Eating Healthy When You’re Poor: You Can’t (UPDATED)

I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about the stereotype of the “fat poor”. You know the right-wing slur: if we’re so broke, how come so many of us are overweight? It’s just another way of claiming that being poor is our own damn fault and has NOTHING to do with, like, an income distribution system heavily shewed toward the top. In an article in the Lifestyle section (“Lifestyle”, for chrissake) of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Phuong Cat Le writes that decent food is often out of reach of the poor price-wise, especially if they’re on food stamps.

A researcher compared food prices in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and Queen Anne neighborhoods and found that a family of four living on the maximum allowable amount of food stamps can barely afford the basics here.

Jamillah Jordan, a fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C., shopped for groceries — apples, potatoes, bagels, corn flakes, macaroni, canned peaches, ground turkey and other items — and discovered what those on limited incomes know well: Even the basics cost families a little more than food stamp benefits allow.

“Nutrition is important, but it’s really a matter of economics,” said Jordan, who has been working on the Grocery Gap Project with Solid Ground, a Seattle non-profit. “People were telling us, ‘If I can’t afford a nutritious diet, I’m not going to buy it’ … If people simply can’t afford that, what does that do to their health?”

What you’d think: it hurts. I am not on food stamps but I don’t make very much above the current minimum wage and even though I live alone except for the cats (two, and they’re cheap enough), trying to eat well consistently is almost impossible. If I take home, say, $200/wk on average, my rent – one of the cheapest places I could find – takes $150 of that. That leaves only $50/wk for everything else. I often shop for absolute minimums of basic stuff, just barely enough to get me through the week, and I still spend about $40 of that $50.

To come in under the wire, I have to buy the cheapest of everything I can find, and “cheap” usually means unhealthy, mass-processed food full of starch and sugar. It’s because of this that despite the fact that I often only eat two meals a day (and they’re not large meals, anything but), try to cut the amount of starch and bulk I consume, and exercise constantly, I’m still some 25lbs overweight.

Part of that excess weight is a direct result of being poor. It’s the way the body operates: when you can’t eat regularly and there are long spaces between meals – say, 12 hours, which is not uncommon in my case – the body thinks it’s about to starve and creates more fat with the calories it gets. Smaller meals spread through the whole day is better but it’s a luxury that today’s work schedules often don’t allow. I know people who work at the local Wal-Mart, for example, who may not get a break for 6 or 7 hours, and when they do it’s for 10 mins, barely time to gulp down a sandwich before they have to get back on the floor.

On top of that is a legacy of tricks played on the welfare system for the past 40 years by its conservative opponents. In the case of food stamps, Jordan explains how they figure what’s “enough” – and their figuring doesn’t include prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets food stamp benefits for a half-million people in this state — and 26 million nationwide — by pricing items in its Thrifty Food Plan, a basket of food intended to provide a nutritious diet at a low cost. Benefits change monthly based on inflation.


Someone who doesn’t receive the maximum food stamp benefit can’t afford to eat healthfully in Seattle, Jordan said. A family of four could receive a maximum monthly benefit of $525.60 in food stamps, but the reality is most don’t, she said. The average household benefit was $183.38 month in Washington last year, below the national average of $213.91.

Jordan says the Thrifty Food Plan allowance is based on “unrealistic criteria” and doesn’t take into account regional differences in food costs. (emphasis added)

Many conservatives assume in their criticism that all the families on food stamps are getting the maximum amount the law allows but they’re not. In Washington, the average is less than half the maximum, and there are states where that average is even lower. I can barely feed myself on $180/mnth, I can’t imagine how a family of 4 can live on it. And bear in mind, if a family on food stamps does something to increase its income to cover the difference – say, Mom takes a part-time job for an extra $40-50/wk – that amount is subtracted from the stamps or may even make her ineligible to be in the program any more. Talk about work-disincentives. You can be – and probably will be – penalized for going to work.

The original welfare set-up included things like Step Programs, which continued a level of support even after you got a job. You weren’t simply cut off. There was a realization that there was still a lot of financial instability – debts, rising housing costs, illness – arising from long-time poverty that meant you would be on the edge of going down again for months or, in worst-case scenarios, years. There was even a Step Program that helped a parent who wanted to go to college to better her chances of getting a good-paying job by continuing her rent and food subsidies as long as she was in school.

