I spent only $4 a day on food for a week — and it was grueling
Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow accepted Mario Batali's Food Stamp Challenge, designed to raise awareness around obstacles that low-income families face. For a week, participants live off of roughly $31 worth of food — $1.48 per meal.
I decided to craft a more realistic grocery list and give the challenge a go.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients receive a daily average of $4.17, so I decided to limit myself to a budget of $29.19.
Since this challenge is an extreme version of the realities that low-income families face (the SNAP program is meant to be supplemental), I know that this week will not authentically replicate food insecurity. I do hope that it will help me better understand the day-to-day struggles that millions of people living off SNAP benefits face.
Day 0 — A trip to Trader Joe's
On Monday night I headed to the most affordable grocery store I could think of: Trader Joe's.
Shopping at TJ's in Manhattan is no ordinary grocery store experience with its chaos and weaving lines — add a calculator into the mix and things get exponentially more hectic.
It took me a little over an hour to select an assortment of high-calorie, low-cost groceries for $29.
Day 0 — Yellow onions are Trader Joe's 'biggest value!'
I was super conscious of sales and steals as I wove through TJs. This sign sold me on the yellow onions, a versatile ingredient that will be one of my only "flavor enhancers" for the week.
Other steals of the night included: sweet potatoes ($0.49 each), bananas ($0.19 each), and a 16-ounce bag of bowtie pasta ($0.99).
Day 0 — The goods
I kept tally of exactly how much each item cost to ensure I was remaining within the allotted budget.
I found myself scrutinizing prices much more so than I normally would, constantly reevaluating my choices, and indecisively swapping things in and out of my basket.
While I would normally grab a bag of popcorn or a carton of ice cream to satisfy my sweet tooth, I steered clear of those luxuries and focused on the essentials.
Day 0 — Under budget by $0.92
A breakdown of how I spent my $28.27:
- Red split lentils ($1.69)
- Bowtie pasta ($0.99)
- Can of garbanzo beans ($0.89)
- Can of black beans ($0.89)
- Butternut squash soup ($2.79)
- Chunky peanut butter ($2.49)
- 8 corn tortillas ($1.99)
- Half-gallon of almond milk ($2.99)
- Dozen organic eggs ($3.99)
- 8-pack of maple and brown sugar oatmeal ($2.99)
- 7 bananas ($1.33)
- Bag of spinach ($1.99)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.79)
- 3 sweet potatoes ($1.47)
- Sea salt ($0.99)
I'm not a vegetarian, but meat seemed too expensive to invest in. I went back and forth on this decision, and ultimately opted out, hoping that peanut butter and eggs would provide enough protein.