There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about Gwyneth Paltrow and her attempt to live on the “Food Stamp Diet” for a week. Food Stamps, otherwise known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) help to supplement low income families grocery budget by providing about $4 extra per person, per day.

Can You Eat Healthy on the Food Stamp Diet?

Food Stamps were never intended to purchase all of the groceries a family would need for the week. They were intended to supplement their income – to add a bit more to their budget for food. Gwyneth Paltrow attempted to live on approximately $31 per week in groceries as part of Mario Batali’s “Food Bank Challenge.” She gave up after four days.

So, can you eat healthy on the food stamp diet alone? Her first shopping trip included fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs and not much else. While these are healthy choices, you can’t live for a week on them. This is what I think Gwyneth Paltrow did wrong and what I would do instead.

  1. First off, taking anyone rich and expecting them to understand how to live on practically no money at all is just silly. It takes years of experience and practice. Someone who thinks a $1000 blanket makes a good gift idea can’t be realistic in terms of spending $31 a week in groceries.
  2. Rice and beans were a staple of ours for years. They are inexpensive and healthy and can be used in quite a few different recipes. Skip the fresh parsley and limes and grab an onion or garlic to add extra flavor instead. An alternative to beans are lentils which are also a tasty, inexpensive choice.
  3. Oatmeal makes a great frugal breakfast. Don’t buy instant or flavored oatmeal. Stick to old fashioned oats. Stir in a tablespoon of peanut butter, slice half a banana or chop an apple for a change of taste. Generally, apples and bananas are the two least expensive fruit options year round in my area. Check the produce mark-down section for even more savings. Bruised or day old is OK and cost a lot less.
  4. Vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet but you have to watch your costs. Fresh may or may not be the cheapest option. For us, a huge bag of fresh carrots is generally the cheapest vegetable we can find. Other vegetables are often less expensive frozen – especially the store brand. Bypass artichoke hearts and Brussels sprouts and look for things like peas or corn which are often loss leaders because they are so popular.
  5. Watch what you drink. While coffee is definitely a huge necessity in my life, it’s really a splurge that can be cut out if money is super tight. Water is a great choice when looking for something to drink and it’s free from the faucet. Cut out money spent on coffee, tea, soda, juice and pre-made drinks.
  6. Protein fills you up. When people think of protein, they generally think of meat and meat is expensive. However, lots of things contain protein including eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Peanut butter on toast is more filling than plain toast. A snack of a hard boiled egg is more filling than a bag of chips or a candy bar.
  7. Lunch doesn’t have to be sandwiches. Many people hear lunch and think sandwich. This may be an expensive option you can’t afford. Lunch can be any leftovers from the night before, a bowl of vegetable soup with black beans or even peanut butter toast and an egg.

According to the challenge, a family of 4 would receive $124 per week to supplement their food budget. I have fed my family of four on less than that and do believe that it’s possible. Will you be eating gourmet meals and looking forward to lunch out with friends every day? No. You’ll need to learn to cook from scratch and become an expert at finding the best deals in your store from clearance racks and day old bread to farmer’s market mark downs. It’s also important to remember that Food Stamps were created to supplement your budget – not be your budget.

The reason Gwyneth Paltrow participated in this challenge wasn’t to prove she could live on $31 a week. The goal was to get people talking about Food Stamps and poverty in our country. The goal was awareness of the issue. There is a lot more to the challenge of eating healthy when you live in poverty than the amount of money you have to spend. Many people don’t have access to a full grocery store and instead rely on convenience stores or fast food restaurants. There are health issues and education issues that are involved as well.

What do you think? How can we bring awareness and change?