $1.27
6 containers of yogurt — $1.98
1 box of instant oatmeal — $1.87

Grand total: $21.97 Over budget: $2.09
To counter the fact I’m over budget, I’m only eating half of the rice, lentils and oatmeal I purchased. Food preparation for the week included hard boiling the eggs, steaming the rice and stewing the veggies and lentils. I’ll cook the spaghetti squash tonight. I’m already two meals into this plan and in case you are wondering, I’m not hungry. I am obsessing and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into (brown rice and lentils for lunch all week?), but I will survive.

Have you ever worked in a food bank? Volunteered at a food line for the hungry? Have you seen hunger in your community?

Off to find my apple for the day,

Posted in
Arizona, Journal, Public Health
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22 Responses

  1. You are a brave soul. As the tenth child in a family of twelve children I know it is possible to live on beans, potatoes and tortillas. We didn’t get food stamps but we did receive government commodities and we always had a garden and lot of fruit trees. We hunted and fished and worked as farm pickers which also enabled us to have fresh fruits and veggies.

    Good luck with your experiment and enjoy every bite. As I tell my kids now, “When you are really hungry, you will eat whatever is put in front of you”.

  2. this is really interesting experiment. can’t wait to hear what other thoughts bubble up as the week progresses. it’s also humbling to see how little we really need to function healthily.
    ps: 2.5 weeks into sparkpeople, and i have lost 4 lbs. thanks again for linking to that! i am loving the feeling of fueling my body rather than glutting it.


    Check out that website. You can feed a family of 4 for $45 per week. Of course, all from scratch and very little meat but good food!

  4. You might have been able to save a couple of dollars by choosing a block of cheese over the string cheese, though I’m not sure how the size/weight would stack up.

    I’m really interested to see how the week goes. Good luck!

  5. Very interesting Kelli! Good luck 😉

  6. WOW! My mom lived on food stamps after my parent’s divorce. She also had WIC assistance. We lived in the 3rd floor flat with NO HEAT in Waterbury, Conneticut (you can imagine how cold it got there in the winder) and we had a drug dealer one floor down and a pimp on the first floor with prostitutes walking our street. BUT I remember nothing but good things. I know my mom gave so much so we could have the little we had. She worked 2 jobs to support my brother and I and I remember eating WIC block cheese on toast every morning for breakfast for years! I’m really interested in how this goes…you are brave and you make me so thankful for all that I have. I am blessed to buy mostly organic heatlhy food for my little family and we have never gone without. Blessings my sweet friend.

  7. Okay and I misspelled about 10 words in the above post…sorry!

  8. Ham-hocks and beans w/ cornbread. You could eat for a week on that pretty easily. Of course, you’d get tired of it pretty soon… unless you were of Southern (USA) extraction and grew up eating it. I never was able to cultivate a taste for that dish in my kids or my spousal unit. Ask them, they’ll tell you about the many times I tried. 🙂

    Good luck.

    (1 bag navy beans, 1 bag pinto beans, ham-hocks, one cut-up onion. cover beans in water and soak over night. rinse, cover in water again, cook, with ham-hocks and a cut up onion until done. remove ham-hocks and harvest the meat, add it back to the pot. cook cornbread. serve beans and ham over cornbread with additional onions, salt & pepper, ketchup)

  9. Wow! I think that this is an amazing experiment. Just today I had to run to the store for some small things we needed, and paid almost $12!! I wonder what the food stamp ration is for a couple, it would be really interesting to try to live on it.

  10. I would have a very hard time with this experiment. But like a previous comment said, “‚ÄúWhen you are really hungry, you will eat whatever is put in front of you‚Äù. I also try to tell my son this, but since he’s never been hungry (thank goodness), he doesn’t get it. We all stand in front of the fully stocked fridge and say, “There’s nothing to eat”.

  11. here’s a source for those looking to get involved:

    Habitat for Humanity is a great organization to work with, too.

    What are you doing w/the spaghetti squash? Yum!

  12. I’m on food stamps, and one thing I think is interesting is in the rules about how they are given out (at least in Massachusetts) – If you pay your utilities separate from your rent, you can get the maximum amount of them, but if your utilities are included in your rent, even if that makes the total amount you pay MORE, you are almost never eligible for any. Or a very little amount. The whole thing makes me furious.

