SNAP Challenge: Week 2 Summary

by Beth - Budget Bytes
Step by Step

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For the entire month of September, I’ll be participating in the SNAP Challenge and attempting to eat on $4.50 per day. Read more here.

Oh what a difference a week can make! I can honestly say that I rarely felt hungry this week, although there may be a few reasons for that. I picked better recipes this week, recipes that kept me both full and satiated. What I mean by that is that I was mentally satisfied with my food. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the “good stuff”. The second factor is that I had a few freebies this week. When you’re on a restricted food budget, free food is like winning the lottery and this week I won twice! The third reason is stress. As the contract on the house I’m purchasing threatens to fall through in the eleventh hour, I may find myself couch surfing at the end of the month (my current apartment has already been leased for October). So, as you can imagine, that has been a bit of a distraction. Maybe I was hungry, but just didn’t notice because of more pressing issues?

This week was also quite a bit easier because I had more to work with. Leftover ingredients and recipes portions from week one meant more variety in my diet. It’s a lot like when I was first started Budget Bytes over five years ago. I had very little kitchen equipment, very few spices or pantry staples, but each week I purchased one or two more items until I eventually had a well stocked kitchen. It’s important to remember that when you’re first starting out (SNAP or no SNAP), that building a kitchen takes time. You don’t have to buy everything at once. You’ll have a narrow range of recipes to choose from in the beginning, but as you build your kitchen you’ll have more options.

So let’s get to it…

What Did I Buy?

SNAP Challenge Week 2 Groceries

I really hit the jackpot this week with sales. It was awesome. I got red peppers 4/$1! Yes, four red peppers for one dollar. Crazy, right? Usually those suckers are like, $3 each. Anyway, if I hadn’t have happened upon that sale, I would have bought green bell peppers or carrots instead. I also hit a sale on shredded cheese, 2 bags for $4. I bought more pita because I found it very useful last week and it’s pretty cheap. For fruit this week I got a pineapple for $2.99, which yielded about 6 big servings. I craved yogurt a LOT last week, so I bought a quart tub of that as well. Finding great sales is infinitely more satisfying when working with a restricted budget. It almost feels like a game.

SNAP Challenge Week 2 Receipt

I still had plenty of the staples that I bought from the bulk bins at Whole Foods last week, so I only needed to visit one grocery store. I didn’t have time to cook my beans from dry this week, so I had to opt for cans. I still came in at only $27.24, which made me feel good. I felt that I had a good variety of foods and had plans for some pretty tasty recipes. I was feeling optimistic!

What Did I Make?

My main meal this week was One Pot Chili Pasta. It was SO good and SO satisfying that I was a little sad when it was finally gone, even after eating it for an entire week straight! That’s the type of recipe you have to look for, something that is just so good you’ll love it till the last drop. This recipe was also very filling. I started out the week with 1.5 cup servings, but soon realized that was probably more than I needed. I felt overly full and sometimes not very hungry for dinner. So, I scaled back to 1 cup per serving for the rest of the week.

The second recipe I made this week was Peanut Butter Hummus. Hummus is so versatile that I knew I could add it to my daily meal plan in a variety of ways without getting sick of it. Plus, it’s very filling. I ate this with the red bell peppers as a light, but filling snack, and I also smeared it inside of a pita then added an egg for a hearty breakfast sandwich. YUM. <3 Hummus.

I filled out the rest of my days’ meals with pineapple, yogurt, and a couple leftover servings from week one’s meals.

What Did I Eat?