But it wasn’t long before conservative Republicans were howling that that was “too much”, and they combined with Blue Dog Democrats to re-write the law so that if a woman with kids went to college, she lost all her govt help.

A large part of the War on the Poor has always been around food. Apparently that hasn’t changed.

UPDATE (10/13/15): Congratulations, commenters. You have not only missed the point, you have given your owners (employers) lots of ammunition to use when they want to lower your pitiful wages yet again. You’re either all RW trolls, or you’re so concerned about proving you can do the impossible that you’re ignoring a larger point: YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE GOING TO SUCH EXTREME MEASURES. The reason you do have to is *gasp of surprise* EXTREMELY LOW WAGES. Employers have been ripping off their employees for 30 yrs. Wages have remained stagnant while management pay has skyrocketed. So you can live healthy on $1.65 a day, can you? Foraging in the woods for roots and berries, are you? Bullshit. But even if it were true, it’s beside the point. The point is that your supervisor is living on 20x that much and your CEO is living on 900x that. You’re being ripped off and your response is, “Take more away from me so you can buy a new plane. I don’t need it. $7.50 an hour? Pay me half that. I’ll make it work.” Talk about drinking the Kool-aid. STOP ENCOURAGING THEM TO STEAL FROM YOU. You deserve better. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should have to.


70 Responses

  1. I tottaly agree with thr writer of this article. Too bad our government doesn’t reconize these things. I am to on food stamps and it’s not enough at all. My daughter is overweight and i want to buy her healthy food but I can’t afford to. Also like the article said, you should eat throught the day. Hard to do that when you don’t have food like that. We eat when we can find something to make. Its very hard. And its usually something starchy and prossesd. I know when I want to go to school, I may lose my help too. Thanks for listening.

    • Stop whining.

      Eat less? Exercise? Use your head. No matter what you put in, good exercise will burn it, especially for a young person like your daughter.

      The government wasn’t designed to provide our subsistence. It was designed to give us the opportunity to achieve it on our own and protect the right to do so.

      • That’s right, Sean. You tell em. The govt was designed to protect the rights of corporations, not people: their right to pay starvation wages, their right to be subsidized for activities they could pay on their own, their right to rake in gigantic profits on the backs of their employees and customers. Responsibility is a one-way street. The poor need to be responsible for everything, the corporations for nothing. That’s what the govt is there to protect.

        Blow it out your ass, Sean.

      • Never did I say that the government should assist corporations or that it is right. It is wrong, just as aiding individuals is wrong.

        But giving the government more power through more ‘responsibility’ will not fix the problem in the long run.

        Your sarcasm is tremendous Mick. When does the comedy blog come out?

      • I happen to live on a food stamp budget. My entire family does, in fact. So, after reading your reply, I felt I had to add some more information.

        Will exercising burn off the excess starch and sugars that you consume from a low-income diet? Yes it will, actually. However, exercise does NOT replace eating healthy. I happen to exercise vigorously every day to offset the weight that I (quickly) gain from my poor diet. I have also been to the hospital several times in the last few weeks for problems related to exercising on a poor diet.

        I do agree that the government wasn’t designed to provide money for individuals to survive. However, with the way the government is doing things now, it HAS to. Until the government is changed in a way that actually allows this country’s economy to function properly, so more people can get decent-paying jobs and purchase food, it IS the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. Have you looked at where the majority of U.S. funding goes? Take a look and you’ll see; there is plenty that can be re-allocated to food stamps.

        Sorry for ranting, but I felt it had to be said.

      • wow sean bourke have you ever even been on food stamps or been low enough to wonder what you are going to feed your kid.

      • obviously Sean has money to buy food…I HATE that attitude of people saying the poor are poor because they chose it. BULL SHIT !! The rich keep wanting more and more money and guess who it comes from…. POOR PEOPLE!! While poor people income stays the same they expect to charge more for gas, food and medicines. The rich don’t want to increase wages because that takes from their profits. WAKE UP…. people can’t live on $800 to $1,000 a month. Wall street ideals are going to destroy America because they want such huge profits and pay less to employees. Wall street you can’t have your cake and eat it too, ever heard that saying? If you’re going to raise prices on commodities (gas,food) and keep incomes low then who will be able to afford those products. I’ll tell you who, only the rich will be able to….

