Monday, September 24, 2007

The food stamp challenge

Could you live off a dollar a meal for a week? That's what the average funding level is for food stamps. You can argue about whether food stamps is supposed to provide for all of a family's food needs, and whether it's good to make people put some of their own money on the table, but the reality is that there are people who depend on food stamps and WIC as their only funding for food.

Those of us who have been blessed with more need to walk in someone else's shoes every once in a while. Some members of congress tried it recently. This isn't a good week for us to try it, since the premise is that you can't use any food in your house to begin with--our fridge is packed to the gills, so that wouldn't work this week.

So how far would $84 (3 meals a day x 4 people x 7 days) go for us? If it wasn't for our eating out budget, I think I could do it...but I'd have to think pretty hard about it. So indulge me while I think on line...

Breakfasts are easy--the kids always have cereal. It routinely goes on sale for $2/box, and I don't buy it if it's more than that. The labels say there are 12 servings in a box, but I know we eat more than the given serving size, so we'll round up to 3 boxes--that's $6. A gallon of milk is $2.99, so let's say $10 for the week.

We usually pack lunches. The adults get left overs and the kids get a sandwich, fruit, vegetable, and a treat or calcium source.
1 loaf of bread $2
1 jar PB $2
1 jar jelly $2
1 pkg lunch meat $2
1 lb grapes $2
2 lb bananas $2
3 lb bag apples $3
1 bag string cheese $3
veggies $4

Lunch total: $22.

That leaves $52 for dinner. That would be fine, but we usually have McD's on life group night ($10) and either our favorite Mexican restaurant or Pizza Hut ($25 if we drink water, which we usually do). That leaves $17 for 5 meals, and they need to be big enough for left overs...and I don't have snacks planned yet. I think we'll be eating at home and not out!

Meal 1: spaghetti ($1/box) with meat sauce (1/2 lb ground beef, $1) , salad (half a bag, $1.50), homemade bread (see baking list below) =$3.50
Meal 2: Breakfast for dinner: pancakes (from scratch, see baking list) with applesauce ($1) and scrambled eggs ($1.25) =$2.25
Meal 3: fiesta rice (1/2 c instant rice ($0.25), 1 can corn($0.50), 1 can black beans ($1), 1 can diced tomatoes with chili peppers ($0.75) with tortillas ($1) and salad (other half of bag, $1.50) =$5
Meal 4: Chinese: 1 c instant rice ($0.50), 1 lb meat (chicken, pork or whatever is on sale for less than $2/lb), 1 bag frozen stirfry veggies ($1.50) = $4
Meal 5: Hmm...can we eat out again? :) What else do I usually cook? Pasta ($1) with a bag of frozen veggies or veggies from our garden ($1.50) with shrimp, chicken, or sausage thrown in ($2) = $4.50
Meal 6: grilled cheese (1/2 loaf bread ($1), 4 slices cheese (0.50)), can of soup (0.50), 1 lb apples ($1), 1/2 bag salad ($1) = $4
Meal 7: homemade pizza (dough from baked goods below, left over spaghetti sauce, 1 pkg cheese ($2), 1 pkg pepperoni ($2), 1/2 red pepper (0.50) 1/2 bag salad ($1)=$5.50

Dinner total: $28.75. And I'll guarantee that though those are healthy meals, my crew will be hungry in an hour or two.

But wait...there are no drinks. We'd need another gallon of milk ($3), a 1/2 gallon of "my" (lactose free) milk ($4) a 1/2 gallon of oj ($1 if I make it from frozen) and a 1/2 gallon of crangrape ($2), so that's another $10.

And snacks? My kids always need snacks, at least 2/day. So what could I make with the remaining $13.25? I guess I'd bake! 5 lb flour ($1), 5 lb sugar ($1), baking soda ($0.50), margarine ($0.75), a box of oatmeal ($2) and a dozen eggs ($1.25) . I'd make oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, jelly muffins, or banana bread with any uneaten well as the pancakes and pizza crust in the dinner menu. So $6.50 for baking supplies.

That leaves $6.75 for other snacks. I'd buy a bag of pretzels ($2), a bag of kernel popcorn ($1), chocolate chips for the cookies :) ($1.75), and probably some more fruit ($2).

So we could do it, though we'd definitely be eating out a lot less, or not at all...if we ate out, there would be no snacks, no beverages, and the "skimpier" dinners. And I've got the economy of scale going--and kids eat less than adults, and I tend to watch for sales and stock up--but that's not really a luxury you'd have if you're eating a week at a time. I actually went to the USDA calculator site, and a family of 4 would actually get $73/week, not $84 (bye bye snacks and drinks). I have no idea how you'd do it as a single person.

So how about you? Could you make it on a dollar a meal? What would your meal plan look like? The poor have a special place in God's heart, and it's our duty to not only minister to them, but to align our lifestyles with theirs and advocate when we can. If you think the food stamp allowance should be increased, contact your representatives in congress and tell them--they're supposed to be representing us, so share what you think!

Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18-19:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."


Jen said...

Thanks for sharing the links...I'll wander over there later tonight. We aren't on WIC or food stamps but we budget about $100 each week for groceries and household items. Most weeks, we don't make it simply because I don't have the energy or time to spend time clipping coupons and shopping at multiple stores, making homeade items, etc. What I wish was a requirement for folks who do qualify for WIC and food stamps was basic nutritional, meal planning and budgeting skills. For example, yesterday, I was at the gas station and a young woman with 4 kids was buying candy bars, sodas, chips, etc with her food stamp card. It was food--$25 worth of food that does no nutritional good to her or her children. And, she probably isn't qualifying for enough money to feed them properly already! I'm not judging her--sometimes when our money has been really tight, it does feel luxurious to buy a fountain drink at the gas station or let the kids pick out their favorite name brand snack at the store or go out to McDonald's for breakfast. It's hard to go without for long periods of time. I know there isn't a simple solution--throwing money at it won't make it go away and education isn't always the solution either. I guess I'll just ask God to help me be the hands and feet of Christ when I see someone in need and trust that He will do the rest. This is a good thing to think on...

Ann said...

The interesting thing is, what I made for menus is what we do eat--and our budget is about $100/week too. Guess we have $15/week of "extras"--microwave popcorn instead of bulk popcorn, an occasional soda, and more "fun" stuff. But we also eat out more than we should--it's pretty close to $200/month.

I didn't think you could buy junk food with food stamps?? I know WIC is pretty strict...

April said...

I am new to your blog. I agree with you wholeheartedly with one exception. Welfare is a very, very easy system to defraud. I have a very sad story about my sister , welfare fraud, drugs and a very sick premature baby that now has no medical insurance because she was committing welfare fraud and they took away her medical/food stamps. This is her own fault not the system. The part you may not realize is that let's say ( I am using her as an example and not saying everyone is like this)she has a free apartment and gets wic and food stamps EVEN though she has a part time job(no longer)so that adds up to a lot more money than you think. She didn't have to pay for anything so where did the extra money go? Drugs.Please think about the ones who don't qualify for one reason or another. Food shelters need way more help than our government. You know when a person goes to a food shelter it is serious. Can you imagine the humility in having to ask for you next meal? I have seen firsthand how welfare works and I am disillusioned by it. I think if you talk your congressman into making the food stamps increase it will be more drugs for my sister and MANY more that are like her. I just wanted to give you a different perspective and I appreciate you making me think about this. I love your insight and I hope that you will consider praying for my sister and her family . They do not know God . With Him , all things are possible.