And So We Begin the Food Stamp Challenge

October 17, 2008 at 2:20 pm 14 comments

When I posted about this year’s Food Stamp Challenge yesterday, underway in various locations in the US, I assumed it was going to be much harder this year to stay within the allotted budget despite an almost double amount of money last year. My regular readers may recall, last year I reviewed the sales circulars online to get the best bargains, planned the week of meals before I went shopping, had to include a fairly high level of canned goods (especially beans) and barely made the budget.  We did well nutritionally – with the exception of Vitamin D, we met all nutrient requirement RDA’s and managed to keep carbohydrate intake at an average 97g per day for the week; 73g net if you deduct fiber.  But, as I noted, it wasn’t easy to do on a budget of just $3.00 per person per day, or $63 for the week for my family.
This year, with a nearly double budget – $123.27 for the week ($5.87 per person per day) – I changed the rules I’d follow in response to comments last year.  Unlike last year, this year I’d shop in only one store, no pre-planning; instead I’d grab a sales circular on my way into the closest grocery store to my home and do my shopping for the week without any menus planned ahead of time.
Now I don’t shop for many routine items at the grocery store – most meats for us are usually ordered from a local farm, I buy a lot of produce at the local Farmer’s Market, and some things, like cheese, I usually buy at a specialty shop in town.  But I do shop enough in the grocery stores to note that prices have definitely risen over the last year, with some items nearly double what I remember from last year.
When I did our grocery shopping yesterday, at HyVee (closest to my house) I was surprised that I wasn’t just within budget, but that I didn’t spend the entire budget.  And, I included a number of items that were “maybe” items, held back until I could see the running total for the “must have” foods; “maybe” things like crumbled blue cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, name-brand coffee, a small container of heavy cream, a fancy brand of fajita wraps and a small pumpkin my son asked for that we aren’t going to actually eat.
That isn’t to say I didn’t make any compromises – I did buy canned green beans over the fresh, they were much less expensive in the can; I chose frozen whole strawberries over the fresh for the same reason; and frozen broccoli won over the fresh too.  My cuts of meat, poultry and fish were all selected by price rather than higher priced selections. For the most part, organic foods were out….one compromise I would not make was the organic, grass-fed, VAT pasturized, non-homogenized milk for my son; that was one thing that would be included no matter how much it cost.  Luck had it though that it was on sale this week!
I also decided once I saw the sale circular for the week, that I’d see if I could do a week with low-carb – basically keep carbohydrate (for my husband and I only) at or below 60g a day on average and not have to include much in the way of beans or starchy foods, although I did buy two bread items (wraps and pita) when I saw they were possible within the budget.  My goal again this year is that in the week we are able to eat well and meet our nutrient requirements.  I think I did fairly well too!
When all was totaled, I spent $115.55 before tax, $120.91 with tax.

What did I get for my money? 

 *Items with a star were “maybe” items included when I saw the total was still within budget, listed in order placed into the final order. 

1-pound butter
3-quarts half & half
2 dozen large eggs
1/2 gallon organic whole milk
1 8-ounce brick store-brand mozzarella
1 8-ounce brick store-brand cheddar
1 container sour cream
1 container cottage cheese
1 package cream cheese
10 8-ounce containers assorted store-brand yogurt (including plain)
1-pound deli ham (it was a steal at $1.99 a pound!)
1-pound bag frozen broccoli
1-pound bag frozen spinach
1-pound bag frozen whole strawberries
Box of tea bags
1 can bean sprouts
2 cans green beans
Small Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 Bottles store-brand salad dressing
1 small bottle soy sauce
2 cans mandarin oranges
1 bag dried split peas
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 bag sauerkraut

5 bananas bunch
2 pears
1 head cauliflower
2 cucumbers
2 bags of store-brand mixed salad
1 head iceberg lettuce
2 kiwi fruit
1 yellow pepper
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
Yellow and green squash
1 spaghetti squash
2.5-pounds carrots
1 package Wholly guacamole
4 lemons
5 onions
1/2 cantaloupe
5 apples
2 plums
1 package Johnsonville sausage patties
1 package Oscar Mayer bacon
1 whole chicken
1 package chicken leg/thigh quarters
1 package split chicken breasts
2 pounds ground beef
1 large pork roast
1 package coconut crusted fish filets (store made; raw; frozen)
1 package eye-of-round steak

Folgers coffee* (I had a smaller, less expensive container, but added this instead) 

1 package boneless skinless chicken breasts*
1/2 pint heavy cream*
1 small bottle olive oil*
1 small jar minced garlic*
Assorted bags, very small amounts, open/loose spices sold by the ounce*
1 container blue cheese crumbles*
3 small sample size cheese (butterkase, gouda, gruyere)*
1 container roasted red pepper hummus*
1 5-pack Toufayan tomato wraps*
1 package pita*
1 small pumpkin*

You’ll notice that above I don’t have any tomatoes or tomato sauce.  That’s because we have a garden and right now, an excess of tomatoes that have to be eaten or made into sauce, so I’ll be using those tomatoes in some dishes this week.

