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Can You Grocery-Shop Smarter Than a Celebrity? (Hint: Yes!)

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Karla P. Shelnutt, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen quite a few Facebook, Twitter and blog posts commenting on well-known actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s attempt at the so-called “SNAP Challenge.” For those who don’t know, the SNAP Challenge challenges those living in relative comfort to find out what it’s like to live on the food budget experienced by Americans relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

What is SNAP?

SNAP (you may know it by its former name–“food stamps”) is a federal program to assist Americans who need help making ends meet when it comes to putting food on the table. The average daily supplement for SNAP recipients is $4.15 per person per day, or $29 per person per week. For a family of 4, that’s $116 per week. Three-quarters of SNAP benefits go to families with children.

Paltrow’s Attempt

In her attempt at the challenge, Gwyneth got herself into hot water for making some shopping choices that many considered out of touch or unrealistic. (She also eventually “cheated,” by her own admission.) For example, although she did purchase eggs, black beans, brown rice, and corn tortillas, most of the rest of her choices, while healthy, had little caloric value. (Cilantro, one tomato, one ear of corn, one jalapeno, and seven limes?)  One blogger suggested that on average, her purchases would provide only about 1000 calories a day—not enough for the average American woman, let alone a physically active man.

Getting By on a Limited Food Budget

But does the failure of this actress and “lifestyle blogger” to come up with a realistic shopping list on this budget represent her own privilege—or is SNAP just inadequate? Experts point out the “S” in SNAP stands for “supplemental,” meaning that the program is intended to supplement citizens’ own spending on food. Still, there’s no doubt that the support is fairly low, and that it can be hard to come up with a healthy, balanced diet that provides enough food for the week on this amount.

Government and Extension nutritionists and other experts are aware of this, too! With that in mind, they’ve have worked hard to come up with recipes, plans, and other ideas to help those on SNAP–and anyone living on a tight grocery budget. We’d like to share a few today.

Extension and USDA Resources for Thrifty Shoppers

First of all, MyPlate, nutritional guidance for Americans put out by the USDA, offers lots of resources for those looking to eat healthy for less. The USDA also has a special section with hundreds of recipes designed to be low-cost and easy to prepare. Cost per serving and total cost is listed for each recipe. You’ll find another USDA “Healthy Eating on a Budget” cookbook here. Spend Smart, Eat Smart is another great resource offering budget recipes (also with cost per serving) and shopping tips from Iowa State University Extension. And here’s Food Hero, yet another great website with easy, healthful low-cost recipes, from University of Oregon Extension!

Need general budgeting and shopping help? Check out these Frugal Shopping Tips for Families from the University of Florida Extension, 101 Ways to Save Food Dollars from Alabama Cooperative Extension, and 16 Tips to Help you Save at the Supermarket from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Here’s a longer list of additional resources from the people at SNAP themselves.

SNAP and FNP Eligibility and Benefits

Are you wondering if you (or someone you know) might be eligible for SNAP food assistance? Visit this page to find out who can receive SNAP. Here in Florida, the University of Florida IFAS Extension Service also offers great educational programs for SNAP recipients through its Family Nutrition Program. If you live in Florida and receive SNAP benefits, you are eligible to participate in these classes, which teach everything from cooking and gardening skills to stretching your food dollar at the store. Visit this page to see if your county has the Family Nutrition Program.

There’s no question that it can be really tough to provide fresh, healthy, and adequate food for the family when finances get tight, whether or not you receive benefits. Fortunately, many resources have been developed to help. Gwyneth Paltrow may not quite have the skills to manage the SNAP challenge just yet, but you can!

Further Reading:

SNAP

Family Nutrition Program at UF-IFAS Extension

Healthy Eating on a Budget

USDA SNAP Recipes

Spend Smart, Eat Smart

10 Steps to Help You Fill Your Grocery Bag Through SNAP

Raising Healthy Children: Frugal Shopping Tips for Families

16 Tips to Help you Save at the Supermarket

101+ Ways to Save Food Dollars

References:

Brink, R. V. (2015). What $29 a week for food looks like for actual low-income people (and not Gwyneth Paltrow). Retrieved from http://www.thefrisky.com/2015-04-10/what-29-a-week-for-food-looks-like-for-actual-low-income-people-and-not-gwyneth-paltrow/

SNAP to Health. (2015). SNAP: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/

USDA. (2014). Facts about SNAP. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/facts-about-snap

USDA. (2014). SNAP applicants and recipients. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/applicants-recipients

Photo Credits: Fuse/Model and property released/Thinkstock