Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The SNAP Challenge

I have been following the Cory Booker/SNAP Challenge with great interest. Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, NJ. SNAP is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Someone following Booker on Twitter challenged him to live on SNAP for a week. He'll be starting his challenge on today, December 4. You can see how it's going at #SNAPChallenge on Twitter, and UB SNAP Food Challenge on Facebook (you can see the rules for the challenge there too). The short story is you need to spend no more than $5/day/person for all your food and drink. This is not an easy challenge.

I'm going to offer some hints on how to eat on a mere $5/day on this blog going forward. Though School of Eating Good does not set a upper limit on the cost of meals, we do bring you delicious real food on a budget. This challenge is a great way to focus on eating decent food on a very strict budget, and I love a challenge!

First, forget about processed food. You pay a premium for food that someone else has prepared for you. Processed food that looks really cheap isn't. That's because the ingredients used in cheap processed foods are absolutely the lowest cost/lowest quality foods they can find. If you are on a budget, provide your own labor, cook it yourself and select real ingredients that are naturally cheaper: grains, beans, potatoes, frozen vegetables (often reliably cheaper than fresh but still nutritious), and sticking to sales for more expensive things like fruit, fresh veggies, and meat. I don't want to minimize the effort required for this. If you have a family and a job, cooking feels like another job, and that is the last thing you need.

So, in these posts, we will focus on recipes that make good food with the minimum of effort and cost. I will give prices, based on local food prices where I live, which is Boulder, Colorado. To further complicate it, I will shop at the supermarket closest to my house. It's a Safeway and within walking distance. I will also compare the made-from-scratch  version with the processed equivalent.

Let's start with some breakfast. A cup of dry rolled oats (either quick or old-fashioned) costs 30¢. That's 300 calories of oats. 300 calories of instant oatmeal costs 75¢. Many store-brand cold cereals are also very cost-effective. Corn flakes cost 47¢ for 300 calories of cereal.

Oatmeal with Raisins
(serves 2-4, costs $1.26)

2 cups milk
2 cups water
2 cups rolled old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
¼ cup raisins
a large pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

Place the milk, water, oats, raisins, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir, scraping the bottom so the oatmeal doesn't stick. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 3 minutes for quick oats and 5 minutes for old-fashioned oats. Make sure to stir a couple of times while it's cooking to keep it from sticking. Stir in sugar, if desired, and serve.

The raisins and the milk add some sweetness to the oats. If you think it isn't sweet enough, add the optional sugar. This isn't supposed to be terribly sweet. It's breakfast, not dessert.

If you boil the milk and water before adding the oats, the oats will be a bit chewier and less creamy. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

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