SNAP Challenge: Could you live on $4.40 worth of food a day?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On any given day in the Richmond region, 204,000 people, including children and seniors, are what FeedMore calls ‘food insecure.’

Those individuals do not know where their next meal is coming from, yet FeedMore says 60% of them receive SNAP.

“The benefits that I’m receiving is just not enough,” explains a Richmond mother of three who spoke to 8News on the condition of anonymity. “My kids are eating more. They’re getting bigger.”

8News caught up with the woman at the Capital Area Partnership Uplifting People (CAPUP). The mom of kids ages two to eight was signing up for CAPUP’s food pantry because she was finding it increasingly more difficult to feed her family on SNAP.

“Coming here helps out and supports that part and adds to the part that they don’t give us enough for,” she says.

Norm Gold, FeedMore’s Chief Operations Officer remembers what it was like living on food stamps as a child in Southern California.

“You’ve gotta live in their shoes,” Gold says. “When I was growing up, I was there and you survive on whatever you can get and it’s not fun, it’s not healthy, it’s a tough lifestyle.”

“When I was growing up, I was there and you survive on whatever you can get and it’s not fun, it’s not healthy, it’s a tough lifestyle.” — Norm Gold, FeedMore COO

In 2017, Gold says living on the $4.40 a day allotted on SNAP comes at a cost.

“Nutrition is so important. They’ve got to be able to get the right food because we’ve seen an increase in hypertension and diabetes because they’re buying the wrong food,” he lists some of the negative health effects of people eating on extremely tight budgets.

To prepare for the SNAP challenge, 8News Anchor Amy Lacey enlisted the help of Registered Dietician Bethany Watkins, the founder of Happy Body Wellness.

“Always go with the store brand,” Watkins pointed out as the two navigated each aisle at Wegmans in Midlothian.

The shopping trip involved hunting for the most affordable fresh, canned or frozen produce.

“The good part about frozen is that for the most part, it was picked at peak ripeness or peak freshness,” explains Watkins.

She adds whole grains like rice or rolled oats are filling and economical, and beans are a cheap protein.

“This can, 60 cents,” Watkins holds up a can of black beans. “So this can is going to serve as your protein source or your vegetable side for your dinner or your lunch.”

Watkins also recommended canned meats and bulk nuts for more cost-effective sources of protein.

“You want to make every single meal as balanced as possible,” Watkins advises.

With a new understanding of how to stretch her tight budget, Amy started meal planning. For breakfast, she ate two pieces of wheat bread with almond butter and a peach for a meal costing $1.65.A lunch consisting of canned black beans and tomatoes with brown rice added up to 95 cents. A banana to eat as a snack or dessert cost about a dime.

Dinner was the most challenging meal of the day, even though Amy describes herself as not being “much of a meat eater” who has not touched red meat since 1990 or pork for about seven years.

Amy does occasionally include poultry or seafood in her diet but could not find any fresh fish to fit her budget.

For the challenge, she bought ground turkey that was on sale and added a small portion to leftover beans and tomatoes from lunch. Chopping up about half a fresh zucchini rounded out the meal for $1.70.

“For a growing child or someone who’s on a diet that they really, really need extra protein, this would be very challenging,” Amy observed after the small dinner barely made a dent in her evening hunger.

Adds Gold, “SNAP is supposed to be a nutritional supplement that if they’ve got a limited amount, they’re going to buy  whatever they can that can be less expensive and unhealthy.”

Norm Gold

Gold says it is why FeedMore and its partner agencies are especially concerned about limited access in area food deserts and potential cuts to SNAP benefits.

Eating healthy on $4.40 is already a test of portion size and finding the biggest bargain.

“Where are they going to go if they don’t have any money, or if they don’t have any food, food stamps?” Gold asks.

Amy says the greatest lesson she learned from the SNAP Challenge is that when food was so limited, she had the tendency to obsess about when it would be time for the next meal and what the food would be.

Gold explains that is a main reason why hungry children often cannot concentrate to do well in school, and adults are making the tough decision about whether to buy food or medicine.

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