Day 8

  • 1/4 cup oat bran $0.19
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter $0.08
  • 1 Tbsp sliced almonds $0.18
  • Dash of cinnamon $0.03
  • 1/4 cup soy milk $0.09
  • 1 serving melon (week 1) $0.37
  • 1.5 cups One Pot Chili Pasta $1.62
  • 1/2 cup yogurt $0.41
  • 1 Tbsp oat bran $0.06
  • 1 Tbsp sliced almonds $0.18
  • 1 oz. feta cheese $0.43
  • 2 Tbsp hummus $0.11

Daily Total: $3.75

Reflection: I wasn’t really hungry for dinner that day, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I was over stuffed from the big helping of chili pasta at lunch or if my metabolism had just slowed down from last week’s starvation. Then I felt a little guilty because worrying about your metabolism slowing down probably isn’t something that a lot of people have the luxury of worrying about. Gotta meet those lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy before you can worry about things like metabolism. :/  Even though I wasn’t “hungry”, I still craved things like salt and cheese. So, I caved and ate a chunk of feta. It happens.

Day 9

  • 1/2 pita $0.17
  • 1 large egg $0.21
  • 2 Tbsp hummus $0.11
  • 1.5 cups One Pot Chili Pasta $1.62
  • 1 portion melon (week 1) $0.37
  • A LOT OF FREE POTATO CHIPS
  • 1/2 pita 0.17
  • 1/2 cup yogurt $0.41
  • 1 portion pineapple $0.50
  • 1 Tbsp oat bran $0.06

Daily Total: $3.62

Reflection: Someone brought a HUGE bag of potato chips from home into work because they didn’t want them. I went crazy on those chips. Consequently, I wasn’t hungry for dinner again, so I made a yogurt parfait with pineapple and oat bran. I can see how the starve/binge cycle can be a contributing factor to obesity and health disparities among lower income populations.

Day 10

  • 1/3 cup oat bran $0.25
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter $0.08
  • 1 Tbsp sliced almonds $0.18
  • 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar $0.02
  • Dash of cinnamon $0.03
  • 1/4 cup soy milk $0.09
  • 1.5 cups One Pot Chili Pasta $1.62
  • 1 serving Curried Chickpeas with Spinach (week 1) $0.85
  • 1 serving pineapple $0.50
  • FREE PIZZA!

Daily Total: 3.62

Reflection: Just after I ate my dinner, a friend called up and said, “Hey, how about pizza and a movie?” I got the movie, he got the pizza, and I was in heaven. Who knew frozen pizza could feel so extravagant? I was still super full from the curried chickpeas, so I only ate two pieces (that’s child’s play for me normally). It reminded me growing up in a big family. If there was something tasty or extra special, you ate it whether you’re hungry or not because if you don’t, someone else will and there won’t be any left when you finally do get hungry. I was completely full, but ate the pizza anyway. Just like old times.

Day 11

  • 1/3 cup oat bran $0.25
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp sliced almonds $0.18
  • 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar $0.02
  • Dash of cinnamon $0.03
  • 1/4 cup soy milk $0.09
  • 1/4 cup hummus $0.23
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced $0.13
  • 1 cup One Pot Chili Pasta $1.08
  • 1 serving pineapple $0.50

Daily Total: $2.59

Reflection: I went out of town that day, so between the red peppers and hummus, and the chili pasta in the evening, there was a really long stretch with no food. I couldn’t just stop and get a snack or go out for lunch with my sister. I just had to tough it out. In retrospect, I could have packed a lunch, but those are new habits that you have to learn the hard way.

Day 12

  • 1/2 pita $0.17
  • 2 Tbsp hummus $0.11
  • 1 large egg $0.21
  • 1/2 cup yogurt $0.41
  • 1 serving pineapple $0.50
  • 1 Tbsp oat bran $0.06
  • 1 cup One Pot Chili Pasta $1.08
  • 1/4 cup hummus $0.23
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced $0.13
  • 1 whole pita $0.34
  • 1 large egg $0.21
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese $0.33

Daily Total: $3.78

Reflection: I had left over shredded cheese from making the One Pot Chili Pasta and it was taunting me from the fridge. I finally gave in and hat pita/cheese/egg, my most favorite comfort food. It felt good, I felt full, I felt happy. It’s amazing how much food affects your psyche.