  13. As a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve done the math more times than I can count. One of the things you can do (for your experiment) is compare different stores as well. I noticed your groceries came from Frys. I always found them to be one of the most expensive in the valley. Wal-mart Supercenters are probably the place for those on food stamps to get the most for their money. Not only because they accept coupons, but they also will match ads. Yes, you have to do the work and cut out the ads and bring them to Walmart, but when you have that kind of budget and several mouths to feed, you probably will do the extra work to make sure everyone goes to bed on a full stomach. I’ve also noticed that even with no extra work, coupons, etc.. that I can expand my monthly budget by quite a bit by shopping there. Granted, my budget is larger than the $20 per week per diem you’ve given yourself.. but you know what I mean.
    As another part of your experiment, I would challenge you to take that same $20 to walmart and see what you can do there! (though the prices you listed above seem pretty good for a Frys!). Nice work! Thats a good way to experiment what so many people around us have to deal with all the time!

  14. I’m thinking about how crazy people get in the office over free bagels.

    My parents host 100 people to Thanksgiving every year at our local senior center. It’s changed their lives.

    I’m biting my tongue over all the suggested low budget recipes, what I’m getting from your post isn’t how you can make $20 stretch, but about the slippery slope food assistance causes. How can you even pretend to eat healthy.

    I thought about you today Kelli when I got my $9 lunch, bravo and good luck.

  15. Kelli, I feel like playing along with you! We don’t have food stamps, but we have social security here. I shall find out how much it is and see if we can live for a week on that amount.

    Oh, and did you see that in England poorer families now get stamps they can exchange for fresh fruit and vegetables? This is to try and stop the obesity problem.

  16. Kelli, I love this! Even though it is freaking me out. My food stamp days are still a nightmare I’d like to forget. There’s a reason why I HATE roman noodles and for a long time couldn’t eat rice and beans.

    I think I got $150 a month for myself and two kids. 8 years ago. Still never came close with trying to buy milk and meat.

  17. Geesh, that isn’t very much.

  18. Are you getting enough protein with this new vegetarian thing you’re doing? You have to be really careful about. Between drastically changing what you’re eating, and the fact that you’re working out more lately, I’m a little concerned.

  19. It’s interesting to think of you going through this as an experiment, almost a test of will power, and then I think of the people who have no choice or aren’t in a position to spend more than that even if they wanted to, and how much anger and frustration that must cause them, esp. if they are trying their best to pull themselves up and out. And what resources are available to help them channel all that frustration? Your experiment is making me think, and I’m thinking that this comes to much more than just a question of hunger.

  20. Rice and lentils all week??? Good luck girl!

  21. I used to run the food pantry at our church and I spent the last year working as a cashier at a supermarket.

    In our town it seems at our pantry most of the people we met who were on food stamps were not working and therefore you would think there would be time to cook. Unfortunately people don’t know how to cook anymore…and don’t want the recipes to learn either (we give copies of some healthy recipes that can be made from some items we give away). We give beans, rice, ingredients for healthy casseroles, frozen meat, but the people want instant foods. It would be great if somehow we could get people to believe that it is worth putting the time into creating healthy meals for their kids and themselves.

    One thing thing that drove me nuts when I was cashiering is that in our state anything that rings up with a grocery code can be bought with food stamps…including pop, candy and prepared sandwiches. I saw some mothers doing a wonderful job buying ingredients for healthy meals. But I am telling you it will make you sad when you see someone with a couple of little kids spending a good portion of those precious food stamp dollars on items like those. It seems like it would be an easy fix with a little recoding…with the state in on the act.

    Another problem is the cost of produce….couldn’t there be produce specific dollars on the food stamp card? And maybe a discount on those high priced but nutritous items? At our pantry we gave away lots of produce that church members grew in the garden…but in the winter, folks mostly are having to depend on getting it from the market.

    It’s a great experiment you are doing. My mom could stretch a food dollar like crazy. We ate well, but she really had to work at it. Almost everything was from scratch, chips were a treat you had just a few of with your sandwich, and pop was a blue moon treat. I provide healthy meals, but I know in our family we would be better off without so much pop and sweets that we can afford to buy these days. Sorry if I sound negative, but making those dollars stretch takes alot of effort…

    By the way…that story about the school giving out peanut butter sandwiches is amazing. Sometimes such a little thing can make such a big difference.

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