Could you eat healthy on a food stamp budget?

Compiled by Amy McDonald, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Sun, June 29, 2014, 7:30 a.m. MDT

 Leanne Brown supplied this recipe for Savory Summer Cobbler, and others, in her new cookbook dedicated to families living on SNAP.

Leanne Brown supplied this recipe for Savory Summer Cobbler, and others, in her new cookbook dedicated to families living on SNAP.

(Courtesy Leanne Brown)

About one in every six Americans — or 47 million — are on SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional assistance Program, formeraly known as food stamps, according to the Food and Nutrition Service.

They receive about $4 a day for food, although the figure varies by family size and income, and some argue that contributes to the poor experiencing higher rates of obesity because they can't afford healthier, less calorie-dense foods, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

But Leanne Brown, a graduate student in food studies at New York University, dedicated her thesis to creating a cookbook of healthy recipes specifically for families living on SNAP, vox.com reports.

"The idea of the book … is to promote the idea that poorer Americans can eat good, healthy food," Danielle Kurtzleben writes. "The book more than succeeds in making low-cost cooking look appetizing. Thanks to artful photos of cheap, fashionable vegetables like kale and broccoli rabe, many of the foods wouldn't look out of place in a Mark Bittman column or on Martha Stewart's website.

"There's also something to be said for lending some dignity to a difficult food situation. But even though individual recipes could be entries in a foodie blog, the overall diet is rather more restrictive," Kurtzleben continues.

The cookbook, "Good and Cheap," is available for free in PDF format, or people can back the project on Kick Starter and get a printed copy of the cookbook.

Several writers have taken "the SNAP challenge" to try to eat on just $4.50 a day for a set period of time (a week or longer). Rebecca Burns spent a week eating "the most nutritious food we could" on the SNAP budget, eating roasted vegetables, lentils, beans and one pork loin.

She wrote in Atlanta Magazine: "As the week wrapped up, my attitude about the challenge had changed. Yes, it’s an artificial construct. But the exercise of living on this budget is a valuable one. It’s easy to brush aside the day-to-day lives of poor people, thinking, 'Oh, we help with food and housing through taxes and benefits,' without pausing to reflect on whether those benefits sustain even a basic standard of living."

“Tomorrow we can go back to our regular lifestyle,” Burns' husband told her. “But for other people this goes on week after week after week."

SNAP, of course, is meant to supplement a family's food budget. But as Burns writes, "for many poor people SNAP represents all the funds available for food. For those who rely on SNAP — or are waiting to qualify or been denied by state or federal policies — the difference between eating and starving can come in the form of food distributed by groups."

Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams also took on the SNAP challenge and found that it is doable. "Over the past few days, I've made soups and sauteed sausages. I've baked bread and made yogurt and jam. I've sent the kids into the kitchen to make chili. These things aren't hard to do. They take a little thought and work, but why shouldn't nourishing yourself take a little thought and work? And what concerns me is that I suspect my daughters and I are eating a more healthy, balanced and pleasurable diet on a food stamp budget than a lot of families with a whole lot more to spend."

But Vox's Kurtzleben notes that one of the reasons eating healthy on SNAP "might not be feasible" is because of "time poverty."

In a 2010 University of Washington study, "researches found that cooking foods on the plan often meant a low-income family had to spend more than the normal amount of time on kitchen prep."

So while Brown's SNAP cookbook may help low-income families navigate cooking skills and making affordable, nutritious meals, it may not be easy, just "a bit easier."

"I hope (the cookbook) is helpful, but I know it's still not going to be easy to get by on a regular basis," Brown told Vox. "To really have a truly amazing diet you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I know a lot of people won't be able to do that."


Twitter | @amymcdonald89

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1. Light and Liberty
St. George/Washington, UT,
June 29, 2014

A better question is why do we have 47 million people on food stamps and why do we have so many citizens putting up with a president and congress that are the main reasons for such. I find it it stunning at a minimum that so many otherwise intelligent human beings would act as if there is nothing that can be done about it. I want those 47 million eating like the kings that Americas, freed from government greed and a tyrant's joy should be experiencing!

2. sally
Kearns, UT,
June 29, 2014

Time poverty? We all have the same 24 hours per day. Many of us have learned to use crockpots so meals are ready when we need them. Prep time is the night before or on the weekends. Many of us live on tight budgets and time, so we learn to adjust our lives to meet the needs of our family. Great time for children to learn new skills in cooking and organization. It also helps in reading and math skills.

3. samhill
Salt Lake City, UT,
June 29, 2014

What utter nonsense!

As mentioned, this is called the Nutritional Assistance Program because it is meant as just that. It is **not** intended to fund the entirety of someone's food expenses. Nor should it.

Like all other "assistance" programs, of which there are many, SNAP has grown incredibly during the last few years. It is not mere coincidence that this is also the term of Obama's presidency.

Observing the the continuous blossoming of these various forms of income/wealth redistributions, all part of the socialist formula for government administered "equality", I am increasingly convinced that, like so much else from our taxes that drip back on us from those all-wise and all-knowing government managerial types, they are **always** doomed to be inefficient, insufficient and generally, ineffective.

More than anything else, these various programs are merely manifestations of the highest ideal of governmental agencies, of all organisms really. That is, of course, self-preservation.

And, when it comes to governments, that is best done through continually increasing power and influence. Which, conversely, means a continually decreasing power and influence by those subjected by government. Namely, the people. More specifically, each one of us.

4. Tully Bascomb
Logan, UT,
June 29, 2014

$4 a day for food, huh? I assume that's per person, too. Well, that doesn't sound too bad. It's almost twice what we spend for food. My wife and I have wondered sometimes how difficult it would be to go on food stamps and almost double our food budget.

In reality, one of the challenges that many on food stamps face is they do not know how to cook. Many times diets consist of prepared food that is both expensive and not the most nutritious (usually high in sodium, sugar, etc. . .). In this situation it is difficult to buy enough food on $4/day per person. Additionally, in a household where both parents work, and in single parent households, sometimes time to prepare food can be an issue.

I suggest a partial solution: Require those who receive govt. assistance for food to attend cooking classes where they learn to prepare food that is both less expensive and more nutritious than what they might otherwise eat. Then the amount of food stamp assistance could be decreased (saving $$$), people would hopefully eat more healthily, and, uh, maybe a few jobs would be created (pay people to teach the cooking classes).

5. E & EE
Ann arbor, MI,
June 29, 2014

I'm skeptical about the $4 a day part. I know a family of four (mom, dad, and two young kids) who receive about $800 a month from food stamps. It's ridiculous! I spend about $240 a month for my (small) family and feel like we eat just fine. And we could definitely find ways to cut back if we needed to. Budgeting isn't really that hard.