Reader Challenge: Healthy meals on a food stamp budget

22nd August 2008

Reader Challenge: Healthy meals on a food stamp budget

To follow-up on yesterday’s post about childhood obesity and poverty, I thought it might be interesting to present a reader challenge. Let’s say you are a single mother of two grade school-age children. Your children are on summer break and you have the responsibility to feed them breakfast and lunch — meals that are usually federally subsidized during the school year — and of course, dinner and snacks. Like many poor single-parent homes, yours is also a a single-income family, and because you only have a high school diploma, you work in either food service or retail and net about $20,000 a year.

For the purposes of this challenge, this family lives in Kentucky, where the cost of living is still relatively low compared to the rest of the nation. Kentucky is also the seventh fattest state in the nation, according to the “F As in Fat” report released this week from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report noted that Kentucky also ranks seventh for type 2 diabetes, and ninth highest for hypertension. Kentucky, not so coincidentally, is also one of the nation’s poorest states, with a median income of just $29,729.

According to America’s Second Harvest, here is the budget required of a single-parent Kentucky family with 2-3 children:

Total Average Monthly Income: $1320

Average Monthly housing costs: $687
Average Monthly healthcare costs: $251
Average Monthly transportation costs: $160
Average Monthly childcare costs: $830
Average Monthly other* costs: $305

Money leftover for one month of food: $-913

* Includes telephone service, clothing, personal care, household care items, school supplies, reading materials, and television.

Plugging in the budget above to the USDA’s FNS Food Stamp Program pre-screening tool reveals that this mother would be eligible for $273 to $283 a month in food stamps or about $70 a week or $10 a day.

So, here’s the challenge: Create a sample weekly or daily food budget with the above food stamp budget that includes three healthy and well-rounded meals a day plus snacks for one adult and two children. Post your food budgets in the comments below and include the price of each item. Your findings just may surprise you…

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There are currently 47 responses to “Reader Challenge: Healthy meals on a food stamp budget”

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  1. 1 On August 22nd, 2008, vbsmith said:

    I will work on this over the weekend.
    Can I shop at wal-mart? That is the cheapest place in our town. I live smack in the middle of the midwest. I am going to do lacto-ovo vegetarian meal plan, since that is what I eat.

  2. 2 On August 22nd, 2008, J said:

    A blogger took this challenge about a year ago, feeding two adults only organic food on a food stamp budget for a month. It was really interesting to see the meals she came up with. (Spoiler alert: lots of rice and beans!)

    For comparison, my city council member (Queens, NYC) took the food stamp challenge for a week and ate mainly white bread, cheese slices, and pasta — and was ravenous the whole time.

    This question seems to come up a lot, and although my partner and I try hard to eat sustainably on a budget, I would never condemn a family that bought less “virtuous” food instead. Blood had a ton of advantages many food stamp recipients don’t: time, cooking skillz, residence in food-heaven California, no kids or other picky eaters, and the biggie – knowing she was doing this for fun and could stop at the end of the month.

    But still, it looks like they ate (mostly) very well and came in well under budget. This approach has definitely inspired us, even though thankfully our budget isn’t as tight.

    Now wouldn’t it be great if the US food system made it easier to eat like the blogger and harder to eat like the council member?

  3. 3 On August 22nd, 2008, J said:

    Oh my gosh, my link broke your website. And didn’t even answer your question. I’m sorry!

  4. 4 On August 22nd, 2008, JM said:

    I don’t mean to derail the thread, but something in the budget jumped out at even this happily child-free woman:

    Over 60% of the monthly take-home pay is being spent on childcare.

    If that doesn’t make it clear that to tackle the issue of poverty, we’ve also got to address the need for safe, affordable childcare in this country, I don’t know what would.

  5. 5 On August 22nd, 2008, Melissa said:

    I blogged mine over here

    let me tell it took up a big chunk of my day!

    It’s okay because I really felt the need to do this.
    We use to live on low income when I was really young and it has been a long time since we’ve had a limited budget and I felt the need to revisit that.
    It’s actually very hard and I admit I couldn’t stay under $10 a day and keep it balanced.

  6. 6 On August 22nd, 2008, Rachel said:

    That’s okay, J. Thanks for that link and extra info!

    VBSmith: Even families who aren’t on budgets shop at Wal-Mart. In fact, Wal-Mart would probably be the most realistic choice for budget-conscious families on or off public assistance, so feel free to use their prices.

    let me tell it took up a big chunk of my day!

    Now imagine doing this on a daily basis!

