For the past few weeks the fellows were completing the SNAP challenge. With a maximum budget of $62.25 for two weeks of food we have gained entirely new insights into the challenging decisions that many people face each and every day.
Now, I have always been a “math” kinda guy so I can tell you that $62.25 breaks down to $4.44 each day for each person. I can also tell you that at first, I thought this meant each meal could be nearly two dollars. I figured that if breakfast was cheap, and I could keep it under a dollar, then I would have nearly four dollars for the rest of the day and I could split that between lunch and dinner. I quickly learned that I ate much closer to four meals per day, and even then liked to have little snacks. This meant that I was really shooting to get each meal I ate under a dollar, and that was an intimidating thought.
On the first day I went to the grocery store to stock up on food and spent nearly an hour just walking around looking at prices. I had noticed prices of individual items before, but with this new lens I was amazed at the repercussions that a strict budget placed on food. I had almost no options to get fruits and vegetables, and settled for a bag of mixed frozen veggies. I quickly bought a dozen eggs because I knew they were calorie dense, and I purchased all the makings of PB&J sandwiches. I finished my trip with some pasta and sauce. I spent the next 15 minutes with the calculator on my phone deciding how many meals I could get from each item and dividing the price. Satisfied that my first shopping spree would be under budget I went to check out. After a quick shuffle of veggies (I had grabbed the bag that wasn’t on sale) I was back home to evaluate my haul.
Back when we did the diabetes simulation I realized that carbohydrates were the currency of convenience compared to other nutrients. The easier and more readily accessible something was, it generally had more carbs (breads, sugars, grains, pasta). After my first shopping spree on the SNAP challenge I realized that this was doubly true for price as well. Although I had taken great pains to get some veggies (you go Jake!) my meals were going to be mainly based on pasta and bread, meaning they were very carb dense. After my second shopping spree I purchased some chicken and rice for stir frys and still had a very carb dense meals.
Overall the entire SNAP challenge had an asterisk for me, as did the diabetes simulation. The day after the snap challenge was completed I went to Panda Express and Chick-Fil-A, which during the challenge would have cost the same as nearly 20 meals. The next night I used a cabinet full of spices to make pulled pork and each day during the challenge was able to carve enough time and use my extensive pots and pans to make the meals that I had learned to make over the years. I am very grateful for the position that I am in outside of the SNAP challenge with my food. My takeaways from the challenge center on the unbelievably diverse amount of experiences that a person can have with nutrition and food. Unfortunately when health becomes a limiting factor, food can quickly turn to a significant burden, and sometimes health takes a back seat to financial needs.
Although actually completing the challenge may be hard, I would encourage anyone to try and tally the cost of the meals they eat. Outside of healthcare other parts of life are also not well suited to tight food budgeting. Not eating out, having to plan meals, cook meals, clean up after meals, all can complicate life at times. The SNAP challenge was an incredible experience and I really hope that I can take all of these lessons and apply them to the ideas that we develop in the coming months.