Buying “Healthy” on a SNAP Budget
In 2017, The USDA reported that SNAP user’s top two purchases across the board were milk and soft drinks. The report also included that $0.40 of every SNAP dollar went to fruits, vegetables, bread, milk, and eggs. Another $0.40 went to packaged meals, cereal, milk, rice, and beans. The remaining $0.20 goes to soft drinks, chips, salty snacks, and desserts. It’s no secret that not all SNAP recipients are using their assistance to purchase healthy foods. But let’s not start making assumptions and criticize these purchases. I would like to remind you that nutrition is rarely taught in schools and doctors rarely offer advice on the subject; so instead of jumping to conclusions about why SNAP recipients are purchasing sodas and other “junk foods” let’s explore how to change these purchases!
Your SNAP dollars can be used for meals that will last so much longer through your week and month, truly stretching your dollar further. In return, hopefully you will have fewer sick days, or at least feel a little more energized by your new grocery shopping methods. The average household of 4 receiving SNAP benefits in Texas gets approximately $460/ month in benefits (based off of internet research, this number could look different for many recipients). That comes out to a budget of $160 per week. Staying on budget is so important, and to help with that, meal planning is key. I will go through what $160 worth of healthy breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners looks like.
My adventure takes me to a local HEB where I did some “healthy” shopping. I created a sample weekly meal plan for a family of four using this budget.
First up breakfast for a week. Try to buy items that can be used in multiple ways; this will stretch your dollar even more. Opt for store brands when cheaper. If buying processed meats, like bacon and sausage; try to choose natural products or ones with reduced sodium. This bacon was one of our “splurge” items at $4.97 per package, but well worth it! 100% whole wheat bread is healthiest, and was only $1.29, just a few cents more than white breads. Choose plain yogurts, in place of ones already flavored (those are loaded with added sugars); instead add your own natural sweeteners like honey and fruits. Sweeten your oatmeal the same way! Make sure to add plenty of fruits and veggies too (ours are in later pictures!)
Eggs- 18 ct: $2.86
Bacon- 2 pkgs: $4.97 x 2= $9.94
Plain low-fat yogurt: $1.98
Oats- 42 oz: $1.95
Honey- 12 oz: $2.55
Orange juice + calcium – ½ gal: $1.78
1% Milk- 1 gal: $1.98
100% whole wheat bread- $1.29
Next up is lunch. Sandwiches are a good affordable option. We chose turkey or ham with cheese, and peanut butter +banana + honey. Mix it up each day to keep it interesting. Bulk cheese that you cut yourself is cheaper than buying already sliced cheese, plus it’s natural! When choosing peanut butter, pick the brand with the least amount of sugar. If in the budget, choose lower sodium or natural varieties of lunch meat. Use leftover bacon from breakfast & veggies from dinner to add more flavor to your sandwich.
100% whole wheat bread: $1.29
Mandarin oranges: $3.98
Bananas: $0.48 per pound, ~$1.44
Turkey- 10 oz: $2.50
Ham- 12 oz: $2.50
Peanut butter- 16 oz: $2.88
Cheese- 32 oz: $6.32
Snacks are encouraged throughout the day (as long as they’re healthy!) Here’s some great options: cheese cubes, fresh fruits & veggies, hummus, salsa, peanut butter + crackers, nuts, dried fruit & even popcorn (with less salt added). Buying snacks in bulk can help you save money; they usually last more than a week.
Baby carrots- 32 oz: $1.84
Unsweetened applesauce- 46 oz: $1.98
Trail mix- 42 oz: $7.98
Popcorn- 5 oz: $1.79
Pretzels- 15 oz: $1.50
Kiwis- 3/$1: $2.00
Hummus- 10 oz: $1.89
Dinners can easily be the most expensive meal of the day. We chose items that can be used in multiple dishes and days. When choosing box, canned or bottled items choose ones that are lower in sodium and sugar or have none added at all. Canned & frozen vegetables/ fruits are just as healthy as fresh ones and are sometimes cheaper. Choose unseasoned meats, and season them yourself. Some of the meals we chose will make leftovers or have enough items leftover to make another meal.
Meal 1: BBQ Pork, baked potatoes & green beans
Pork chops- 9 ct: $ 7.69
Baked potatoes- 5 lbs: $2.98
BBQ sauce- 14 oz: $2.00
Green beans- 2 cans: $0.78 x 2= $1.56
Meal 2: Italian chicken, brown rice & broccoli
Chicken breasts: $10.38
Salad dressing- 14 oz: $1.86
Broccoli- 12 oz: $1.28 x 2= $2.56
Brown rice- 16 oz: $0.67
Meal 3: Sausage, rice & veggies
Beef sausage- 12 oz: $3.99 x 2= $7.98
Frozen vegetables- 14 oz: $1.98 x 2= $3.96
Meal 4: Turkey tacos or quesadillas w/ salsa
Black beans- 15 oz: $0.78 x 2= $1.56
Avocados- $0.68 x 2= $1.36
Ground turkey- 1 lb: $2.49
Corn- 15.25 oz= $0.78
Meal 5: Turkey spaghetti with salad & zucchini
Organic salad mix- $3.98
Cherry tomatoes- $1.68
Cucumbers- 2 x $0.50= $1.00
Ground turkey- 1 lb: $2.49
Wheat noodles- 16 oz: $1.28
Zucchini- $0.98/ lb
Spaghetti sauce- 24 oz: $1.89
Our total for dinner was $66.15; bringing our total
weekly amount to around $130 for all meals. We chose to go under the $160 mark to allow for price differences and to allow for individual food preferences.
Healthy living is possible on a budget, it just takes careful planning. Feel free to mix up these options and meals; just because it says it’s a dinner item, doesn’t mean it can’t be a lunch or breakfast meal!
—- Jade Mitchell, Nutrition Educator
—- Kelley Kocurek, RD Intern
**Copyright disclaimer: We do not own the rights to any of the brands and products shown in these pictures. We are using these pictures to help promote healthy and affordable living. All pictures were taken at HEB.**