      • Sir, with all due respect that I generally try to give to strangers, you clearly have no clue about what the human body actually needs. Nutrition is about more than just calories. Diets of all kinds need to be balanced and food stamps just don’t allow for that. There simply isn’t enough given out. Check any medical textbook on the matter (I recommend the Williams’ Nutrition & Diet Therapy series), or any doctor, nurse, or reputable nutritionist for that matter, and they will tell will tell you the same thing about diet that I’m telling.
        For example, serum calcium levels must be at high enough levels in the blood stream for the human heart to even beat properly; as must also be potassium. However, too much of these and the heart will start having palpitations or may stop all together. As I’m fairly certain you must already know, the foods that contain these essential electrolytes are often out of reach financially for the impoverished, and on the occasion that they are able to get these things they often overdo it, consuming it all within a day or two. Guess what happens to their insides, it isn’t pretty. So yes, tell them all to exercise, but tell me what good will that do them when they are having full-blown cardiac events because they couldn’t afford to eat the right things in the first place?

    • I am disabled I get disability check in my state ( il) the state does not add to the check. Yet each time I apply for snap the answer is the same I make too much money . I make $ 733.00 alto that dropped by 10% because I got caught in the ” crime” of paying my property taxes. There is a 2 thousand rule for resources my house taxes cost 225 over that so I’m penalized and don’t qualify for snap.

  2. You’re welcome. I don’t know if it helps to know this, but you’re not alone. We all need to start making more noise before people start actually starving to death.

  3. You are SO right! I try to eat “healthy” (I still have to have my cheeseburgers every once and a while) but the prices of food are getting out of control! I absolutely believe that there is a correlation between economic levels and the ability to eat healthy.

  4. It is very hrd to eat healthy if poor. obesity is not just caused by overeaqting. many people gai alot of weight from meds like psych meds. You don’t have to eat alot to bloat up like a baloon when taking these. I told my dr. I don’t eat that well and he told me to stop eating. junk. well he can pay for my food! Im on ssi and can’t afford or do much.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly! I found this article while doing a Google search for “how to eat healthy on food stamps”… because, while I am not currently on food stamps, I am about to apply for them next week. I have a barely above minimum wage job, and support my 81-year old father who lives with me. We spend (on average) about 75-100 a week on groceries. We’d spend less if we ate crap. I am 100 pounds overweight, and it stems from years of having to “eat poor…” Now due to health concerns, I am trying desperately to lose weight, but have noticed in the past two weeks that grocery prices have nearly DOUBLED in many of the items that we purchase. I already shop at the cheapest place I can find (Walmart, mostly), clip coupons, and buy generic. I don’t know what else I can do. I have been out of work since May – our savings is now gone, and we are only drawing my father’s Social Security and very small pension from his job. By the time I pay the mortgage and electric bill, as well as water and phone…the money is GONE. None left over at ALL with which to purchase food. So – I am going to apply for food stamps on Monday morning and basically BEG for some help. Of course, I guess in doing so I can kiss the 33 pounds that I DID manage to lose over the Summer good-bye. (sigh) No way will we be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, or whole grains. 😦

  6. I did a google search “eating healthy when your broke” and found this. Me and my husband just applied for food stamps since his hours were cut and we’re barely making it. Before that we were hitting up the dollar menus at fast food joints daily..hmm $1 double cheeseburger or a $7 salad. I prefer the later but my wallet wont allow it. Obviously the more money you make the less amount of foodstamps you receive. Its hard not to feel ashamed especially in Cali when everyone and their brothers are soaking up the system and were borderline bankrupt as it is. But I am much more ashamed of my ever increasing waste line so what choice do I have? Being low income means less options, and the only options readily available are empty calorie foods with ZERO nutritional value. WE have to be the ones to make the change because these multi-billion dollar grossing hamburger slingers are going nowhere anytime soon my friends,

  7. “We all need to start making more noise before people start actually starving to death.” -Mick

    I almost did starve to death in college. Literally. No Joke. I had to ration Ramen Noodles at one point, four $.10 packages per day. After I’d moved up in the world, I was able to afford plain spaghetti noodles with salt and sometimes parmesan cheese. That was it. Sometimes I didn’t cook them and ate them dry for something different. My doctor thought I was anorexic because because I was underweight and I couldn’t seem to make him believe that I was just extremely poor. I was an art student, so any extra money I had went to rent and supplies for my classes. It was awful and no one wanted to help. I looked homeless because I hadn’t purchased new clothes in three years.

