Sheila Steffen is a producer for CNN. Read part one of her food stamp challenge, wherein she shopped for a week's worth of groceries, spending only the $30 which would be allotted by food stamps.
On Sunday night I’m finishing up the last of my big pot of black beans. The bag of dry beans I purchased along with a bag of rice has been three of my main meals this week.
I’m not against leftovers; I eat them. It's just that I normally wouldn’t plan to eat the same thing again and again but this past week it was that, or go hungry. I didn’t have the luxury of variety or choice.
My $30 food stamp challenge forced some difficult shopping choices and as many readers pointed out, I may not have made the wisest. I’m more accustomed to shopping for convenience than hunting for bargains. But I am keenly aware that each purchase I made for this week is accounted for, either for a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner and maybe a snack.
I spend all of my $30 before realizing I've forgotten sauce for my box of pasta. The peppers I'd initially regretted buying come in handy and along with three tomatoes I make my own sauce. Cooking big pots of food is a necessary strategy.
The first two days are filled with periods of hunger. 5:30 on Tuesday seems too early to be thinking about dinner but that’s all I can think about it. I race home from work to fix a chicken breast, broccoli and rice; the best and most nutritious meal in my week. I get to have it twice.
Wednesday’s the most difficult; I wake up hungry and help myself to a big bowl of Farina but realize a ‘bigger portion’ strategy isn’t the answer. It’ll fill me up now but I’m afraid if I eat too much I will run out of my allotted food before the end of the week.
I count the slices of bread in my loaf and discover there are a few extra slices– which means one day I can have two sandwiches! I decide today is that day and bring two PB&J sandwiches to work for lunch.
It's clear food has been on my mind more than usual this week. I think when you have a limited budget and fewer choices; you’re forced to do more thinking and planning around meals. I’m so very conscious, too, of all the things I have to forego. I can’t just grab a coffee or go to dinner with friends. I feel a bit isolated. Not having enough money for food affects not just your mood and health, but also your social life.
Thursday is the first morning I don’t wake up hungry. I think my body may be getting used to less food. Still, I’m afraid I’ll get hungry so I eat a bowl of Farina anyway. I get through the day fine but decide against going to the gym after work. How do parents, who may skip meals so their kids can eat, find the energy they need to shop, cook, and care for the kids?
Coffee may be a luxury, but I’m glad I bought some. If my calorie count this week is low, my morning cup of joe helps make up for it and keeps me going.
A weekend out of city limits proves a bit tricky. Not only do I have to bring food, I can't share it! “Sorry honey, can’t offer you any,” is what I keep saying.
Sounds selfish, right? But my food supply is limited, and this last chicken breast is what I’ve set aside and planned for my dinner tonight. It’s all I have. On Sunday rushing to catch an afternoon train back to the city leaves me no time to make a sandwich, and so I have to go without lunch. Ugh!
Definitely knowing that this challenge is only for a week has been helpful in getting me through it. I’m grateful for the new insight and lesson in empathy. At times I realize it’s difficult to avoid hunger, to afford nutritious food. I certainly won’t look at the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables in the same way.
Next week I can go back to more options and more food. But for millions of Americans across the country this challenge is real. week in and week out.
One in four families - according to the Food Research and Action Center - worry about having enough money to feed themselves and their families. And for those who may get the help of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps, it still may not be enough to buy the minimum amount of food the United States Department of Agriculture says people need to survive.
What I ate this week