Previous
Next

Daily News reporter Chelsia Rose Marcius is taking the Food Stamp challenge. She has only $29 to spend on food for the whole week.

Where to shop, that was the big question.

A week of eating only what I can buy for $29 — the average amount allotted to a single person living on food stamps in America — means one portrait of George Washington has to go a long way. Selecting a grocer, it seemed, was the most important decision I would make during my seven-day Food Stamp Challenge. I’ll see if I can do better than high-falutin’ actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who lasted only four days.

Stores like Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods and Fairway Market were, of course, out of the question. Initially I considered a trip to Costco, a big-box retailer where shoppers can buy in bulk and spend fewer bucks. But my tiny one-bedroom apartment cannot hold large quantities.

Then I remembered ALDI, a national chain of low-price grocery stores many New Yorkers don’t seem to know about. I grew up near Cleveland, where ALDI, which accepts food stamps, has several locations.

The ALDI I found in New York was at East River Plaza, 517 E. 117th Street in Harlem, less than three miles away from my place. It was very clean, safe, and surprisingly big, about the size of any D’Agostino or Gristedes in Manhattan. I was happy, excited even at the prospect of getting more for my money.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

The first task was to buy the food, and Chelsia remembered her Cleveland roots to find one of the more affordable food marts in the city: ALDI, on E 117th St. in Harlem.

When I walked in, I grabbed a cart and a cardboard box. You need a quarter to rent the cart, but you get the $.25 back when you return it. The box was to put the groceries in for people like me who did not bring their own bags.

I then made my way down the first aisle, passing an assortment of packaged snacks. Pecans, chips and trail mix all there at dream prices. One box of generic shredded wheat went for a shockingly low $2.09; I’ve seen that cereal go for more than $6 at other stores. Produce was priced well too. A bag of green Granny Smith apples cost under $3. In the dairy aisle I also found some decent buys, picking up a half gallon of almond milk for $2.59 and a dozen large eggs for $1.85.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow lasted four days doing the Food Stamp Challenge.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow lasted four days doing the Food Stamp Challenge.

The purchase included about 2 pounds of chicken breasts, a dozen eggs, half gallon of almond milk, carrots, peanut butter, popcorn, potatoes, shredded wheat and ground turkey.

The purchase included about 2 pounds of chicken breasts, a dozen eggs, half gallon of almond milk, carrots, peanut butter, popcorn, potatoes, shredded wheat and ground turkey.

Later, I looked at an old receipt from my local market, A Matter of Health. On March 13, I spent $4.69 on eggs, although that dozen came from cage-free grass-fed chickens.

The entire ALDI shopping trip took over an hour. I placed items into the cart only to swap them out later when a better deal came my way. A 12-ounce bag of roasted almonds went for $5.59, normally a reasonable price. But then I found a 2.21-pound package of chicken for $5.91 and immediately said goodbye to the nuts. I wrote down the all of the items and prices, crossing things off as I went. Fun foods like caramel-covered rice cakes and salty cashews went to the wayside.

Still, when I got to the checkout, I found that with tax I was over budget. The $2.29 package of turkey bacon also had to go.

Here’s what I ended up with:

-2.21 pounds of chicken breasts – $5.91

-6 ounces of popcorn – $1.89

-12 large eggs – $1.85

-Jar of peanut butter – $1.79

-Half gallon of almond milk – $2.59

-Jar of tomato sauce – $1.89

-16 ounces of baby carrots – $1.19

-19.2 ounces of lean ground turkey – $3.29

-5 pounds of red potatoes – $2.99

-16.4-ounce box of shredded wheat – $2.09

-7 apples – $2.89

TOTAL: $28.37 ($.63 under budget)

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Where is the rice? The pasta? The bread? Why would you not buy those inexpensive starchy staples?

I must confess I am a bit of a health freak and the idea of eating something like spaghetti every night is just plain scary. Such items, in my humble opinion, are empty calories and void of any real nutritional value. And while other wholesome pantry favorites such as beans are a cheap, protein-rich choice, I did not want a weeklong tummy ache.

I think the real challenge is whether a person can eat a healthy, balanced diet on $29 a week and not starve.

I’m already hungry.

Take what I spent on two trips to the store last month in my prechallenge days. On March 4, I shelled out $5.37 at D’Agostino for chopped spinach alone. A March 13 trip to the store A Matter of Health cost me $13.79 for raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and bananas. Those four items added up to nearly half of what I spent on food for this entire week.

In retrospect, I should have shopped around for better deals for the challenge. There are also some healthy, cheap alternatives to fresh produce out there such as frozen peas, string beans and Brussels sprouts. Still, produce prices are high at many grocery stores. The apples and carrots I bought this week do the job, but I’m starting to miss other fresh fruits and veggies. What I wouldn’t do right now for a cup of grapes, a wedge of watermelon or a few pieces of grilled eggplant.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

In retrospect, she should have shopped around for better deals for the challenge, Marcius admits.

Spending money on expensive greens, however, means having less cash for everything else. Just see what actress Gwyneth Paltrow purchased for the challenge: the corn, onions, limes and lettuce she bought took up most of her food basket. She failed by day four.

Several readers who rely on food stamps told me they cannot afford to put nutrition first. Thomas Tan, 68, said he often whips up “slaw dogs” — a hot dog topped with cabbage and two eggs on a slice of white bread — because it fills him up. He said he’d like to incorporate vitamin-rich choices like broccoli but his dollars do not stretch that far.

Gwyneth Paltrow only managed to buy corn, onions, limes and lettuce on the challenge.

Gwyneth Paltrow only managed to buy corn, onions, limes and lettuce on the challenge.

Produce provides the body with much needed minerals but, in small quantities, appears to do little to curb hunger. For someone on food stamps, it seems staying full trumps nutrition any day of the week.

SOURCE

Previous
Next
Please wait...
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!