  7. 7 On August 22nd, 2008, Cree said:

    Well, statistics and surveys and hypothetical is all well and good, but speaking from someone who lives the poor life I think the numbers are incorrect. I grew up in poverty and am still trying to dig myself out of the hole. Thankfully I’m childless, and thus don’t have to worry about single parenthood. I am married though and taking care of my husband and I on our current budget is not so easy either. Anyway, my point is my grandmother received $800 a month in SS which was meant to pay all her bills as well as take care of me. Plus she wasn’t eligible for food stamps because she got too much SS. So, the math is $800×12 is 9,600. That’s $10,400 less than the $20,000 proposed here. I’m not really sure how she managed to do as well as she did. Not exactly the same, but to give another perspective, minimum wage in GA is 5.15 (Kentucky is 6.55). That’s where I’m from. Working 40 hours a week one would make approximately $10,000 a year. Now, if a couple is lucky enough, they may be able to both work and make about $20,000 a year. However, after taxes (25%) that only comes to $16,000 a year for the both of them. However, since we’re using single parents, that would mean our mother would only make $8,012 a year. I’d like to see a budget worked out for that. Especially since some crazy person believes housing only costs $687 a month.

  8. 8 On August 22nd, 2008, Froth said:

    I have a yearly income after rent of £2430, or £46.73 per week. Granted, there’s only me to live on that, but a person has bills to pay, and £6.66 per day, while mildly amusing, does not go very far.
    I’m eating my savings at the moment.

  9. 9 On August 22nd, 2008, Godless Heathen said:

    I think your yearly income estimate is high, I think $12k – $15k a year is a lot more realistic outlook, most jobs do not pay over the state minimum wage, which is still hovering under $7 for most areas outside of California. Food stamps may average $10/day, but in some areas you’re very lucky to get $3/day.

    I also agree with Cree, housing for a multi-child family is going to run you more than $685/mo unless the whole family is crammed into a single bedroom apartment. In some areas that have been hit repeatedly by natural disasters that put a lot of people into rentals, you’re looking at upwards of $800/mo for a 1br/1ba, not including utilities.

    America’s Second Harvest is starting with a “national average” that seems to have drawn it’s income from California and it’s housing from Ohio. Those numbers are just way off.

  10. 10 On August 22nd, 2008, Godless Heathen said:

    Oh, and on the food challenge, I’ll tell you when I find the answer myself. So far, we’re doing ok with lentils and other legumes, but I don’t know how you’d get kids to eat it. I’m having trouble getting a 35 year old to eat it.

  11. 11 On August 22nd, 2008, Branwyn said:

    I have to say, that when you are a kid and hungry, you don’t have as much opportunity to be a picky eater as when you aren’t hungry.

    I know the same thing day after day is hard and kids don’t necessarily go for (insert good for you, low cost, and tastes icky food here), but when it’s all they get?

    That’s NOT to say it’s easy to feed a family on a low income budget. That’s not to say it’s almost impossible to make $10 per day work for a family of one adult and two children. It IS.

    But the whole point about picky children? It’s kind of moot at the levels of income we are talking about here, imo.

  12. 12 On August 22nd, 2008, Cree said:

    I have to completely disagree Branwyn. I can remember on more than one occasion choosing to without than having to force something down. Especially when my physical reaction is to vomit.

  13. 13 On August 22nd, 2008, twincats said:

    The time/money conundrum almost comes out even for me. I work part time and spend a lot of time cooking from scratch to save money, and that’s making large recipes to allow for leftovers.

    When I work more hours, I have to buy more convenience foods and we eat out more (it’s just me and my husband.)

  14. 14 On August 23rd, 2008, Alexandra Lynch said:

    It can be done, but it helps to have a car (to go buy things like large bags of rice or beans) and it helps to have a bank account, and it helps to have room and knowledge to plant a vegetable garden. But whatever way you do it or don’t, it’s a hell of a lot of work. I’m in IN and we have about sixty free a week for food for four adults, and we eat a hell of a lot of stirfry/etouffee/curry and a growing percentage of meatless meals.

  15. 15 On August 23rd, 2008, Orodemniades said:

    I’m a cashier (not for much longer, yay) at a grocery store. I’m married, have a 6 month old, and work part time. I will earn less than $10k this year and am applying for food stamps, which my case worker tells me I have a chance of not getting because I ‘earned too much’ in 2006 ($16k). For the record, I was married but childless. If I do get food stamps, I will receive between $100-$400 per month. Not including heating oil or the credit card, our monthly bills come to around $800 per month…I currently earn, net, around $450 a month. We live in a rural area, my husband, a foreign national, doesn’t drive and there’s no public transportation. He occasionally gets work from his former employer, and could get more if we had something other than dialup. I wish I had the time to cook as I once did, but at the moment that’s an impossibility. My husband does the childcare while I work, sleeps while I watch the baby.

