Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Three

Day Three:

“I want spaghetti for dinner,” said a young friend who was visiting me Tuesday.

“We don’t have any.”

She just looked at me and rolled her eyes. So we got in the car to spend the last $5.22 remaining from my $31.50 grocery budget for the week.

So far I’ve managed to feed myself well on the basic, staple items I bought for the SNAP* Challenge. But how do you explain to a child that tonight’s dinner will be cereal or soup again?

Returning to CVS was my clever solution. The Ragu spaghetti sauce and Barilla pasta rang up at $4.24. But I had $3.50 in the store’s “ExtraBucks” rewards, so we spent only 74 cents (75 with sales tax).

That $31.50 is the amount each person eligible for SNAP can obtain to spend on food each week, and if my young friend were my child or dependent, I could combine our allotments for a total of $63. But what if I were her grandmother or aunt without that additional amount to spend? What if we couldn’t get to a grocery store and had to shop at convenience stores where, overwhelmingly, the least healthy foods are also the most  expensive?

Food banks, emergency food pantries (such as Charlotte’s Loaves and Fishes), houses of worship, and regional agencies help to bridge the gap. Still, across the U.S., millions of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price meal programs at school face worsening hunger, especially in the summertime when school is out.

“You have to put hamburger meat in the sauce,” my young friend said. It’s a reasonable request. Growing children need protein.

The least expensive package of ground beef at Harris Teeter was $4.34.

Tomorrow, I can return that $1.79 bottle of soy sauce to the store, maybe even those tea bags I forgot to count in my budget earlier in the week.

But tonight, we’re eating spaghetti with hamburger meat.

*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.

Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day One)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Two)

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Three

  1. “What if we couldn’t get to a grocery store and had to shop at convenience stores where, overwhelmingly, the least healthy foods are also the most expensive?”

    I worked at a convenience store for 13 years. We saw this all the time. It’s so sad.

  2. This is also why scanning store sale circulars, clipping coupons, planning menus and writing grocery lists (with hopefully a bit of wiggle room for unexpected finds) is so vital under these circumstances. It’s practically another job! And you’re right about what are now popularly referred to as “food deserts.” The larger grocery store chains don’t want to go into low income neighborhoods, and any “mom & pops” that do venture in, don’t have the same purchasing power to buy products and produce at the same discounts, so their prices are consequently nearly as high as convenience stores.

  3. I can’t overstate the importance transportation plays in a person’s access to affordable, healthy food. R.J. and Renee, you make excellent points about the need for meal planning, and the growing problem of “food deserts.” Thanks so much for your comments.

  4. Pebbles

    Interesting. In your first post you mentioned you didn’t plan at all. Did your guest show up unexpectedly? For two people do you need a pound of ground beef? I’m very fortunate not to have to worry. I go to the farmers market every Saturday for meat, vegetables, and some fruit, then go to Aldi for everything else. I wouldn’t be able to afford the farmers market stuff if I didn’t get everything else inexpensively.

    • Great questions, Pebbles! Not planning was foolish, and I freely admit I learned my lesson about two hours into Day One. As for my visitor, making room for last-minute arrivals at the table is pretty common when friends and families share child care. You are correct: We did not need a pound of beef. I asked the butcher if he could prepare a smaller package for us but he couldn’t. I purchased the smallest package available and we got two meals for two people from it. I really like your idea to shop for fresh food at the farmers’ market and discount stores for other items!

  5. Pebbles

    Eggs. Forgot to mention farmers market eggs, they are the best. I wasn’t being sarcastic with my remark about your guest, but would like more information about it. You can go to the butcher at Harris Teeter, or any other grocer and get the amount of meat you need. I do admire your use of savings at CVS, but what are you buying there on a regular basis (beside perscriptions)? Everything is overpriced at CVS or any similar store.

  6. Pingback: Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Four // WFAEats

  7. Pingback: Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Five // WFAEats

  8. Pingback: Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Wrap Up // WFAEats

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