Last week we ventured to live on an average (probably above average) budget of someone who receives food stamps. We chose the $1.57 a meal budget, which came to about $33 a week for all three meals, all seven days. The day before we started, we went to the Fiesta in East Fort Worth to shop where our families would shop.
As we set out for our first day I felt strong. I had some snacks throughout the day that I budgeted for and didn’t feel like I was missing a beat on my meals. Then the next day I had the exact same thing for two of my meals. And every other day I had the same two eggs, and turkey bacon with corn tortillas for breakfast. One day I got crazy and switched out the tortillas with a piece of toast. Now, I’m sort of a creature of habit, so eating in repetition is not a big deal for me as I typically eat the same few things anyways. However, I had no choice as that was all I had budgeted for breakfast for the week. While I didn’t mind it, I still felt stuck to only have that as an option to eat. What if I accidently dropped the egg carton and all the eggs broke? I’d be stuck.
Which leads us to the next obstacle: mistakes. I made a few of them throughout this week. Mistaking cumin for cinnamon was not fun. Thankfully that wasn’t a tragic mistake for several meals, but did clue us in on that if a mistake is done and food has to be thrown out, that it’s a big deal. If I burned something in the oven or dropped food all over the floor, I would just loose those meals. On a tight food budget, there is little room for mistakes.
Another obstacle was time. Neither of us participating in the SNAP Challenge have kids so it seems we got an easy way out, but we did notice the amount of time that it took to plan and prepare all the meals. There were days that I had to pack both lunch and dinner, which meant cooking all three meals for the day at breakfast. If I had kids this would be quite difficult and I would have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get meals prepared for everyone. We pay a lot for time. A quick drive through Wendy’s was not an option for us. I had to wake up a little earlier or eat a little later because of the time it took to cook all the food. Once I had some left overs built up it wasn’t too bad, but the time it took was something I know I hadn’t had to really think about before in cooking for one.
In discussing the challenges we had this last week, we did realize we didn’t get the full experience of what it’s like to be on a food stamp budget every day. One big thing was just having a car to get to the store. A lot of folks don’t have the transportation to get to the store, and will have to take it all on the bus and walk with arms full of groceries. We live in Texas and it gets more than hot here. Some food could spoil just on the way home if we had to walk or stand outside waiting for the bus.
One positive aspect of this challenge was seeing our friends and community rally with us. When we told our friends and family what we were doing, they offered to give us extra food they had or take us out to dinner or just give us extra snacks they had. The community aspect of this was really encouraging for us to experience. However, while it was encouraging for us the same thing is less likely to happen for someone else who is on food stamps regularly. The negative stigma will be with them much more than it was for us, voluntarily doing this challenge. The eyes at the store closely examining what you’re purchasing on food stamps, potentially feeling shame when handing the check-out clerk your food stamp card, having to walk to your home with arms full of groceries, not being able to grab dinner out with your friends, not being able to attend events because they cost too much; we did not have to experience any of these situations.
This experience gave us a greater appreciation for not having to rely solely on food stamps to purchase our food. The fact that we can go grab Chick-Fil-A every now and then, or Torchy’s when we want a good taco, made us much for thankful for what we do have, and much more aware of what others don’t have. We were able to eat pretty healthy on this budget, avoiding the filler foods or snacks like chips and candy and getting a fruit or vegetable in almost every meal.
We are very excited to bring what we have learned to the community of East Fort Worth this summer when we will be teaching a four-week course on weight management and how to eat healthy on a strict budget, easy ways to exercise without going to the gym, and what it really means to be strong men and woman. We would like to provide different resources for these families and continue serving them, however this doesn’t happen without your help! If you would like to join us in this project by donating and praying for us you can do so here.