All posts by Rachel

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 4

After last night’s dinner, and small surplus of change, I was feeling good about Day 4. I noted in the morning that since the challenge began, I’ve lost 1.5 pounds. I thought this might happen based on daily calories. I’m getting the healthful food I normally eat (naturally low in fat and calories, donuts not withstanding), but I’m reducing the quantity, adding fewer condiments, etc.

Breakfast today was more of the same: oatmeal. Still good, still keeps me going through the morning. I added some (non-organic) grapes for an extra serving of fruit and felt quite full all morning. (Grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so I normally buy organic grapes or none at all.)

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • 1 cup red grapes: .60
  • Breakfast total: .84

Lunch was leftover vegetarian split pea and lentil soup from yesterday, pretzels, and cantaloupe. Tasty and filling. Bean or lentil-based soups are great – easy, freezable, and plenty of protein.

  • 2 cups lentil soup: .50
  • 1 cup cantaloupe: .24
  • pretzels: .12
  • Lunch total: .86

Dinner was a chance to clean out the vegetable drawers, as it usually is on nights when we pick up CSA produce. Out with the old, in with the new. I feel as fortunate as ever this week to receive such a bounty. But using prices I would pay for these items in a store, I can’t eat some of them until the challenge is over (baby bok choy!) Dinner was eggplant ratatouille (eggplant is more expensive than I realized), with sauteed zucchini and tomatoes, served with couscous and topped with nutritional yeast (a good source of protein and B vitamins). It was my most expensive dinner so far, but with the surplus from yesterday, still within my budget. And I managed to fit in 10 servings of fruit and vegetables for the day!

  • 1 cup couscous: .64
  • 1 small zucchini:.50
  • 1/2 of a medium eggplant: .98
  • chopped roma tomato: .32
  • olive oil: .04
  • nutritional yeast: .52
  • Dinner total: 3.00

Day 4 total: $4.68 (+ $ 1.01 for the week)
Calories: 1104
Fruit/vegetable servings: 10 (yay!)

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 3

I’m spending at least an hour each evening planning and budgeting meals for the next day – far more time than I thought. Ordinarily, I carry my lunch to work, so I’m used to a fair amount of planning – but not at this level.

I thought since I eat mostly whole foods (and no meat), that vegetables, beans, and grains would all be cheaper choices, and I could just combine them as I pleased. That has not been the case.

I priced out a zucchini last night for dinner, from our Prairieland CSA share. To be fair, I acted as if I bought it in a store, thinking that someone on SNAP would not have $400 to buy a CSA share at the beginning of the year. The small zucchini was $1. I can eat a lot of zucchini, usually more than one… sauteed with a little olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil… Yes, I am fantasizing about fresh vegetables.

I’m reminded of a scene from Food, Inc. The family is shopping for produce, weighing apples to decide how many they can get for a dollar. They put them back when they realize they can only get two. Later, they go through a drive through and order burgers from the Dollar Menu. It was incredible to me at the time, that someone would trade wholesome, real food for burgers from the Dollar Menu. I’m sure it happens all the time.

Today’s breakfast was about the same as yesterday (minus the soy milk) and was still filling. Because I ate it later in the morning and had a large glass of water, I wasn’t very hungry by lunch. I had packed 2 cups of lentil soup, an apple, and some pretzels, but only ate the apple and pretzels on the way to a meeting. In a moment of hunger, on the way back to the office, I snagged a donut – oops. But I counted it toward my total for the day, based on the current price of donuts at the supermarket from which they came.

It turns out the donut was comparable in price to the soup, and actually lower in calories. Quicker to grab on the go, but certainly not as nutritious. I saved the soup for Wednesday.

Because I had significant change left over for the day, I enjoyed a larger serving of black bean tacos, and a side salad with some luxurious-tasting guacamole and salsa. I still had quite a bit left over at the end of the day, but I was satisfied from all the protein and whole grains at dinner.

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • Breakfast total: $ .24
  • donut: .50
  • pretzels: .12
  • organic apple: .60
  • Lunch total: $1.22
  • 2 sprouted grain tortillas: .44
  • scrambled tofu: 1.00
  • 1/2 cup black beans: .16
  • chopped onion: .04
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 2 tbsp guacamole: .26
  • 1 tbsp salsa: .08
  • Dinner total: $2.19

Day 3 total: $3.65 (up $ .86 for the week)
Fruit/Vegetable servings: 4

I always pay attention to prices when I shop, but not as judiciously as I do now. Why is a bag of yellow potatoes $1 more than a bag of white potatoes?

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 2

I woke up hungry, and early. But I had gone to bed earlier the night before, primarily because I really wanted to eat something and I knew I could not. Since it was only about 7am, I decided to hold off as long as I could to eat breakfast. I love oatmeal. This was an especially good-tasting bowl.

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • vanilla soy milk, 1/4 cup: .12
  • breakfast total: .36

A cheap, healthy, and filling breakfast. (I think I’ll be eating oatmeal all week, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Lunch was a lucky find. I don’t use many processed foods, but at the going-out-of-business sale at Jerry’s IGA (SAD!), we picked up two Taste of Thai noodle kits (noodles + sauce) for $1.99 each (30% off). One box is two servings, and although I ate less than half of the box, I counted the whole serving toward the total. I think it probably compensated for the tiny bit of oil I added to the wok for stir-frying.

You might have noticed by now that I’m not eating meat. Or eggs. Or dairy. I was mostly vegetarian before this week, but today I am also beginning the first week of PCRM‘s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. I had thought it would be a bad idea to do both at once, but as I planned my SNAP menus, I noticed a distinct lack of products like cheese. It’s expensive, not very healthy, and I would like to learn to eat less of it, especially since reading The China Study. So expect more plant-based meals all week.

