I’m happy to tell you that eating whole foods on an extremely limited budget is possible. Notice, I didn’t say easy. It takes commitment, planning and determination, but it can be done! I was surprised when I was able to purchase food for a small family of two with the amount that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) allots: $367. SNAP is to be “supplemental” but many don’t use this as a supplement to their food budget. I wanted to see if one could feed their family with the SNAP allotment.
Despite what you may have heard, processed foods are devoid of nutrients and are costly. You’ll notice that there are NO processed or junk foods on my grocery list. I did purchase items for snacks, but could NOT afford anything packaged like cookies, chips or even pancake mix. These are budget busters.
Four years ago, I did the same shopping with the SNAP allotment that was $298 at the time. I found from my little unofficial study, food has increase over 8 percent in four years. I doubted if the increase in SNAP would be enough to cover inflation, but I was able to do it. Giving this some thought, I found there were several factors, which worked in my favor. I shopped at the same store, Walmart, and priced the same products. But some things had changed.
Supply and Demand
I purchased only a few organic products: milk, eggs and bread. Since 2008, the number of organic products have increased and many have decreased in cost. That is supply and demand at work. This was my biggest surprise: organic milk had decreased in price. (It was also available as Great Value product.) I was also surprised at the number of organic products Walmart now carries. Although, it depends on the store. I found the Parker Walmart had only a fraction of organic foods that the Littleton Walmart offers.
Walmart has dramatically increased the number of their store brand, Great Value, items they offer. Store brands can offer up to a 30 percent savings on a comparable product. When Great Value was available and the ingredients were nutritious, I opted for that.
My food comparison was not one hundred percent accurate. I shopped in May of 2008 and September of 2012. For it to be an exact price comparison for the produce, I should have shopped in May. September produce is the most inexpensive of the year.
The Nonna Test
My purchases had to pass the “Nonna” test. No added sugars: especially High Fructose Corn Syrup. No altered fats: Trans Fat. No artificial colors or flavors. I prefer to eat organic foods. This would be unrealistic on a monthly budget of $300 for two. I chose to purchase organic bread, milk, and eggs. If I had a larger budget, I’d purchase all organic dairy for starters. Then I'd stay away from the Dirty Dozen.
The reason I chose to spend a bit more on organic milk is that Recombinant Growth Hormone (rGBH) is injected into cows to increase their production of milk. Organic milk and cheese comes from cows free from rBGH. There are risks to rBGH dairy: “Milk from rBGH-treated cows contains higher levels of IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor-1).
Humans also naturally have IGF-1, and increased levels in humans have been linked to colon and breast cancer. According to Dr. Epstein, rBGH milk differs from natural milk nutritionally, pharmacologically, immunologically, and hormonally, and he cites the following differences. RBGH milk contains:
- Increased levels of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1)
- Contamination with illegal antibiotics and drugs used to treat mastitis and other rBGH-induced diseases, as well as pus from increased rates of mastitis among the cows injected with rBGH
- Increased levels of the thyroid hormone enzyme thyroxin-5'-monodeiodinase
- Reduced casein content (a milk protein)
- Increased concentration of long-chain fatty acids and decreased concentration of short-chain fatty acids
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