Day 13

  • 1/2 pita $0.17
  • 2 Tbsp hummus $0.11
  • 1 large egg $0.21
  • 1 serving pineapple $0.50
  • 1 cup One Pot Chili Pasta $1.08
  • 1 serving Soy Dijon Chicken bowl (week 1) $1.49
  • 1/2 pita $0.17
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese $0.25

Daily Total: $3.98

Reflection: Again, feeling totally satisfied today. Why is cheese so powerful? My friends all ordered food for take out and I was a bit jealous that I couldn’t participate. Thank God I wasn’t still hungry, I would have had to leave. No, I take that back. Thank God I have such great friends because they would have insisted on feeding me. :)

Day 14

  • 1/3 cup oat bran
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter $0.08
  • Dash of cinnamon $0.03
  • 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar $0.02
  • 1/4 cup hummus $0.23
  • 1/2 red bell pepper $0.13
  • 1 serving pineapple $0.50
  • 1/2 pita $0.17
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.23
  • 1 bag cheese puffs $0.99

Daily Total: $2.63

Reflection: I gave in to the junk food. It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? I wasn’t hungry, but I still craved a salty, crunchy snack. I think that’s just old habits that take a long time to break. It was a big bag, so again it left me not really hungry for dinner. That’s not a good habit to be forming.

 

Final Reflection

Total Consumed: $23.97

Grocery Total (incl. tax) $27.24

I’ll admit, I waited until just before writing this post to calculate my daily totals again, so I didn’t really know if I was on track throughout the week. I wasn’t really ever hungry, though, so I figured I must have been doing fine. I’m pretty sure that was the sluggish metabolism talking or just sheer stress from thinking that I’m going to be homeless at the end of the month. It looks like despite my increased portions, I can still splurge a little more. Overall, I think this week was a success. I felt well fed and stayed within budget. I did get a couple freebies and I did cave to junk cravings a couple of times, but that happens even when I’m not working on a restricted food budget. This week I felt okay, like this budget was doable. I even contemplated keeping this up after the challenge is over.

I think eating on a very restricted budget is definitely takes a lot of practice, skills, dedication, and tools. Even after all this time and with all of my resources, it’s still taking a while to get the hang of it.

Read through my experience from beginning to end:

SNAP Challenge Intro

SNAP Challenge Week 1 Summary

SNAP Challenge Week 2 Summary

SNAP Challenge Week 3 Summary

SNAP Challenge Week 4 Summary

SNAP Challenge Final Thoughts

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  1. Beth,

    I really love your reflections on the feelings and concerns of working with this kind of budget. I grew up in a family situation where we were very conscious of waste. “If there was something tasty or extra special, you ate it whether you’re hungry or not because if you don’t, someone else will and there won’t be any left when you finally do get hungry.” That describes it perfectly. I am in my twenties and living independently now and I still eat this way – even though economically I do not need to be so frugal. The way children learn to deal with hardship often sticks with them for a long time… it starts as a survival instinct but soon it is just becomes a way of life.

    These days I work at a food bank in Seattle. Seattle has an interesting dynamic of “liberal” well-off people who claim to care about social issues, vote liberal, and consider themselves to be quite progressive. Seattle is a great city but it struggles with gentrification, racism, and poverty and a lot of people are blind to what it means to live on a low income. Thank you for taking the SNAP challenge and doing an amazing job of communicating what it takes to live on this kind of budget. I already share your recipes with my budget-wary friends and now I am pointing volunteers to your SNAP challenge. I hope they take something away from your reflections!

    And by the way, I am curious if anyone reading is thinking “oh, it is not so bad. She has money left over.” That may be true, but like you say “I think eating on a very restricted budget is definitely takes a lot of practice, skills, dedication, and tools. Even after all this time and with all of my resources, it’s still taking a while to get the hang of it.” Not everyone has the benefits of time, no kids, and a wealth of skill & knowledge around food. Plus as other pointed out – how healthy is the diet? And how about the difficulties added with children? Especially active ones who seem to be bottomless pits!

