#SNAP4aWeek Reflections | Final Tally & Parting Thoughts

Today is the final day of my family’s participation in the Mazon SNAP Food Stamps Challenge. I wanted to share with you my final grocery total, as well as some parting thoughts on our experiences.

As far as food costs, I did two additional shops this week. Mid week, I picked up hamburger buns at Walmart for a BBQ with my family (which I mentioned here). They had Roma buns on sale for $1.50 per package, so I bought five of them – two to use with my family, half a package for our Snobby Joe’s and the rest for the freezer. (If you missed it, here was my first shop at Aldi and my second shop at three different stores.)

Today, I stopped and picked up some food from the Dollar Store (2 packages of bagels, a bag of pretzels and a bag of animal crackers). We were going to take the kids out, but weather and a bunch of other stuff changed our plans. In any case – the food was purchased, so I’m counting it.

My total for one week of groceries was $120.87 – which was about $37 under our SNAP allotment.

We actually have a good deal of food left-over – brown rice, lentils, half a container of yogurt, skim milk, butter, etc. – but our fresh produce selection is almost entirely depleted. And while I still have room in our budget, I’m going to stretch what we have through dinner tonight and hit up Aldi again tomorrow morning.

So, yes, I was able to come in “under” the average SNAP budget, but I think context is just as important as numbers.

  • I did this for a week – and only one week. It was a challenge that my family and I took on willingly – and that’s a far different thing for those whom this is reality. Knowing that there was an immediate light at the end of the tunnel made this infinitely more doable – emotionally and financially.
  • As we’ve talked about before, I believe that many of the privileges in our middle class life – not one, but two cars, the money to pay for gas, close proximity to dozens of grocery stores, high speed Internet access at home, room to store bulk purchases, nice appliances to make my job of cooking easier, etc. etc. – actually make it a lot easier for me to save money.
  • A few of you asked me on Facebook, when I’d share pictures of my nightly meals, how I got my kids to eat the food. Fortunately, my kids are pretty good eaters – which I believe is as much luck as anything else. The fact that at least two of them will eat Snobby Joe’s and like it, and that all three will compliment me on a Shabbat lunch of black bean chili over sweet potatoes, makes the job of cooking uber-frugal meals far easier and more pleasant.
  • My kids had lunch provided for them five days this week at camp. The SNAP budget allows $1.50 per person, per day – so that’s $22.50 in “bonus money”.
  • We ate dinner at my family’s house one night (we brought the buns – which cost $3 with the sale, still $4.50 less than our average budget for that meal) and we potlucked with friends for  Friday night dinner. (That was a last-minute decision and I did use all the food we had purchased and planned for dinner as our potluck contribution. We just didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to socialize with some friends we haven’t seen in a long time.)
  • I have a family of five, which means our budget feels a lot less tight. I was able to afford variety (within the vegetarian, plant-based range, at least) and quantity, which I don’t think I could have done if I had to feed just one person on $31.50 alone.

Two other thoughts I wanted to share:

Doing this challenge made me painfully aware of the value of having a safety net – and, at the same time, the incompleteness of this net. Politics aside, hunger in the richest nation in the world seems like it should be an oxymoron. But it’s not. The magnitude of this problem is overwhelming.

  • In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States (source).
  • Of the food-insecure households, only 55% participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs- SNAP, WIC and the National School Lunch Program. (source)

What happens to the other 45%? How are they feeding themselves and their children?

2. Along the same lines as the last bullet point, I have been thinking a lot this week not only about those who receive nutrition assistance, but also about those who do not – the other 45%.

I’m thinking about those who wrote to me to say, “We don’t qualify for SNAP, but our food budget is less than what we’d receive on SNAP in any case. We aren’t making it to the end of many weeks.”

These heart-wrenching emails underscored for me the fact that the safety net is far from complete. Hunger not only persists, but is prevalent. In the richest nation in the world.

I’m a black and white kind of person – I see a problem, and I like to see a solution. I don’t get emotional about it, most of the time, I just attack it.

This problem, though, is so big and so complex, that all I see are more problems. Private assistance is no doubt a part of the answer (remember this big list of Jewish food pantries?!), but so is advocacy – whatever that means to you and your family. You can read about Mazon’s advocacy efforts to end hunger here.

I hope that my family’s lasting take-aways from this Challenge are three-fold:

  • To keep struggling with the complexities of this problem (no burying our heads in the sand)
  • To keep searching ourselves for our small piece of the solution
  • To keep sharing with others so that together we can make a difference

And on that note, I’ll ask you to stay tuned tomorrow when I share the stories of some of the more than a dozen readers who emailed me this week to share their personal experiences with SNAP. There is no doubt that their narrative is far more informative than mine!

Have you been joining me on the SNAP Challenge? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and reflections as well. 


