How To Eat Right On A Food Stamp Budget … Without Living Off Limes

Disclaimer: I am typically a Gweneth Paltrow fan. I have nothing against the woman. I think she’s a great actress and a woman who’s doing what she thinks is best for her and her family, nurition wise. 

That said …

I was putt off with this whole “food stamp challenge”. Don’t know what I’m talking about, check it out here.

Confession Time We are currently on Food Stamps. I’m not proud of it (although I AM proud that that will be changing very, very soon!), but it is what it is. Sometimes things happen and you have to have a little help. It’s all good. We’re working our way back up!

Okay … So … Here’s the thing …
The problem I had with what Paltrow bought was that, frankly, it was not even close to being realistic. Not. Even. Close.

First off, she bought items that are seemingly for juicing – limes (7 to be exact. One a day), kale, garlic, and cilantro. Having juiced myself, I know these make up the components for a very powerful concoction. BUT … There aren’t many people on assistance that have juicers. Then a sweet potato, an onion, a jalepeno, an ear of corn, and a bunch of green onions … Could these be going into the juice? Special recipe, maybe? Who knows … And … frozen peas. I can’t look into the mind of anyone and say what was or was not on their minds when they bought an item. But I look at her haul and am vaguely reminded of an episode of chopped … She did well with buying lettuce, tomato, eggs, black beans, and brown rice. But … smack dab in the middle of it all is a bag of plain ol’ tortillas. “One of these things is not like the other …”

But let’s not be TOO hasty to judge. See, the thing is, poor Gwennie (I feel like we’re friends, now. I can call you ‘Gwennie’, right?) … well, she’s never HAD to have a budget or live off of food stamps or any of that. Remember, her folks are Hollywood royalty: Filmmaker Bruce Paltrow and film star Blythe Danner. She has NEVER had money issues IN. HER. LIFE. So, OF COURSE she’s clueless! And there were some issues with the “Food Stamp Challenge” anyway. First off, no one gets their money by the week. We get it once a month. Therefore, we usually buy the bulk of our groceries at the beginning of the month. Also, that wasn’t a great way to bring awareness to your cause. It was a good way to tick off the masses and turn them off of some otherwise decent celebrities for a time (is anyone else dying to see what Sting and his wife bought?). But didn’t really do much for the cause … So, in Gwennie’s defense … It was a poorly executed plan.

But, never fear, SUPERMOM is here!!
*insert rocking theme music here*

Here’s my strategy for feeding my family on a food stamp budget:

Here’s the thing – we eat pretty clean around here. Lots of veggies, fruits and lean meats with a few other staples like cereal, milk, and eggs thrown in for good measure. And, yes, we’re able to do that just fine on the budget we’re on. Here’s how:

Our money comes in the first week of the month. I’m not going to tell you how much we get, but suffice it to say we’re working with enough to feed a family of four for a month.

First we:
Go to our warehouse (Costco, Sam’s, WinCo … etc) and stock up on the meat we need for the month. This month’s haul, for example, consisted of two whole chickens, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, and chicken wings (for Miss E who loves them and refers to them as “chicken arms”). We also got cheese, sausages and hot dogs, and a big container of cashews for some healthy snacking. After looking at the prices on the pork and beef items, we decided to hold off on those. (PS Don’t get your panties in a bunch about my going to a warehouse club. The membership was a Christmas gift!)

Next we:
Hit our local superstore (Wal-Mart, Target, etc) and got a few other meat items – ground beef, pork loin, and steak, salmon, and tilapia (yep. I said steak and seafood. Bite me, Rick Brattin). We also got the weekly items we need – milk, eggs, bread, cereal, and fresh fruits and vegetables. and grabbed a case of water.

Finally, we:
Hit our favorite store for some condiments we can’t really find anywhere else like sugar free preserves (I can’t eat sugar), hoisin sauce (sugar free, of course), and herbs. We also grabbed a few specialty produce items that we couldn’t find anywhere else (anything to get my kids to eat some vegetation!), and some cheese for the hubbs and I to snack on.

What do we have left? Exactly enough to buy staples and fresh fruits and veggies each week for the rest of the month.

What we DIDN’T buy:
Junk food (chips, ice-cream, etc.), candy, soda, boxed meals. If it was cost effective, we bought organic. If not, we didn’t. We went with what would get us the most bang for our buck and feed the family good, wholesome meals.

What I did with the stuff I bought

All the meats got separated out and popped into the freezer.
Some of the fresh produce got prepped and popped into the freezer.
Water, shelf-stable items, and canned goods to the pantry.
Cheese, eggs, milk, fresh veggies for the current week, etc. got popped into the fridge.

Inventory was taken and meals were planned.

Now, granted, I am not the norm in the world of government assistance. I have a nutritional background, I have been taught how to budget and save money, and I have been taught how to shop sales and clearance items. I cook pretty much everything from scratch, when I’m able, and I’ve had an education beyond high school. If you look at the statistics, these are sorely lacking in low-income families across the board.

So… here’s a thought. Rather than coming up with some lame, unrealistic social-experiment to “bring awareness” to food stamp families, why don’t we try starting an education program for low-income families, that includes wide-spread distribution of information so that every family that needs it is aware of it and has access to it? Classes on nutrition. Cooking classes. Classes on finance. Classes on couponing. Classes and programs to help families know what their options are as far as education and career-training programs go. This is where we are lacking. Why do people “misuse” the system and stay on government assistance? Not always because they’re lazy or unmotivated. More often than not, it’s because they’re not aware of all the possibilities that are out there for them, because they’ve never been taught that there’s anything else out there for them. Because, the thing is, apparently many of these programs and classes are available … but what good are they if no one knows about them? I hear people complaining all the time about food stamps families. Instead of complaining about their hand outs, how about helping them get a hand up instead! No, it’s not meant to be a life-long thing. But remember – until you know the whole story, you don’t know the whole story.

If you are on government assistance, how do you shop? 
If you’re not, share some money saving tips and tricks!
Comment below and share your story!