Have you heard of people taking the Food Stamp Challenge? I’ve read about here and there, and had been curious about what this entailed. People who live on food stamps, of course, do this every day. My kids and I volunteer at our local Oregon Food Bank and hear the heartbreaking stories about families living off next-to-nothing and seems like an impossible task to provide healthy meals on a food stamp budget.
Oregon is a very hungry state with over 13% of households suffering from food insecurity. These children often don’t know where their next meal comes from or might be relying on their school-provided lunch as the only full meal they’ll have all day. Our high unemployment rate and some other issues we face make it a real struggle for too many families. After some research we learned that the “Food Stamp Challenge” is basically an exercise to demonstrate just how hard it is to live on a food stamp budget. We understand the guidelines to be the following:
1. Each person should only spend a total of $4 on food and beverages each day.
2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions or briefings.
5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
My goal for our family’s Food Stamp Challenge was not just to meet the $16/per day family budget (yes, just $16 to feed all of us each day!) but to provide a balanced, healthy diet for my family the entire week. This would be no easy task – healthy food isn’t known for being inexpensive.
When we initially talked as a family about the Challenge, the kids were actually excited about it. I have a feeling it was the “challenge” part that sounded like fun. You know, like the Amazing Race or something. When we got down to details and explained to them what this really meant, they suddenly became concerned and drama ensued. They thought we were all going to starve and maybe get sick.
Clearly my children have no clue what it means to be hungry. Funny thing is how they’ll melt when breakfast is an hour late some days but forget all about eating when they’re playing with new Christmas toys.
We planned our menu together. I’ll admit that it took longer than our meal planning typically does since we went through the weekly ads and coupons more thoughtfully. Everyone had input on what went on the menu, which pleased the kids. Seeing our weekly menu laid out made the kids feel much better. They were not going to starve. All the boxes were filled.
Here’s what our menu looked like:
What did we do different?
A usual week around the Rau house has us out to eat for one dinner and a lunch so we passed on those meals. My husband and I usually enjoy a local Portland beer or wine on the weekends but there was no room in the budget for those. The biggest difference is that almost everything was homemade (and didn’t require that much additional effort). There were very little packaged foods purchased. We made our own bean dip which the kids loved! I was pleased that we didn’t have to compromise on organic fruits and vegetables that we normally buy either.
How was it?
We all did great. The kids never felt hungry or missed anything. When the weekend came it took discipline to stay in for all our meals instead of heading out. There was one night that I just didn’t feel like cooking: Friday night. We had something going in the slow cooker that night so that made it easier.
Since the experiment, we’ve been making adjustments to spend less. Interestingly enough, when we make more snacks and foods from scratch, we spend less. So making a big batch of pasta sauce and freezing all the leftovers, or making bean dip and hummus starting with dried beans for snacks has proven to save us money on our grocery bill.
Would we do this again?
Absolutely! Would you? If you take the Food Stamp Challenge and save money compared to your usual food budget, would you consider donating the difference to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign?
Here’s a few of our Food Stamp Challenge recipes to help you out:
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas (we had them as tacos)