The SNAP Challenge: Why Kids Need School Lunch

  • Policy & Advocacy
  • October 01, 2013
  • Comments

What does hungry really feel like? Is it skipping breakfast because you’re running late to work? Or choosing a frozen burrito once in a while for dinner because you don’t get paid for another day? A slight gurgle of the tummy indicates hunger for some. For others – those who must cope with food insecurity on a day-to-day basis – hunger takes on a deeper role, a state of mind even. Add to the equation being a child with no control of your access to food, and the situation can be dire.

I cannot claim to know true food desperation. For me, hunger is not permanent. If I hit a rough patch, I get by knowing I will likely return to my normal routine.  This is a life of some small privilege in which too many people do not find comfort. The odds are still in my favor as I commit to live a week in the life of someone on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. I can opt out whenever I want. Through this chosen experience, my circumstances still don’t lend to full understanding.

What’s the SNAP Challenge? - Living off $4.50 a day, the average per person benefit of the SNAP program. This averages out to $1.50 per meal. You can’t use food purchased prior to the challenge and you must avoid eating foods from family, friends and co-workers.

Disclaimers – I do not live in a food desert. I can purchase fresh produce on a daily basis.  I am a single white woman. I have no children. I do work two jobs, but I have an adequate amount of time to prepare my meals.

Chef Ann’s Rule: With my best interest and health in mind, I must consume at least 1,000 calories a day in order to continue the challenge.

Duration - You can determine how long you take the challenge. I’m doing it for seven days without a free school lunch. In part two of this series, I will commit to an additional seven days with five days of free school lunch. I will focus on reporting my state of hunger and food planning during Monday through Friday, a typical school week.

Why? –First of all, September is Hunger Action Month. More importantly, less than two weeks ago proposed cuts to SNAP benefits ($40 billion in cuts to take place over 10 years) were passed by the House of Representatives.

·         Proposed SNAP cuts would render 2.1 million people instantly ineligible, and another 1.8 million will be denied for the program over the next decade.

·         72% of SNAP recipients are poor households with children. By cutting costs as suggested, approximately 221,000 children would lose food from SNAP benefits and may no longer qualify for free school lunch.

·         73% of teachers surveyed in Share Our Strength’s 2013 Teacher’s Report say that they teach children who regularly come to school hungry.

In light of potential food assistance setbacks and staggering hunger/malnutrition statistics, there is ever more importance to demonstrate how crucial healthy school lunch is for all kids across our nation.

FYI - It’s important to point out that SNAP is designed to be supplemental. Most families who receive SNAP have additional money to spend on meals, just not enough. The purpose of SNAP is to ensure that all families (and seniors, the very poor, and adults with disabilities) have access to the right kinds of nutritious food. I’m hoping to show that families can use SNAP benefits to purchase healthy, fresh food, but I’m also hoping – through my two weeks “on SNAP” – to bust the myth that SNAP recipients are living “high on the hog” at the tax-payers’ expense. 

The Grocery List –

Total : $30.63 | Limit: $31.50

List preparation: When making my list, I looked to avoid processed foods. I wanted to try to complete the challenge by eating as many fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. I decided to focus on purchasing breakfast and dinner ingredients. My plan was to use mostly leftovers from the previous night for lunch. Some items will carry over to my second week as well. I shopped at Safeway.

  • ¾ lb of brown rice - $1.36
  • 1 box of rotini pasta -$1.00 (on sale from $1.39)
  • ½ loaf, whole wheat bread -$.99 (9 slices of 18)
  • ½ dozen eggs -$1.99 ( 6 eggs out 12)
  • 1 quart of 2% milk – $1.49
  • 1 stick, unsalted butter -$1.24
  • ½ lb black beans, dry -$.81 (out of 1 lb bag)
  • ½ lb pork chops, two - $3.89 (on sale from $4.19)
  • 2 cans, tuna - $1.98
  • 1 lb of broccoli -$1.72
  • 1 red onion - $.75
  • 3 Roma tomatoes - $1.19
  • 2 red potatoes - $.35
  • 5 large carrots - $ 1.05
  • 1 bag, sundried tomatoes - $1.79 ( on sale from $2.79)
  • ¼ lb crimini mushrooms - $1.32
  • 2 navel oranges - $1.20
  • 3 apples - $1.43
  • 4 bananas - $.95
  • 1 box, mac’n cheese - $ 1.25
  • 4 granola bars -$.88 (4 out of 8) - $.88
  • 1 jar, peanut butter - $2.00

Day 1:

  • Breakfast: One egg, one piece of toast, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: One large carrot, one apple and a can of tuna
  • Snack: Banana
  • Dinner: A cup of brown rice with a half a cup of broccoli and mushrooms (steamed) and half a pork chop (boiled)
  • Beverages: 50 fl oz of water

Day 2:

  • Breakfast: Two eggs, one piece of toast, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A cup of brown rice with a half a cup of broccoli and mushrooms (steamed) and half a pork chop (boiled)
  • Snack: Apple
  • Dinner: A cup of whole grain pasta with a half a cup of tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and red onion (sautéed in butter)
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Day 3:

  • Breakfast: Banana, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A cup of whole grain pasta with a half a cup of tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and red onion (sautéed in butter) –
  • Snack: Granola bar, Orange
  • Dinner: A cup and a quarter of mac n’ cheese with half a cup of broccoli (steamed) –
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Day 4:

  • Breakfast: One piece of toast, two tablespoons of peanut butter, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A cup and a quarter of mac n’ cheese
  • Snack: Granola bar, banana
  • Dinner: A cup of brown rice, three quarter cup of black beans and half of a tomato
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Day 5:

  • Breakfast: One piece of toast, Two tablespoons of peanut butter, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A cup of brown rice, three quarter cup of black beans and half of a tomato
  • Snack: Orange
  • Dinner: One pork chop, two red potatoes (boiled) and a half cup of broccoli (steamed)
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Day 6:

  • Breakfast: One piece of toast, two tablespoons of peanut butter, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A cup of brown rice, three quarter cup of black beans and half of a tomato
  • Snack: Apple with two tablespoons of peanut butter, one large carrot
  • Dinner: A cup of whole grain pasta with a quarter of a cup of tomatoes, mushrooms and red onion (sautéed in butter)
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Day 7:

  • Breakfast: Two pieces of toast, two eggs, half a glass of milk
  • Lunch: A can of tuna, one large carrot and granola bar
  • Snack: Banana
  • Dinner: A cup of whole grain pasta with a quarter of a cup of tomatoes, mushrooms and red onion (sautéed in butter)
  • Beverages: 60 fl oz of water 

Major Realizations

 I needed to plan so much more! I should have looked at circulators for other stores. I went to Safeway out of habit. King Soopers and Albertson’s were recommended after the fact as stores with better prices.  I think it’s entirely possible to make more nutritious choices as I started to read other people’s experience on the challenge.  One blogger admitted to planning and driving to numerous stores to get price deals for a total of 8 hours! Realistically, this is time most people wouldn’t be able to spend to plan their family’s weekly meals.

In hindsight, I needed to get over my normal purchasing patterns. This includes organic fruits and vegetables as well as sustainably raised meat and eggs. I got over the organic produce factor, but still tried to purchase ethically raised pork and eggs. In doing so, I got much less for my money and also took out a hefty piece of my budget.

Most of my entrees were bland. I didn’t use spices or seasonings because I opted not to use my budget on flavor enhancers. I also tried to steer away from artificial foods with exception to my mac’n cheese lapse. I can understand why more people opt for the processed foods, usually loaded with carbs, fats and flavor for cheap prices, especially when given the sensation of feeling fuller (even if it’s for a shorter time).

 I’m happy to report food waste, another problem our country faces, was not an issue. However, it was only because I valued every little bit of food I had.

There were moments I felt isolated. I attended a couple of social events that involved purchasing food. I declined to participate in that regard and drank water. I didn’t feel particularly embarrassed when the waiter asked a handful of times if I was finally ready to order, although I can imagine how it might if my lack of participation wasn’t by choice. One without funds would likely choose not to attend the event.

 I thought about food, and the challenge, 24/7. I rationed items for my next week so I could purchase more calories to fill me up this week. My attention was very much diverted from my normal routines, work and personal.  I sadly admit, due to lack of initial planning, these extra items were processed and pre-packaged. I also never felt fully satiated from the food I was eating. Therefore at this point, I’d say mental exhaustion was more prevalent than physical.  I certainly experienced fatigue. I went to bed earlier than normal almost every night. However, I wouldn’t say I felt exceedingly weak. It was manageable. Then again, multiply a minimal diet over time and I’d likely tell a different story. It is also fair to say that obesity and food insecurity go hand in hand in many cases. Cheap food in abundance, mostly high in sugar and in fat, can cause malnutrition and obesity.

I can say one thing with ease — I’m already looking forward to next week when I can incorporate my free school lunch! Stay tuned for Part Two of The SNAP Challenge: Why Kids Need Healthy School Lunch as I highlight the benefits of reformed school lunch and food education in schools as well provide some tips to eat healthier on SNAP. 

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