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healthy eating food stamp challenge

Did you know that in many states, Food Stamp recipients can use their EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards at participating restaurants? An EBT card works like a debit card, with the state government reimbursing the restaurant for the purchase. The Food Stamp Restaurant Meals Program was started in 1974 for disabled and elderly people who couldn’t prepare food for themselves. It was expanded in 1992 to include homeless people without access to cooking facilities. Although the original plan was to allow only those specific groups into the Restaurant Meals Program, most states now offer this expanded option to anyone on Food Stamps. California has recently approved several fast food outlets (I can’t bring myself to use the word restaurant and Jack-in-the-Box in the same sentence) for the program.

Okay, I’m not going to launch into a political rant about this, but in light of our growing health care crisis and skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, does subsidizing places like Hong Kong Express and Jack-in-the-Box sound like a good idea to you?

Currently, more than 36 million Americans take part in the Food Stamp Program and with the current recession, an additional 20,000 people join the ranks each day. On February 24th, the White House Blog posted a video of First Lady Michelle Obama taking on food deserts as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity (see video below). Food deserts are nutritional wastelands in both urban and rural areas. They’re regions with a predominance of convenience stores and fast food and no easy or affordable access to fresh, healthy food choices. As I watched this video and listened to the First Lady’s appeal to bring nutritious options to these communities, I wondered why, at the same time, we’re setting people up for potential health problems by promoting government supported fast food. There’s also a bit of irony in the fact that the government is subsidizing some of the unhealthy ingredients found in fast food and in processed food found on the convenient store shelves. Does that mean that the government is supporting food deserts and trying to eliminate them at the same time? I don’t follow the logic, but as promised I won’t launch off on my food politics rant. Just know that I’m rolling my eyes big time.

Nonetheless, I applaud Mrs. Obama’s passion and am very thankful we have someone in the White House who is on a mission to promote organic food, nutrition education and healthy food choices. We have to start somewhere. Hopefully she’s on a roll with this and if we support her good intentions, maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Please bear with me. I did a great deal of research on this and conducted my own little experiment. Here’s the breakdown. But first, my disclaimer. Obviously I can’t consider all the frustrations and difficulties people in need must endure to find, buy and prepare healthy meals. My heart goes out to them. I’m fortunate, blessed and grateful beyond measure not to have to figure out how to make a decent meal for my family with such limited resources. Having said that, I’m going to compare an organic, healthy, relatively “fast” meal I come up with to a meal from Jack-in-the-Box and see how they stack up. Can you feed a family healthy, organic food on a limited budget? (Gluten-free, no less.) Rather than spend EBT money on fast food?

Healthy, quick spaghetti with meat sauce and a side salad
1/2 medium sized onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3/4 lb organic, 100% grass-fed ground beef
2 jars Muir Glen organic Garden Vegetable Pasta Sauce (25.5 oz each)
1 and 1/2 packages Tinkyada gluten-free, spaghetti style, organic brown rice pasta
1 head organic leafy green lettuce
1 organic orange
1/4 cup raw toasted sunflower seeds
oil (I used olive oil)

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stock pot. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook thoroughly. Pour in pasta sauce and reduce heat, stirring often. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain well. Serve sauce over pasta. Wash and prepare lettuce. Peel and chop orange into bite sized pieces, toss into salad greens. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds. No dressing needed.
* Makes 6 hearty and healthy servings

I got all the ingredients except the meat at my local Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocer (see photo above). All their produce is organic. They have a “day old” bin with select veggies and fruit for $1 per bag. I often opt for whatever is in the sale bin. I have a professional food scale and weighed the produce and calculated the price of each item I used. You’ll have to trust me on this. (Thanks for your help, Ryan – he’s the produce manager at VCNG). The meat is from Arapaho Ranch in Wyoming. The Northern Arapaho Indian Tribe raise the 100% organic and grass-fed Angus beef on the Wind River Indian Reservation in west central Wyoming. No hormones or antibiotics are used and the animals are well cared for and humanely treated. The cattle coexist with natural predators, a diverse mix of wildlife and eat the natural grasses and forbs they’re suppose to eat. The Indians sell their products to markets in the Rocky Mountain region. It’s an interesting story, please check here for details.

* When it’s CSA season, all my organic produce comes from Grant Farms.

Cost break-down for healthy, quick spaghetti with meat sauce and a side salad
organic onion – .21 (on sale for .69 per pound)
organic garlic
.19 for 4 cloves (6.19 per pound)
100% organic, grass-fed beef – 3.08 (on sale for 3.99 per pound, I used the 85% lean beef)
organic pasta sauce – 7.00 (on sale for 3.99 per jar, with $1 off if you bought 2 jars)
organic Tinkyada pasta, 12 oz package – 5.53 (3.69 per package)
organic, green leafy lettuce, 1 head – .50 (2 heads of lettuce for 1.00 in the bargain bin)
organic Navel orange – .60 (1.09 per pound)
raw sunflower seeds – .22 (2.48 per pound)
TOTAL: $17.33 (6 hearty gluten-free servings)

Jack-in-the-Box
I’ve never been to a Jack-in-the-Box and had to visit to get prices and see what the options were. I didn’t buy anything, I just took notes and chose a variety of items, like a family of 6 might do. If you’re interested, click here for nutrition information. It took me a few minutes to realize how misleading this information was. In general, this isn’t very healthy stuff.
Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger Combo – 5.59
Southwest Chicken Salad with corn sticks (?) and dressing – 4.99
Jack’s Spicy Chicken small combo – 5.39
Deli-trio Grilled Sandwich – 5.69
Fajita Pita small combo – 5.39
Kid’s meal Chicken Strips (comes with a toy) – 3.49
TOTAL: $30.54 (6 servings)

For almost half as much, six people can eat a highly nutritious, all organic, homemade meal. One that is lower in calories (and icky stuff) and much higher in nutrition.

Here’s wishing the First Lady good energy and lots of luck in her endeavor. (Psst! Get your husband and his buddies to support small farmers, organic farming, and EBTs for CSAs and farmer’s markets. Thanks!)
In good health,
Melissa

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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