    After I’d landed a “real job” and left college, I had enough for real food like cereal and fruit, and it was seriously culture shock. For a few months, I would still come home from grocery shopping with pasta just because I wasn’t used to buying food. I then gained way more weight than I needed to be healthy because I just ate and ate and ate and now I’m trying to work off the excitement I’d enjoyed when I could buy real food.

    Sorry for the rant. Our whole system is just SO messed up. It really is. I know a woman who is on food stamps and all she buys is junk food, cookies, chips, soda… It just baffles me that they’re allowed to buy junk with foodstamps. Why can’t they make those things illegal to buy and mandate HEALTHY food options. Our government would save so much money on health care if it would just look at the source of the problem: You are what you eat. Instead of trying to cut back food stamp spending, they should pump a little more into it. Imagine the millions they would save on health care costs if they would only spend a little more on FOOD.

  8. I’m not trying to be rude at all… I was on food stamps at one point in my life when I needed a helping hand. But if someone is on food stamps and is paying a cell phone bill, an internet bill, a cable bill… any of those NON necessities… they have absolutely NO RIGHT to complain about not getting healthy food. Food stamps are there to help, not be the entire source of income for your food unless you are seriously disabled or something.
    I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people swipe a food stamp card with pretty new solar nails and nice pretty professionally pedicured toes and the latest hairstyle and brand name clothes. Pisses me off that my tax dollars pay for them to eat.
    Also, people CAN eat healthy on limited incomes….I’m proof of that. My whole family suffers from a chronic debilitating bacterial tickborn tisease and co-infections. Only my husband is able to work right now and we have three kids…all of us needing serious medical treatment. a 6 yr old with Fibromyalgia and joint pain and behavior issues, an 8 yr old with joint pain and neurological disorders, a teenager with severe muscle twitching and bone pain and me with seizures along with everything else. We aren’t on disability, we are not on food stamps. We are not OWED anything and we spend $500 a month on insurance that doesn’t cover chronic Lyme disease.
    I use the library for internet, I’m not too proud to shop at thrift stores and walmart and I’ve never in my life owned a cell phone. We don’t have cable and I paint my own nails when I want to feel pretty. It’s HARD but it can be done! You don’t have to have meat at every meal… or every day… or EVER really. And you can eat FAR less than the average person and be quite healthy if you eat the right foods. If you can’t afford to go to college and eat something besides Ramen noodles… then go to school somewhere part time and work part time or full time. There are ways around everything like that… and I’m not downing anyone who is on assistance that needs it. I’ve been there. If you don’t want to get a job because you might lose your food stamps… you shouldn’t be on food stamps!

    • Keep in mind that some of us are actually trying to survive off of food stamps because we have no other income that can be used to purchase food. I get $200/month that feeds me and my fiancee. Thats $100 each, per month. We have no other source of income because there is no business within 15 miles hiring and neither of us can afford to ravel more than 15 miles/day. There are a lot of people in this situation.

    • I totally agree, and just as Dawn said I’m not trying to be rude either. I’m a college student and currently looking for a job. I probably spend anywhere between $10 and $30 a week on groceries, and sometimes less than that. I guess what, I don’t buy any junk whatsoever since I’m trying to lose weight as well and it’s working (especially since I walk everywhere since gas is so high).
      I think the thing you need to realize is that just because you might not be able to afford lots of veggies, fruits, and meat doesn’t mean the only thing left to eat is potato chips. Don’t try to eat like an upper middle class person because you’re not! You need to go back to the basics man. I’m talking making things from scratch, beans and cornbread (or johnny cakes which require less ingredients), beans and rice, oatmeal in the morning, eggs, yogurt (which is always on sale), etc. These things are very cheap as well as nutritional. Buy these things in bulk.
      I also have long stretches of time where I can’t have a proper meal because of my class schedule. This is when I take things along with me like nuts and dried fruit which are both very filling. They’re a bit more pricey but I save them for these occasions so that I can lose weight properly.
      It can be done, but you need to go back to the basics. This means planning and thinking ahead.

