Natalie Moore's SNAP challenge food diary and shopping strategy for food stamps

September 11, 2013

Monday food diary

It is nearly impossible to eat three balanced meals on $5 a day.

Even though I came in just under my budget, I was hungry most of the day.

In hindsight, I should’ve prorated food items based on consumption to buy additional products.

I combined breakfast and lunch into a day of snacking, which is what I typically do – but usually with additional food items such as hummus or soup/salad.

Breakfast

In the morning, I drank water, ate a plum and plain bread. Just enough sustenance to last me until noonish.

Lunch

Throughout the day, I snacked on my Sabritas nuts. Later, I devoured the second plum, which I had hoped to save for Tuesday consumption.

Dinner

Monica generously gave me a spoonful of sofrito for my black beans that had soaked overnight.

I sauteed the tomato-based sauce in vegetable oil with fresh garlic and then added the small chunks of pork hock, aka ham hock, from an organic pig farm.

I cooked the beans in too much water so I emptied a cup out before embellishing with sea salt and pepper.

After the beans simmered for a few hours, I broke out the olive oil and flash-fried kale with sea salt and pepper.

The beans were tender and smokey. The kale provided a bit of crunch.

I couldn’t afford rice.

Tuesday food diary

Breakfast

I cheated.

I know, I know. I lack Monica’s commitment. A friend bought me a cup of coffee. But I considered it an appetite suppressant.

An hour later, I ate one of the bruised knockoff peaches from the farmers market. It wasn’t pretty to eat, but just ripe.

Lunch

The aforementioned breakfast, which functioned more as a snack, was barely enough fuel for me while I was out reporting in the field.

I passed a Cuban sandwich spot and a Jewel grocery store, which has magnificent lunch deals. I kept driving.

Later, I heated up the rest of my bread with a pat of butter. I cut the mango.

Unfortunately, it was unripe, but I ate a few chewy slices anyway to go with the Sabritas. By 4 p.m. my meals felt monotonous. 

Dinner

Leftovers. I had cooked enough beans for an entire family.

Natalie's SNAP shopping list

I spent $3.87 on Saturday with Monica at the farmers market after we split our items (kale, peaches, pork hock) and factored in our SNAP double value. That left me with $6.13 to spend.

At Pete’s I spent:

$1.59 chile y limon Sabritas (nuts)

$1.53 black beans in bulk

$.69 two plums

$.88 one mango

$.79 two bread rolls

Pete's total: $5.48

Grand Total: $9.35

SNAP Recap

At the end of the two days, we didn’t exactly know what it’s like to live on food stamps. But we got a taste, and it wasn’t very pleasant. It was time consuming, stressful and starting to get monotonous. We saw a world full of food that was beyond our reach and became more aware of how important motivation, consumer education and cooking knowledge is to creating healthy meals on a budget. We can only imagine how much harder it would’ve been without our cars, kitchen equipment and access to great products.

The food stamp debate is a heated one with strong arguments on both sides. But most people who look at federal food consumption and health statistics tend to agree that the nation would be better off if we could all manage to regularly buy, cook and eat nutritious foods.

For anyone who wants to take the SNAP challenge during September, here are the rules from the Greater Chicago Food Depository:

  1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $35/week or $5/day for all food and beverage.

  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, briefings, or other events where food is served.

  5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.

  6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

Natalie Moore is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.