Skip to comments.Mother Strives for Healthful Meals on a Budget
Posted on 08/07/2007 11:00:37 AM PDT by NEMDF
Slice: Mother strives for healthful meals on a budget
Sandra Shepard has to make the $500 food stamp allotment she receives reach to the end of the month. She plans carefully so that she will be able to feed her family of five, including, daughter Macole Shepard, 13, and son Dominic Shepard, 10.At half past noon, the No. 30 rolls up. And the family's monthly marketing ritual is on.
Shepard's next three hours will be filled with comparison pricing and child pleas. It will wrap up with 33 plastic grocery bags and a crowded cab ride.
Not a suburban soccer mom's ideal afternoon, but Shepard doesn't mind.
The 44-year-old mother has no job, no car and no husband to share the bills. In her world wracked by financial instability, the monthly shopping trip offers a welcome bit of control.
The tricky part is stretching her food stamp allotment to feed her family of five.
Providing nutritious fare for a little more than $1 per meal per family member is challenging - and it's getting more so every month.
* * *
Grocery prices are soaring at the highest rate in years.
Not since 1980 has the annual growth rate of food bills been as high, said Steve Reed, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fresh vegetables and fruit helped drive up grocery costs 4.6 percent in June compared with a year ago. That's faster than the 2.7 percent inflation rate during that period.
Combine the squeeze at the supermarket with increasing demands on time, and
we're all in danger of falling short of hitting the U.S. Department of Agriculture measures for fit and healthy Americans.
Consider: Only one in five people eats the recommended daily amount of fruit; kids eat less than half the fruits and veggies our federal government advises; and obesity in youngsters is on the rise.
Failure to pull it all off could mean low performance at school or work and raise a number of health problems.
Nationwide, roughly 26 million people receive food stamps on debit-type plastic cards. Shepard is among the 120,000 or so in Nebraska. Half the recipients are children.
For them, the challenge is magnified with every trip to the grocery store.
* * *
When the No. 30 reaches the No Frills intersection, several passengers quickly jaywalk toward the store.
Shepard pauses, her bad foot still smarting from a slip on the ice while walking home from a party in December.
The broken bones have temporarily exempted her from food stamp work requirements.
When she gets a job, she wants day hours. Her past night shifts, Shepard says, have left her kids vulnerable to the streets. Her 15-year-old son has been in the youth detention center for truancy.
Thirteen-year-old daughter Macole, however, is on the honor roll, a distinction mom boasts on a bumper sticker plastered on her front door. Son Dominic, 10, also is on track, and Shepard wants to keep it that way.
She instructs Macole to run into the Dollar Tree for deodorant.
"Ain't nothin' but a dollar, and just as good."
Dominic and his mom saunter into the cool market. It's bursting with brilliant colors and orderly shelves, a contrast to their public housing apartment.
Shepard mounts a motorized scooter. Dominic grabs a shopping cart, and the mom-son caravan heads to the produce aisle.
Mom bypasses bananas, examines strawberries and settles on a pineapple. "Dang," she exclaims. "Apples went up."
She bags 10 nectarines and, after a third thought, gives in to the pricey Bing cherries. "It's summer," she reasons.
Shepard draws the line at the Asian cocktail shrimp that caught her daughter's eye. Nix on the beef Twister Dogs her son saw on TV.
She chooses calorie-dense, generic fish sticks over the trans-fat-free kind. Sodium-plenty salami and smoked liver are in; two-for-$1 corn on the cob out.
"That's just ridiculous. I'll buy the frozen corn."
Key to staying within budget, says Shepard, is buying in bulk. Economy-sized ketchup and pickles. Pork chops by the carton.
"I don't really care for pork chops, but they're cheap."
The 10-pound pack of ground beef will make four meals: spaghetti, sloppy Joes, tacos and hamburgers.
Breakfast? Her kids like the taste of plain-label cocoa puffs.
Snacks? She buys four $1 boxes of gummy candies.
Shepard calls the eight frozen pizzas and two dozen $1 TV dinners "fast food" - they're the closest her children get to Pizza Hut or KFC.
More often, she carves her own nuggets out of chicken breasts.
"Anything a restaurant can make, I can make better," says the former waitress.
She learned the craft from her ex, who was a better cook than a husband.
Just when it seems nothing more will fit in the two carts, Dominic stuffs in 30 Kool-Aid packets. They have sugar at home.
Finally, mom lets the kids splurge on the spicy deli wings they've been eyeing. They're cold and must be microwaved at home. Warm munchies, just like paper products and alcohol, aren't allowed under food stamp rules.
On to the register, where a cashier honors the outside ads tucked under Shepard's arm.
* * *
Total price tag: $346.
Shepard calls a cab, then pores over the draping receipt.
Her food stamp allotment for the month is $500. She has yet to buy food items she saw for less at Walgreens. That will barely leave the $100 food stamp reserve she tries to save for midmonth incidentals.
"Those Bing cherries did me in," she concludes.
The family's separate $500 state welfare check pays for rent, clothes, toiletries and other nonfood supplies.
Fifteen minutes later, Happy Cab arrives and Shepard packs the trunk with bags. Jumbo egg and Ramen noodle cartons ride on kids' laps.