    • Ma’am, in regards to those individuals that you have seen in the stores; odds are that they either beauticians, barbers, manicurists, or know people that are who do it for them for free. As a matter of being able to attract the customers that literally pay their wages all beauticians and manicurists must maintain a polished or eye-catching appearance, and they often primp friends and family for free. I know this because I know people who work in these businesses.
      Yes you can eat healthy on a microscopic budget, it you live somewhere that healthy food is either cheap to buy or has “above and beyond” food pantries that offer meats and produce that local grocers have pulled off of the shelves. Outside of that, there is much that people in my position can do. I count myself lucky to live in a place that has “above and beyond” food pantries, because otherwise I and my diabetic mother would starve.

  9. I wish that people that DO make it work on food stamps would share a bit about HOW they make it work. That would really be the most helpful thing. I don’t have food stamps, but I’ve lived on very limited budgets well, forever. The thing is, cheap junk food actually makes you hungrier. If you have any room at all and can grow food, or if your community has a community garden, that’s really the way to go to get veggies. The soluble fiber and nutrients in veggies (eat the skin!) is way good for you and keeps you feeling full. Some local markets can have really good deals on veggies too if you can get there. Frozen better than canned, but canned isn’t the end of the world. I do eggs for breakfast, brown rice, beans, and 4 cups cucumbers for lunch, a piece of fruit in the afternoon, and 4 more cups of veggies(variety), dark green salad, and a piece of chicken for dinner. I usually only do the chicken a few days a week. Sometimes I use frozen shrimp or a hard boiled egg in my salad instead. Like I said, I’m not on food stamps, but this actually works out to be pretty reasonable for me if I plan in out and buy things that are on sale, etc. Pay attention to the per serving and per unit price of things too. Also, TELL people that you are broke. It may sound strange, but you can “glean” a ton of food by taking leftovers and having other people share their leftovers with you. People that have money waste a lot of food, and they’re usually willing to share it with you…especially couples who don’t have kids who end up making more food than they need on a regular basis.

    • Food pantries and orginization like angle food ministries. The former is how me and my family make sixteen dollors a month in food stamps stretch.

  10. Well after reading this I felt it was necessary to leave my comment. I’m not sure what Dawn’s on about, maybe she doesn’t have it as bad as others regardless of the lyme disease deal. Some of us actually are going to school and do need the internet or a phone, they aren’t really NON necessities if you have them for a reason. Some people can do telemarketing for a few extra pennies, or other reasons. Some people go to college online for plenty of reasons, or have papers they can download and library hours don’t cut it, plus sharing with other people. My local library only has 4 computers. You guessed it, four! They’re always taken up by kids playing the bubble popping games, or a word game. They don’t have any software to handle school documents either, like photoshop, and they are very old. So it is a necessity if you are going to school under certain terms. If you didn’t have to compose a work of art, i would say, just a paper, okay that’s a library thing.

    Now…. Dawn doesn’t get it, that when you start a job, you lose all your stamps, when stamps pay a more reliable amount for food than a crappy job you could get laid off of anytime, if you don’t want to get a job because you’re on them, then you shouldn’t be on them? What? Where is the logic?
    I have been told the same thing by a potential donor. Just because we’re on stamps doesn’t mean we’re dumb, and I feel angry at the people who get their nails done and dress like paris hilton whilst being on stamps. I have never seen this in my area. However, maybe think of it in a different way. Suppose she didn’t pay for them? Maybe she has a friend that is training to be a nail tech, maybe she STOLE [gasp, that’s what people do sometimes!] the clothing. Back on the dumb thing though. It depends, really on what the situation is.

