UPDATE: Sunday's column mentioned that we went shopping, assessed the calories and nutrition from those ingredients and realized we came up short in a few areas so I went back to WalMart for more groceries. Here is my list from that second trip:
Milk 2.5 gallons $3.63 per gallon, $2.26 for a half gallon
Tuna 2 6.4 oz. pouches $1.92 each
Raisins 20 oz. $2.98
Lettuce 4 heads at $1.88 each
Broccoli 2 lbs at $1.74 per lb.
Bananas 4 lbs at 59 cents per lb.
Tomatos 15 or 3 lbs at $1.56 per lb.
Cheese 8 oz. sliced mozzerella $2.28
Bread Whole Wheat loaf $1.58
Oatmeal 42 oz. $3.28
Cookies 14 oz. $1.18 (one oatmeal, one chocolate chip)
Granola bars $2 per box (one almond, one fruit and nut)
Salad Dressing light ranch $1.66
Coffee 33.9 oz. for $6.28
I've gotten a number of requests for more detail on the meal plan dietitian Stephanie Norris and I used to do our shopping on a food stamp budget for Sunday's column. I actually used the dinners I cook at home for my family for some of the evening meals and Stephanie helped me round out the breakfasts, lunches and snacks to make sure each person was receiving enough calories and nutrients. I'm creating a separate post for those recipes.
I want to devote this post to a few more thoughts about Sunday's column. I've heard from some of you who say that my successful shopping trip is proof that food stamps are too plentiful or could be cut back. I want to make it clear that I don't believe this is the case. What I think the column shows is that this country's food stamp program is operating the way it should for people who make good healthy choices.
Some of you said you spend less each week on groceries than the $167 maximum food stamp amount for a family of four. But for those of you not on food stamps, consider how often during the week you eat out or eat with friends and family and so meals or snacks are not coming out of your grocery bill. In the scenario I used for my column, the groceries are intended to cover every single meal and snack. No stopping for take-out because you had a long day and don't feel like cooking (food stamps obviously can't be used at restaurants or on prepared foods). No going out to lunch with colleagues because you didn't pack a lunch for work. No Starbucks. No stopping by the vending machine for a mid-afternoon snack. This scenario considers every single calorie coming from that budget.
I also heard from those of you who read a story in the Sentinel on Oct. 11 about food bank Second Harvest's challenge for local chefs to live on a food stamp budget for a day. Most of the chefs found this to be difficult and complained about things such as the "lack of rich flavors" or missed their usual glass of good wine.
To me, that kind of experiment is flawed because no one on food stamps is limited to shopping by the day. People on SNAP benefits receive them each month so they can make a lot more economical choices. For example, a large bag of brown rice might blow half of your daily food stamp budget. But it will likely last your family all month or longer. When you shop for a week at a time you get a lot more for your money.
That said, Second Harvest's challenge and other challenges like them (everybody from members of Congress to celebrity chef Mario Batali have tried food stamp experiments) do help raise awareness. If you are accustomed to having enough food, you likely don't realize the challenge some of your neighbors have with this very basic need.
Food banks like Second Harvest play a very critical role in our community. For one thing, it can take 30 days or longer for a family to enroll in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (or food stamps). That means if a parent faces a sudden job loss and doesn't have much or any savings to fall back on, that family could very quickly be staring into an empty refrigerator before they can qualify for and receive SNAP benefits.
Second Harvest helps fill that emergency gap. The organization also helps families sign up for benefits. And, as I mentioned in the column, food stamps aren't intended to be a family's entire food budget. Many families receive less than the maximum amount based on income. Imagine a family that typically spends $100 a week on food, but doesn't have much cushion for a rainy day. Now imagine that family has a car break down or a medical emergency. Suddenly, that family is left with making some very tough choices. Food or transportation? Food or medicine? Second Harvest helps fill that gap as well.