For this pad thai, I stir-fried an egg and some chicken for the non-veg people in my house, and added it back in after I’d taken my portion.

  • pad thai kit, 1/2 box: .99
  • bean sprouts: .33
  • whole wheat & honey fig bars (clearance at IGA): .66
  • crushed peanuts: .08
  • cucumber & onion salad: .55
  • lunch total: $2.28

Confession: the pad thai plus cucumber salad (cucumber slices + pickled onions from the refrigerator pickle jar) did not fill me up. While cleaning up lunch, I ate 4 whole wheat and honey fig bars, which are normally more expensive – but I had obtained them on clearance from a store that was going out of business. Were it not for luck, I probably would have walked away hungry.

In the afternoon, I grabbed a few pretzels from a large bag for .32.

Dinner was disappointing. I had cooked up some brown rice, and half of a bag of fresh spinach that was about to go bad. I’m trying to get better at using produce before it goes bad, and someone on SNAP would certainly not want to waste food… so I steamed the spinach. I added this to a cup of brown rice, along with some curry powder. Although quite nutritious, the taste and texture were not good. I left about 1/4 cup behind, but counted the full serving toward my total. A person on SNAP would not have the option to throw it out and eat something else.

Thankfully, I was able to eat the ear of sweet corn that my son didn’t want, and it fit into my budget. Still, I went to bed hungry, but probably because I walked for more than an hour after dinner.

  • 1 cup brown rice: .18
  • 1 cup cooked spinach (12 oz bag): 1.29
  • corn on the cob: .25
  • dinner total: 1.72

I usually run at least 3 times a week, but I did not have the energy. My calorie intake for the day was approximately 1260. On day 1, it was even lower, at 1060 – far below my Basal Metabolic Rate. I know I could have easily chosen cheaper, more calorie-dense foods, but I’m trying to eat as healthfully as I can on this budget. I don’t see how anyone who has a physically demanding job or leads an active lifestyle can sustain this level of calories.

Day 2 total: $4.68 (+ $.01 for the week, with leftover cents from yesterday)
Fruit/vegetable servings: about 6 (a lot of spinach)

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 1

Hunger Action MonthThis week I am taking part in the SNAP Hunger Challenge from Feeding Illinois during Hunger Action Month. I’m eating for $4.50 a day, the average SNAP benefit (formerly known as food stamps) for an individual in Illinois. My goal is to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to obtain healthy, nutritious, and filling food on a limited budget. Will I get enough protein, fruits & vegetables?

Day One: “Expensive” Breakfast and Batch Cooking

The day began with what turned out to be a relatively expensive breakfast. At least, it felt expensive:

  • 1 Ezekiel sprouted corn tortilla (small): .22 (33% off at Jerry’s IGA closeout sale)
  • 1/4 cup scrambled tofu w/ onions & peppers: .50
  • 2 tbsp chipotle black beans (homemade from dry beans): .08
  • Breakfast potatoes (homemade): .10
  • Breakfast total: $.90

Flavorful and filling (especially the beans), but not very large. For lunch, I made the guys some chicken parmigiana with frozen chicken patties, leftover marinara sauce, and mozzarella and asiago cheese. I would normally throw in a Boca or Morningstar chik patty for me, and hold the cheese, but at the usual regular price of over $6.00 a box, one chik patty would have blown my budget. So I cooked up a package of mushrooms that were getting old – I already find myself more sensitive to food waste. I topped the mushrooms with marinara sauce, and paired it with some couscous from the bulk bin at World Harvest.

  • 1 cup couscous: .64
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sauteed w/ Earth Balance: 1.50
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce: .33
  • 3 organic strawberries: .20
  • Lunch total: $2.67

I didn’t plan to eat the strawberries, which were relatively expensive at 2.50 per quart, even by my usual standards. But there were just a few left, and they were almost past their prime, so I enjoyed what now felt like an indulgence. I’m glad I did too, because we went bowling in the afternoon. By the time we finished 2 games and headed home at 4pm, I was feeling hungry again.

Dinner was a vegetarian split pea and lentil soup, cooked from a Bob’s Red Mill mix that I picked up at the Jerry’s IGA closeout sale. (I had no idea they had such a large natural foods section!) I added my own chopped carrots, celery, onion, garlic, vegetable broth, and spices. The soup was good, nutritious, and relatively filling with the accompanying cantaloupe from our CSA share. At .25 per cup, I’m glad I have a ton of leftover soup. It will be good for packing in my lunch this week.

  • 2 cups vegetarian lentil soup: .50
  • 1.5 cups cantaloupe: .24
  • Dinner total: $.74

Day 1 total: $4.31
Fruit/veg servings: 5

Crock Pot Channa Masala

PCRM’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart begins tomorrow. I’m going to give it a try. I don’t feel like I’m “giving up” all the things I can’t have (or more accurately, that I choose not to have). I see it as an opportunity – for better health, to reduce my footprint on the world, and to discover new tastes. Many of the dishes I already love are vegan. Like this one, a family-favorite Indian dish. It’s easy to prepare in a slow cooker, and the chickpeas turn out perfectly.

If your slow cooker has a removable stoneware crock like mine does, you can even assemble it the night before and store the crock in the fridge, then pull it out in the morning and plug it in. Dinner will be waiting for you, and your house will smell amazing.

Crock Pot Channa Masala

1 29 oz (large) can chickpeas, undrained
1 28 oz (large) can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 black cardamom pods
2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
2 tbsp garam masala
few dashes cayenne (or more to taste)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low for 8 hours, with the lid off for the last hour so it can thicken. Serve with hot cooked basmati rice or naan, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.