awww SNAP

Well, other exciting political developments have been monopolizing our attention for the last couple of days, but the SNAP challenge does continue! There’s lots I want to share, starting with what exactly we’ve done with that $57 of groceries.

4 meals

Breakfast everyday is oatmeal with fruit (mostly increasingly mushy bananas), plus a couple cups of store-brand ground coffee.* Snacks are more fruit, that 5-ears-for-$1 fresh corn sautéed with a bunch of herbs from the garden, and little bits of leftovers from previous meals. Lunches and dinners are listed in the following table, usually accompanied by some green vegetable: a handful of baby spinach, roasted broccoli, or brussel sprouts.

One week of SNAP meals:
dishes and number of servings provided for 2 people


On Sunday, the first day of the challenge, we ate oatmeal for breakfast, the Spanish tortilla for lunch (basically a frittata with onion and potatoes), and red beans and rice for dinner. Since every recipe is providing multiple meals, front-loading the cooking has allowed us several options to choose from for subsequent meals. Even the oatmeal is made ahead: the batch I made on Sunday lasted until Wednesday. (Steel-cut oatmeal with its more toothsome texture takes a little longer to cook but holds up better as leftovers; rolled oats turn to mush.)

What is missing, you may notice, is meat. It was a struggle to operate on this very tight budget and feel remotely healthy, and the easiest choice was to eliminate meat in favor of beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Most of these dishes are not completely vegetarian—I think I’ve fried bacon every day this week—but they certainly fit the “meat as seasoning” approach of various cuisines around the world. Several of the dishes have roots in cooking cultures with a genius for making tasty things with limited resources, like the Cajun red beans and rice, Spanish tortilla, and Italian spaghetti carbonara. All these recipes came from my “tried and true” file, but I suspect you could much more intentionally find inspiration within particular ethnic cooking traditions.

The odd result of living on a food-stamp budget is that we are eating significantly healthier this week than we usually do, with unlimited funds for treats and a more casual attitude about meeting our nutritional needs. We like vegetables and will almost always include them prominently in meals we cook at home, but it’s not uncommon for a couple of days to pass when the only green we consume is a little spinach in our breakfast taco and the salad underneath our happy-hour crab cakes. Without for a second minimizing the significant challenges of eating on this budget, it is good to know that it possible to do it in a healthy way. IF you have the time, tools, and know-how to cook, that is.

That said, I have gone to bed hungry twice this week; I’ve developed a raging sweet tooth and nothing to satisfy it but a slice of cantaloupe; and when I neglected to pack a lunch when I went out for meetings and errands on Tuesday, I was ravenous by the time I got home to my leftover tortilla and squash casserole. I don’t think we’re going to run out of food before Saturday night, but I’m not positive. That would put us in the same boat with most families who receive SNAP benefits: almost 80% have used their entire month’s benefits by the end of the second week. Unlike those families, we will not have to resort to a food bank.

*that I am forced to confess don’t taste much different to me than our usual fancy beans from Central Market, thoughtfully selected from dozens of options and ground on-demand in small batches

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