Thursday, November 8, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day One

This is the first day of my seven-day food stamp challenge. As I mentioned in my November 5th post, everything I eat for the next seven days will be made using items I purchased for a total of $34.30 or less. So far, I've spent $33.52, and I have 78 cents left. The produce was purchased at either the Sunday farmer's market at 8th and W or at Sprouts. Everything else, including the oil and seasonings, was purchased at Dollar Tree, except for the vanilla rice milk, which was purchased at Sprouts.

The term "food stamps" is actually outdated. Low-income people who qualify for the state's CalFresh Program receive an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card that they use much like an ATM card. The amount of benefits they receive is based on the U.S Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost of food for an individual who is eating a nutritious diet at a very low (thrifty) cost. While the amount that the Sacramento Housing Alliance has set as the maximum budget for this week's food stamp challenge is $34.30 ($4.90 per day), I would actually qualify for a little more if I were really receiving CalFresh Program benefits. The allocation for a woman in my age group would be $36.50, or approximately $5.21 per day. The USDA's food plan chart is an interesting document, listing not only the cost for the thrifty food plan, but for low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal plans as well. If you're interested in seeing how your food budget would be categorized, the chart is available at

Before I went to bed last night, I brewed a pot of tea and put it in the refrigerator so I could have iced tea for lunch for the next few days. I also left a cup of pinto beans soaking overnight so I could make chili for dinner.

My breakfast today consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, to which I added a pack of raisins, a little vanilla rice milk, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. I also had half a Valencia orange and a cup of tea with lemon. This wasn't much different from a breakfast that I would normally eat, except that I generally use steel-cut oats, which are considerably more expensive but also more nutritious. Still, this was a satisfying breakfast.

Lunch was a baked yam sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, celery sticks spread with peanut butter, and a glass of iced tea with lemonade. It was good, but not quite filling enough. Afterward, I threw the yam peel, the celery ends, a few small cloves of garlic, and some salt and pepper into a pot of boiling water to cobble together a vegetable broth for the minestrone soup I'm going to make tomorrow.

I made chili for dinner, using the pinto beans I soaked last night, two cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies (I puréed one can in the blender before adding it to the chili), half an onion, three cloves of garlic, a green bell pepper (the onion, garlic, and bell pepper were all sautéed in a little oil first), water, chili powder, salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes. I was a little heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, but the chili was still pretty good. I also had carrot sticks. Normally, I would have had a lovely glass of red wine with a dinner like this, but since my $34.30 is supposed to cover all of my food and beverages for the week, wine is out of the question. Besides, food stamps can't be used to buy alcohol. So a refreshing glass of ice water accompanied my chili dinner.

I've survived the first day of the challenge, and I think I ate pretty well. There's a lot of leftover chili, which will figure into my menu plan for the remaining days. Following a strict budget is forcing me to be more organized about my meal planning and more careful about avoiding waste, which isn't a bad thing. I'm hopeful that, in addition to raising my awareness of the difficulties faced by CalFresh benefit recipients, this challenge will help me to be more mindful of my food choices and food value after the challenge is over.


Jared said...

Can you please provide some data to support your statement that steel-cut oat are more nutritious than rolled oats? It seems very unlikely since they are essentially the same product with different processing. I suspect you may be be biased in your assessment. Based on data provided at they look about the same nutritionally.

Pam said...

Good point, Jared. After reading your comment, I did what I should have done before I made the statement: I did a side-by-side comparison of the nutritional breakdown of both types of oats. You're right -- they're comparable. Thanks for catching my misstatement.