A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

One family's experiment living on a food-stamp budget

Score Card—Week 2

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We have completed our second week of the Lenten SNAP Challenge: trying to eat—hopefully even eat well—on $147 per week for our family of four. How did we do?

$3.76 over budget for the week.

Here’s the breakdown. Remember that we went into the week $31.20 over budget from last week. That had to come right off the top of this week’s budget. We also made the choice to splurge on two “big-ticket” items—you’re going to laugh when you see what now constitutes “big-ticket” for this faux-food-stamp Mom. The first, which we actually sort of planned for, was $22.16 on dinner out for Rose and I after her gymnastics meet on Saturday. It has become the custom of the Level 4 families to go out for a meal  after a meet if we finish close to lunch or supper time. It’s a chance for the girls and parents to bond. Saturday, the coaches joined us too. I debated whether we should join in. I knew it would cost more than if we packed our supper or even stopped for fast food. But food—meals together—have always been important to the creation and maintenance of social fabric. We need that. So, we headed off to the Olive Garden, sat eight girls at one table and eight adults at the other table and enjoyed a leisurely meal.

The second “big-ticket” and the one that pushed us over budget was $7.71 for a small corned beef brisket for St. Patrick’s Day. We aren’t Irish and, I guess, neither is corned beef. But it was the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in my growing-up home—with my father wearing all orange. The girls love it and asked for it, so it seemed like time for a treat. A little feast. We haven’t had meat since this adventure began so maybe this could also be a nutritional reprieve….she rationalizes. My nutritionally savvy readers are either laughing or jumping up and down with outrage. Okay. It was a treat, pure and simple. After making the decision, I rummaged through the bin at Wegmans until I found the absolutely smallest and least inexpensive cut. Even $7.71 felt like a big splurge, particularly on a Monday—the sixth day of our accounting week. But I bought it and they ate it happily, with a bit for lunch the next day.

Brown rice was the other big splurge this week. We tend to prefer brown rice both for flavor and nutritional value. But who knew that it was almost three times as expensive as the refined type? Folks who have to make those choices all the time! The 4 lbs. sack was $10.99. Like the organic milk, this is a nutritional tax that I’m happy to pay.

How about feeding others this week? In contrast to last, it was a relatively light week. We made a pot of chili, a batch of pretzels and two batches of brownies for the synchronized swim meet on Saturday. Brownie supplies were about $5.00 (mixes—yes I do mixes for brownies—were $1.99 each but then there the egg and oil which would require more calculating than I feel like at the moment…dozen eggs = $3.79 divided by 6 = $0.63 for the two eggs plus the oil…you get it), chili supplies were about $9.00, and pretzel supplies were about $3.00.

In contrast, we were richly fed by others. Friends had us to supper on Sunday and I had a meal with the Finger Lakes Forum in association with a speaking engagement: Dinner and a show where I was the show. Our budget also continues to be relieved by generous gifts of food.

I have also learned from experience. I knew we would be passing through a food desert on the way to Saturday’s gymnastics meet, so I packed a lunch. Rose turned up her nose at the peanut butter sandwich, but chowed on the apples and crackers. Maybe not a nutritional win, but she had fuel for the meet at little cost. Under other circumstances, I might have stopped at Subway out of convenience and for a treat, but Saturday it was peanut butter on the Southern Tier Expressway. And that was okay.

This week I learned to give myself permission to buy a treat. But the feasting on corned beef had to be balanced with a bean chili fast on other days. Thankfully, my children love bean chili.

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