As you can see, I wasn’t left with little choice – I didn’t have to buy boxes of macaroni & cheese or ramen noodles.  In fact, with the higher budget this year, I was able to buy much more fresh produce and meat, along with some “goodies” to enhance the meals I’ll make, like blue cheese to top salads, assorted cheeses for snacks, and decent coffee for our morning brew.

Last night we kicked off our week with a delicious chicken & beef fajitas, complete with tomato wraps, sour cream, guacamole and cheddar cheese that I shredded from the block of cheese.  Since our son isn’t too keen on spicy food, I made him some plain chicken and onion sautéed in a little butter, and with that he had some broccoli and a blueberry yogurt, and then a plum for dessert. 



Entry filed under: Food Stamp Challenge 2008.

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cottage  |  October 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm


    I thought you did an amazing job with the food stamp challenge!
    It does help to know prices, something one must actually make an effort to do, as you well know. We have eaten below the food stamp rates for years now, didn’t know they had raised the limit, how nice! So many whine that low carb is expensive, you just proved it isn’t.

    Your fajitas look so yummy! Think I’ll use the left over London Broil to make them for lunch. Gotta love eating high end while spending low end. 🙂

    We are doing a container garden. My thinking was if apartment and condo dwellers can grow on their patios, so can I. I’ve learned a lot!


  • 2. Tracy Bradley  |  October 18, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Sounds good so far Regina!

    I’m not in the US so I don’t really understand how food stamps work. They’re to supplement, not replace the entire food budget? But you’re using only the food stamp allowance amount for food purchases, is that right?

  • 3. Meredith Curry  |  October 18, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Wow! Putting together a menu right in the store. I had to sit down and pre-plan menus for my low-carbing & to stay within a budget. I gained 7lbs by thinking I could eat candy and eat light salad dressing. With my low-carb meals, my dad, sister, and Patrick have all raved, we’ve had leftovers that everyone will eat, and I actually have energy to get up again to feed my babies.

    I was able to buy enough groceries for 2 weeks (2 nights will be eat out nights) for 3 adults, low carbing, for $240, add $45 for the 2 eat out nights. I actually spent less than I did trying to buy low-fat, and am less hungry.

  • 4. Dr Dan  |  October 19, 2008 at 12:21 am

    OOOHHH I am going to be very interested to see how this works out for you. Congrats on doing the challenge.

  • 5. susan  |  October 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    I think the challenge isn’t really so challenging when buying for a family.

    As for a single person in this state (FL) gets $172 per month in food stamps. It can be difficult because you don’t want to eat the same thing everyday and when you’re not buying mega packs things can be expensive.

    But then again that’s only a little less than the $5.87 per person daily. Good for you for taking the challenge!

  • 6. Deb M.  |  October 22, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Love your blog overall, but would like to point out one thing to take into consideration with the challenge. It’s great that you shopped at the store nearest you, to make it a bit more realistic, but what can we say about food-stamp recipients who live in inner cities, which supermarkets have abandoned? Or rural families who can’t afford gas to drive to a reasonable grocery store? (And by rural I mean families surrounded by industrial agriculture’s soybean fields or feedlots, not family farms where you could buy real food.) I realize this is well outside the scope of this particular challenge, but it’s something for us all to think about, along with educating ourselves about what’s really a healthful diet — and I thank you for doing major good work toward that end.

  • 7. Interesting Reading « Maspik Teruzim  |  October 22, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    […] Over at Weight of the Evidence there’s a detailed description of a Food Stamp Challenge. Look also at the background post here: the cynical me is not surprised that the governor is taking […]

  • 8. denise jackson  |  November 2, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    If you get the time, could you list the individual prices of these food items? We have no Hy-Vee stores in our area, and I’d like to do a comparison to my local standby store, Aldi’s.

