At last week’s Jaguar’s game, I bought two (very) small cups of macaroni and cheese and two sodas for $24. That same day, I purchased a week’s worth of healthy food for $31.50.
Since Sunday night, I’ve participated in the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s 1st ever food stamp challenge. Throughout the course of the week, I’ve had to find healthy, kosher options at a fraction of the price that I’m used to paying for my daily meals. I’ve had to think of creative dishes and become more mindful of how much each grocery item costs. Food stamps are equivalent to roughly $1.50 a meal, $4.50 a day, $31.50 a week. There were challenges to the budget- giving up on cheese and milk from the getgo meant I needed a good source of nutrition somewhere else in my diet.
By buying in bulk, I was able to make the same meal last for a few days. While boring, it meant I had proper nutrition. Unfortunately, if someone suggested a better, more cost efficient option, I was locked into whatever I had purchased at the beginning of the week. What you buy is what you eat.
How to save?
Places like WalMart have the most inexpensive canned food items, but one cannot ignore the . Again, you can’t live on buy one get one free since it’s a crapshoot to find similar items each week. To that effect, I was stuck with 8 cans of cream corn for a week, when in reality 3 was more than enough. That’s what Publix had, that’s what I ate.
While many circulars have great coupons, the online age of extreme couponing means that many awesome deals are not available to the general consumer who lacks a smartphone or even an internet provider.
Best Bang for Buck: Tie between Bag of Potatoes $2.50 and Tofuya Tofu $2.38.
Best item to eat as a full meal: Potatoes again. Heating up 3 potatoes for 12 minutes goes a long way. No butter needed.
Favorite meal: Pasta shells with chunks of tuna and a side of apple sauce.
Reflections of Kashrut: While Heinz beans are quite affordable (and very healthy), many of the other inexpensive soups lack proper Kosher certification (or are not kosher at all). It’s understandable that a kosher symbol costs $$, but many items like instant meals or cheese (which would be affordable otherwise) don’t make the Kosher police’s cut. Buy one get one free at Publix may be an issue with regard to Kashrut: there may not be kosher options (or kosher and healthy options) that week. That’s the luck of the draw. Same goes for free samples at places like Publix, WalMart, or BJs Wholesale.
Reflections on Allergies: I have a legume allergy (to peas and lentils), immediately crossing off two inexpensive and healthy options on a tight budget. I can’t imagine what allergies must do to someone actually living on food stamps.
Reflections on Nutrition: Nutritious items can be inexpensive, but there is no guarantee that one has the time or the means to make such meals while on food stamps. There is scarcity of resources, scarcity of time.
Food for thought and a new year’s resolution:
The scarcity and therefore the sacredness of time. Just as we take one day out of our week to rest, we can take time out of our week to make meals rather than purchasing them on the go. I am hoping to commit more time to home-cooked meals- to eat healthier and to save a little money in the process. My greek pasta salad for $6 can be a home cooked one for $2.
The sacredness of time also allows for meaningful family and friend experiences. Making food together is much more magical than ordering it in the take out line.
These are choices are hope to make in the coming year. I chose to “be on food stamps”, and tonight I am no longer on them. I choose to be more careful with both my wallet and my stomach. I choose to reach out to those who are hungry in our community- to support them with time and means. I hope you can join me this coming year to beat hunger.