My Week on SNAP, Part II

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Erin Phelan

Erin Phelan › Erin Phelan and her husband Grady are sub-contractors for Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms at Briarmoor, one ...


I watched the documentary A Place At The Table the other day with my husband, Grady, and friend, Brie. Afterward, we felt a little depressed. The film never really put a light at the end of the long, low income, hungry tunnel. What are the answers to feeding people healthy food on a low income?

We decided to walk a small path in the shoes of someone with a low enough income to receive government aid. Hunger in the USA is a bigger issue than we thought and we hoped to shed a little light on some solutions. We know what we did doesn’t reflect on all the problems with buying healthy food with limited means. Some towns don’t have good grocery stores. Some people don’t have transportation. Some people don’t have good cookware or cooking skills. The list of variables is forever long, but we had to start somewhere.

The USDA uses a program called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to determine who is in need of help and how much financial assistance they need for food. I’m not sure government handouts are the best solution, but my political bend isn’t the important issue here. The SNAP allotment is divided into amounts per person so, for my family of three, the total came to $101.70 for a week of food. This amount reflects the maximum amount of assistance our family could receive. The goal was to go to our local grocery store and buy whole, organic foods using only $101.70.

When Brie and I decided to give this project a try, I was excited. I had already been mulling over cutting down on the amount of money I spent on food, but I didn’t want that fact to change the quality of the food I bought.

So, did the project change what we bought or how we ate? Not much. I already wasn’t buying highly priced, highly processed foods. It was exciting to know that buying good food can be done on a really tight budget.

The biggest thing I came away with for my family (2 adults and 1 child) was that we just eat too much food per sitting. I bought lots of veggies, eggs and meat and a few grains and dairy items, and then I just had to come up with ways to make it stretch for the whole week.

This idea that “healthy food is too expensive” is really not true. Drink water from the tap instead of soda. Make dinner at home instead of getting fast food. Too busy to cook? Save up and get a crock-pot. Creativity and knowledge about food may be lacking, but the good news is we all can learn more.

I realize that every area in the world is different in what foods you can get and how much items cost, but if you can take the time to research, plan, and make use of every bit of food (use those bones for broth), it will go a long way in saving you money.

Here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  • Make a meal plan.
  • Use smaller quantities of meat (each person does not need a half pound of meat per meal), and use eggs for other meals besides breakfast.
  • Make a large meal and then divide it into smaller portions for multiple meals (I did this with a soup and meatloaf).
  • If possible, consider growing your own veggies during the summer, or even longer. You really don’t need that much space and if you have any outdoor space you could grow something. FYI: the SNAP program will pay for seeds.
  • Check into local farms and farmers’ markets. We found that organic meat, eggs, dairy and veggies in the supermarket were comparable in price to what we could get at farms in the area!

Want more details? My husband produced a Vlog about the week with a look at each meal and his perspective. He’ll be posting updates daily.

Here are some more articles and websites that might also be helpful:

“Eating Local and Organic on Food Stamps”


The Weston A. Price Foundation

Food Renegade

What kind of adjustments have you made to spend a little less on food each week?

Click here to read the Part I of this series.

Photo Credit: Brie Aronson