    Which leads me to being a cashier, and can I just say, people need to learn how to cook. I am, and i’m sorry to say this, really horrified at what many people on food stamps buy for food. Boxes of mac ‘n cheese, that Lunchable crap and even worse, tv dinners for children, pre-made bacon, pre-mashed potatoes in plastic containers that you just have to reheat, single portion snack foods like puddings and jello, bottles and bottles and bottles of soda and Gatorade (I totally don’t get the Gatorade)(don’t people drink Kool Aid any more??) frozen pancakes – seriously, frozen pancakes and egg scrambles and what the hell is so wrong with making something from scratch?

    I mean, come on, pre-mashed potatoes at $3 or more a package that lasts for one meal, when a 5lbs bag of potatoes could last you a week, maybe two if you like soup?

    And yeah, I get convenience cooking, many’s the day when I eat cereal or popcorn for my dinner because I’m just too tired (I get home around 7pm, pump, take care of the baby till he falls asleep, eat, sleep or go online for 2 hours before pumping more, sleep, then get up at 4 or 5AM and start the day all over again) to cook. Even so, the day I buy frakkin’ Lunchables for my son will also be the day I vote Republican, become a Christian, and buy an SUV.

    Sorry for the vague rant/post, I’m tired but wanted to say something…not sur eif I suceeded or not!

  16. 16 On August 23rd, 2008, emi said:

    I don’t have the time to do the whole exercise right now, but I’m sure it would involve a LOT of beans, lentils, rice, potatoes, probably seasoned with oil, salt, and onions. Carmelized onions in plenty of oil and salt, mixed into lentils/beans/rice is delicious, though would probably get old pretty quickly.

    Oh, and lots of carrots and cabbage. And eggs.

  17. 17 On August 23rd, 2008, sleepless said:

    I found a book called “Feed your family for $75 a week” by Cynthia Mayne. That is $75 Australian; I don’t know how our grocery prices compare, sorry, but there is a pricelist in the back of the book so I can copy them in later if you like. The price of vegetables would possibly cause a bit of a blowout out of season, but they make up 1/4 to 1/3 of the budget.

    It has a fortnight of shopping and meal plans to feed four adults. She developed it early in the 90s with her family of 2 adults, 2 teenagers and a toddler, and she updated it from $55 then to $75 this year. It is basically meat-free, and includes lots of sandwiches, soup, porridge, cakes, vege pies etc, (not much fruit – 1 piece a day plus the occasional cooked ingredient) and is all cooked from scratch – lots of old-style recipes with very basic ingredients. She estimates an hour of preparation for dinner, with extra time for cakes/biscuits which last a few days. The only thing I perhaps am unsure about is that she advocates reducing milk by adding water (and juice the same way); but the milk is only used in recipes.

    The book should be available from Australia, and a newspaper article about it can be found here:

    Basically it needs a lot of planning and not an insignificant amoutn of time to make it work, but it looks possible, if somewhat rigid.

  18. 18 On August 23rd, 2008, keshmeshi said:

    unless the whole family is crammed into a single bedroom apartment

    In some parts of the country, especially in ridiculously expensive housing markets like San Francisco, you can find more than one family, or a huge extended family, living in a studio apartment. And I really wish I were exaggerating.

  19. 19 On August 23rd, 2008, Karen H. said:

    A great topic that deserves attention from the administration of the food stamp program. I would point out that in 2007 a single mother of two could earn $18,050 without paying income tax (the Head of Household standard deduction and 3 exemptions), then receive a tax refund of $6161 in Earned Income and Child Tax Credits. As a tax preparer working with many filers in this range, I believe that multi-generational poverty has given rise to many survival strategies & healthy eating probably has a low priority. Communities need to brainstorm on a local level to educate all families: urban community gardens, bus routes to the farmers markets (and to parks), bring “home ec” back in high school curriculum. Now, if only I was Empress…

  20. 20 On August 23rd, 2008, Cree said:

    Orodemniades: I find your response a little offensive. It really irks me when people just how someone else spends their food stamp money. Not to mention that judgment says a lot more than simply disagreeing with someone’s choices. To me it says that you’re saying that person is a bad parent based solely on their food choices. As someone who detests cooking, I buy a lot of prepackaged food. Not only that though, I simply lack the skills to be able to cook and have tried for /years/ to be able to learn because I know it’s cheaper. However, the ability just escapes me. So because I can’t cook, am I bad parent? Do I not deserve food stamps?

    I’m also not sure you understand the lack of time. You are married, so it seems you have help with raising your child. While some parents do not. What happens if a parent has to leave the house before their child is awake? Or the kid stays home with a babysitter? Finding one that cooks from scratch is going to be a lot harder, and likely more expensive, than one who can simply hand the kid a lunchable. Then we have the situations where kids are home alone. While this isn’t the best of circumstances, I know as I’ve been this kid, sometimes there is no other choice. Is the kid expected to cook for themselves? How about parents who work 8 to 10 hours a day and then have to tend to all the other responsibilities. Are they still less because they can’t cook from scratch?

