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."
I went most of the way through cherry season - while they were six or seven dollars a pound - without cherries. Then, one day I found a place that had them for two dollars a pound and I bought some - and also found some on the “questionable” rack all packaged up for what appeared to be about one dollar a pound. I ate cherries for two weeks and loved it! And in the whole bunch I think I found 3 or 4 real soft ones. But at the price of six or seven dollars a pound? No way. I tend to buy what’s on sale and so there is always plenty.
Yeah, like that’s exactly what I said!
And 20 quarts of spaghetti sauce. 2 quarts per meal means 10 meals. I use 1 quart per meal for my family of 3 and still have leftovers.
Oh my! You called me a name.
No, you earned it.
Oh, I see. Thanks for the clarification.
Another reason they switched to the card is that folks were trading their food stamps for booze and drugs. The EBT creates a record, kinda like your credit card statement, that makes fraud easier to detect. I remember when I went to college in the late 70s, some of the less scrupulous students would go hang out in front of grocery stores in seedier neighborhoods with beer and score $75 worth of food stamps for maybe $5 worth of beer.
Maybe her 18 year old son could get a job. Also, she is feeding 3 kids, not 5.
I assume the younger two attend public school in Omaha, which provides breakfast free and reduced cost lunches for 40 cents, which comes to $20/month, leaving $460 to prepare 272 meals at $1.69 each.
She receives $6,000 per year of our hard-earned tax dollars. According to frac.org, there were 26,294,464 receiving food stamps in 2006. That's almost $160 BILLION!
Factor in administrative costs, and probably more like $250 BILLION. I sure hope we don't end up with a Democrat in the Whitehouse. Surf and turf for all!
LOL at least some of us would have a chance to have surf & turf? HA
1) Where is the father (or, where are the fathers)?
It seems that there were at least 2 different fathers. Had 2 children with the 1st man, didn't marry him. Then married an abusive man and I suspect had the other 3 children with him. If he was abusive, my guess is that she got away from him, and filing for any child support, 1) costs money, 2) would tell him where they are. That may be something she doesn't want.
2) If dad is dead, where is the life insurance?
No mention if either man is alive or dead.
3) If dad isnt dead, why cant he/they help?
See answer to #1. Mom probably doesn't want to get beat up again.
4) If dad didnt hang around after #1, why did she have #2, 3 and 4?
#1 & #2 have same dad, #3, #4, and #5 have different dad than 1st two kids.
I am in agreement on the issue of the age of these children. They could be working to help their mother, and she isn't getting $$ for anyone over 18, but is still trying to feed them with what she does get.
Mostly likely the same deal as here in CO—from 1-18 and it’s “free”. It said on our local school district’s website, if parents wanted to eat, it was something like $2, but all kids, babies to 18 are free.
My spaghetti recipe serves 6 for about $1/serving. 500g beef (just over a pound), sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce. Yummy.
I would call them enterprising. A fool and his food stamps are soon parted.
It’s amazing.. she’s getting $500 a month for food without working for it and is still complaining! Gotta love that entitlement mentality.
I have a family of five and spend wayyyy less than that.
If you really want to stretch your dollars use coupons and follow sales! My husband loves it.. we eat so well on so little.
This site will show you how if you’re just beginning..
$12,000 annually / 52 weeks a year / 40 hours per week = $5.77 per hour
Am I missing something?
Indeed, you are correct. To quote the link:
“Remember any one from the age 1-18 eat free”
Wonder who wrote this thing...
I guess the menu doesn’t sound too bad...pizza and ice cream every Friday would get old fast...and I have no idea what beef fingers are...I think I will not google that one. I have learned enough new things today.
When school is in session, yes, they get free breakfast & lunch, but to get to a church based food pantry, she would need a ride or a car.
ITA with your first paragraph. We’re 6 here - 4 kids (we were 7 until my mom died). It’s especially expensive in the summer when there are usually a bunch of their friends over, too. Then the flip side is during the school year and sports with all the sending snacks for the class or team, etc.
I let the kids buy lunch at school 1 day per week. They can pick the day - and I’ll pay for it - it’s a treat for them, lol.
We shop at BJ’s once a month and still have to shop at the grocery store once a week. We’re very meticulous with our budget, including the food budget.
I don’t know what point the story was trying to make - most middle class families have it tough today and we also have to work for our income while paying for those who can’t or won’t work.
My 16 and 15 year olds have jobs so we don’t have to pay for their very active social lives, lol.