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Healthy Eating on a Food Stamp Budget

January 6, 2014
Plain English Version

Advocates for the food stamp program say the $4.30 for one day’s eating is too little. They often challenge critics to try it.

Well, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal did it for six weeks. This is her report.

A dietician told her that people have to know how to cook and prepare food. Many do not. They need to plan, so they can buy cheaply and in bulk. They need to work out menus in advance. And they may have transportation problems.

The columnist said eating reasonably well on $4.30 a day turned out to be a bit like a Rubik’s Cube puzzle: It seemed impossible until she worked out the trick. Then it became something she could manage.

She looked for good-value proteins. She found three which formed the basis of the entire diet: peanuts and peanut butter, which cost around $2.50 a pound, eggs (20 cents each), and pulses or legumes, like split peas and lentils. These cost not much more than $1 a pound.

She rarely ate meats or fish. They were too expensive.

She added healthy carbohydrates: oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and whole-wheat bread

Fruits and vegetables were tougher to work into the budget. But she ate plenty of bananas (sometimes just 20 cents each), and bought frozen peas, corn and other mixed vegetables for around $1.30 a pound.

Milk is expensive, but she had a cup—about 25 cents—a day. She hunted for sales and deals.

She learned to avoid buying too many perishables. Dry and frozen foods give you more flexibility. She avoided recipes, which would take too much preparation.

She managed to eat pretty well for less than $4 a day. She did this up for six weeks.

She talked about her diet with her doctor. She said it was perfectly healthful and probably better than the way most people eat.

At the Mayo clinic a doctor said, “Overall, I think this is excellent, It’s more nutritious than the way many, if not most, people eat.”

For treats she ate popcorn, toasted jumbo 10-cent marshmallows in the toaster oven, and ate Fluffernutters—sandwiches composed of peanut butter and Fluff, a marshmallow spread.

She is no longer living on $4.30 a day, but her experience has changed how she eats. She said, “It is amazing how cheaply one can eat well.”

The columnist was not shopping for a family with children. It would have been a lot harder had that been her challenge

Source: The Wall Street Journal                                                                          December 13, 2013

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