    I don’t know, I just felt your comment was really unthoughtful and judgmental. Perhaps because I am someone whose dog cooks better than she dog and so it’s very personal.

  21. 21 On August 23rd, 2008, Kristie said:

    Cree, I understand your point. But like Orodemniades, I spent many years checking groceries, and I saw the same sorts of things. I think there is a mix of 2 issues here: personal choice, and economics. If the question is, how well can you eat on how little money, avoiding packaged food is a no-brainer. Flour and sugar and baking soda will always be cheaper and go further than a box of Bisquick. That’s reality, and there’s no need to take offense. Back when my husband and I were both working, we ate out a lot and ate a lot of packaged food: mac and cheese, frozen pizza, pot pies, that sort of thing. We couldn’t really afford to eat out, but we did. When he quit his job, he started cooking, and we got by cheaper and ate better. Now that we both are working again, we’re eating a lot of the packaged stuff and restaurant food again, because it’s a matter of time.

    I don’t think making a kid’s lunch really has to be as involved as “cooking from scratch.” I learned to make a sandwich for myself in grade school. Handing a kid a Lunchable doesn’t, honestly, give a child very much food, and it is significantly more expensive than peanut butter and jelly. You can feed a kid better with a sandwich and an apple than you can with a Lunchable, especially the really involved ones filled with junk.

    I really don’t think whether you eat prepared or self-made food is a moral issue, nor should we attempt to make it one. But it IS an economic issue. I have lived on $20 grocery money a week for 2 adults, and it’s hard. But choices have to be made. Sometimes you will choose convenience, sometimes you’ll choose quantity. If I were using food stamps, I’d do my damnedest to make that money stretch as far as possible, because we all know that it’s never enough as it is.

  22. 22 On August 23rd, 2008, Orodemniades said:

    Cree, judgemental, hell yeah. My opinion – and I speak as someone who’s the child of a single parent who struggled to raise, house, and feed me both on and off of welfare/food stamps – that it is your duty as a parent, rich or poor, to do the best by your child/ren that you can, and in my world, that does not include feeding them crap when you are on a budget. I’ve got no problem with treats, but surely that doesn’t include Lunchables or frozen pancakes? A box of frozen pancakes will last one meal, a box of pre-made mix a month of Sundays, and if from scratch, well, doing the math that’ll last even longer and be cheaper to boot.

    I wish everyone could afford to spend $400 a week on groceries – and while there are plenty who do, there are a lot more who can’t. As for who deserves food stamps, well, that’s up to the whims of DCF, isn’t it. I sure hope I qualify, because I don’t know how I’m going to cope without going deeper into credit card debts. My mother had to pay for our heating ($2800 for 500 gals of oil) and that’s got to last from the time the cold weather hits until it ends, and in northern New England that’s about from late October through April. With the baby we’ll have to keep the house warmer than usual (for the curious, I hate turning the heat above 60F/15C in winter, which where we live averages around 15F/-9C during the day, and has gotten to -35F without wind chill) so yeah, there are some damned difficult choices to be made. My choice will be to put more clothing on the kid so the oil lasts for when we really need it, just as if I get food stamps I’ll be buying the basics, in bulk, because it’ll last longer and i’ll be able to buy more.

    Assuming, of course, I’m not denied.

    Anyway, I hope that shows where I’m coming from.

  23. 23 On August 24th, 2008, Kim said:

    Check out 30 dollars will get you a heck of a lot of good food that will make your grocery budget stretch, and there are no income requirements at all. I hope there is a site in your area. Frugal food choices don’t have to be awful.

  24. 24 On August 24th, 2008, Clare said:

    Orodemniades, your comment was very insulting. Yes, the money would go farther if it wasn’t being spent on pre-made items: but I’m pretty sure the person buying them is aware of that. You’re judging a person as being either lazy or incompetent based on a short interaction.

    I grew up on a lot of frozen pizzas and frozen dinners. Yes, it would have made more sense financially to buy basics. But who would have cooked them? It was just me and my mother, I was staying home alone after school from a very young age. She house-cleaned for a living, and suffered from a mis-diagnosed ulcer for years. The idea that she should spend an hour in the kitchen after working a more than full day or that a child as young as I often was should cook unsupervised is laughable.

    Its not always a matter of convenience: its a matter of survival, and there are only so many hours in a day.

  25. 25 On August 24th, 2008, dragonfly said:

    Orodemniades, I agree that a lot of pre-packaged “time savers” don’t really save all that much time and the higher cost (and unhealthy ingredients) make them a seemingly illogical choice for people who are living on a tight budget. It might very well be too much for a single parent to be able to cook all of their food from scratch because they lack the time, but things like lunchables aren’t that time consuming to replicate with cheaper, healthier ingredients–likewise for mashed potatoes. However, it’s important to remember that some grocery shoppers (on or off welfare) lack the problem solving and math skills that make that conclusion obvious to us. I try never to judge people by what is in their shopping card (regardless of how they are paying for their food) because I have no way of knowing what their situation truly is.

