$4.50/day (or $31.50/wk.) is the national average food stamp allotment for about 49 million Americans. Could you do it? I’m pretty frugal and my husband, Jim, (who does most of the cooking in our family) is a careful and health conscious grocery shopper. We decided to try to do it as part of the National Food Stamp Challenge. I am passing the challenge on to my readers.

Several background articles are: Interfaith Groups Kick Off National Food Stamp Challenge and The Food Stamp Diet and How It’s Different from Being Poor, and a You Tube video about grocery shopping.

The problem is that often the healthiest and most socially responsible way to eat can cost more money and time to buy local, organic, fair trade foods, and avoid fast foods. Eating out quickly busts the budget. Jim and I have been moving in the direction of eating healthier for a while. We’ve reduced meat, increased organic, and drink more water than juice; but we’re not purists. (I love my chocolate and it’s not all dark.)

Although the most recent National Food Stamp Challenge took place the week Oct. 27 – Nov. 6, 2011, I thought that this would be a valuable Lenten experience. We will start on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Our goal is to do it for all of Lent, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my health for an awareness raising experience. It may be that we only do it for a week if we find it insane and unhealthy to continue.

Although I won’t be starting for another week, I can already see several questions that I will need to decide soon.

  1. Can we supplement with food that we already have stored in the house?  Hmmm, probably not (or only minimally with staples like flour, sugar, and salt), if it is to be a true experience.
  2. What about eating out?  That would probably blow the budget in one meal.
  3. What if people bring us food, invite us over for dinner, or offer a snack at a meeting?  We’ll have to find a way to calculate that in. Any ideas?
  4. What about eating while traveling?  Eating is so much less expensive when you cook at home, but we have several trips planned during Lent. How should we count this necessary eating out?
  5. What about economy of scale?  Cooking for two means we have $9/day to spend. (Cooking for six would mean we had $27/day.) Food goes further when you buy in bulk.


  • The purest way to do the Food Stamp Challenge would probably be to shop for a week’s worth of food, store it separately, and only eat this food for a week.
  • Since we’re aiming for six weeks, however, we have the advantage of buying in larger quantities (thus making it cheaper per serving). The disadvantage is that calculating the use of staples that we have on hand (or that will last us more than six weeks) is a trial for my math challenged mind and may take more record keeping and receipt checking than I care to do. We’ll see.

Lent may be too long. Heck, we may find that one week is too long – or too complicated to keep track of. For an ordinary family it may be enough to try it for one day. Whatever you do, it will be enough if your heart and wallet become more open to the reality of our fellow Americans – and those are just our neighbors close to home. Let me know if you try it. I’ll blog more frequently during this Lent since I think I’ll be thinking about food  a lot and have ideas to share and questions to ask. Stay tuned.