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When we first started talking about doing a SNAP challenge, I felt like there was no way I could fail at this. I have spent the past 3 years of my life dedicated to educating others about the SNAP program, as well as helping them navigate the path to benefits through application assistance. I consider myself a SNAP expert, and frequently find myself doling out advice to those who I have met at agencies, or who I have spoken to via our helpline. However, I have never done a SNAP challenge.
“I got this…” I figured as I sat down to sort out my grocery list for the week. Some of my favorite meals are meals that I remember from growing up, all of which seem cheap and SNAP budget friendly. As I sat down to hash out my menu and make a shopping list, I realized I hadn’t made any of these recipes in a long time. Then I realized the reason I hadn’t made any of them was because about a year or so ago, I overhauled my diet and made many healthier choices in my life. Most of these recipes, though budget friendly, did not fit into my healthy diet. I was going to have to make some sacrifices this week.
I decided to shop for things throughout the week instead of in one trip, this way I could look for deals throughout the week instead of placing all my stock in one place. I figured that for my first meal, I was going to make Red Beans and Rice. My absolute all time favorite comfort meal and one that I learned to make from my mother. RB&R is usually a cheap choice and lasts forever. I figured I could get a couple days lunch and dinners out of it.
It wasn’t until I got to the store and had a cart full of dry beans and dry rice that I realized the stuff that makes RB&R tasty, is the stuff I couldn’t afford. Ham Hocks, a key ingredient, were $4.50, there was no way I could splurge on that. I didn’t have any bay leaves at home and those weren’t gonna be cheap either. At this point, all I could afford, was some garlic powder, the beans, rice and an off brand andouille sausage… but only one. This is going to be much harder than I thought.
--Shelley, SNAP Outreach Coordinator
My first stop was to Aldi. I remember now that you need a quarter to get a cart (you get your quarter back when you return it). I didn't have one, so I carried a reusable bag and put all my items in there to take to the checkout. Since it was a store I haven't been to in probably 10 years it was a little difficult to know where items were. They make the prices lower by only stoking one or two brands of an item, so there aren't big sections of say mac & cheese to look for, just one spot on one row. You don't pay for customer service, and that is the point of the store, but it was different from what grocery experiences are typically like for me. You also bag your own groceries after you check out. I spent $13.84 at Aldi (you don't include tax) of my $22.50 budget.
I stopped at Price Chopper after that. I usually shop there so it was similar to my usual shopping experiences. I didn't look around though, I stayed focused on my list. They do a really good job of making you want to buy things. I did weigh my bananas on the scale, I don't usually weigh things when I go to the store, but I had to be on budget. I spent $7.66 at Price Chopper, putting me at $21.50, exactly $1 left to spend this week (probably on chocolate).
Through my shopping experience I thought about all of the things I take for granted.
Aldi has some great deals, though I shop at the grocery store near my house, because it is exactly one mile from my front door.
I used to budget more and look at ads, but I hadn't been doing much of that lately.
Coupons weren't very helpful in my experience because they are for processed foods typically and I tried not to go that route, and I was finding them for quantities more than what I needed.
I didn't purchase a single item over $2.00.
Here is a photo of everything I bought:
I would like to note that I am doing the challenge where I purchased all of the food I will be eating this week, I didn't price out per serving (for instance, the oatmeal box has 10 packets in it, but I didn't subtract the value from the packets I will not eat this week). I wanted this to be difficult.
Here is my complete list:
1. Two cans of diced tomatoes.
2. A jar of balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing.
4. Peanut butter and jelly (combined in one jar!).
5. Can of black beans.
6. Maple and brown sugar oatmeal packets.
7. Box of macaroni and cheese.
8. Baby carrots.
9. Baby lettuces.
10. One dozen eggs.
11. Loaf of bread.
12. A container of yogurt.
13. Bag of frozen broccoli florets.
14. A can of chicken.
15. A jar of applesauce.
16. A can of sliced carrots.
17. A bag of brown rice.
18. One cucumber.
19. Three bananas (1.10 pounds)
I spent a lot more time on prep work this week, slicing and dicing the strawberries and cucumber and doling out the applesauce. I used a lot of plastic storage containers. I am excited to start tomorrow and see what the first day brings.
--Katie, Harvesters Food Drive Manager
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