    I’m glad Kim shared the Angel Food Ministries website. It’s a great program for people who are trying to stretch their food dollars. Also, if you have young children (under the age of five) or are pregnant, WIC may be an option for you. They offer vouchers for healthier foods and the income guidelines not nearly as low as they are for food stamps. (A family of four can earn up to $39,200 and still be eligible.) If you do get food stamps, you can still get WIC, too, which would help your food stamps go further.

  26. 26 On August 24th, 2008, Matriarchy said:

    Even during the school year, you may be feeding your kid three meals a day.

    Another issue with feeding a child is the horror of school lunches. We eat well and cheaply, and but it is a lot of work. My 15 year old works under the table and contributes to our food budget. If I worked FT away from home, I don’t think I could maintain it. It takes a good long time to build up the skills, the garden, the right food sources, a recipe collection, the right equipment, a supply of spices to make it varied and tasty, the *routine* that makes it possible. You have to build a kid’s resistance to the food they see other kids eating. The kids have to become comfortable being different and eating “weird” food that other kids may ridicule.

    It’s great when food evangelists get press for explaining how the poor don’t know how to eat or cook – when most of the food programs for the poor hand us the worse of the industrial food complex. Meat from downer cows to the school lunch program. Requirements to accept the lowest bids for food contracts. Do you have any idea how many well-meaning programs for the poor consist of handing out CANDY and useless stuffed animals to children, instead real food? Amazing how many people think that poor children will feel better about life if they are given cheap bulk candy.

    Have you ever seen the kind of food one gets at a food bank? The donated snack food full of empty calories, the 2-day-old artisan bread, the beef-like substance in gravy-like liquid, the stuff that didn’t sell in from someone’s warehouse, instant rice, salty canned soup. I’ve seen homeless people leave soup kitchens with a whole shrink-wrapped dozen of stale donated danish, taking it home to serve as dinner. The food programs that serve the poor do not themselves model good nutritional choices. Nutritional education consists of flyers from the WIC program. Did you know that the federal government may give you a whole $30 per YEAR to buy fresh produce at a farmer’s market? Wheeee!

    I don’t think my 11 year old could eat a school lunch or breakfast now. Lunches from home are not subsidized – no one gives you money just because your home-cooked food is better than cafeteria crap. So,you are faced with allowing your child to eat a school burger from dubious beef sources, soaked in fat so the catering service can bring it to the school, on a white roll, with a spoon of canned fruit – gotten FREE. Or, you can send your own hummus, homemade pita, solar-oven-roast chicken, and homegrown carrots – but no one subsidizes you or even pats you on the back. You get weird looks and the teacher asks if your child eats a special allergy diet and carries an epi-pen.

    Last year, my kid told me not to pack the carrots any more. They take too long to CHEW, and she only has 20 minutes to eat. She doesn’t have time to CHEW.

    You canNOT feed them lentils and rice, garden veggies, handmade pizza, etc – meanwhile training them not to want Gatorade or gummi snacks – and then expect them to be able to eat cafeteria Mystery Fish when school starts.

    It isn’t just poor people that eat crappy prepared convenience food – it’s only us poor folk that get *judged* for it, because other people experience it as watching the undeserving spending their tax dollar. Funny, we poor folk don’t get to evaluate how well the government systems do at dispensing the money sensibly. Or how ethical it is for a supermarket chain to charge more in a poor neighborhood full of captive customers. Or whether is it moral to charge excessive fees for the small necessary financial transactions of people that have no other place to cash a check. But then, it is assumed we are too stupid, too addicted, too immoral, too uneducated, too weak and frivolous to have anything to contribute to the conversation.

    Don’t assume that the food you see at the store check-out is the ONLY food that family eats. They may be choosing to spend their foods stamps on luxuries they can’t get elsewhere. They may be growing part of their food, getting some from food banks, sharing meals with someone else, working in a restaurant that feeds them, foraging, dumpster-diving, gleaning, or even stealing food. We have twice encountered school children that routinely pilfered other kids’ lunches from the cloakroom, in order to get enough to eat.

    Don’t assume all poor people are the same. If the economy continues to deteriorate, many of you may soon get to try the experiment for real, instead of just playing at being poor on teh interwebs.

  27. 27 On August 25th, 2008, Health Specialist said:

    The General yearly income is not more than 12000 to 16000 on an average. So that means your stats if true, then there are more families who are just trying harder to survive, forget about live life.

