Lessons from the SNAPcut Challenge October and November 2013

  • Why: Get a glimpse of what it is really like to live on food stamps. If you're already on food stamps, then help educate others and cook with friends. SNAP benefits are being cut for all recipients on November 1st, 2013, when the 2009 Recovery Act's temporary boost expires
  • Week 1: cook on the current SNAP (food stamp) benefit in your state. My Taster and I will be eating on $84.46 that week.
  • Week 2: cook on the reduced SNAP benefit in your state. Our budget for two in North Carolina will drop to $79.86.
  • Where: Kitchens everywhere!
  • Who: Individual cooks, families, and groups.
  • Contribute your ideas for saving money and cooking delicious, thrifty food to help others.
  • What next: Decide what you think about the level of support available for families with no other means of support. Speak to your elected officials from a position of experience and dedication. Work with groups to make the world a better place.

Learn about the current Challenge here.

My Taster and I will be eating on $84.46 the first week and $79.86 the second week. The slide show above shows how we're doing in November shopping at Walmart.  See the whole November Challenge  in this photo gallery, with ingredients from farmers' markets and Whole Foods. Here in North Carolina, the maximum* SNAP benefits are:

  • from $200 to $189 for 1 person per month or from $6.57 to $6.21 a day
  • from $367 to $347 for 2 people per month or from $6.03 to $5.70 a day
  • from $526 to $497 for 3 people per month or from $5.76 to $5.45 a day
  • from $668 to $632 for 4 people per month or from $5.49 to $5.19 a day

* There are many variations, including bonuses for families that include elderly or disabled people, but these are the usual amounts.

Bought most of our groceries from Whole Foods Market for the #SNAPcut Challenge - mostly organic and local, organic collards

SNAPcut Challenge Index

Shopping at farmers' markets, Whole Foods, and Food Lion, with posts that apply to the encore too

SNAPcut Challenge Encore Index

Shopping at Walmart

How is the SNAPcut Challenge different from other Cook for Good Challenges?

For the other challenges, I took them first and provided menus, shopping lists, and recipes. But I'm taking the October SNAPcut Challenge right here in full view, using recipes from my books Wildly Affordable Organic and Fifty Weeks of Green. For the November Encore, I'll post my shopping lists after learning everything I can from the October Challenge takers and from my own experiences. I hope you'll share what you are buying and cooking on my blog and and join in through social media. Take pictures of what you buy and cook! I'll be setting up a Pinterest board and you can follow the Challenge on Facebook and Twitter.

Use the Cook for Good Challenges to Jump-Start your own SNAP Challenge!

Before you reach for the ramen, check out my menus, recipes, and shopping lists below for inspiration. You can eat fabulous food during your challenge if you eat with the seasons, cook from scratch, and don't waste anything.

Hundreds of people have taken a  Cook for Good Challenge. It's a great way to sharpen your cooking and food-management skills.

  • What: Spend one week cooking most of your food from scratch and the next cooking all of it.
  • Where: Kitchens everywhere!
  • Who: Individual cooks, families, and groups.
  • Why: You won't believe how easy, fun, and delicious it is until you try it. And you'll rack up the savings, for yourself or to help a charity or good cause.

You'll use the Twenty Minute a Day Starter Plan for a week and then cook everything from scratch for the next week. The online menus are all plant-powered, using no dairy or eggs. The menus in WAO are vegetarian. During the first week, you'll be adding your own favorite dishes to your meals, with or without meat, dairy, and eggs.

You'll develop the confidence and skill to cook delicious, healthy, seasonal food from scratch on a very low budget—in just two weeks. Use your savings to pay off your holiday bills or to make one of your other resolutions come true (maybe a trip to Hawaii?). Learn to make amazing food like this Chocolate Coldacado in just 10 minutes, plus an occasional turn of a handle (maybe you don't want to leave home after all?)

Chocolate Coldacado

All the classic recipes are in Wildly Affordable Organic. Most of the plant-powered ones are in WAO too with more being in Fifty Weeks of Green. See below for the winter and summer indexes for both.


