Food Stamp Budget — Eating Well on Little CAN Be Done!

Thank you, Beth O’Brien, for your comments and alerting me to this story.

Recently, the Omaha World-Herald ran this article about some Nebraska state senators attempting to eat for a month on a food stamp budget “in order to draw attention to the lack of healthy food available to low-income families” in Omaha.

I was really taken aback by the comments made by our elected representatives, and the fact that they really aren’t trying to learn how to resolve the education component of the EBT/SNAP program.  A lack of healthy food available?  I don’t believe it!  Not available to low-income families?  That’s what the EBT is for: to make healthy foods available to those in need of assistance.

The article states that Sen. Heath Mello bought a loaf of wheat bread, a half-gallon of skim milk, peanut butter, jelly and Frosted Mini-Wheats for “less than $16.85” and that was all he ate all week. 

SERIOUSLY?!  That’s what you got for that amount?!  Of course that’s not a good diet!  But no matter where you shop, you can do much better!

An apple, an orange and a banana cost about $1 total Sunday in Omaha, which would have been healthy additions to that diet.  A can of tuna is about .60.  Lettuce is silly cheap right now, as are eggs at $1/dozen.  These aren’t outrageous bargains, and don’t even include price matching or coupons.

Look around on this site, or any of several similar, and you’ll know that it is possible to eat very well on a budget of less than $101 per month.  (That’s what the average food assistance allowance was at last reporting — go HERE for details from fedgov.)  I wish I had that budget!  I reported throughout 2010 that I was feeding my family of four for less than $80/Week (about $80/month each).  I actually came in $565.39 UNDER that budget for the year — roughly $69/month each.  So $101 is entirely doable!

I offered to walk with Sen. Mello to his neighborhood store (does food assistance really mean no transportation?), make smart, nutritious choices, and show him how the program is designed to work.  He’s not interested.  He told me he did this to “learn as a lawmaker.” I told him he could learn how to improve information programs for assistance recipients, and that would be a great use of state resources.  Still no.

Actually, I think the senators went in with a predetermined mindset: show people that it isn’t possible to eat well on a food stamp budget.  They didn’t put much thought into trying to make it work properly.  Believe it can work, and you can make it work!  Or, alternatively, you can try to convince everyone else that it needs more money.  (Psst!  That won’t address the education problem and help people in need!)

I am confident that even shopping just one grocery store, even walking there, and abandoning couponing for the duration (gasp!), one can eat a well-balanced, healthful diet, full of nutrients, flavor and variety.  And one can maintain this diet on a low budget for a very long time.

So, Sen. Mello, if you aren’t up for a grocery shopping education, might I suggest you dig around this blog for a while and come up with your own healthy budget grocery plan?  Why not also try these sites:

University of Nebraska extension service publications

USDA “Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals

$1/Day eating blog

Let’s be realistic: low income does not mean poor eating habits.  Not anymore than other stereotypes!  Someone who had been on assistance once told me that she was required to sit through a talk on proper use and tips for using the EBT to create nutritious meals.  If that’s not happening these days, maybe there should be educational information:  Menu plans with food bags.  Meal ideas.  Nutrition info.  Tips on making healthy choices.

Wouldn’t that be more helpful than just proclaiming “it’s too difficult to eat well?”


4 thoughts on “Food Stamp Budget — Eating Well on Little CAN Be Done!

  1. In all fairness, the other senators quoted also seemed unwilling to take a positive approach. Also in fairness, Sen. Mello is the only senator who responded to my emails!

    I discovered that Angel Food Ministries takes SNAP! Wow! Deep grocery discounts (even balanced, pre-made meals, and after-school snack kits for kids), AND you can use assistance. There are distribution centers all over Omaha for Angel Food ( So for the point of view that low-income families can’t get nutritious foods, or don’t have time to shop (with which I disagree), here’s an incredible option!


  2. I read that article, too and was surprised at Sen. Mello’s comments. He couldn’t look at the store flyers? Match sales? Buy a paper and use some coupons? Kudos, Lisa, for offering to shop with him. I’m not surprised, though, that he wouldn’t go with you. Sadly, some people just aren’t interested in saving money.


  3. Thanks, Jill. As you’ve learned, life ain’t easy, but eating right is certainly doable on a low budget. I think all of us worry about food prices, and getting proper nutrition. But just because it doesn’t fall from the sky, doesn’t mean it’s not there. You’re a smart gal, Jill.


  4. I saw that too. I have a family of 6 and we had been on food stamps for years. We averaged about 240 a month of food stamps plus about 100 of our own money.

    It takes doing and a lot of dedication but you can make it work on very little money for food and eat decent. If the senator would of got his weekly flyers and price matched at no frills or walmart, he could have done so much better! With the use of a few coupons, he would have really done well.
    Eating crap is cheaper and easier but eating healthy food on a strict small budget is possible! As long as you are not brand loyal and willing to eat the produce that is on sale it can be done.


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