My family spent the last week living on the average food stamp (aka SNAP) budget, $4.20 per person per day. For us that total budget was $68.60. Our goal for the week was two-fold. We wanted to see if it was possible to eat healthy on this budget, as has been proposed in our current legislature, and we wanted to bring awareness to what it's like for families served by River Valley Food 4 Kids.To say that the week was challenging would be an understatement.
When shopping we tried to buy mostly healthy foods. We had chicken, ground turkey, potatoes, milk, oatmeal, apples, canned veggies, sandwich supplies, a dozen eggs, and a few other various items (see photo at bottom of page). At the beginning of the week I thought I had done a great job shopping and that it might be possible to eat a fairly healthy diet. I learned pretty quickly that I was wrong.
There are a lot of points that I would like to cover but for the sake of brevity I'm only going to touch on a few. Please check out other posts and videos on our Facebook page to learn more about the issues we faced throughout the week. Here are the big lessons we learned:
- Eating healthy is subjective. Many people told me we should be eating cornbread and beans or rice instead of trying to incorporate fruits, meat, and veggies. The problem with that is that not having sufficient variety in our food is harmful to long term health, especially for growing children. Personally I think all people should be able to eat a basically healthy diet. I'm not talking about extravagant healthy. I'm talking food pyramid healthy.
- There is no room for mistakes or changes. Both of our kids were home sick for 3 days during the week. If we had truly been on a SNAP budget this would have been catastrophic. We would have had NOTHING to eat for last couple of days. Needless to say we let our kids eat food that we had on hand rather than strictly eat the food for the challenge.
- Being hungry makes everything harder. We spent the entire week just a little hungry. We never ate enough to get totally full because we were so worried about running out at the end of the week. That constant level of hunger caused so much stress. I was much more frazzled and unable to concentrate as well. I made a lot of mistakes and left my keys behind at least 3 times. I couldn't imagine sitting in a classroom trying to learn. When our kids are going to school hungry they are not able to learn as well as their peers, causing them to make lower grades and have increased behavior issues. This just continues the cycle of poverty creating another generation of children living with food insecurity.
- Emergency Assistance Programs are vital. That is what food pantries are officially called, emergency assistance. For many families they are not emergency assistance. They are a regular part of getting by. Programs like this are almost entirely funded by donations from their community. For the typical pantry that sends food home, there is no government funding available and grants are few and far between. This is why programs like River Valley Food 4 Kids are continually seeking support from the community.
Those are the highlights I wanted to cover. This week renewed my dedication to serving children in our community. I would encourage everyone to spend a week living on the SNAP budget, especially anyone who is working to influence how that program operates. It will challenge your preconceived notions about hunger and poverty. Hopefully it will also make you more empathetic towards members of our community that are often judged harshly. I know it has changed my family for the better.