Nutrition in the News: Cooking on a SNAP budget

For those who have never seen the above image before in your life, consider yourself very lucky. With the recent economic downturn and the millions of people still out of work, these little paper bills have almost replaced the ‘greenbacks’ the rest of us all know and love. Food stamps, which were once only associated with the people living below poverty level, are finding their way into the wallets of even the high middle class, thanks to the still staggering unemployment rate. Luckily, the economy is on an upswing and hopefully the number of people needing to use these will decline.

Where did this talk of food stamps come from? An article posted in the Associated Press yesterday [April 14th] which discussed how people living on a food stamp budget could still prepare healthy and delicious meals for their families. I think this is a very interesting article in it tackles a subject that isn’t talked about much in our society and adds a bit of a twist to the coverage.

As you’ll see in the article, the author’s asked famous chefs to prepare a week’s worth of meals on only $68.88, which is the standard amount of money allotted to a family of four on SNAP, the food stamp program. What I found interesting was that two of the chefs went over budget, one more substantially than the other.  Although the head of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] states that this should be used as a supplement to a families’ food allowance, I believe that some families do not have any supplemental income and that this is the only money they have to use for groceries. This definitely got my mind rolling on ways to better administer the SNAP program and convey the importance of nutrition to these families at the same time.

I think this article needs to be reiterated to families who are solely depending on the SNAP allowance to buy food. I imagine that most of these people are focusing on how they can best stretch their dollar so they can buy the most food for their dollar. Processed, high fat and high sugar foods are notoriously cheaper, so many people run to stock up on those when they are on a tight budget. But this article really shattered the idea that you can get more for your buck  buying junk than you can health food. Anna Last, editor of Everyday Food magazine, stayed under budget but filled her cart with proteins, produce and whole wheat products. What she found was that foods like meats and pastas can make meals that can be used as leftovers for the next day, whereas instant soups and microwaveable dinners can just be eaten once. I think this is such an important point to stress to people who are mainly focused on staying in budget. You can still buy good for you food that will feed your family twice as long as the cheaper, processed stuff.

I think the SNAP program could really benefit in doing some census work, to really gauge how many families are solely dependent on the food stamps provided and how many families are also able to use some of their own income. I’m not saying, at all, that the amount allotted needs to be adjusted, mainly because I have no idea the logistics of how the SNAP program works. As one of the administrators points out, these are supposed to be used as supplements, but how many families are using them as their only means to by food? I think it could provide the government with some strong insight to see how many families might actually need more than is provided or how many might not need all that is provided.

I think a really interesting follow-up article could see how far this budget stretches for families of 5, 6 and above. Families of four are common, but are not the standard. There are many families who have up to six children. I would be very interested to see how a family of 8 or more could make the maximum budget stretch out for their families.

~ by therealnutritionist on April 15, 2010.

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