    I am going to be 18 in two weeks, and I moved out (got kicked) because I married my husband. I knew I was going to be on stamps, but the situation was enough to make me choose being poor, to get away from hoarding my food from obese parents and being shut in my tiny room all day.
    We applied for food stamps when we moved out. At this point he was still on training pay, which was great, we got 1,500 a month. We only got about 100 bucks in stamps. It was okay, because we had leftover money to buy whatever food, fruits, veggies, juices… etc. Now, I totally wish there was a place around here whose rent is 150, but ours is 505. So, take 505 from 1.5, leaves 1,000. That’s okay, good enough to buy toilet paper, towels, garbage bags, those necessities. THEN he got off training pay. BAM. Went down to 800 a month when he wasn’t doing many mechanical hours. When he DID do mech hours, he got paid LESS. Figure that. The pay was suposed to be 13.5 an hour, but he got 9.45. Then his glasses broke, and we thought hey, why not get insurance, because he was going to be ineligible for medicaid, turning 21 in a few months. So he got insurance. not only did they not pay enough to even rectify getting it, it sucked $200 a check from us. So now we all the sudden make 600 a month. Went to the food stamps guy, and we get 170 now. Now tell me that isn’t slightly tough? 600 a month. 505 rent. Don’t even get me started on my 120 electric/heat bill because my complex doesn’t pay heat. I get charged extra when we use hot water, so no showers for us more than twice a month! I don’t have any money for “luxuries” like dawn and these accusers say! Luckily I am going to college, and my internet is being paid because it’s an online only school. It’s not a luxury, ma’am it is part of my education. We don’t pay for anything except rent, renters insurance and the heat/electric. Those things are things we can barely afford as well, but don’t go telling me to cut those off! Those aren’t things you CAN! It’s getting into the cold season again here, and I sit here with my blankets wrapped around shivering, because where is the money going to come from to pay this ridiculously long paper filled with surcharges and delivery chargers and optimization charges?

    This is why we need stamps. They ARE the only source of food income. We as in, the US, we need more help in this economy. As far as my input directly on the stamps, the author is completely right. What Kait said would be hard to do in my situation, and I’m sure a lot of others too. When on stamps, you have to buy the cheapest dinners there are. This means a lot of soup for me. I still have braces, and it limits what I can gnaw into, especially after an adjustment. 170 a month for two people when it’s the only food income you’ve got, you can’t just buy fruits and veggies, you have to buy cheap things like peanut butter and jelly, soup, sardines, pop is cheaper than juice here. Milk is the most expensive, but we drink a lot of it. cereal, ramen, anything on sale, like pizza subs, when they’re 10 for 5 bucks. frozen dinners for a dollar, etc. You can’t buy lean cuisine, it’s too expensive, you’d get more bang for your buck if you buy the cheap stuff. chips and salsa, mac n cheese, crackers, things like that. We’ve tried fruit and veggies on this, but it doesn’t work, it goes bad too fast, and it turns into a waste of money. Our fridge has two settings, freeze everything, or let it melt. Frosty veggies aren’t good. We can’t grow veggies in an apartment, they throw down pesticides, and other nasties, and mow the lawn every other day. Especially with all the dogs around, they’d eat them, and our side gets hardly any sunlight. It sounds like a great idea, if I lived in a house or trailer.

    Kait, your other idea about gleaning food from people doesn’t work if your only friends are teenagers that are dealing with the same food problem, or you have parents who eat all of their food and leave no leftovers. 😦

    One last thing before I cut this monster of a comment off. Yes, it does make you fat. I am now 70 pounds overweight because you can only buy a small amount of cheap food, or a smaller amount of “good” food. I only eat once a day, too. I’m too depressed to exercise, and it doesn’t ever help anyway. That’s another thing to add. The cheap, starchy, processed food we have to buy makes us lethargic, and getting fatter makes us depressed, thus unhappy and too tired to exercise.


  11. I completely disagree with this. When I was younger we were on food stamps and eating healthy was absolutely possible. You can barely feed yourself on 180 a month? You’re doing something wrong. Brown rice, oatmeal, dried beans, frozen vegetables are VERY inexpensive per serving and are tasty and healthy foods. A large container of oats is no more than 3 to 4 dollars and provides 30 servings of nutritious whole grains that will keep you full for a while, that’s breakfast for a whole month right there. Eggs are a cheap and nutritious way to get protein as well as lentils and split peas. Stop complaining.

