Thursday, October 16, 2008

Food Stamp Challenge 2008

In May 2007, I decided to step up to a challenge getting a lot of press as the Congress was readying to pass a new farm bill – it was to feed my family with a budget those recieving food stamps must stay within each week.

At that time, the average per day was just $3.00 per person each day, which translated to $21 per week per person, or $63 total for all three of us to eat for one week. I chronicled my shopping, meals and my thoughts afterward between May 25 and June 5, which are still available on my blog.

Making the news this week is a new challenge as we near the holiday season and more individuals and families find themselves in need of assistance. Yesterday kicked-off the Grand Rapids for the Michigan Food Stamp Challenge where those participating try to live on $5.87 per day per person (the new, higher maximum level provided to recipients).

From news reports, “300 state and local leaders who have pledged to live on the equivalent of food stamps for five days.”

Apparently the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, is participating in the challenge. As reported by, “The governor says she took her son shopping Sunday at a Meijer grocery store. They could only spend $5.87 per day per person. She says she bought a lot of macaroni and cheese.”

Like last year, I’m not surprised by the belief perpetuated in the media that one must eat poor quality, high carbohydrate, cheap foods to survive on a limited budget. Last year I showed that was untrue as I fed my family a high-quality, nutrient dense diet for the week on just $3.00 a day per person. This year recipients receive even more money and I have to wonder, given the current economic situation, is the increase enough or not?

So this year, once again, I’m going to see what a food stamp budget, $5.87 per person per day, buys us since food prices have steadily increased in the last year.

Can we eat as well as we did last year?

Will I need to make compromises?

Will we eat better?

Last year a number of comments criticized that I shopped in three different stores, had access to the internet to review sales circulars and plan based on sales, and had time to plan our meals before I shopped. For this challenge, I will shop in the closest grocery store to our house, will pick-up the circular when I enter the store and do my best without pre-planning the week since it was pretty clear that time and ability to plan ahead are both issues for many.

Like last year, I invite readers to step up to the challenge too and share your experience in the comments as we move forward for the week, starting tomorrow.

Here’s our rules for the October 2008 Food Stamp Challenge:

1. Maximum per person is $5.87 per person per day. For us, a family of three, this means I have to feed us with just $123.27 in the coming week. Your total budget does not include any sales tax since recipient purchases are not subject to sales tax.

2. Salt and pepper are considered in your pantry, so you do not need to buy either. But any other spices, condiments or cooking fats/oils do need to be purchased or you need to deduct a portion of your cost when you did buy the item that is in your pantry since it’s difficult to have a stocked pantry when you’re on food stamps. For example, if you do have chopped garlic in your house, you don’t have to buy another jar for the week, but should – if you use some – deduct a part of the cost. If the jar cost $5.00 and you use one serving from a 10-serving jar, take 50-cents off your budget to account for the garlic you used.

3. It’s best to plan ahead, so if you have mailed or newspaper ad circulars, review what’s on sale and make a list before you shop. This time around, I’ll personally not plan ahead like I did last year and I’ll shop in only one grocery store. You don’t have to unless you want to also.

4. If you have a child in school and they receive or buy lunch, do not deduct this from your budget. Any foods you pack for lunch or snacks does have to be part of your budget however.

5. The budget does not include paper products, cleaning supplies, over-the-counter medicines, prescription medication, or non-food items not covered by food stamps. If you do need to buy these while you’re shopping, just make them a separate order, paid for separately, so you can accurately add up what you’re spending on food only.

6. We can shop for, prepare and cook whatever we want to eat, and can eat free food at business functions, meetings, work, or other places just like anyone else; in addition we can sample from tasting stations in grocery stores, and eat at parties we attend, hosted by friends or family. We cannot take home leftovers to stretch our budget though.

7. We can also eat out – but do need to include any meals we pay for and include the tax and tip since food stamp recipients cannot pay for meals out with their debit card, but also do have the expectation that the food stamps are assistance, not their sole source of buying food…we’ll include any meals out in our total budget.

Basically, the challenge includes preparing and eating what you are able to purchase throughout the coming week, and any meals eaten out, since it’s one thing to have to shop with a limited budget and another to live with it for a week.

Who will join me this week?

Again this year, those participating in the challenge are encouraged to email me photos of their groceries for the week, along with recipes and meal ideas and insights about your experiences during the week. I’ll highlight them here on my blog next week and open discussion about the various challenges we all faced, and the things we learned along the way! As always your comments are welcome as the challenge gets underway!

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