Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On What Food Stamps Buy and Cooking for One

Welcome to week two of the hunger challenge! Here's what my fridge is stocked with this week:

(from left): Apples, celery, broccoli, red peppers, peanut butter, milk, eggs,
butter, bacon, cheddar cheese, coffee, corn flakes, spaghetti, hot chocolate,
cream of chicken soup, cornbread mix and brown rice.

Everything pictured above (and everything I'm eating throughout this challenge) are things that I would be able to buy if I were paying with food stamps. So what can you buy on food stamps? Most food items are fair game, including fruits and vegetables, milk, cereal, yogurt, meat, frozen foods, etc. Even cookies, candy, snack crackers, chips and soft drinks are eligible. "Is it food? Then it's covered." is a good rule of thumb until you get to ready-to-eat food. If it's something you're eating in the grocery store or a hot food item, it's not allowed. No rotisserie chickens or soup from the salad bar. Alcohol of any kind is also out. Energy drinks are ok as long as there is a nutrition facts label on it. If it sports a supplement facts label, it's not considered a food item.

You can see while there are restrictions, there is room for choice. Generally, it's more expensive to purchase fresher, healthier foods than their processed counterparts, but there is opportunity to strike a balance if you're thrifty enough with your choices. However, I'm not yet ready to make any claims that I'm eating as nutritionally as I was before. That determination will come in once the month is complete and I can see my temporary diet in a bigger picture.

For the record, I'm following this challenge as if the cash I am using is a food stamp card. I am only buying items that would be eligible for purchase with food stamps, not eating out and not purchasing any alcohol.

I think the hardest part of this whole thing is that I'm cooking more or less for just one person. Economies of scale in the kitchen make larger recipes potentially more cost effective, especially when you're using ingredients you have to buy a minimum amount of. For example, bacon is on sale for $2.50 for a 1 pound package. I have to buy the whole package to get the sale price, but I only need half of it. Sure, I can freeze the other half for later use, but I had to spend $1.25 extra at that moment in time to get the bacon in the first place.

Now, I could take on this situation a la Steve Martin in Father of the Bride, but on account of not wanting to end up in jail, I pay for the entire package of bacon. However, when you're on a budget that is so tight, not having that $1.25 right then can make a big difference in what you're able to buy. Right now, $1.25 is more than I've paid for a can of beans, a loaf of bread or a box of cereal.

The same goes when you buy from bulk. I buy a lot of spices from bulk because it's cheaper for how much I need. I don't want to buy an entire jar of celery seed because the 1/2 teaspoon I need for this recipe is probably the only celery seed I'll need for six months. Why spend $5 when I can spend 5 cents and get the actual amount I need? See, bulk bins are great, right?! Great for some things. The half cup of flour I bought from bulk last week only cost me 15 cents. A 5 pound bag costs less than two dollars. At that rate, buying a bag's worth of flour from bulk would cost me around $5.62, almost triple what it would cost me to buy an equivalent 5 lb. bag.

So what does that mean for how I'm eating? It means my meals are repetitive. I make a casserole that serves 8, because it costs less per serving than making one that serves 4. Even if I freeze half of it, that's still 4 servings of the same casserole that I'm chowing down on day after day. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful to have the casserole at all. But it's no wonder cooking isn't doing it for me so much these days. To help combat that, I'm trying to find creative ways to use leftover meals or ingredients. I've come up with  few so far and am excited to share them with you at the end of the month?

What are your ideas on using up leftovers? Any suggestions on reincarnating ingredients from the night before into the next night's dinner? Share them if you've got them!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really glad someone notified me of your blog. I've enjoyed reading about this challenge. I have been on food stamps at times and it really is difficult both budget-wise and emotionally. I have a lot more nutritional knowledge now than I used to, but I still fight the tastes and habits of growing up raised on Twinkies, Pepsi, and Wonder Bread! Even though my parents were both fabulous cooks it was much easier to resort to pre-packaged and processed foods because we children were often left to ourselves as our parents worked many, many hours in restaurants and factories just to make a basic living.