    • OMG yes thankyou! I honestly don’t know what these people are on about! It makes no sense! I’m a poor college student spending less on groceries than most of these people and I’ve found that I can eat very healthy on my very limited budget. It’s called beans people! buy them! they last forever, are rediculously cheap, tasty, nutritious, and one bag will last you a while. Same with oatmeal. Eggs too. Throw in just a few veggies (not a lot if you can’t afford it) and fruit (bananas anyone?, cheap as shit!) and you’re eating better than most middle class americans.

    • Your right those things in of themselves are very cheap, but your forgeting one thing, the seasonings and other stuff used to prepare them. Have you ever eaten plain oatmeal? Filling and nutritious, yes. Plesant to eat, not so much. This my seem like whining to you, but the impoverished are still human beings, and want actually enjoy what they are eating like everyone else. Also, the prices of these basic things are on the rise. So little of it can be bought in the first place. BWT just how much are you getting and how many people arre you feeding with it?

    • I agree about the eggs I love eggs. Here’s the challenge my disabled daughter can’t eat eggs it messes up her breathing usually only a little but couple times in ambulance.

  12. Barely feed yourself on $180 a month???

    I spend like $50 a month at most and have tons of healthy foods.

    If I had $180 a month to spend on food I would feel so rich. You should feel fortunate to have that much extra funds.

    Focus on oatmeal and other cheap grains. Brown rice is nutritious and cheap. You will have a hard time eating pounds of that at a time… trust me.

    Buy cheap greens and vegetables. Get fruit when it’s on sale.

    Potatoes are very cheap ($3 for 10 pounds) and can be used in a variety of meals. Many times I combine a potato with a half can of soup adding in bulk frozen vegetables.

    Sprout for extra nutrients. An $8 pound of sprout seeds can go a long way in terms of volume of food an nutrition.

    If need be, drop meat or have it every few days. Replace it with beans and peanut butter to get certain proteins into your diet.

    • You have some solid advice on saving money, but food isn’t that cheep where I live. On top of that not all people can eat that kind of carb intencive diet.

  13. You’re flat-out lying, Sara. NOBODY can eat healthy on $50/month in America. It’s absurd. That isn’t even $2/day. I don’t know what you’re trying to prove but I suspect you’re a right-wing troll doing what all right-wing trolls do.


    Go away.

    • Dude it’s true! You just gotta know how to cook. You wouldn’t believe how long things like beans and oatmeal will last you. Here’s something that I do also that makes everything tasty. Buy 1 whole chicken for a special occasion, roast it (easier than most people think), enjoy. They usually have the innards in the cavity (heart, liver, giblets, neck, etc.) fry those up for a tasty and nutritious treat. Now that that’s over, take the leftover roasted, and now picked clean carcus, put it in a pot, and simmer for 4 hours to make broth. This broth, super nutritious, will last you forever because it makes a ton. Store in ziplok bags in the freezer till you need it. Now you can do anything you want with it. Make onion soup (onions are cheap), use it to cook rice in, etc etc etc.
      Trust me, buy those cheap grains and beans, throw the occasional veggie and chicken in, and you’ll be surprized on how little you can live on. Canned sardines are also very good for you and cheap.

  14. I’m not a right wing troll.

    I’m simply giving you my experience in life. I’m poor. I can’t apologize for that. I’m just poor. I have had weeks where I had $20 which had to last more than a month and it’s been incredibly hard at times.

    I’m just saying that if I had $7 per day I would feel great about it all compared to the money I normally spend on food.

    You can learn alot from a grandmother who lived during the depression. She showed me many 20 cent meals to make. Of course I had since added to these to have more taste and whatnot. There are many great recipes out there. Do searches online for 20 cent meals or 30 cent meals. You can get hundreds of ideas from very cheap food sources.

    I guess if I’m trying to prove anything is that you can eat good foods that aren’t loaded with fats, calories, sugars, and artificial sweeteners on a very limited budget like mine.

    I eat things during the day as follows:

    Sprout salads
    Rice and bean combinations – add part of a can of soup for varied tastes
    Peanut butter and jelly
    Egg meals sometimes with ham or cheese
    Lots of bananas (esp when 29 cents a pound) 🙂
    Oranges and apples when on sale
    Oatmeal with raisins
    Celery/Carrots for snacks or side dishes
    I have grown some produce or got discounts at the farmer’s market by going at the end of the day when the farmer’s give good a discount.
    I just drink water since everything else is just too expensive.
    Many times you have to eat things on sale or in season.
    I hardly ever buy packaged products besides bread. I take raw materials and make alot of my own food combination when needed.