  28. 28 On August 25th, 2008, Rachel said:

    A note about prepackaged and processed foods… I think many people who buy these foods might think they are healthy, when in reality, they offer very little nutritional value. Case in point: A recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest examined 367 food products aimed at children in the U.S. Researchers found that 62 percent of the products had “poor nutritional quality,” yet still made positive nutritional claims. Another study by researchers at the Rudd Center at Yale examined children’s breakfast cereals and found that 66 percent of them failed to meet national nutritional standards.

    And even if you do buy the healthy stuff, you have to get your kids to eat it. I heard an interview on NPR with a food bank that provides meals to kids during the summer. They said that when they served healthy vegetables and other foods, the kids wouldn’t eat it. When they served pizza or burgers, the kids clamored for it. I can see where an already frazzled single mother might opt for mac and cheese instead of getting her kids to eat lentils. And speaking of lentils, don’t they take hours to prepare? I don’t even know how to cook with lentils and I’m a college-educated vegetarian. My mother, who grew up poor and was working poor for most of her adult life, wouldn’t even know what lentils are or how to cook them.

    All in all, I don’t think there are any easy answers and no single factor or entity to place the finger of blame on.

  29. 29 On August 25th, 2008, Helen said:

    The Hillbilly Housewife website has a $40/week emergency menu here: and a $70 menu here:
    It can be done, but it’s difficult.

  30. 30 On August 25th, 2008, Lara said:

    Lentils are one of the fastest-cooking legumes. You don’t have to pre-soak them, and in a pressure cooker, it’s only a matter of minutes. In a regular pot on the stove, it’s less than thirty minutes. I love lentils, especially because they don’t take any pre-planning.

    Also, for those of you questioning the housing prices, it is that cheap to live in Kentucky. I live in Louisville, and I rent. A family can get 2-3 bedrooms for less than $700 here in a reasonable neighborhood. I know because I live in one of those neighborhoods. In the more rural areas, the rent is even cheaper. And Kentucky is Rachel’s example, so that is what she based the housing costs on, very accurately.

  31. 31 On August 25th, 2008, Shannon said:

    If I had 70$ a week to eat with I would be really excited. I have nothing to add aside from that.

  32. 32 On August 25th, 2008, Pat said:

    Note that red lentils cook even faster — 10 to 15 minutes on the stove top (as opposed to brown (25-30 minutes) or green (about 20 minutes).

    Lentils of all kinds are delicious in soups, stews and casseroles– but IMHO they truly shine in various ethnic cuisines, such as Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean, etc (yeah, I know — most likely out of the loop for your average underprivileged person living in poverty stricken conditions. Still, I believe we as Americans could learn a LOT from other cultures in terms of eating cost effectively and WELL using legumes, grains and other basic, inexpensive ingredients)….

  33. 33 On August 26th, 2008, Rachel said:

    I was on food stamps when I was in college (making $800 a month, more than half of that going to rent!) and I always ran out of food stamps about 2.5 weeks into the month. I ate a lot of ramen with veggies and eggs. It was difficult to get nutritious food, but I have to admit to being lucky enough to live in a progressive city that has a lot of organic food.

  34. 34 On August 27th, 2008, leficent said:

    Helen has already suggested the Hillbilly Housewife, and I have to second it. Her budget plans are based on someone being able to put a decent chunk of time (2 or 3 hours a day) into food preparation, but that is mostly due to daily bread baking.

    I ended up on the site about 2 years ago when I was trying to feed two on about 25 dollars a week. I grew up eating processed foods, and though I eventually learned how to cook and bake, cooking was more of a pleasure pursuit then an economic one.

    Hillbilly Housewife is where I learned to plan and shop and prepare healthy, tasty food without breaking the food budget. I remember how shocked I was to discover that she had a recipe and directions for flour tortillas! I had never even THOUGHT of making my own, I had always bought them. Her site is full of scratch recipes that save money and increase the quality of your meals.

    Even after things got better for my household, I still make my own bread and use several of her recipes on a weekly basis. One of my staples is to use her Taco Lentils and Rice to make burritos that I freeze for lunches and snacks later on- cheaper and much healthier then the ones you could buy at the store.

  35. 35 On August 27th, 2008, Christine said:

    I feed my family of 4 for about $250 a month and we eat very well. But I have a lot of factors in my favor that may or may not apply to the single mother in the above example. I have a reliable car, which enables me to shop at any grocery store I choose. I have the time to study the sale flyers, clip coupons, plan my purchases, make lists, and travel to all the various stores for their deals. I have a fully working kitchen and I know how to cook. I have a little money in my budget and the storage space to stockpile when a sale is particularly good (thus saving me money next month and beyond). I’m not dealing with food allergies or picky eaters. So I know it can be done, but it requires time and effort that many people just don’t have to put toward it.

