As we wind down the month of May I wanted to put a few thoughts together for the SNAP Challenge. I learned a lot this month, and took on some new things that have some serious staying power.
First of all, anyone who says they can’t live on a SNAP budget doesn’t know how to prepare food. I’ve successfully sustained my family of three on a SNAP budget eating nearly 100% organic and I still have approximately $25 leftover. I maintain that access to fresh food and lack of cooking education are what the SNAP program desperately needs, not more benefits per person.
I also learned once again, how to do more with less. But at least this time I wasn’t forced to. That said, giving myself strict parameters made me try new things and that’s always a plus.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the challenge is that I lost five pounds. I haven’t done anything differently except my eating habits for this challenge. I credit the weight loss to consuming fewer prepared foods with their hidden salt and sugar.
Now that the challenge is over I will welcome some snacks back into the fold – namely some corn chips, organic animal cookies and rice puffs for my daughter. I’ve gotten used to eating fresh homemade bread with various schmers, cheese and fruit for snack though and will continue to eat that moving forward.
I also will buy some deli meats and cheese again, but I will get a brand that has less preservatives and only buy it once for the month. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Here are a few thins that I learned that hopefully will help your grocery budget.
I was spending too much on prepared foods that can be easily made at home. The top three of this are broths, bread and yoghurt. Vegetable broth takes no time at all to make, while making a meat based broth is a bit more involved. Making a no knead bread proved to be an easy solution and now I have fresh ORGANIC bread at home with no high fructose corn syrup. Homemade yoghurt at home is half the price of store bought and has no added sugar. I won’t be buying these items in the store again anytime soon. That said I totally failed trying to make my own mayonnaise, and dandelion jelly (though I have successfully made fruit jams). Some things are just easier store bought.
With a little broth, potatoes, carrots and onions you can make a whole lot of things. Most of the soup recipes I came across used these core ingredients. Where you take it from there is up to you, but really the sky’s the limit. These items also make excellent side dishes, and a potato can be a base for any meal.
Cut back on the meat consumption. I knew this before, but we really cut back during this challenge, going from eating meat a few times a week to only once or twice a week. I thought I would miss it, and I really didn’t. I chose hearty meals that were filling and packed protein in other ways.
If you do buy meat, opt for inexpensive choices. Tuna is a great, cheap option with a very long shelf life. Eggs also make a good protein option at a low cost. And a whole chicken proved to really pack a punch, easily providing for multiple meals. I will be doing a whole chicken once a month from now on.
Give up the deli meats. Deli meats and cheeses are expensive. They also are loaded with salt and preservatives. Instead we ate homemade salads in our sandwiches including tuna, chicken and egg. We also ate PB&Js which were especially delicious with homemade bread and jam.
Try to keep your per pound costs down. For fruits this means eating more apples and bananas instead of berries and peaches. All are healthy snacks, but you can save a lot by making smart choices. Pay attention to dry goods and pay the lowest per pound you can for things like rice, flour, sugar, pasta and quinoa. I did some of this research before I started, and it really paid off. By comparison shopping I saved anywhere between 50 cents and a few dollars per item. That adds up fast.
Incorporate “use it up” recipes in your rotation. This proved to be a key to our success. By including pizza and quiche whose toppings and ingredients could be any number of things we always used up what was on hand and didn’t throw food out. Half an onion here, some goat cheese there, and some tomatoes make for a delicious meal.
This has been an eye opening experience in ways I did not anticipate, and I would encourage anyone to give it a try sometime. And if you find yourself on SNAP benefits know that you too can feed your family and stay healthy.