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Mea Cadwell, a lot of fruits and veggies are full of protein as well as calcium. We are conditioned to think of animal products when we think of protein but the truth is, plant calcium and protein is a lot better absorbed and utilized by the body. Think of the biggest animals… what do they eat? Plants! Another option is quinoa, as someone already mentioned above :) Blessings

  3. Isn’t it amazing how when you can’t have something you obsess about it? I just came back from vacation and am now back on a WW diet (on my own – I know how the plan works) and I am constantly thinking about what I’m eating, what I’m going to eat next, yada yada. I’m not doing the SNAP challenge (I’m impressed that you are) but I’m trying not to clutter up the empty fridge with things that are not going to be eaten this week and to quit running to the store for every little thing. There are plenty of staples in the pantry and freezer. I guess you could say I’m doing a “eat what you already have” challenge! Anyway – a suggestion – cottage cheese (if you like it). I find it very filling and it helps with the cheese cravings. Good luck!

  4. I really appreciate these posts! Living on a budget like that is quite tricky, especially just for one person. It’s much easier for me to feed my family of four on $18/day than I imagine it would be to feed myself for $4.50. Great work!

    Oh, and there is tax on food where you live? How horrible!

    1. I totally agree about economies of scale. On Beth’s week one post there were a lot of people saying they already feed their families for less than $4.50 pp. I’ve known 2 families on SNAP – one single parent, one child, the other a family of 4.The family of 4 had an easier time dealing with it because they got enough money each month to take advantage of buying in bulk. But my friend living alone with her toddler never got quite enough to buy bulk items at Sam’s Club. Even though, on the unit price, she would have had enough for what she needed. We used to share costs of bulk items quite often (lucky enough not to be on SNAP myself, but had some lean times a while back). But not everyone is so lucky to have a support system to help out with that.

      Really learning a lot from these posts; the amount of planning you have to do is a lot – and you have your own tastes and desires to consider!

      1. I meant you *only* have your own tastes to consider (not another person who might not like pasta for dinner everyday!)

  5. I REALLY like your weekly summaries. Here’s my receipts. Here’s a picture of what I bought. Here’s what I made. Here’s what I ate each day, and here’s how much it cost. I KNOW it’s got to be a lot of work to keep track of all that, but it makes it so much more real and do-able to me.

    Here’s what you helped me learn. I had imagined that sticking to a budget meant you had to fix a recipe for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It helps a lot to know what recipes you do make, and that some meals can be easier things like pita with hummus or peanutbutter or scrambled eggs inside. Or, a yogurt parfait. Or hot cereal. I can fix that. It’s not hard!

    I have one tip to add regarding being away from home and sticking to a budget: Food! Don’t leave home without it! I have a collection of lunchbags and tupperware and thermoses that I like to pack up when I leave home for the day, but it doesn’t have to be so elaborate. An apple or a PBJ sandwhich tucked in your pocket can be a life saver.

    Beth, you make eating on a budget look like fun. I want to try!

  6. I find this to be very interesting, especially in light of statistics showing that Americans spend less on food as a percentage of their income than Europeans, and people today spend much less on food than they did in the past. Chicken was much more expensive in 1950 when adjusted for inflation. Now factory farming has pushed down prices to the detriment of the environment and, at times, our health and safety. In light of this, it is often argued that we need to spend more on our food, or eat more simply, or both. When food assistance only gives enough to either eat off the dollar menu or plan and shop very carefully as you are doing, it is very disheartening, both for the health of the assistance recipients and for the health of our food supply.

    Additionally, in the past people didn’t eat the level of meat, sugar, and oil that we eat now because those things were expensive. Now we’ve created an environment where a person on a restricted budget would never waste money on zero-calorie food like lettuce and cucumbers, because high-calorie, high-sodium, high-fat foods are relatively cheap. When we put that into historical context, it’s especially shameful.