  36. 36 On August 27th, 2008, Melissa said:


    Those are some really good points. I planned my list but I think I would have done better to actually be in a grocery store.
    Also I didn’t take in any coupons, which if faced with a limited budget I would (perhaps I should now!) definitely use coupons, because you can save a lot of money.
    Also it does help to have children who aren’t picky eaters!!!

  37. 37 On August 27th, 2008, Rachel said:

    I read a story about a local woman who quit her part-time job because she was able to save more money if she dedicated that time instead to coupon clipping. She now runs a blog where she gives coupon suggestions, but I don’t remember the name or URL. She was able to save a lot of money, but you have to have money to do what she does because she stockpiles things she finds on sale. When you only have money for the basics, stockpiling isn’t really feasible.

  38. 38 On August 27th, 2008, Judgments Run Deep « Naturally Curvy said:

    [...] @ 2:05 am Rachel over at The F-Word posted an exercise for her readers in reference to the epidemic of fat kids. I thought it was a great post and was interested to see what folks said. Unfortunately, I was [...]

  39. 39 On August 27th, 2008, Christine said:

    Melissa – I make my list only for the must-haves that I’m buying regardless of price (bread, milk, sugar, eggs, etc.), and for the deals I’ve seen in that week’s flyer that I plan to get (Hormel marinated pork tenderloins for $2 a pound is a recent example – I stocked up). Other than that, I plan my meals as I shop, based on the prices I find. The 1/2 price meat bin is a gold mine for me. Snacks and such aren’t brand or even variety specific – it’s what I can get the most of for the best price, based on sale, coupons, which coupons will double, etc. As you may have figured out, a major shopping trip (usually twice a month) takes about 2 hours – and then I hit another store or two on the way home to pick up just their loss-leaders for the week. I’ve turned this into a hobby of sorts – a profitable pastime that I really enjoy. It would be great if every food stamp recepient had the time, energy, interest and opportunity to bargain grocery shop as I do, but that’s just not a realistic scenario so I certainly don’t begrudge those who don’t.

  40. 40 On November 6th, 2008, April D said:

    This whole thread has given me a world of insight into how my mother managed to feed me, my brother and my grandmother as a single working mom. She often worked 11 or 14 hour days. At the age of 8 I knew how to help my grandmother make home-made perrogies and how to do our laundry.

    Although I’ve always known how to cook I didn’t really account for how lucky that made me. While I still don’t think a tiny lunchable (I have issues with that particular lunch concept) is the same in quality or quantity as even a hastily slapped together sandwich (having done so for myself from a very young age just for necessity) it is while reading all the comments here that I was able to step back a second and realize just how judgmental I’ve been of choices people make; and how similar it makes me to those who judge anyone who is fat based solely on appearances.

    I guess I’m just posting to say you’ve kinda given me a glimpse of how hard my own mom had it, how lucky I currently am in my financial situation (where I have the luxury of buying fish one night on a whim without wondering if I’ll make the bills since I have the second job now and a bit more leeway) and how sometimes even the most well-meaning person can still find they have their own judgmental tendencies that they have to stop and re-assess. Thanks for that.

  41. 41 On November 6th, 2008, Finding out that you’re biased. Where to go from here. « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape. said:

    [...] just had one of those moments today when I read this older post from The F-word; and let me tell you that it is still making my head spin.  Because after reading [...]

  42. 42 On January 12th, 2009, Bec said:

    I love this post, But i have to ask as I am Australian. Other then food stamps do you get any other government payments/social security for being a single or low income family?

    Here we get Centrelink payments for a single mum of 3 kids its about $1100 australian dollars (i thnk at present we are about double US $) US$550 a fornight. PLus rent assistance on top of that. which is about 20% of your rental payments. We geta healthcare card whcih gives discounted prescriptions at $2.50-$5 each (its about $25 a prescription off benefits), and free doctor visits.

    Those on health care cards are also entitlied to discounts on electriciy and phone bills.

    And there is rebates and child care allowences (eg the gov pays for part of your child care)

    I dont know if other countries have the same schemes. BUt here even with all that and the cost of living families are still struggling. I have a family of 5 and there is no way i could feed us on $10 a day, healthily. Not without my own veg garden.

    Is there anyoway the government would help the low income earners set up veg gardens? this would at least give some healthy foods and cut back on the food bill

  43. 43 On February 22nd, 2009, catherine said:

    Wow! This is a great conversation. I am not working (due to inability to find a job, even though I’m a teacher), live in Kentucky, have three children (one of which is allergic to peanuts) and am fortunate enough to live with my wonderful boyfriend, who helps out financially. Still, I am responsible for all our food. I was recieving $400/mo in food stamps which got me through 3 weeks, but it has dropped to $200 this month. I buy all natural meats (expensive, but worth it), organic dairy and eggs, and fresh fruits and veggies. I avoid convenience and snack foods. I cook dinner 5 nights a week. Unfortunately, I have two kids and a boyfriend who daily eat their weight (and never gain a pound). All three of my kids are extremely healthy, and are not picky at all. Still, I cannot make it $10/day.