  1. I think that the level of education that the adults in a family has influences their food choices, regardless of budget. You know that snobby joes are healthier than hot dogs and fries because you are an educated person. Most educated people, if employed, make enough not to qualify for food stamps. There are exceptions though but sometimes emotional issues rather that intelligence or educational level cause them to be unemployed or underemployed and therefore they qualify for food stamps. Sometimes these people are obese and the very thought of eating snobby joes rather than what they enjoy, bothers them greatly. I have seen people like that not have enough money to get through the month but it is not for a lack of a car, lack of nearby grocery, lack of a public library with a computer, lack of a home computer, or lack of a Sunday paper that keeps them from having enough money. Don’t get me wrong, food stamps don’t go very far but our government allows them to be used for non-nutritious junk that is high priced and causes disease. Whenever I have been behind a food stamp recipient in the store, his cart had expensive junk while mine had produce. There is a frum food bank in our neighborhood and sometimes they have to beg the wealthy people to come and take home some produce so that it doesn’t spoil. Why are the food stamp recipients not cooking up the stuff and freezing or canning it? Is it just not as appealing as convenience foods? My point is that there is no lack of food, but it does take motivation to prepare it.

    • To be fair, it also takes TIME to prepare it. I would guess that many of the people who qualify for food stamps purchase convenience foods not because they are ignorant to health concerns but because convenience foods are convenient and quick. If you are a single parent with 3 children, and you’re working one or two minimum wage jobs, you don’t have as much time to wash, chop, and prepare produce. Frozen chicken nuggets that you can microwave in 1 minute flat are going to win out, simply because of the prep time. I’m not saying it’s the right choice in the long run, but please take a minute to consider the time constraints that parents living in poverty face. I shop at the grocery store with the best prices in town, and I am always struck by how many families are shopping at night — little kids out at 9 or 10 p.m. Why? Because there’s no one to babysit them at home if mom or dad is doing the groceries (or there’s no money to pay a babysitter). So the choices of what goes into the shopping cart are going to be affected by time issues as well. I am fortunate to be on solid financial ground, but as a full-time working parent with young kids, I completely understand why some people might choose the quick & easy over the time-consuming but healthy. A little less judgment and a little more empathy could go a long way.

      • It seems to me that a working family could use a crock pot and prepare the veggies and chicken or meat the night before and put it in the crock pot in the morning to simmer until supper time. A couple could also cook and freeze one night a week and microwave the food the rest of the week. People might pay a lifelong price for poor nutrition if it starts in childhood. Most people find time to do what is important, even if it means cutting out something else from their day.
        I am not sure that less judgment and more empathy will help anyone. Do those who are less judgmental offer to cook supper for struggling, working families?
        A piece of fruit is a more nutritious snack than a bag of chips so why is the family buying the bag of chips? The fruit takes no more time to prepare than the bag of chips. What percentage of food stamp recipients buy soda or other sugary beverages? A bag of ready to eat baby carrots costs the same price as a large bottle of soda.
        When I see obese parents with obese kids putting junk food in the cart, they need to become aware of what healthy food options exist for the time that they can expend on cooking.

  2. This is a beautiful post, and I commend you for taking on this challenge. Kudos to your family for being a cooperative part of it as well. Although I didn’t participate in the challenge, reading your posts–especially the statistics in this one, remind me that plenty of people need help. With the holidays just around the corner, it’s a timely reminder to make sure my neighbors are okay.

  3. Thanks for giving us some perspective on this issue. Somewhat connected to Leah’s thought is that nutrition plays a real role here. Whole wheat buns/pasta/bagels, etc… are often the same price as white, yet so much more nutritious and filling. If those on food stamps were more aware or were more inclined to purchase whole foods, they might end up buying less and spending less per meal.

  4. Living on Food Stamps says

    My husband is in grad school, we’ve got a few small children, and for the time being, our food budget is our food stamp allowance, we have yet to spend a dime on food. We coupon, shop at stores that double to save even more, and stock pile and freeze as often as we can. While it is hard to live only on food stamps, we make it work, some weeks are harder than others, and it is hard to say no to the kids when they want specific foods and dinners like their friends, but are frugal and save where we can to enable our children to still have their shabbat snacks and birthday dinners etc….Thank you for showing us that you can have 3 normal meals, and fruits and vegies while on food stamps. I think the majority of my shopping is at the fruit store, we eat plenty of fruits and vegies.

  5. Look at it this way, a watermelon is now on sale for $4 or $5 depending on size but has enough for desert for at least 8 people to have normal portions. A cake from the bakery that would feed the same size crowd would be easily twice the price or more. The cake might be more appealing to some people but the calories in the cake far outweigh what is in the watermelon. We have to foster a watermelon mentality.

  6. michelle geil says

    In responset to Leah and Ellie, I think that education is such a big part of the issue (that’s why it is included in so many advocacy efforts). In my former job, we brought nutrition programs to schools, and involved the parents, so it was a group effort. Everyone learned the value of eating nutritious foods, and in some cases farmers markets were set up to enable easier access. Many parents who don’t speak English are at a disadvantage, and by involving the entire family, the chances of success are multiplied. It takes a village, a neighborhood, community effort, teachers, community gardens, schools, local health providers and politicians to help with outreach. And in L.A., amazing results are created on a shoestring budget by small organizations. It can be done, and advocating in any way you can, makes a difference.

Leave a Comment