Can you live “Clean” on Lean Means?


“It is too expensive and it isn’t really possible for me to eat healthy because I have to rely on Government assistance”.

“You should try buying food for your family on my budget-I can’t afford all that healthy stuff you’re talking about.”

“I want to eat healthy but I don’t know where to start or how to do it living on government assistance. I don’t know how to prepare foods like the different vegetables you talk about so it is just easier for me to get ramen noodles- and I know my kids will eat those- they won’t eat healthy foods.”

These are all things that I have been told when I have gotten into discussions about eating healthy while adhering to a tight budget.

There is a general sense that you just can’t do it.

The old stereotypes of the “poor man’s food” from our lean years of college or younger years in general, consisting of “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” or “Ramen noodles for days” is still very much alive and well; I find it is extremely sad.

I hear these arguments most from those that are buying foods with the assistance of food stamps or government aid.

I want to issue my disclaimer (I usually have at least one, don’t I?) that this post is not about name calling or judging anyone or anything- I like the general IDEA of aid-when there is a need we should do our best to help, that’s the beauty of human compassion and helping our neighbor.

What we have here is a mere experiment that I decided to put myself (and my family) through after someone had plucked my “last straw” on the “It’s too expensive to eat healthy” hay stack.

So… what did I do?

True to my “put my money where my mouth is” personality
-I put us on a month long “Food Stamp Food Budget”, of course!

There have been several famous celebrities that have done this for a week to be an example, but I just don’t think one week is long enough.

I deemed one month a more appropriate time frame to get a more realistic affect and soon found out that this is going to go deeper than I ever thought.

As I sit here, just finishing my last grocery trip of July actually, I am finding that my feelings have changed just a bit and my perspective on a few things have been slightly altered.

I have come out of it more educated to “the system” and more in tune to those that aren’t doing it for an experiment, but for real; every month.

My first question that comes to my mind is of course the main point of my post:  Can I prove that you CAN eat healthy (or healthier at least) living on lean means? Read on and find out!

I started with the dreaded research (I actually quite like research… but don’t ask me in public, I will deny being any type of nerd 😀 ).

How did I go about figuring out how much money I would receive if I were on food stamps exactly?

What is included and excluded?

What stores are available to me?

I went to my trusted friend: (let me google that for you-and yes it is an actual site).

It didn’t take long to navigate to the OKDHS website and find that if no one in my household is working then we (as a family of 3) would qualify for $511.00 each month.

I decided that I work so this needs to be adjusted down a bit and put myself on a $400.00 (for the sake of math) budget instead.

Armed with the knowledge of my budget limit I mark my calendar for July 1st and wait to head to the store like everyone else would to get my first “haul”.

I picked my shopping destination based merely on the fact that I shop there already: Aldi.

I venture to Walmart and Food Pyramid only once during the entire month.

Now I had always thought that, since the stores are always so crazy on the 1st that there must be a time limit on how long you have access to the initial funds, but in reality there is no time limit or “stamps must be used by this day” rule.

This made me happy because it meant I could do weekly trips. I think weekly trips make it easier to stay on a budget because you only buy what you need for that week. I also think it helps cut down wasted food.

I also learned that if you are buying from government assistance you don’t pay sales tax, which makes sense-but kind of irks me just a bit as I have to pay sales tax…plus I fund the aid by paying regular taxes… BUT anyway…

Every week I will take a picture of my purchases for you and tally up my receipts, I journal how I felt about the trip in general with each and at the end we get my total bill for the month.

Here we go!

** I am a little nervous, I am opening up my “pantry” and showing you what’s inside. I realize these are good choices, some not so great choices and some things that you might question-but the point is this is MY view of pretty healthy eating-it’s not perfect but it is better than Twinkies and Pepsi so be kind 😉 **

Trip 1 July 1st

first haul

I feel good about my first trip. I was able to purchase a couple organic items and I feel accomplished in doing so.
Total: $55.28

Trip 2 July 7th

week 6th through 10 (2)

Smaller trip today.
Total: $36.76

Trip 3 July 13th

week 6th through 10th

Had to go twice this week. Still feel good that I was able to buy the Nitrate Free deli meat and organic popcorn for a snack, plus the organic Marinara.

Total: $60.00
Trip 4 July 19th
week 13th through 18th

Had to get some chocolate! Another smaller trip

Total: $40.00

Trip 5 July 22nd
week 20th-26th

Feel like I took a chance and purchase the salmon burgers. Nervous to have spent 4 dollars on them when I am not sure if the boys will eat them.

