7 days, 42 meals, $60: How We Did It

The official Maryland Hunger Solutions Food Stamp Challenge starts tomorrow!  [We did our challenge early due to travel constraints]

Which means:

1. There is still time to sign up and go grocery shopping.

2. If you haven’t already, you’d better start thinking of a plan!

For everyone in Maryland and beyond who are taking the challenge, I am sharing my week of menus in a convenient chart to help you to plan your week.  On Day -2 I mentioned some Excel spreadsheets helping us to draft our shopping list and track our purchases as we walked the store.  I have cleaned them up, included our cost per grocery item, and prepared one summary chart for your delight.  Each day is broken down by meal and every item from our SNAP budget is listed along with the cost per the amount used.

Food Stamp challenge menu

[Remember that we took advantage of Bonus Bucks at the farmers’ market, store sales, and store coupons.  And we cheated at the farmers’ market by accepting free food (me with the mushroom sandwich) and purchasing food outside our budget (husband with the danish).  So purchasing the same items at your grocery store will not cost the same.]

Leftover food??

By these calculations, we actually didn’t eat $12.56 worth of the food we purchased.  Here’s what most of that looks like.

Not pictured: 2 bowls of lentil soup and 2 black bean burgers all stashed in the freezer and forgotten about at the time of the photo.

Why track the cost?

Tracking our cost per meal helped me learn two things about living on food stamps.

1. Of course buying in bulk is cheaper per meal, but not cheaper per shopping trip.

A colleague considering taking the challenge mused that she would likely buy a giant container of oatmeal to make all of her breakfasts.  I shared with her that when I went to the grocery store, the giant container of oatmeal was $2.50 and the one half the size was $2.29.  Since I needed every penny to get as much food as possible, I bought the cheaper one.  If I would have bought the larger container, I would have cut the cost of a 1/2 cup of oatmeal down to about $.08.  So while all the magazines and websites with tips for eating healthy on a budget will tell us to buy in bulk, for anyone shopping on a fixed budget, that’s not always so easily done.  This is how a $1 value menu burger can become cheaper than making burgers at home.

2. Food waste is unacceptable on a tight budget.

During  a typical week in our house it’s not so uncommon for the end of the spinach or an odd tomato to get thrown out when they become mushy and less than appetizing, or for my husband to be too lazy to cut the bad spots out of an apple and instead toss it away.  When food is just food and we can always go to the store to get more, this doesn’t seem like a big deal.  But now that I know that each apple cost us $.49, that’s a little more concerning (that could buy 6 bowls of oatmeal)!  I treasured every single apple we had for the week.  To lose one to bad spots, mush, or a careless husband would have been disappointing and would have impacted the healthiness of our diet.  I could imagine it just taking one or two bad experiences of fresh produce going bad to send a budget-conscious shopper back to frozen or canned produce at best, or shelf stable “food like substances” at worst.  Those potato chips might not be good for me, but they won’t go bad very quickly, and could carry over to a week when money is even tighter much easier than a bag of kale.

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