Shepard calls ahead on her cell phone to round up carriers.
Keith, her 18-year-old, meets the cab at the 29th and Parker Streets housing project. A recent South High graduate, he baby-sits his girlfriend's child while she attends school.
Monte, the 15-year-old, is a no-show. The two oldest live in Missouri.
Once inside, Macole and Dominic snap into action.
They remove all frozen items from boxes so more fits in the refrigerator-freezer.
They store meat and cheese in the deep freezer, which Shepard bought for $80 with her Earned Income Tax Credit. She calls it her salvation because it lets her stock up on sale items.
"We always had a deep freeze growing up."
Shepard fondly recalls her "spoiled" childhood on a Missouri farm with fruit trees.
She became pregnant with her first child at age 20, had another child but never married their father.
She wound up in an Omaha shelter seven years ago after escaping the abusive man she did wed. Here, she received higher public assistance benefits and was absorbed into public housing.
Despite being in a high-crime pocket, she is pleased with her four-bedroom apartment. It's on the outer ring of the housing development, and she says violence is worse near the core.
Nonetheless, summer requires extra vigilance. The same watchful eye goes for the family budget, since the kids during this break don't get free school breakfasts and lunches.
* * *
For now, anyway, the refrigerator is full. Everyone's happy.
Shepard is frustrated by her limited mobility, but there's a bright side: She'd be throwing together a lot more "fast food" dinners if she were working.
Indeed, preparing healthful meals on a food stamp budget requires time and planning.
Dominic lobbies for his favorite: weenie and bean casserole topped with cornbread. Low in nutrients, but tasty and cheap.
Mom's doughnuts - hot biscuits topped with powdered sugar glaze - will be dessert.
"We manage," said Shepard. "You just deal with it the best you can."
GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS
So the old lady is sucking off my packeck and bitches about it? Can’t eed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em.
I have 4 kids and rarely spend $500 a month for groceries. And i work for a living!
Yep, why is this news? Most of us are on a budget and budget for groceries along with everything else. Most of us look for sales, stock up when we can when there are items on sale, etc.
So why is this worthy of news coverage? Heck, you may as well do a story about how most people go to work everyday and earn a living. And how most people drive to work. And do a story about how many office workers get a lunch hour, though for some it’s a 30 minute break. This story just describes everyday life for many people, so what is the reason for running this type of story?
I’m sorry, but expensive items like that should be off limits for food stamp purchase.
I spend maybe $10 a day to feed my husband and myself. But, I could feed us very well for a lot less than that.
$500 for 5 people, I’m sure I could do that easily. . .EASILY.
Wonder if she smokes?
Maybe she could try getting a job.
That would probably help her get a car.
And it might have been smart of her not to have five kids without a husband.
At least one of her children is 24 years old, and one is 18.
There is a 15 year old, who certainly is capable of working: I had working papers at 14 and worked off the books before that age.
Only the 13 year old and the 10 year old can reasonably be expected to get fed without earning their keep.
And she is taking 8 months out of the work force because she partied too hard in December?
We didn't have much growing up, but there is no way my mother would ever have taken a dime in assistance when she was capable of working.
1) Where is the father (or, where are the fathers)?
2) If dad is dead, where is the life insurance?
3) If dad isn’t dead, why can’t he/they help?
4) If dad didn’t hang around after #1, why did she have #2, 3 and 4?
Oh come on. I feed my family for less than that.
The 10-pound pack of ground beef will make four meals: spaghetti, sloppy Joes, tacos and hamburgers.
2-1/2 lbs per meal for spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes and tacos for a family of 5? 2-1/2 pounds will make about 25 tacos.
Stories like this pop up all the time and they invariably backfire. Back in 1999 a Toronto rag ran a series of sob stories about welfare moms in an effort to swing an election but they had the opposite effect; one of the stories featured a welfare mom who had cable TV, spent $100 a month on phone calls and spent $25 to cash her welfare cheque at a Money Mart when the banks cash them for free. Another story featured a welfare mom who had five kids by four different fathers and never bothered to make sure they went to school.
As usual, the author of this article fails to mention the free breakfast and lunch program at the school as well as the additional food she can receive from various food pantries. (There may be other sources of free eats for this family, but those are two I thought of off the top of my head.)
I agree with you in principal, but it is almost impossible for a 15 year old to get any type of paying job in Omaha (where the woman in the this article and I live). The two older ones should definetly be working though.
It obviously was a slow news day at the Weird-Herald.
If I had $500 per month to spend for food for my family I would feel like I won the lottery.
I fed them last month for $200 and change. Granted, there are only 3 of us, but still...
I agree. I just noticed a sign out in front of one of our middle schools which is advertising free breakfasts and lunches for the summertime. Ages 18 and under. Courtesy of our taxes, no doubt.
“They remove all frozen items from boxes so more fits in the refrigerator-freezer.
They store meat and cheese in the deep freezer, which Shepard bought for $80 with her Earned Income Tax Credit. She calls it her salvation because it lets her stock up on sale items.”
They make this sound like some sort of hardship. Many of us live this way, buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, freezing meal-sized batches to save money at the store. But, we don’t get a puff piece in the paper about the effect of rising grocery prices on the middle class - we just do it and make it do.
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