How to eat on $4.50 a day, take the SNAP Challenge

Paula Duffy's picture

The SNAP Challenge has politicians simulating the daily food choices of low income Americans who feed themselves on an average $4.50 a day.

What used to be called Food Stamps, now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is ready to be scaled back by Congress.

The question is by how much, meaning how many people will be removed from eligibility roles?

To try and show Americans just how little recipients actually receive on federal assistance, 30 members of Congress are chronicling their attempts to feed themselves on $4.50 a day.

The SNAP Challenge has been around since 2006. Other of the people's representatives have taken the plunge. What could be on your shopping list if you had to limit your food purchases in this way?

In a blog post at the Huffington Post, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) pointed to the issue of being forced to eat canned fruit and vegetables with high sodium and sugar content rather than fresh food, all based on their cost.

"Shopping carts can be filled with good, nutritious food if you have the money for it. If not, you have a recipe for diabetes and hypertension on your hands."

Boxes of prepared food mixes aren't as desirable as using the real thing to make something as simple as a tuna casserole, "But, most of them require butter and milk, two things I don't have a budget for. I read the back of every box and find one that only needs water and is also in my price range."

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) admitted that in general he's not in grocery stores all that often, but with his decision to take the SNAP Challenge he ventured out with a mission that was extremely difficult: spend no more than $31.50 for a week's worth of food.

After visiting a local Safeway store, he stood up at the podium in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives to reveal his grocery list.

He spent a total of $27.76. Mr.Johnson, like Rep. Lee tried his best to get the healthiest choices and began his shopping trip with Quaker Oats, noting it will sustain him for any of the three meals a day, including dinner.

Butter was once again eliminated from the total by using prepared products that already include it, like frozen waffles. Bacon was on sale which gave him another flexible choice of protein that could be used at any meal.

A quart of milk was in his cart as was his favorite type of tea. Hotdogs, Ramen noodles and a few bananas rounded out his order. He had put two bunches of broccoli in the cart but it sent him over his limit.

He noted that he won't be eating three meals a day on what he was able to buy on the budget, and in some ways it took him back to his college days.

Neither Ms. Lee nor Mr. Johnson attempted to find a farmer's market or fresh food grocer, using what was locally available to them at grocery stores.

While both of them checked food labels in an attempt to limit sugar, sodium and fat, choices were made to avoid hunger.

How would you manage on $4.50 a day and what would be most important on your grocery list?

Image: Google Images/Picasa