Eating healthy on food stamp budget


Just $4.50 a day. That’s the SNAP Challenge.

As we wrap up September, we leave Hunger Awareness Month and find ourselves hungry for change.

Here’s how it breaks down financially for my family of five. At $4.50 per person a day in a 30-day month, the total food budget comes to $675 for the entire month. I shop biweekly, so my budget is $337.50 for two shopping trips per month. I’ve actually been shopping this way for years and have been able to bring our family’s average closer to $4 a day and eat nutritional, whole foods as well as the occasional splurge on pizza or indulgent trip to our favorite frozen yogurt place.

Here’s a sneak peak into how I do it and how you can, too.

Make a plan

Decide what you’re going to eat before heading to the store. Your plan can be as simple as writing out your dinners on a piece of paper or as sophisticated as using an online plan or somewhere in between. The point is to have a plan and stick to it.

Write it down

Check your pantry and cupboards. Find out what you already have and then make your grocery list. Because we’re all human and either forget to write something down or see an item at the store that we “must have,” give yourself a 5 percent margin outside of your list as long as it stays within your budget. That means if you have 50 items on your list, you can add 2.5 non-list items. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it will help you stay on track.

Shop the outside first

The most nutritional food is on the perimeter of your grocery aisles. Spend the bulk of your budget here.

Because fresh produce is fresh, you may want to use a fruit and vegetable wash to keep your fruit and veggies cleaner and fresher longer.

Think whole foods and grains over pre-packaged items. Keep in mind that when you buy a pre-packaged meal you are paying for packaging and convenience and not nutrition.

I do understand the need for some occasional convenience meals.

Remember, we’re a family of five. We have three kids in three different schools and all play a sport. We’re also a family with two adults working full time.

Believe me, I understand the need for convenience. However, once you get into the habit of planning and prepping, the need for convenience items will significantly decrease.

Prep for success

Once you get your food home, take the time to clean your fruit and vegetables. Chop, cut, slice and separate your veggies into ready to go snack bags for a quick grab-and-go.

Brown your ground beef and store it in freezer bags for a quick addition to soups or pastas. This will take some time, but it’s also a great way to get the whole family involved and will teach your kids the value of good, nutrient-filled food.

Learn to cook

Ah, yes ... cooking. It takes time, energy and, strangely, just a little skill. Cookbooks, online recipes, cooking shows and family heirloom recipes abound.

There’s really no reason for anyone to use the excuse, “I can’t cook.” Yes, you can. It might not be a five-star meal, but you can read a recipe and if you follow it, will find food success.


By following a few simple tips you are on your way to enjoying a healthier lifestyle and a smaller food budget. SNAP’s $4.50 per person per day can be done and it can be done while enjoying food that’s good, nutritionally sound and even local.

If you need help to make this happen for your family, contact your local health and nutrition professionals. We are happy to help you.

Leslie Snyder is senior program director of Healthy Living at the Walla Walla YMCA. She holds national certifications in group fitness, personal training and as a health coach. She can be reached at


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