Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I heard about the SNAP challenge on Twitter. Basically, you try to live for a week on a food-stamp budget ($4.50 per person per day.) I'm a bit late to the party, since the national challenge was held between June 13 and 19, but it's interesting to think about. Can you feed a family well on $4.50 per person per day?

That's pretty much what I spend now, though I do have a well-stocked pantry and freezer. I buy groceries on sale, and I don't buy too many prepared foods (except for breakfast cereals, frozen pizza and granola bars.)

That's also pretty much what Big Brother spends on groceries during the school year, when he lives in a college apartment and cooks for himself. Believe me, he eats well:  jambalaya is regularly on the menu--made from scratch. The spice collection he brought home from school this summer is too large for a shoebox that used to hold men's sneakers.

In a Twitter discussion, I was criticized for claiming that the reason I can live on (or close to) a SNAP budget is that I buy ingredients, not prepared foods.

Maya Rupert, a policy director at NCLR, claimed, "but cooking takes much more time & isn't always practical for many low-income families."

My response:  "Understood. But don't sell people short by assuming all they can handle is nutritionally empty prepared foods."

She didn't answer me.

Cooking does take time, but it's faster to cook burgers on your own stove than it is to go to a drive-through, order them, and bring them home. Rice cooks in 20 to 25 minutes. It costs me under $15 to make enough homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs to feed a family of 5 for 8 dinners. That's less than 40 cents per person per serving. That spaghetti sauce needs to cook a minimum of 4 hours, one time. After that, the sauce and meatballs heat up in the same amount of time as it takes to cook the pasta.

Big Brother learned that staying on a food budget is easier if you plan ahead, eat what's on sale, and shop at Bottom Dollar and ALDI. He doesn't use coupons.

Ingredients are cheaper and healthier than prepared foods, on the whole. Earlier this year I read Kathleen Flinn's The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. The author helped nine "culinary novices" reshape the way they cook and feed their families. The students learned how to prepare foods with fresh ingredients and how to use planned leftovers.

Change doesn't happen overnight, but there's no reason that anyone with even the most basic kitchen equipment (sink, stove, fridge, skillet, 2 saucepans and a colander) couldn't learn to make some homemade, nutritious food rather than reaching for the (high in sodium and sugar) Ragu on pasta night.

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