November is a month when I often think about the things I am thankful for: my job, my home, and my supportive family and friends. Not everyone is so fortunate, and the other week my husband and I decided to do the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge to get a small taste of what it might be like if we weren’t so lucky. We had $60 for the week for the two of us. And through the course of this social experiment, I learned 7 important lessons.
  • I am thankful for time and planning. So my preparation for this challenge took a full week. First, I thought I was very clever for googling “cheap recipes” and making a pinterest board for recipes. I made up my shopping list, and realized, I have no idea what food costs. So I spent a few hours looking through circulars to get prices for my “perfect plan.” And it turns out my first shopping list was going to cost me over $100. So I had to go back to the drawing board, make some tough choices. I got rid of the “luxury items” I thought we could afford to help us make it through the week. After many more hours of googling and spreadsheets, I had come up with a $60 plan. Most families living on food stamps, do not have the luxury of time to plan a week’s worth of healthy affordable meals. But I am going to chalk it up as a learning curve.
  • I am thankful for technology. Like all people who live on food stamps, I headed out to Safeway with my iPad in hand, and my shopping list plan in a nice spreadsheet. Probably not the most realistic experience, but it kept me on track so I didn’t spend more than my allotted $60. The real experience I did have was the choices I had to make in the store when I realized I didn’t have enough money to get all the items on my list.
  • I am thankful for bacon. One of the sacrifices I made was to get turkey bacon at the store because regular bacon was not on sale. Turkey bacon is about ½ price of regular bacon. It tasted fine; it just tasted nothing like bacon. I was very happy when the week was over and we could go back to the real stuff.
  • I am thankful for problem solving. So a lot of my plan revolved around my Crockpot. However, it decided to go on the fritz this week and burn everything while on low. I ended up with potato soup that was more like soupy mashed potatoes, and pulled pork that ended up as burnt pork chunks. Sounds delicious right? When I came home and dinner (that was supposed to last 2 meals) was burnt, I had to do some problem solving. I salvaged what I could for dinner, and was able to concoct another meal out of my remaining ingredients. Normally, I would just go to the store and get some more food. But that was not an option. We survived, but we were a little hungrier than I would have hoped.
  • I am thankful for coffee. One of the “luxury items” we gave up was caffeine. We drink a lot of Diet Coke and coffee in our house. And we were limited to one 2 liter for the week. I decided to forgo all caffeine and leave all the Diet Coke for my husband, who was being a really good sport about the whole challenge.
  • I am thankful for my pantry. Here is the part where we cheated. Because of the unfortunate Crockpot incident, I had to change the menu a bit, and I needed an extra box of beef broth for a soup I made. I had to pull this from my existing pantry, which is against the rules. As a silver lining, we did actually have food left over from the challenge, so we still netted under $60 for the week.
  • I am thankful that I don’t have to do this every week. It was a lot of work. And definitely put our family out of our comfort zone. Our diet was very starch heavy this week, and by day 7 I was craving bacon, caffeine and fresh vegetables. Our eating and grocery shopping habits have been changed by this experience, but I am happy to not have to live every day under such constraints.

Overall, I give myself a score of 90%, I only cheated a little. I am extra thankful for my wonderful, easy- going husband, who came along for this learning experience. Food is expensive and something we all need to survive. And it makes me glad Carpenter’s Shelter has a food pantry to help supplement our formerly homeless families that are still living on the edge. I now have a much greater understanding of how important that extra food help is for a family. And I will be sure to give some extra canned goods for the Carpenter’s pantry to help those families out.