Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Choose My Plate Challenge Introduction

DH and I have been trying to eat healthier and cut our grocery budget down. Last week DH feel down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and ended up on choosemyplate.gov. This side is from the USDA and replaces the old food pyramid site. They have a whole section called Healthy Eating on a Budget. They have tips for grocery shopping, sample menus and recipes. Their two week menus are designed to meet all the nutritional needs, fit into a typical SNAP (food stamp) allocation and only use basic kitchen equipment. All the lunches are designed to be packed and taken to work and/or school!

DH and I are really into politics and social issues. We spend a lot of time discussing various social issues. We agree on most things-even though one of us is registered Democrat and one is a Republican. On a car trip (our usual place for discussion) DH brought up the two week menus and the idea of following them for two weeks. We thought it would be neat to really see if it would be possible to eat healthy even if we didn't have the financial resources that we do. One of the biggest complaints about the food stamp program is the difficulties people have in eating healthy with limited resources. Those who do not have kitchen equipment, live in a motel without a kitchen or work long hours say it is impossible to eat healthy. The complaint has also been made that healthy food is too expensive and that it is unaffordable. I have a special interest in understanding the struggles those who are living in poverty face. Many of my students (85%) are living under the poverty line and most of those students are receiving some form of government benefits. A lot of my students do not receive healthy meals at home-due to lack of funds, lack of time and lack of kitchen equipment. I want to know if it really is possible to live healthy on SNAP benefits-and I would like to be able to pass on some tips to parents that need help making healthy food choices for their families.

The website is really nicely set up and provides you with a grocery list and a list of pantry staples along with a cookbook for everything. I printed it all off and put it in a binder-two weeks of recipes and shopping lists were 33 printed pages. If you didn't have a computer and were having to print these at a public library it would cost $3.30. The recipes include the nutritional information which is handy to have-all the recipes fit federal nutritional guidelines.

For a family of two the maximum monthly allotment of SNAP benefits is $357 dollars. The average benefit for a family of two is $247 a month (http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1269). DH and I usually spend between $200 and $300 per month on our food. We eat out pretty rarely-a few times per month. DH eats out at least once a week for lunch at work-usually his company pays. We grocery shop on Sundays-however we stockpile food so we are able to skip weeks. There have been months that we haven't gone grocery shopping at all. If we average out our yearly expenditures on food (including eating out and grocery expenses) it works out to about $75.00 a week.

We cook most meals at home-usually in the slow cooker and we always bring leftovers for lunches. DH cooks breakfast-usually we eat something simple like fruit and toast. We've agreed to follow the plan for two weeks. We will allow ourselves to skip 1 day (my birthday), but other than that we will eat three meals a day from the plan.

I'll be blogging as the challenge goes on-judging the value of the meals, the taste, the ease of preparation. I feel that DH and I have a pretty well stocked kitchen (as far as utensils go). Compared to many people who are receiving SNAP benefits we probably have better and more kitchen utensils. We are not using anything from our stockpiles except for spices and condiments (this means we purchased items that we already have in the pantry-such as canned soup and spaghetti). The recipes are all designed for a family of four so we did have to halve the recipes (and hopefully the cost). I will also be breaking down the cost of each meal based on the real prices at our grocery store.

Stay tuned for the next two weeks to see how our experiment turns out-and what insights we learn from our experiment!

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