Food stamp use skyrockets: How one family puts food on the table

While most of us are preoccupied with gorging ourselves on turkey and stuffing, it can be easy to forget about the growing number of people who are struggling just to eat one meal a day. In fact, a recent government survey found that more than one in seven U.S. households are finding it difficult to afford putting food on the table.

Those 14.5% of U.S. households, representing about 49 million people, make up the highest rate of "food-insecure" households since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began monitoring the issue in 1995. As the recession has deepened, so has the number of people using food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, with participation growing by 23% in the last year, according to Hans Billger of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The situation would be far worse if not for food pantries and federal food assistance programs, such as SNAP. For the nearly 35.9 million people who receive SNAP benefits, they're a lifeline to survival. In July, more people were using SNAP benefits than at any other time in the history of the program.

The average SNAP benefit for one person is $101.53 per month with a maximum of $200. For a household of four, the average benefit is $226.59 per month (the maximum benefit is $668 per month). WalletPop recently spoke with a few families who rely on food stamps to find out just how hard it is to stretch their resources and put healthy meals on the table.

Feeding a Family of Four on Food Stamps

With $36 per person per week to buy groceries for her family of four, Brooke (whose real last name isn't being revealed because she doesn't want her friends and family to know she's receiving food stamps) of Arizona has just enough money from SNAP to keep everyone fed and healthy.

Brooke and her husband work as writers from home and earn about $20,000 a year, which puts them below the poverty level for a family of four. They have two children, ages 3 and 7, and receive the maximum benefit in SNAP.

Interestingly enough, Brooke says her family eats better now than they did before. Prior to using food stamps Brooke used to try to buy food and toiletries on $80 a week. To help her along the way, Brooke uses online grocery coupons, which she says saves her at least 30% off her grocery bills each week.

WalletPop asked Brooke to keep a diary of what her family ate over the course of one week, and the total came to $105.07. The list doesn't include much junk food other than some sodas and often doesn't include food for her husband, who fixes his own meals and is out of the house often. She added some of his grocery purchases at the end of the list.

Monday:

Breakfast
We woke up late and skipped breakfast.


Lunch
My toddler had six chicken nuggets, $.75

I had a chicken patty on hamburger bun with cheese, $1.45
My daughter had Top Ramen noodles, $.15
Total: $2.35

Snacks/Drinks
Water that I bought at Wal-Mart for $.25/gallon at a vending machine (probably drank 1 or 2 gallons)
Flavored water - $.62
Trail mix - $.75
2 bananas - $.50
Milk - $.50
Total: $2.87

Dinner
Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.
2 cans of tomato soup for $.60 (bought on sale with a coupon)
6 slices of bread at a cost of 50 cents
Shredded cheese (50 cents)

Olive oil for cooking (the olive oil didn't cost me anything because i won it on RachelRay.com)

Total: $1.60
Total for day: $6.82

Tuesday:

Breakfast:
2 yogurts for a total of 80 cents
3 bananas for $1.25
Total: $2.05

Lunch:
1 can of chili for $1
2 peanut butter & jelly sandwiches made for $1.00
3 pears for $1.25
Total: $3.25

Dinner:
2 boxes of Shells and Cheese for $5
2 ears corn fpr $2
Total: $7
Total for day: $12.30

Wednesday:

Breakfast:
2 yogurts for $.80
3 bananas for $1.25
Total: $2.05

Lunch:
Top Ramen for 15 cents
2 hot dogs (no bun) for 40 cents
1 French Bread Pizza for $1.50
Total: $2.05

Drinks:
2 apple juices for $2

Dinner:
3 roast beef sandwiches
Roast beef for $5.50 (the meat was on sale, leftovers available)
3 sandwich rolls $2.50
3 carrots $1.00
Total: $9.00
Total for day: $15.10

Thursday:

Breakfast:
Homemade Fruit Smoothies that included fruit, juice, and sherbert mixed in the blender for $3.50

Lunch:
Leftover Roast beef sandwich from last night - $0
3 ham sandwiches: $2

Dinner (we had a guest for dinner on this night)
Pork chops stuffed with stuffing: $6
1 pound of green Beans for $2
Mashed potatoes $2
Total: $8
Total for day: $11.50

Friday:

Breakfast:
2 yogurts for 80 cents
3 bananas $1.25
Total: $2.05

Lunch (we had an extra guest for lunch):
2 pot pies for $1.50
2 hot dogs (no bun) for $.40
1 Can of chili for $1
Total: $2.90

Snack:
3 flavored waters - $.95
Trail Mix - $.75

Dinner:
Fish for $7
Green Beans for $1.50
Pasta: $1
Total: $9.50
Total for day: $16.15

Saturday:

Breakfast:
2 yogurts for 80 cents
Banana smoothies for $1.25 (friend gave us some of the fruit we used)
Total: $2.05

Lunch:
Top Ramen noodles for $.15
4 pears for $1.25
One can of soup - $1
Total: $2.40

Dinner:
Pizza for $3
Total for day: $7.45

Sunday:

Breakfast:
4 slices of toast for $.50
2 bananas for $.45
Total: $.95

Lunch:
2 Banquet Turkey Meals for $2
1 Banquet Pizza Meal for $1
1 Banquet Chicken Nugget Meal for $1
1 Healthy Choice Microwave Meal $2.40
Total: $6.40

Dinner: We made French toast and sausage with eggs
1 Package Sausage - $1.50
8
slices bread - $1
6 eggs - $.85
Total: $3.35
Total for the day: $10.70

Miscellaneous:
6-pack of soda for $3.35
5 Microwave meals for $13
Jones Cola Fridge pack -$4
Gallon of milk for $2.50
6 gallons water for $1.50
Total: $24.35

Approximate total for week: $105.07


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