I spent most of last week trying to live on $29 per week; the equivalent of what an individual on government benefits typically must live on.
I honestly thought it wasn't going to be that hard. I didn't really do any planning. I'm a relatively healthy eater, and we don't spend extravagantly on food. So, I really believed it wouldn't be that hard. And in some ways it wasn't. The food was fine. It was tasty and yummy and generally filling.
But the rest of the challenged was a mess. I consistently eat about 3,200 calories per day, and during the challenge I capped out at about 1,500. That isn't unsustainable for a human. Its probably fine for most women, and its probably in the ballpark of healthy for most men. But I have a high metabolism and it just wasn't enough food. I have the benefit of a desk job, at home, and can't imagine if I was trying to do manual labor or needed more than 3,200 calories. I was also only doing it for a week, so no matter how hungry I got I knew it was only for that week. Rescue was coming.
As for the food. Like I said, I didn't really do a lot of planning in order to comply, I kind of wanted to see where I would end up with what I had on hand.
What did I see? A lot of root of vegetables. Sweet potatoes in general were a savior, since a single one runs about $0.30 and is filling. The old, cheap college standby of ramen noodles was a winner. Frozen veggies were good buys as well. Cucumbers. Lots of cucumbers.
We already mostly eat boneless skinless chicken breasts, which while not cheap, isn't exactly steak, so I wasn't stepping down much there. You could definitely go cheaper on the chicken.
It was hard trying to eat about $1.29 per meal. I actually was willing to give myself $4.50 per day as a fallback. I kind of lost count at the end, but I was over even the more forgiving number pretty much every meal. I could point to mitigating factors, like the fact that I didn't really set out to stay under the number, just kind of get near it, but there are 100 factors assisting me, so I'll just leave it at this: I didn't make it.
You know what wasn't hard? Eating healthy at that price. Because in reality, root vegetables, frozen and canned vegetables and select fresh vegetables are some of the cheapest foods you can buy at the grocery store. You can put together a pretty nice meal out of a bag of frozen vegetables, ramen noodles, and a sweet potato. I can't imagine it because I love sweet potatoes, but you'd probably get really tired of them, I suppose.
(Here is a trick I learned through Pinterest/the SNAP challenge - pierce a few sweet potatoes 2 or 3 times each with a fork, put them in a slow cooker for 4 hours on high and they are SUPER delicious. The slow cook time enhances the flavor and makes them creamy. They are almost mashed potatoes when they come out. Much better than they are in the microwave.).
In the final analysis, I wouldn't want to eat on that every day, but I guess that is kind of the point. It is supposed to be a base to build off of or to get you by for a period, not a standard. It is completely possible to do it in a healthy way, but you'd have to know what you were doing, I suppose, which is also part of the problem. As someone who works from home and has a produce stand relatively near by it was also considerably easier for me, I realize that. I also realize that being able to pick and choose what to buy online (Peapod.com, great service, BTW) was a big advantage. Some of the can be replicated in the real world, some can't.
So there you have it. The SNAP Challenge is in the books.