Winter Fresh-Start Challenge Index

The Fresh-Start Challenge is tuned for the fall and winter. But because it uses the core cooking plan from Wildly Affordable Organic, it works in the spring too. Take it at your own pace any time.

menu week 1 || menu week 2 || shopping list for both weeks

Daily Guides Week 1: day 1 || day 2 || day 3 || day 4 || day 5 || day 6 || day 7

Daily Guides Week 2: day 1 || day 2 || day 3 || day 4 || day 5 || day 6 || day 7

Take the Summer Challenge at your own pace whenever tomatoes and peppers are in season.

shopping list for both weeks || menu week 1 || menu week 2

Daily Guides Week 1: day 1 || day 2 || day 3 || day 4 || day 5 || day 6 || day 7

Daily Guides Week 2: day 1 || day 2 || day 3 || day 4 || day 5 || day 6 || day 7

Challenge taker Elizabeth Archerd says "I sure am happy"

The seasonal Cook for Good Challenges are variations on the Food Stamp Challenge, the SNAP Challenge, and "What If" Challenges, all intended to let you experience what it's like to eat on a very limited budget. Many people use Cook for Good techniques when taking other challenges. That's what Elizabeth Archerd of The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis describes in her "What If" Food Challenge blog:

The unexpected impact of this Challenge was an upwelling of a sense of abundant generosity. Linda Watson of www.cookforgood.com points out that with the money you save eating “wildly affordable organic” you free up money for causes you support. There is a benefit for those of us who are not forced to live on a restrictive food budget to try it out.

When we do not live out to our “budgetary edges,” there is more freedom to respond to the needs around us. Frugal living does not have to be about being stingy, but can be a pathway to wise generosity. I knew this in theory, but was surprised at how strongly and joyfully generosity seized me when need became apparent this month. So I didn’t lose any weight, but boy, I sure am happy.

Support and Community Make it Easy

If you sign up for the Fresh Start Challenge, you'll get an email in mid-February with the shopping list and game plan. You'll also get daily emails with menus and action plans to help you make the best use of your time and money. 

Share your experiences in the Cook for Good online community, where you can find and offer encouragement and help. Get tips and additional recipes from chefs and other experts, too.

You might also want to take the Challenge as part of a group. It's a great project for a book club, cooking, or church group. Organizations interested in the environment, local food systems, or social justice will find that it's a fun way to get members to vote their their forks. But you don't need a formal group to share the experience: just ask a friend or two to try it with you. 

Week 1: Learn Core Skills with the 20 Minute a Day Plan

Use the 20 Minutes a Day starter plan to cook about 60% of your meals from scratch. Enjoy immediate, delicious results while learning to bake bread, cook dried beans, make healthy desserts, and more. Get recipes and tips for the rest of the dishes that use ingredients from the Cook for Good shopping list and optionally some meat or fish. Kick off your week by watching the Cook for Good in 20 Minutes a Day video. Fran wrote that the video sort of cuddled me along.

Track your savings by comparing your expenses to what you usually spend or to the USDA food plan that best matches your current pattern.

Week 2: Put Those Skills to Work with a Full WAO Seasonal Plan

Use the full Cook for Good cooking seasonal plan to cook all of your food from scratch for a week. Continue to track your savings. When you complete the challenge, donate your savings if you can to one of the charities we'll be working with (see below) or to your own favorite.

With or without a donation, you'll learn how to get a certificate that recognizes your accomplishment when you complete the two-week challenge.

Week 3: Share Your Savings and Skills

You'll probably be so excited about how easy and delicious it was that you'll want to share with others. Here are some ways to do that:

  • If you can, donate your savings to one of these charities or to your own favorite.
  • Hold a celebration to share your new recipes with others. If you did the challenge with a group, have a potluck lunch or dinner using recipes from the Challenge or others from Wildly Affordable Organic.  If you did it on your own, invite friends over to try your new dishes. You may even want to make an additional donation of the difference between what you would have spent on a typical party and what you spend on the Wildly Affordable Organic one.

How much did you save? To get an idea of what you can save per person using the Cook for Good green plan compared to the UDSA recommended food plans in two weeks: 

  • Thrifty: $1
  • Low: $22
  • Moderate: $45
  • Extravagant: $70

Imagine the impression you would make on your children ... and yourself! ... if you donated even a dollar a person to help others, just for this two-week period.

Note that these are the USDA recommended plans ... far healthier than what people actually eat. (See sources for the thrifty and the other plans. I call the "liberal" plan "extravagant.")