    Personally, I feel caught between two worlds. I can’t buy organic everything and grass-fed local meat, but I still spend a small fortune keeping my family of 4 well fed on homemade food, so “eating budgetarily” is important. Fruit and veggies alone can blow any budget. Thank you so much for providing such a visceral example of the food instability in our country right now!

    1. That is a very interesting point! Thank you for sharing. :) I love hearing all these different thoughts.

    2. Exactly my thoughts. It’s basically the same over here in Germany. We have an incredible percentage of people living off social welfare, and they’re either unhealthy and/or obese because they live off junk food, claiming it’s too expensive to cook from scratch […], or because unhealthy fabric meat stuffed with chemicals and antibiotics is much cheaper than some fresh produce often. (btw Beth, is your book ever going to be translated to German? Trust me, people over here need it!!)

  7. You’ve really been bringing some awareness to many of the realities that coexist with being on SNAP and/or living on a poverty level budget. The preoccupation with food. The really pronounced cravings for junk food. Having to choose foods that are filling over low calorie vegetables, because buying the vegetables means you won’t be getting enough calories. And eating free food when you can get it, even if you’re not that hungry. These experiences you are having are the norm for people who live on a SNAP budget every single day. Your experiences are really showing how food insecurity can tie into obesity. Now imagine you get your entire allotment once a month, rather than at the beginning of each week. You likely have been eating very little by the end of the previous month because there just isn’t enough. How difficult would it be to pace yourself and make those dollars last when you have been hungry and denying yourself those junk foods you have been craving for a week or two? It’s very very hard.

  8. I’m so glad my boyfriend and I aren’t in a situation where we have to live off his SNAP card, especially now that his doctor has him on a special diet for the next few months to determine what’s causing his IBS. No wheat or beans and very low lactose intake (also no onions or garlic or [long list of other things, e.g. apples, mushrooms, almonds]). Gluten-free pasta and lactose-free options are not cheap – the lactose-free yogurt we buy is $1.50 for a 6oz cup!

    So much of our pantry has been rendered inedible for the next few months. I don’t think a person living off SNAP could afford to start this diet, even at the cost of continued symptoms (which can be debilitating for some people, though luckily not my beau). :C

    1. If it’s possible for you, please consider making your own yogurt. Beth has directions for it here: https://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/07/how-to-make-yogurt/ . However, if you want lactose free yogurt, you need to culture it for 24 hours. According to http://www.lovingourguts.com/gaps-basics-how-to-make-gaps-yogurt/ “at 24 hours nearly all of the lactose has been consumed by the bacteria in yogurt culture.” It can be challenging to find a place that will stay between 115° and less than 120° for 24 hours. You might need a dehydrator or a yogurt maker. Fortunately, for me, my oven light will warm up the oven and keep it right in this range. If it’s within your reach, it is much less expensive to make the lactose free yogurt than to buy it.

  9. Again, thank you for sharing your insights on your experience with this. A friend and I were just discussing the challenge of eating on a very low budget today, and she is doing it with 9 kids! We also discussed the idea of living on less so that we can give more. Hunger and food insecurity is something that truly breaks my heart. I think what you are doing is bringing awareness to a very important issue, and I really appreciate it.

  10. First – I think this is great! I’ve tried to stay within the SNAP challenge guidelines, and failed horribly. I would agree with Liz that ‘fresh is better’ — except that in a climate where nearly all produce is shipped in from California or Mexico, canned or frozen veggies will actually be fresher and usually cheaper (and store bought fresh tomatoes are worthless). The only way that I can buy local produce for a reasonable price is farmer’s market. (I should say that I’m a Weight Watcher’s member, and staying on plan and keeping my budget below $1.50 meal is next to impossible).
    The challenge does state we should avoid free food, but, I think that’s ridiculous. Would a person on SNAP benefits turn down chips at work? No, of course not.
    The ‘free’ pizza is sort of iffy. Would you have gotten together with your friend to watch a movie without pizza? (I find myself always asking myself — “do I really need food to enjoy this?”)