Monday, September 29, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge: Reflections


Well, I made it through the week and survived the Food Stamp Challenge. Interestingly, it was a very busy week and I don't know if that made it harder or easier - I was probably hungrier, but had actually had less time to think about food.

It was a little touch and go on Friday when I had an off-site staff meeting and afterwords everyone wanted to go Panera for lunch. I accompanied them and figured I would use my remaining $1.12 to buy a small soda. When I got to the front of the line during the lunch time rush and told the cashier that I only wanted a small soda, he looked at me quizzicially and just gave me a cup without charging me for it! Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

I finished the week with a handful of spaghetti, some sauce, three eggs and a little bit of lettuce - not much to build on for the next week. The biggest lesson that became even clearer to me is the difficulty of eating well while trying to eat cheaply. It's easy to understand why someone would purchase something like "Sunny-D" to drink rather than real juice: it costs about half as much, but has little nutritional value.

The same is true for bread. You can spend $2.29 for whole wheat, or 99 cents for a larger loaf of white bread with less nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables are a story unto themsleves. Wow! You would be lucky to have one or two pieces of fresh fruit a day -- well below what is suggested to be healthy.

I found the experience to be very rewarding, and eye-opening. It was also a great educational tool for my daughters. I am blessed that I don't have to live this way every week, but right now -- and, unfortunately, even when the economy is good -- there are far too many for whom this is how they live. In a nation as prosperous as ours, we can and must do more make sure no one goes hungry.

On a lighter note, there was great concern at the soccer fields on Saturday that the whole family was undertaking the Food Stamp Challenge, and many of the parents of my daughters teammates were offering to take my girls home so they could have a good meal!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge, Day 5

As we close in on the end of the seven day challenge, here's my menu from yesterday:

Breakfast -- a bowl of cereal with milk, and a glass of concentrated orange juice.

Lunch -- a turkey sandwich (2 slices of wheat bread with a bit of turkey and gobs of lettuce) and a banana.

Dinner -- spaghetti with sauce, and a glass of milk.

As I mentioned yesterday, my supply of sliced turkey is running dangerously low, so my sandwiches have become thick with lettuce, thin on the meat.

Today I'm on the run, and . . . well, I didn't pack a lunch this morning, so I'm going to have to wing it. Perhaps the $1.12 I had left over from my grocery shopping can be put to use today. I'll let you know.

The final day of the Food Stamp Challenge is tomorrow. On Monday, I'll let you know what I ate, and give you some final thoughts on the challenge.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4

Here's the menu for yesterday.

Breakfast -- a bowl of cereal with milk, and a glass of concentrated orange juice.

Lunch -- a turkey sandwich (2 slices of wheat bread with a few slices of turkey and lettuce) and a banana.

Dinner -- scrambled eggs and toast, with a glass of orange juice.

Because of last night's Town Hall meeting, I once again didn't make it home for dinner until after 10:00 p.m. Rather than eat an egg sandwich, as I had planned, I decided instead to have scrambled eggs with toast. Same ingredients, different format, I suppose.

Anyway, here's what's left in my pantry for the remaining three days (that's today, tomorrow, and Saturday): I've got seven eggs left, 2/3 of a box of spaghetti, half a can of sauce, and half a loaf of bread. I made my first can of frozen juice last until yesterday, and opened the second (and last) can for dinner last night.

That's not too bad, I suppose -- but my milk is almost gone, my remaining bananas are going brown, and I've only got a bit of sliced turkey left, which means my lunch sandwiches for the rest of the week will be heavy on the lettuce, light on the meat.

We'll see how I do. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge, Day 3

Here's my menu from yesterday. And I hope you notice it looks quite a bit like my menu from the past two days.

Breakfast -- a bowl of cereal with milk, and a glass of concentrated orange juice.

Lunch -- a turkey sandwich (2 slices of wheat bread with a few slices of turkey and lettuce) and a banana. Water to drink.