    I tried to live on my own a few years back, and found it was impossible financially. After my divorce, i moved to Louisville because there were more job opportunities. Unfortunately, I still could not make ends meet. Since I moved during the summer, I had to take a temp job until the school year started. I lost that job after three weeks because of the child care fiasco that ensued. First, I was eligible for some childcare assistance, which is good since a semi-decent daycare here costs $110/wk per child. But, to recieve that assistance, I had to take off work from my new temp job to sit for an hour and a half (after my scheduled appt. time). The boss wasn’t too happy about that. Then I got call after call from the daycare center about my daughter (who is autistic). And then the icing on the cake was that another child hit my son in the head with a block and I needed to come get him so he could get stitches. When I got home from that, there was a message on my answering machine telling me not to come back to that job :(

    My budget at that time was:
    Rent – $475 (1 br apt…I slept in the dining room)
    Utilities – $150
    Cell phone – $60 (it is a neccessity for a single mom)
    Child care – $175 (after assistance)
    car payment – $218
    Car ins. – $100
    I made $12/hr = 1400 after taxes
    That left me about $200 for food and gas. I made too much money for food stamps.

    That being said, before I began teaching, I was a case worker and took applications for food stamps. I saw many heartbreaking stories walk through my door, but honestly, the majority of clients completely abused the system. I am sure they also lacked the knowledge of how to budget and prepare healthy meals, but the state refuses to address those issues.

    I agree with everyone who has posted, on all sides of the discussion. Personally, i think food stamps should not be able to purchase junk food. And I mean, the real junk food, like sodas and frozen pizza and debby cakes. That would be step 1. Step 2, would be a real education program aimed at single moms recieving assitance. It doesn’t take a lot of time to purchase a little healthier food if you know what to look for. Sunny-D’s ad campaigns make it look like God’s health drink of choice. Instead of paying $4 for that sugar drink, a mom could buy 2 cans of frozen OJ for $2.

  44. 44 On February 22nd, 2009, Matriarchy said:

    Catherine, I’m curious. If you did now qualify for food stamps, and you had to attend a food education program in order to get them, and have someone monitor your food purchases, would you still want the food stamps?

    You, who already eats well, would need to sit in a class and receive basic instruction about how to shop and eat, from an instructor using canned a canned federal curriculum that does not account for regional foodways, local eating, home gardening, or other personal adaptations. It would teach the USDA Food Pyramid that currently reflects the lobbying of the meat and dairy industries.

    I am not picking on you – I’ve been where you are. But one problem with education programs is that they treat everyone like a child. When my first child (now a teen) qualified for Head Start, I was required to attend an education program that taught me to brush my teeth. There was no “testing out” of the program, or the other insulting assumptions they made based entirely on my income. In fact, that’s one of the things that keeps many people from applying for programs that their families desperately need – being treated like an imbecile or of a fraud because you are poor. “The poor” are not a homogeneous population of bad eaters (or bad anything else). I’d be more likely to support new rules that exclude certain classes of food – but how does that help a family that lives in an urban (or rural) food desert with very few choices? And who will get to decide what foods are OK – the government, which is largely compromised by agribusiness and industrial food manufacturers? The same government that failed to shut down a peanut processor that sold poisoned food to into school systems?

    Frankly, I would rather give unrestricted food stamps to families than put the USDA in charge of deciding what they can buy. The USDA would do nothing remotely resembling “good” food education.

  45. 45 On March 30th, 2009, Veggie Girl said:

    I am on food stamps. I am not lazy or stupid. I am educated. I do not buy the following for me and my family: boxed or processed foods, soda pop, juice drinks, meat, bread, cheeses. I make my own seitan. I make my own whole grain breads all the way from scratch. I make my own cheese. I buy fresh fruits and veggies, milk for cheeses, brown jasmine rice, dried beans and grains. To drink, I buy green tea 100 bags in a box and brew them with fresh ginger. I do know exactly how to buy healthy with food stamps. I use the internet for info and I go to the asian shops for incredible produce and rices.

  46. 46 On March 30th, 2009, Julanar said:

    Just curious, Veggie Girl: How much TIME does it take to make all these things from scratch?

  47. 47 On November 4th, 2010, astroboy said:

    Hi I’m from Australia too. This is a great discussion. I have a blog where I post all my menus, shopping lists and recipes. It is to help people cooking for one and on emergency food vouchers – $55 a fortnight. Cooking for one is even more expensive than cooking for a few.

    I cook from scratch, but some items are cheaper processed than natural. For example lemon juice in the bottle is cheaper here than the actual lemon. They are over a $1 each. I am finding buying fruit the major problem in devising the meal plans.

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