The June Food Stamp Challenge begins
My friend Katy over at the NonConsumer Advocate lit a fire under her followers to take the June Food Stamp Challenge. I won’t go into parameters, so check her out for all the details, but the idea is to live on a food stamp budget — what you would get for your family if you were living on food stamps — and, if you are so moved, donate the difference in what you spend vs what you would have normally spent on food. (We’ll be donating to the Alameda Food Bank.) Katy has a chart on her blog site about how much to spend per family/person, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going with $101 per family member. So in plain Julia-speak, that means my family grocery budget for the entire month of June is $454.50. That’s $101 per family member (4) plus half of that for The Boy who lives her half-time.
The Boy, age 12, adds another special element to the mix. I am not including his weekday breakfast or lunch expenses for half of June. We normally give him pocket money for lunches, or he can spend it on something else and make his own lunch for school. Same with his breakfast. Well, when I was a hungrier gal and a food bank client, my daughters all received free school breakfast and lunch. My assumption for the first half of the month is that The Boy is “receiving free lunches.” Therefore, we’re not counting those meals. School is out in 2 weeks, so I will count his breakfasts and lunches with us then.
Today got off to a good start. I read the grocery circular, had my coupons clipped, had a list ready, and collected my shopping bags. Since my store (Lucky) gives a 5 cent per bag refund, I always take my bags. Trusty middle daughter Simone went along and was my sidekick.
Great find at the supermarket: a 10 lb. bag of chicken leg quarters for $5.80. I had planned to get one bag, but thought it over and bought 2. Other good buys: a 4 lb block of colby-jack cheese for $11; a 5-lb bag of carrots for $3.29; a 10-lb bag of potatoes for $3.99. We got 4 packages of sausages (Italian, bratwurst, etc.) with the coupon for a total of $12, and buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) California strawberries. I had planned to buy good seasonal fruit at the farmers’ market today anyway, so since these were local (Santa Cruz/Watsonville), it was a good deal. Local corn was 5 for $1. I was going to buy just the 5, but went for 15 for $3. I plan to toss some in the freezer for later, and make some corn chowder and corn salad, too. Good price, local produce, good stuff.
I had a little debate about the milk — my poverty mind said “Buy 2 gallons of no-name brand for $5.” But my local-food advocate won, preferring to support local dairies and California cows. I spent $4.29 — almost double the cost of the cheap milk — for one gallon but I feel better about the purchase. And to be honest, we aren’t really drinking that much milk anymore — so the other gallon might have gone to waste, or some of it. One of the things I want to prove, besides mere survival here, is that you can eat well — even on food stamps — if you stick to basic good food. I want to drink good milk, not pay for bogus “organic” stuff shipped from back East when I can support a local dairy farmer whose cows get to roam the Contra Costa, Sonoma or Marin hills. It just feels better all around.
Total at the grocery store, including the extra purchases of more corn and more chicken, was $68.82. I took $30 with me to the farmers’ market and spent it all. I came away with 20 eggs, 4 heads of lettuce, a bunch of beets with greens, chard, zucchini, 2 lbs of cherries; 4 lbs of apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines ($1.50 per pound, so I just filled a bag), 3 red and one yellow bell pepper, and 2 lbs of tomatoes. All of this was locally grown (within 100 miles), organic (no pesticides), and direct from the farmers who grew them. I brought my own shopping bags, and my own smaller vegetable bags that I made from muslin a while bag. No plastic for me!
We share in a bread program at a local non-profit, which takes delivery of day-old bread from Panera twice a week. We go and pick up a couple of loaves of artisanal bread for free. I also take broken loaves, heels and odd baked goods from the site, to feed the chickens. We made a stop there, and there was hardly any bread. I took one large loaf of whole wheat bread (unsliced). One loaf of bread: $0.
Back at the house, I grabbed a glass of water and heated up last night’s leftovers while I put food away. All that chicken has to go somewhere — it was not frozen. I put aside 3 leg quarters for tonight’s dinner, then separated the rest into 3 or 4 leg quarters. We had some sauces on hand — a little bit of marinade, a little bit of BBQ sauce, a little bit of teriyaki sauce. I took some ziplock bags from my stash — these were previously used and then washed to be used again — and put chicken into each. I added various sauces to use up what was on hand. One of them got some leftover chopped onion thrown in, and another got the last bit of horseradish from the fridge. I wrote on the bags and froze them. They will marinate as they defrost in the future weeks.
Now here’s a dirty secret you probably share with me. We have a large jar — I might as well call it a keg — that used to hold A LOT of pickles. It now holds all the condiment packages from various fast food places. In keeping with my food stamp budget, I had not purchased any sauces. True that I had some leftover stuff “in stock,” but I also froze some chicken plain, to be cooked and shredded for other meals. The last three bags were assembled thusly: In Bag A, I put all the little BBQ sauce packets from leftover chicken nugget meals. Then I added a bunch of ketchup packets and mustard packets, plus a spoonful of honey and some black pepper. Bag A became BBQ sauce. Bag B received many soy sauce packets, leftover teriyaki dipping sauce and some garlic for a Japanese-style chicken. Bag C received several packets of gyoza dipping sauce, hot oil, rice vinegar, Chinese mustard and soy sauce, plus leftover sweet and sour sauce from other chicken nuggets. Bag C is Chinese spicy chicken.
I now have 7 other meals pre-prepped for later in the month, at a cost of next to zero for the sauce mixes, and about 50 cents per leg quarter. All of these meals are frozen. I can add pasta, potatoes or rice and have healthful meals for very little money. The cost of the bags, by the way, was also $0.
Tonight’s meal consisted of 3 leg quarters, cut up and rolled in a bit of milk and homemade bread crumbs (more of that day-old bread, reincarnated), baked for “oven-fried” chicken. We also had corn, and I cooked a couple of extra ears to make a corn salad for Mr Husband’s lunch tomorrow. We also had brussels sprouts from the freezer, but they were not good. They had been in the ice too long and tasted B-A-D. We added some fruit and put the sprouts into the chicken bucket. At least someone will eat them. Blech! Drinks were sun-tea (made over the weekend) and water. Mr Husband drinks club soda, a store brand, bought by the liter. I don;t think you can buy that with food stamps — since you can’t buy alcohol or soda. I am counting it in my food budget in any case because he consumes it and I paid for it!
I estimate our dinner to cost us $1.50 for the chicken, $1 for the corn, and $1 worth of fruit. The sprouts had been given to me in the fall from a friend and did not cost anything, but they were a loss. I was looking forward to the nutrition of a green, cruciferous vegetable. Too bad they tasted so sulfuric. The good news is that there are leftovers for lunch tomorrow. So this inexpensive but healthful meal turns out to be two meals. We fed 3 on this food tonight. Total cost per person was about $1.25 for dinner tonight.
My grocery shopping is intended to last the week, and set us back $98.82. That leaves me about $13 to buy more milk or other food we run out of before next week, using a quarter of my month’s budget on this week’s food shopping.
So far so good on the food stamp challenge.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.
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