Taking on the SNAP Challenge!

Last Thursday, I was doing my daily browsing of web articles and came across Ron Shaich’s (Founder and CEO of Panera Bread) article about the SNAP Challenge. It was intriguing so I decided to look up the challenge created by Feeding America. The concept is simple: try to eat on a $4.50 daily budget for a few days, a week, or more. This is a way to put yourself in the shoes of the people on the food stamp program (SNAP -Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in America and to raise awareness about the issue of hunger in America and the importance of these programs for people in need.

Click on the image to get all the rules and details about the challenge!

I decided to try out the challenge for 7 days, starting tomorrow. I should mention, to be fair in my calculations, that my husband won’t be participating so the budget and what I bought only reflects what I will eat this week. Yesterday, I planned and did my grocery shopping for next week. With a daily budget of $4.50, I had $31.50 for the week. I felt like it was plenty, until I started adding up the numbers. On Saturday morning, I spent over 1 hour looking through our Giant weekly circular to figure out what I’d be able to eat this week. I added everything up on a spreadsheet to make sure I wouldn’t go over my limit and then headed out to the store. Once I arrived at Giant, I decided to use one of their EasyShop scanner at the entrance to make it easier to track all the items I was adding up.

I tried to make sure I had some fruits and vegetables but I didn’t get nearly as much as I normally would, or I would have quickly been over budget, with nothing but produce in my cart. I found a few on sale that I hoped would get me through the week. I have to admit that, as I got closer to my budget limit, I started having a little moment of panic thinking “What if I get hungry in between my meals? I don’t have enough money to buy snacks!”. I also had a stressful moment with the coffee situation. The usual local coffee we buy costs something around $11 per pound. It’s a lot but my husband and I both love it and we’re willing to pay extra as it is still more reasonable than going to the coffee shop every day. Well, there was no way I could get that in my SNAP budget! I kept some room at the end of my prepared budget to browse the coffee/tea section for a morning alternative. I had $4 left to spend. I finally picked a box of English Breakfast tea for $2.50. The thing is, I don’t really like tea but I’m hoping to suck it up for the week. Boy, the thought of waking up to tea instead of coffee almost makes me want to cry.

A look at my cart...
A look at my cart…

Here is a breakdown of my grocery purchases:

  • 3 oranges (3.00)
  • 1 lb of strawberries (2.99)
  • 9 oz of fresh spinach (2.99)
  • 1 mango (1.00)
  • Kashi Go Lean Cereal (3.00)
  • 1 lb of ground turkey (2.50)
  • Kraft Fat Free Thousand Islands Dressing (0.99)
  • 2 cans of tomato sauce (2 x 0.47= 0.94)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes (0.80)
  • 16 oz box of elbow macaroni (0.80)
  • Organic extra-large brown eggs (2.64)
  • Organic fat free milk (3.49)
  • 16 oz bag of frozen broccoli cuts (1.00)
  • Box (20 bags) of Celestial English Breakfast tea (2.50)
  • Lipton pouch of chicken fried rice (1.00)
  • Total savings: $11.76 (from using my reward card and the scanner tool)
  • GRAND TOTAL: $30.38

You might notice that some ingredients are organic or otherwise look like I didn’t go for the cheapest brands. A lot of it was actually thought through (although maybe I was wrong)…for example, the organic milk was on sale and was the cheapest milk brand available. The eggs had a coupon (on the scanner) and the Kashi cereal was on sale. I wanted to make sure that my breakfast would have enough protein to sustain me throughout my busy mornings at the preschool. I also picked a bag of spinach instead of my planned salad mix for a few good reasons: 1) it has more nutrients than salad mix, 2) it was the same price for bigger bag, and 3) it provides more meal options (I can cook the spinach as well as use it fresh as salad). With just over a dollar left in my budget after buying the tea, I browsed through the isles in search of a good deal. I ended up getting the pouch of fried rice that can provide two big sides.

Everything I bought
Everything I bought…and all I can eat for the next 7 days.

Here is my meal plan for the week (since the order might change, I will simply count lunches and dinners as 14 meals):

  • Breakfast: Cup of tea (with added milk), cereal with milk (every day)
  • Macaroni with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, spinach and ground turkey (6 meals)
  • Hard boiled eggs, spinach salad with dressing, fruit (pieces of mango or strawberries) (3 meals)
  • Fried eggs, with a side of steamed broccoli, half-orange (2 meals)
  • Broccoli and egg omelet, full orange (1 meal)
  • Fried rice with egg mixed in, half-orange (2 meals)
  • Snacks: handful of cereal, if lunches turn out to be sustaining enough, I can also keep my fruits as afternoon snacks

My concerns with this challenge:

  • Running out of food before the end of the week.
  • Getting headaches from not having my daily coffee
  • Getting hungry in-between meals with limited snack options.
  • Having to eat eggs and pasta every day, and the effects it might have on my body (mentally and physically).
  • As I started getting cold symptoms today, I worry about my limited quantity of vitamin C and other food I usually enjoy or need when I am sick.

Of course, my concerns this week are the concerns of millions of people every week. I am lucky enough that, worst-case scenario, I could buy more food if I actually ran out. But they don’t have that option. And this is why it is important to raise awareness for the cause. People shouldn’t go hungry. As a society, we should give them a hand when they are in need.

Now off to the kitchen to prepare a week’s worth of macaroni…


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