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Healthy Eating On A Food Stamp Budget

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Dr. Ernest Levister, Jr.
Dear Dr. Levister: I’m a working single mother. Last week I swallowed my pride and accepted food stamps? Does that mean my family has to give up healthy eating? H.E.

Dear H.E.: As more and more families turn to food stamps to make ends meet, you can expect to hear that question over and over again? While theoretically it is possible to

survive on the meager allotment allowed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka Food Stamps), many who have attempted to prove this through a month-long (or longer) “food stamp” diet do not take into account the realities of needing to survive on such a budget.

Yes, if everything goes exactly as planned through an entire month, it is probably possible to eat a relatively healthy diet on a food stamp budget. But what if your car breaks down and you need to get it repaired so you can get to work? What if you or one of your children has to make an unexpected trip to the doctor’s office? It is this kind of unanticipated expense that cannot be simulated in any sort of experiment.

These expenses (that, let’s be honest, happen on a fairly regular basis) make it difficult to eat healthy on such a regimented budget. If you’re getting down to the ends of your food budget and go to the grocery store or farmers market and see a bushel of apples for $3 and know that you can get three cheeseburgers for the same price at a fast-food restaurant down the street, which would you choose if you were hungry?

So while it might be possible to have a healthy diet on a food stamp budget if everything else in your life is going perfect, that is usually not the case for those who have to rely on a tight budget just to feed themselves and their families. Two things that the government must do is expand the income cap for food stamp eligibility and re-evaluate the federal poverty line as it is well-below what most experts believe constitutes a “living wage.”

If you or someone you know is living on food stamps or a similarly tight food budget, you/they might want to check out Riverside County Nutrition, Family and Consumer Services at UC Cooperative Extension at (951) 358-5311. To find out if you are eligible for food stamps go to www.fns.usda.gov.

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