As I mentioned in my last post, for a project in my community nutrition class I was challenged to eat for a week as if I were on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (you might think of it as “food stamps”). The maximum amount an adult can receive is $200 a month, which is about $46 a week or about $6.50 a day. The assignment was truly eye opening and I was surprised how challenging it was. Not only was it almost impossible to stay within the budget, it was especially hard to maintain a healthy diet while doing so. It took a ton of planning, time in the kitchen, and lots of meals alone, but in the end I was able to (just barely) stay within my budget.
The main thing I learned throughout this project is that staying on a tight budget can get very boring. This week I had a lot less variety in my diet than I usually would because I stuck to the same few meals that I knew were inexpensive and easy to prepare. The photo above shows a few of my go to meals and how much they cost. Top left was my usual breakfast…peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread with coffee. No greek yogurt or Starbuck’s for me this week.
I also made a very inexpensive batch of turkey chili and to make it last even longer with smaller portions, I made chili and cheese stuffed sweet potatos (top right). It definitely doesn’t look that appetizing above, but it was actually awesome and I would even eat it when I’m not on a serious budget. On the bottom left is a “pizza” made on a whole wheat tortilla with marinara sauce, a few mushrooms and onions, and shredded mozzarella. Bottom right also a delicious creation…a hash of sweet potato, onion, and a few sliced brussel sprouts topped with a fried egg. (Sadly, when you’re on food stamps and you break the yolk of your egg when you crack it into the pan, you just deal with it). Probably my favorite meal of all was this one–brown rice fried rice with frozen mixed vegetables, egg, and green onions.
Nutritional highlights: It really is tough to be healthy on a budget, but it can be done with planning and strategic shopping (thank you Trader Joe’s for your amazing prices and not letting me go hungry this week). Healthy grains like quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread are all very affordable. If you can’t afford fresh veggies, frozen vegetables are a great alternative. Other great foods that are super healthy and inexpensive are sweet potatoes, eggs, edamame, bananas, and beans. Other than the turkey chili that I ate almost every day (which was really more beans than turkey), I didn’t eat meat because it was just too expensive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it forced me to explore other less expensive protein options like quinoa, edamame, beans, peanut butter, and eggs. I don’t think that my week on food stamps was anywhere near as healthy as a usual week (#carbo-loading), but with a little creativity I think I did OK and I challenge you all to try to think of creative was to tighten you budget a bit.
General recipes for the meals I made this week:
Brown Rice Fried Rice on a budget:
What you need for 1 serving: 2/3 cups cooked brown rice, 2/3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (i used a mix that had peas, carrots, corn, and green beans), 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 egg, 2 green onions, sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce (minced ginger would be great too but OK to skip on a budget).
How to make it: Heat 1 tspn sesame oil in a very hot wok. Add vegetables, ginger (if using) and garlic (powder or fresh are both fine), and saute until vegetables are tender and slightly browned. Push to one side and add another half tsp of sesame oil. Add the egg and break up yolk and stir into vegetables until it’s cooked. Add brown rice and soy sauce and saute another few minutes. Top with a few green onions and enjoy.
Chili and Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes on a budget:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 baked sweet potato, 2/3 cup turkey or vegetable chili (store bought or homemade are both fine), 1/4 cup shredded cheese
How to make it: Cut into the baked sweet potato (but not all the way through) to create an opening. Fill with the turkey chili (it’s ok if it spills over). Top with the shredded cheese and pop into the microwave for about 2 minutes.
Tortilla Pizzas on a budget:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 whole wheat wrap, 1/4-1/2 cup marinara sauce, vegetables you have left over (I used mushrooms and onions), 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, garlic powder/chili flakes (optional)
How to make it: Preheat oven to 425. Place wrap on a baking sheet and top with marinara sauce. Spread vegetables over crust and top with shredded cheese. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and brown and crust is crispy. Top with a little garlic powder and red pepper flakes for a little flava.
Budget-friendly Sweet Potato and Brussel Sprout Hash with Fried Egg:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 egg, 1/2 sweet potato (chopped), 1/8th onion (chopped), 6 brussel sprouts (sliced), olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili flakes.
How to make it: Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high and add all the vegetables. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until vegetables are soft and browned. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chili flakes. Transfer to a plate or bowl. In the same skillet, heat another tspn of oil and fry one egg to your preference. Serve over the hash and enjoy.