My wife is Creative Director at Open Arms of Minnesota. When she first mentioned the SNAP Challenge diet that Executive Director, Kevin Winge, is undertaking, I thought it sounded like an interesting experiment. I knew that planning a menu and shopping on just $59.59 for the week wouldn’t be easy, but what took me by surprise was the emotional reaction I would have when faced with the realities of shopping on such a limited budget. Here’s how it started.
As my wife left for a day long meeting Sunday morning, she asked me to put together a menu and go shopping for the week ahead. 'No problem' I thought, as I do the majority of the shopping and food preparation for our household of three. I figured the hardest part would be keeping some variety in our daily meals. Using an allowance of $8.51/day for our family I began to decide on our weekly menu, using 3 basic criteria,: 1) I would try to prepare meals that we would typically eat, 2) I would try to use many items that we already had in our refrigerator and pantry (but count their costs towards our budget), and 3) I would limit the amount of highly processed foods I bought.
Things started off relatively easily. Over my 3rd cup of coffee of the morning (and last cup of coffee for the week) I pulled up an on-line grocery delivery website and started comparing prices and refining my meal plan. It quickly became apparent that I couldn't afford to shop on-line. Grocery ads in the Sunday paper looked more promising, but I had to change several of my meals to take advantage of sale items and weekly specials. In all, I spent about 3 hours 'planning' my shopping trip but still hadn't stepped foot inside a grocery store. I also still didn't have a complete weekly menu. I would have to wing it.
The next 2 hours in the grocery store were a lesson in frustration. Frustration at the trade-offs that were necessary to keep within budget. Frustration at spending an exorbitant amount of my time comparing prices, not ingredients. And frustration at the realization that my family and I are over-indulged spoiled shoppers and eaters. I figured that items such as coffee, and alcohol wouldn’t make the menu, but didn’t realize that other food ‘luxuries’ like fresh produce would be so difficult to work into our new diet. The longer I was there, the angrier I became.
I spent a total of $21.32 at the grocery store, and figured that the pantry items I had at home would have cost another $28.66. This leaves me with another $8.81 to cover 2 items that I need to complete my weekly meal plan: a whole rotisserie chicken and frozen pizza (a final adjustment to complete my menu).
Today is the start of our SNAP challenge week. If yesterday is any indication of things to come, it will be an interesting week.