By Holly Coy, Director of Programs
Earlier this month I took on the Poverty Diet challenge. And because my closest grocery store is a small, expensive market, I decided the most economical route was to convince my husband to partake in it as well. He happens to be quite the chef, but was relatively happy to join me in the challenge. Determined not to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 3 days (his suggestion), I set out to make relatively healthy meals for us despite the monetary limitations of the challenge. Nervous about the prices of this particular store, I agonized over each ingredient, estimated the cost of each item on our list, and debated the merits of our choices for days.
Finally, we set out for Farm Fresh with a budget of $25. 92 for 3 days’ worth of groceries for the two of us. My planning and budgeting paid off; we actually came in under budget! I considered it quite a victory that our cart included fresh fruit, frozen veggies, and some protein. That being said, we didn't have a say in which fruits and veggies made the cut, we simply had to take the cheapest option. And though we had some success with the nutritional value of our meals, our oatmeal was sugar-laden and we had more than our fair share of pasta and cheap tuna.
One of the keys to our success was turning the American diet upside down. Most families still include a meat, a carb and a vegetable at every dinner. But meat simply wasn’t an option we could afford. So, set on eating more than just pasta, we purchased a dozen eggs for the 3 days, none of which were eaten in the breakfast hour. In the end, two of our dinners and one of our lunches consisted of scrambled eggs or a simple frittata made with frozen broccoli. While manageable for a few days, this is certainly not a sustainable diet for anyone.
For any household that includes picky eaters, members with health or religious dietary concerns, or men who consider it dinner only when meat is served – the SNAP budget becomes simply impossible. Every purchase must be made purely on the basis of cost, not nutritional value or pleasure derived from the food. These are luxuries that many of us enjoy, often without recognizing how fortunate we are to have those choices. After partaking in the Poverty Diet, I had an entirely new appreciation for a grocery cart that included Greek yogurt, kale, and salmon.