Total: $60.25

Trip 6 July 27th Final trip!
final haul

I found organic beans on sale! Plus some stuffed olives Zach loves. Also bought a frozen bag of stir fry veggies.

Total: 62.70

I had one trip to Food Pyramid for Cottage Cheese that I can’t find the receipt for, but looking back at my bank statement and estimating (I OVER estimated to be fair as possible) I came to my final total…

Which was….?  (can I get a drum roll please…anyone? )

** this is after subtracting out sales tax-since technically I wouldn’t pay it if I was using food stamps**

I made it!!

Another little interesting nugget of knowledge I acquired in my research phase is that whatever money may be left at the end of the month ROLLS OVER to the next month.

So if I continued my experiment another month I would then have roughly $470.00 to spend.

However, in all fairness, this doesn’t show what I purchased at the farmers market, which I am ok with as our Market doesn’t accept food stamps a payment (but some do, this is exciting news!).  But if the market did accept the stamps then those purchases would have been added in and I would have probably went right to the $400.00.

SO! You might wonder how I am feeling now…and honestly since I am nearing the end of this month I find myself relieved that it’s almost over.

I was starting to stress towards the end that I would prove myself wrong (we can’t have that now can we??).  But I find that I have a new empathy for those that use and need government assistance. Just the stress of “pretending” that I only had what was on my “card” kind of put me on edge and I found myself surprised by this feeling.

I took some time to speak to a representative from our local Kay County DHS office (whose name will remain confidential) and they gave me a couple things to think on.

One being that most recipients of food stamp assistance are forced to shop where they can walk to as they may not have transportation (in my mind I automatically think of Cimarron Public Transit-but I let the point go unmade).

I also learned that DHS and the state offer optional but FREE education to the recipients on healthy food choices and there are classes available and online videos, etc.

But that same worker also admitted it isn’t well advertised and it is rarely used, further explaining that pamphlets in the office go untouched and classes go unfilled. This is sad but this is the reality.

I get the sense that this worker is trying to tell me lack of education, lack of desire and transportation (it seems….) are some of the main reasons I see so many carts full of ramen and pop.

I agree with it somewhat but I also think it goes deeper. This is the domino effect at its worst. You have adults; with a general lack of nutritional education (even though the resources to teach them are available for FREE) making decisions for children that only know what they are taught-by those that don’t know what they are teaching.

We have a government that isn’t stepping in and tightening regulations because BIG business would then suffer, the uproar would be pandemic from the recipients because you are taking ALL their food away and  a general lack of desire to change the current trends.

My  personal  feeling is that there will never really be REAL change. The government will shake their heads in agreement that things need to change but will never do so. I hadn’t really thought about it before but everything truly is connected. Call me a conspiracy theorist now I suppose but let me pose a couple questions to you.

What IF reform happened and what IF Americans wised up and all the sudden started eating healthier, exercising and taking care of themselves like they WANT to live to be 50?

It isn’t going to happen but WHAT IF it DID?

What would happen to the Dairy industry, Wheat industry, Corn industry and dare I say the MEDICAL industry if these things transpired?

Think of every big business you can and ask what would happen to those things if Americans all the sudden started eating foods grown by local organic farmers, stopped eating junk food made out of high fructose corn syrup and enriched white flour, and ditched dairy milk?

IF that ever happened, what would then happen to the medical industry?

What IF people stopped NEEDING a pill to treat their high blood pressure because they cured themselves naturally with proper healing foods and exercise? Or if people reversed their diet induced Type II Diabetes because they finally adopted a lifestyle that was conducive to doing so?

Every single one of these “big business industries”  would suffer, the government isn’t going to have anything to do with that-it is part of the American economy. I get it. Doesn’t mean I agree with it and doesn’t mean there isn’t some other way. But I digress, this scenario isn’t going to happen. Trends will not change, at least not enough to turn the tide any time soon.

At this point I find myself at a loss and simply exhausted.
If you don’t want to eat healthy that is fine, if you don’t want to talk to me (or have me talk to you) about eating healthy that is just fine too.. all I ask is just don’t tell me it’s because you can’t afford it.

You CAN, you just have to want to, try to and TEACH yourself too.

Food For Thought,


Liz Jackson


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