  • 9. Sheila B  |  November 12, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I think it’s great that you are doing this, but there are some of us who don’t qualify for food stamps and have MUCH lower food budgets than this, I only have $75 a week for a family of 5(two of them teenagers) and we DO NOT go out to eat, we manage to do it but I sometimes have to buy ramen noodles, I mix them with leftover meat and vegetables for the kids and make homemade “noodle bowls”, meat is soooo expensive it’s very hard to eat low carb on our budget. I think so many people are having a difficult time putting food on the table, let alone healthy food. I am just greatful there is food in our table.

  • 10. Kelly  |  November 13, 2008 at 12:42 am

    First comment, long time reader.

    LOVE the blog! I linked to your blog on my new one, hope you don’t mind.


    Kelly in Ohio

  • 11. TrailGrrl  |  November 17, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Great job shopping! I have been buying locally from the farmers’ market all summer, and it can get a little pricey for some things, but not really for produce or the high-quality organic grass-fed meats. You can always buy cheaper cuts (and not go all “boneless, skinless chicken breast”) and learn how to cook with them.

    I was only going to the big supermarkets for things like soap, paper towels, toilet paper, cooking oil, spices, etc.

    Like everyone else, the economy is a big worry. What if we do have a Great Depression like our parents went through? Just because gas has gone way down, doesn’t mean things are all rosey financially. My mom cooked great food that wasn’t expensive (chili, pinto beans, cornbread, beef stew, etc.), and who ever heard of buying bags of salad stuff that are prewashed and cut??? We’re doing great, but what about all these people who got laid off? It makes trying to buy organic seem just stupid in comparison (although a lot of stores have in-house organics that are comparable in price, whereas other items are just ridiculous and I won’t pay for it) when people have to worry about whether they can afford any kind of food.

    Since I cut out processed food, I don’t really buy much of it, and as you know cereal is on of the priciest things out there. I don’t eat any of the frozen meals, I prefer to take leftovers for my lunch.

    Eggs are cheap, and so are certain cuts of meat, (what can’t you make out of ground beef?) and fresh produce. You don’t have to live on 50 cent boxes of mac and cheese. Also, learning to cook and not rely on premade stuff is a big cost cutter, and it doesn’t take any more time. Buy store brands of butter and such… butter is butter. How long does it take to cook up some eggs? Or do what my mom did… bigger pot meals that could cook all day or be pressure cooked in a few hours. And she home-canned green beens every summer so we always had those year round.

    The big thing I discovered was all the little mom and pop Mexican markets. The prices are much, much better than the grocery stores, even the big cheapo chains. I got 6 limes for $1, and an avocado for .99 cents when they are 2 for $1 at the grocery store, and avocados are $1.99. And the stuff was fantastically fresh, not wilted and limp. The limes were big too. I may keep on doing this because the Mexican deli’s have the best and cheapest meats. Maybe not filet mignon, but marinate it and cook it up right. They cater to people who work hard and are underpaid so there is no froo-froo arugla or mixed baby greens. But for fresh stuff, the price is definitely right and you support local businesses that are family-owned, and you gain appreciation of a different culture.

    I’m impressed that you did such a frugal job, yet had plenty for luxury items like blue cheese, etc. It’s a matter of priority and of not buying a lot of processed stuff. Yeah, the organics might have to go, but what I’ve found in the big stores is that the quality is often not that great for the big price tag. I really only insist on organic for milk, like you.

    Our parents knew how to do it… they cooked meals for us at home and we only ate out very rarely like on road trips. Not even once a month. Of course I am pre-McDonalds era. They took care of the yard and worked, and didn’t think they had to have perfect gym bodies or go to pilates or run marathons. If we had vacations we stayed with relatives and ate real food at their house. They actually felt bad if we had to eat out because they intuitively knew that it wasn’t as good for us as their home cooking.

    I’m inspired to be more cost conscious now!


  • 12. jugalbandi » Milk 101.  |  December 3, 2008 at 12:04 am

    […] my socks off with the breadth and depth of her research is impressive. Her latest initiative is the Food Stamp Challenge, where she tried to shop healthy on a limited […]

  • 13. Fitness dude  |  December 3, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Wow. I didn’t think that was possible, the way the economy is going, I might find out sooner than I wish that it is.

  • 14. PJ  |  January 18, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Hmmn. You know, I feel totally certain that if I bought those same things at my local Super Walmart — which is the ONLY grocer in my town except one tiny one that is far more expensive — that my bill would probably be twice what yours was.

    Do you live in a larger area, maybe? Go figure.

    Still, though; I’m impressed. You did a good job.


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