I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

#SNAPChallenge - Week 1

There’s been plenty of times that I’ve noticed a few extra pounds creeping up and made the joke that I could stand to skip a few meals. I’ve also been known to forgo breakfast simply because it’s not my favorite meal of the day but I certainly make up for the missed calories and content during other meals of the day.

But what if you HAD to skip a meal? Had to because there was no food available and no money to buy food. What if it were more than an occasional occurrence?

One in six Americans struggle with hunger and food insecurities every. single. day. Most are hard-working adults who simply cannot make ends meet.

There is no discrimination in the effects of hunger – it affects children, adults, and seniors.

In 2012, 49 million people lived in food insecure households with 15.9 million of those being children. In the same year, 2.8 million senior households faced the same insecurities.

In 2013, Congress passed legislation that decreased SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) to now be roughly $1.40 per meal. That’s only $4.20 for entire day’s worth of food! Could you survive on $4.20 per day? I decided to see if I could as part of @Feeding America #SNAPChallenge in an effort to raise awareness about hunger.

What I bought:

I went into the challenge feeling confident. I meticulously planned two weeks’ worth of meals and shopped within budget. As you can see, my $60 budget  did not allow for a lot of groceries for two weeks (42 meals). I did plan to use pantry staples and the previously purchased meat from my CSA but even at that, there was not a lot of sustenance in my cart. I was not supposed to use food that I previously had per SNAP challenge rules, but I figured those into my daily costs and the staples will be replenished with food left over during the participating weeks. I did not want to be wasteful or repurchase stuff I already had for the sake of the challenge because even in “real life” I have to watch my spending habits.

What I prepared:

Egg Cupcakes

Overnight Oatmeal

For breakfast, I planned to rotate Overnight Oatmeal and Egg Cupcakes. Both are easily adaptable to what is on hand and provide a lot of filling protein.

Shrimp Scampi with Whole Wheat Linguine
Chicken Cacciatore over Rice

Ham with Pimento Cheese

Bacon, Apple, and Cheese Sandwich

Lunch and dinners would consist of a rotation between Chicken Cacciatore, Shrimp Scampi, Apple, Cheese and Bacon Sandwich from the new 100 Days of Real Food cookbook, and ham/cheese rollups. I even planned to include roasted chickpeas for a snack but unfortunately the recipe I chose to experiment with was a bust and not worthy of blogging about.  After Day 2, they were deemed inedible and I tossed them - nearly a day's allowance for meals in the trash!  That hurt.

What I ate:

Day 1
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
3 slices of deli ham $0.82
3 tablespoons pimento cheese $0.50
5 pickle slices/1 tsp mustard $.10
½ cup roasted chickpeas $0.44
Salad - lettuce, carrot, cuke, bell pepper, tomatoes (from my garden) dressed with oil and vinegar $0.48
Chicken cacciatore with rice $1.65
1 square of 85% chocolate $0.40

Total cost: $4.44

Day 2
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Overnight oatmeal with apples $0.93
Leftover chicken cacciatore and salad $2.13
1 square of 85% chocolate $0.40
1/2 cup (the dreaded) roasted chickpeas $0.44
Shrimp scampi with linguine $2.16

Total cost: $6.11

Day 3
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Overnight oatmeal with apples $0.93
Leftover chicken cacciatore and salad $2.13
1 square 85% chocolate $0.40
Apple, cheese and bacon sandwich $2.13
Sliced cucumbers $0.30
Handful roasted almonds $0.40

Total cost: $6.31

Day 4:
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Overnight oatmeal with apples $0.93
Leftover shrimp scampi with linguine $2.16
Salad $0.48
1 square 85% chocolate $0.40
Handful roasted almonds $0.40
Apple, cheese and bacon sandwich $2.13

Total cost: $6.55

By this day, my portions are getting smaller and the salad that I had allocated for this week is gone. I'm totally tired of the chicken cacciatore and have about 6 servings left. I added some chicken stock from the freezer and sauteed some cabbage that I found languishing in my frig and transformed it into soup.

Day 5:
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Egg cupcake with 1 tablespoon salsa $0.81
Leftover shrimp scampi with linguine $2.16
1 square 85% chocolate $0.40
Granola bar $0.50
Soup made from chicken cacciatore leftovers (2 bowls!!) $3.50
Half an apple and roasted almonds $1.25

Total cost: $8.67

I'll admit to being VERY hungry by the time dinner rolled around. I mainly had carbs for lunch and no fruits or vegetables to speak of all day. I ate a granola bar before I left work because I had errands to run and dinner was going to be late. One bowl of soup was not enough so I had a second and then broke down and ate half an apple and a handful of roasted almonds. Today was not good.

Day 6:
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Whole wheat bagel with cream cheese $2.29
Leftover chicken cacciatore with rice $1.65
1 square 85% chocolate $0.40

I had to run morning errands for work and had to pick up breakfast on the fly. Paying $2.29 for a bagel and cream cheese only reinforces the fact that it is impossible to eat anything within the $1.50 budget that SNAP allows. Also, tonight was date night with Boy Toy, so I had "free" food. I splurged on a Ruben sandwich with coleslaw, 2 beers and some of Boy Toy's pub chips.

Total cost: $4.39

Day 7:
Tea sweetened with sugar $0.05
Egg cupcake with 1 tablespoon salsa $0.81
Soup from cacciatore leftovers $1.75
Leftover shrimp scampi with linguine $2.16
Potato soup topped with 2 tablespoons grated cheese $0.50

Total cost: $5.27

Thoughts and revelations:

  • Even though I did well spending within my budget,  my meals were more costly than what they could/should have been. I wanted to see if this challenge could be done eating a real food lifestyle and there’s no doubt that buying organic and/or farm-raised meats would put a very severe strain on the monthly budget and that is why my meal costs were so high.   Pay more for an organic, farm-raised chicken now and go hungry later because the budget ran out? You decide.  The only days that I was within the daily budget  were the days that I skipped a meal.

  • Could I continuously plan a meal down to the exact penny every single week? Probably not. Hectic schedules, last-minute commitments, and laziness inevitably rear their ugly heads at one point or another and all planning flies out the window.

  • I have a desk job and therefore don’t “work up” an appetite like a lot of people who are working labor intensive jobs.  I did some gardening and home improvement work during the week  and had major hangry moments. I wanted to eat more. Needed to eat more.

  • When Day 4 rolled around, I was hungry for breakfast and lunch, no doubt because I only had a sandwich the night before.  I realized if this were my reality, I would be giving up the right to eat anything I wanted whenever I wanted. I also realized how much of a void filler the act of eating is. Bored? Eat.

  • It is very clear that I will need to cut corners and trim the fat in order to meet the daily meal allowance budget.  No snacks, no piece of chocolate, no nuts, no indulgences no matter how small.

  •  As the days went on, my meals were much less like a complete meal and just something to eat.  Once the salad ran out, I was getting less satisfied because I'm used to alot of fruits and vegetables every day.

  • Over-budgeting, over-consuming or under-planning even by a little can/will drastically affect future meals.

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