Dinner -- A bowl of bean soup and a glass of milk

Once again, given my schedule, I didn't eat dinner until after 10:00 p.m. While breakfast and lunch have been the same, I'm trying to mix things up a bit for dinner, rotating between spaghetti, soup, and egg sandwiches. But my meals have become incredibly utilitarian -- they're all purpose, and no pleasure. As such, you don't necessarily look forward to dinner in the way you might anticipate a pot roast that's been cooking all day, or savor a steaming plate of Mexican food. It's simply A Meal, doing its job.

Oh, and thanks, I did manage to land a larger water cup.

For more stories, vist the Manna Food Stamp Challenge Blog here. There was also a story in the Gazette, which you can read by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2

As I noted yesterday, variety is not an option when you're living within a tight budget. My meals yesterday consisted of the following:

Breakfast -- a bowl of cereal with milk, and a glass of concentrated orange juice.

Lunch -- a turkey sandwich (2 slices of wheat bread with a few slices of turkey and some lettuce) and a banana.

Dinner -- a fried egg sandwich on wheat bread, and a banana

The main question I'm getting is: are you hungry? And the answer is: Not yet. That's probably because I've been busy during the day, running from one meeting to another, and I had to work late enough last night that I didn't eat until I got home at 10 p.m. That sort of schedule tends to take your mind off food -- but only until I get home and settle down.

At that point, the mind tends to drift, and temptation starts to tap you on the shoulder. But when you're on a budget, there's really no such thing as leftovers. I can't afford to snack on what I've got left in the fridge, or I might run out before the end of the week, leaving me with an empty fridge and empty stomach by Saturday morning.

To the surprise of my staff, giving up my regular Mountain Dew habit hasn't been difficult. I'm drinking more and more water now, which is probably a good thing. My main quest now is for a bigger cup.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Food Stamp Challenge, Day 1

After a much too long hiatus, I am back in the blogosphere. This week, I'm undertaking an activity that I hope will bring attention to an issue that we're all dealing with during this difficult economy: how to feed yourself and your family while food prices continue to rise and your income doesn't.

Manna Food Center is sponsoring the Food Stamp Challenge and asking people to see what it's like to live on food purchased for no more than $25 a week, which is roughly the equivalent of what an individual who is eligible for food stamps receives each week. I'll try to provide an update each day and let you know how I am doing -- although as you'll see, the menu won't vary much from day to day.

On Sunday morning, my two daughters and I went shopping to see if we could at least accomplish the first part of the challenge -- to get groceries for the week for less than $25. Here's our list:

16oz can of Hunt's Meat Spaghetti Sauce - $1.20
2 cans of Dole frozen orange/pineapple juice -$1.69 each
Malt O' Meal Raisin Bran - $2.50
1 loaf of wheat bread - $2.39
1 dozen eggs - $1.89
1/2 lb. smoked turkey breast - $3.17
1 head of iceberg lettuce - $1.79
1 gallon skim milk - $3.99
7 bananas at .58/lb. - $1.48
1 16oz box thin spaghetti - $1.00
1 can bean with bacon soup - $1.09
Total: $23.88

This leaves me $1.12 in case of an emergency as the week progresses.

Sunday's meals consisted of,

Breakfast - 2 scrambled eggs and 1 piece of toast and juice
Dinner - Spaghetti, two pieces of bread, a small salad of iceberg lettuce, and a glass of milk

By way of just a little background on Food Stamps and Manna Food Center.

Manna Food Center (and many other similar organizations) provide food for the hungry in Montgomery County. Each month Manna feeds 2,400 hungry families in our County and each week provides meals for 600 elementary school children. Manna's website is

Food stamps are a supplemental food program for low-income persons and families. You can find information on the Manna Food Center website, but generally to be eligible an individual's gross monthly income cannot exceed $1,037 or $12,444 per year, and a family of four's gross monthly income cannot exceed $2,097 or $25,164. If you meet this criteria, then a single is eligible for $152 per month, and a family of four can receive $506 per month.

The first observations that I would make are that it is very time consuming to try and figure out what you can purchase for $25 that can provide enough for food for the week, but even harder is trying to do it in a way that is healthy. My youngest daughter is concerned about what happens if I run out of food mid-week, and has offered to sneak me some food if it becomes a desperate situation. It's good to have someone looking out for me - everyone should be so lucky.