Friday, October 17, 2008

So We Begin the Food Stamp Challenge

When I posted about this year’s Food Stamp Challenge yesterday, underway in various locations in the US, I assumed it was going to be much harder this year to stay within the allotted budget despite an almost double amount of money last year. My regular readers may recall, last year I reviewed the sales circulars online to get the best bargains, planned the week of meals before I went shopping, had to include a fairly high level of canned goods (especially beans) and barely made the budget. We did well nutritionally – with the exception of Vitamin D, we met all nutrient requirement RDA’s and managed to keep carbohydrate intake at an average 97g per day for the week; 73g net if you deduct fiber. But, as I noted, it wasn’t easy to do on a budget of just $3.00 per person per day, or $63 for the week for my family.

This year, with a nearly double budget – $123.27 for the week ($5.87 per person per day) – I changed the rules I’d follow in response to comments last year. Unlike last year, this year I’d shop in only one store, no pre-planning; instead I’d grab a sales circular on my way into the closest grocery store to my home and do my shopping for the week without any menus planned ahead of time.

Now I don’t shop for many routine items at the grocery store – most meats for us are usually ordered from a local farm, I buy a lot of produce at the local Farmer’s Market, and some things, like cheese, I usually buy at a specialty shop in town. But I do shop enough in the grocery stores to note that prices have definitely risen over the last year, with some items nearly double what I remember from last year.

When I did our grocery shopping yesterday, at HyVee (closest to my house) I was surprised that I wasn’t just within budget, but that I didn’t spend the entire budget. And, I included a number of items that were “maybe” items, held back until I could see the running total for the “must have” foods; “maybe” things like crumbled blue cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, name-brand coffee, a small container of heavy cream, a fancy brand of fajita wraps and a small pumpkin my son asked for that we aren’t going to actually eat.

That isn’t to say I didn’t make any compromises – I did buy canned green beans over the fresh, they were much less expensive in the can; I chose frozen whole strawberries over the fresh for the same reason; and frozen broccoli won over the fresh too. My cuts of meat, poultry and fish were all selected by price rather than higher priced selections. For the most part, organic foods were out….one compromise I would not make was the organic, grass-fed, VAT pasturized, non-homogenized milk for my son; that was one thing that would be included no matter how much it cost. Luck had it though that it was on sale this week!

I also decided once I saw the sale circular for the week, that I’d see if I could do a week with low-carb – basically keep carbohydrate (for my husband and I only) at or below 60g a day on average and not have to include much in the way of beans or starchy foods, although I did buy two bread items (wraps and pita) when I saw they were possible within the budget. My goal again this year is that in the week we are able to eat well and meet our nutrient requirements. I think I did fairly well too!
When all was totaled, I spent $115.55 before tax, $120.91 with tax.

What did I get for my money?

*Items with a star were “maybe” items included when I saw the total was still within budget, listed in order placed into the final order.

1-pound butter
3-quarts half & half
2 dozen large eggs
1/2 gallon organic whole milk
1 8-ounce brick store-brand mozzarella
1 8-ounce brick store-brand cheddar
1 container sour cream
1 container cottage cheese
1 package cream cheese
10 8-ounce containers assorted store-brand yogurt (including plain)

1-pound deli ham (it was a steal at $1.99 a pound!)

1-pound bag frozen broccoli
1-pound bag frozen spinach
1-pound bag frozen whole strawberries

Box of tea bags
1 can bean sprouts
2 cans green beans
Small Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 Bottles store-brand salad dressing
1 small bottle soy sauce
2 cans mandarin oranges
1 bag dried split peas
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 bag sauerkraut

5 bananas bunch
2 pears
1 head cauliflower
2 cucumbers
2 bags of store-brand mixed salad
1 head iceberg lettuce
2 kiwi fruit
1 yellow pepper
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
Yellow and green squash
1 spaghetti squash
2.5-pounds carrots
1 package Wholly guacamole
4 lemons
5 onions
1/2 cantaloupe
5 apples
2 plums

1 package Johnsonville sausage patties
1 package Oscar Mayer bacon
1 whole chicken
1 package chicken leg/thigh quarters
1 package split chicken breasts
2 pounds ground beef
1 large pork roast
1 package coconut crusted fish filets (store made; raw; frozen)
1 package eye-of-round steak
Folgers coffee* (I had a smaller, less expensive container, but added this instead)

1 package boneless skinless chicken breasts*
1/2 pint heavy cream*
1 small bottle olive oil*
1 small jar minced garlic*
Assorted bags, very small amounts, open/loose spices sold by the ounce*
1 container blue cheese crumbles*
3 small sample size cheese (butterkase, gouda, gruyere)*
1 container roasted red pepper hummus*
1 5-pack Toufayan tomato wraps*
1 package pita*
1 small pumpkin*

You’ll notice that above I don’t have any tomatoes or tomato sauce. That’s because we have a garden and right now, an excess of tomatoes that have to be eaten or made into sauce, so I’ll be using those tomatoes in some dishes this week.

As you can see, I wasn’t left with little choice – I didn’t have to buy boxes of macaroni & cheese or ramen noodles. In fact, with the higher budget this year, I was able to buy much more fresh produce and meat, along with some “goodies” to enhance the meals I’ll make, like blue cheese to top salads, assorted cheeses for snacks, and decent coffee for our morning brew.

Last night we kicked off our week with a delicious chicken & beef fajitas, complete with tomato wraps, sour cream, guacamole and cheddar cheese that I shredded from the block of cheese. Since our son isn’t too keen on spicy food, I made him some plain chicken and onion sautéed in a little butter, and with that he had some broccoli and a blueberry yogurt, and then a plum for dessert.


  1. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Sorry, I know that this is an older post but I wanted to let everyone know a little recognized fact about the foodstamp/snap programs...They are NOT designed to be a family or individuals whole food budget! This program was set up as a supplement to income. I work a Missouri Social Services office and approve benefits for those who qualify. I agree that people can afford to healthy!

  2. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Oh, and these programs also allow the recipient to purchase seeds to grow! So it is possible to gave a garden to supplement with as well!