    I keep my sodium, fat, and carb intake fairly low. I get all my nutrients as needed. Realistically even on a limited budget I get better nutrition than someone eating processed foods and fast food all the time.

    I’m sorry if I sound like a troll. I’m just saying that being poor sooooo long $7 sounds awesome.

    Thanks 😀

  15. Oh I forgot…

    Some stores give you double or even triple coupons. Many times you can get a $2 item for like 20 cents or so. And on Facebook there are many companies that give you free items for becoming their friends.

    I follow some “mommy blogs” that give you the latest and greatest coupons you can print out.

    If you are poor, there is hope. 😀 Just do some of the work to try to save money.

    I wish you the best.


  16. I don’t think Sara is lying about being able to live on $50 per month ($1.65 per day). We all can do it but most don’t have the discipline and it is difficult to sustain since it’s unhealthy in the long run if the budget doesn’t allow for fruit and non-starchy vegetables often.

    Sure, “pop is cheaper than juice” but water is free! And healthier for you. People drink soda because it tastes good and it’s silly to try to convince anyone otherwise.

    Also, I don’t understand the logic of “I am now 70 pounds overweight because you can only buy a small amount of cheap food, or a smaller amount of “good” food”. If you believe that statement, then shouldn’t it be true that you would lose weight AND be able to get the good food? You can buy half the amount of food you currently buy but now be able to afford better quality and/or greater variety.

    Rather than eating one meal, eat 1/4 of that meal four times throughout the day (you can buy inexpensive storage containers or better yet, reuse the tubs from margarine, sour cream, yogurt or the like). If you work long hours without breaks, or only have literally 5 minutes to eat, bring along snacks like an apple, banana or carrot. Portable meals that are quick to eat could be a whole-wheat sandwich made with a tablespoon of peanut butter and some raisins or a whole-wheat pita filled with lentils and fresh veggies that are in season.

    Rather than spending your $1 on eating out like Sam (a luxury for people who are on a food budget), spend that $1 on 5 servings of salad instead of a fast-food burger, if you want to be healthy. Fresh spinach is $2 for about 10 cups (even cheaper if you have access to farmer’s markets).

  17. I love it. At this point I am certain that if food stamps were 50c a month, any suggestion that that wasn’t enough would bring people out of the woodwork with helpful ideas about how to boil shoe leather into a healthy stew and complaints about how anybody who isn’t willing to live like that is a fat, lazy good-for-nothing who doesn’t deserve any help and ought to starve if she’s going to buy soda instead of drinking “free” water. (Which isn’t free, btw. It’s up to $2/gal in supermarkets and the tap water in many places is now undrinkable even tho towns now charge service fees that can be pretty high especially in those places that have privatized their water supplies.)

    You people need to start dealing with the real issue: the $$$ is flowing straight to the top and is going to continue to do so until we stop the theft. That’s why there are more hungry people, more homeless people, and fewer jobs than existed 30 yrs ago instead of more. Making dopey arguments about how people can live on $1.65 a day if they just try are missing the point by a mile.

  18. This is amazing. An entire blog dedicated solely to the proposition that you are entirely powerless over your life. I am amazed that someone so apparently to unable life is motivated enough to change the world.

    I’m not going to speculate on whether YOU can live on the average food stamp benefit, but I know I could, because I do. We have these places called PriceRite and Aldi in Massachusetts and the food is very cheap. My food bill runs about $20 a week. Granted, I don’t eat a whole lot and what I eat is pretty cheap (produce, mostly).

    If I went to Stop & Shop, I would probably pay $50 a week for the fancy store.

    A great way to cut costs is to cut out sugar completely. Due to restrictive trade laws, Americans pay multiples of the real price of sugar. That’s why candy is so expensive here.

    I don’t think poor people who buy soda are always wasteful. If you’re spending $3 a week to have a can of generic soda once a day, who cares? But you’re more likely to see a poor person buying the $1.99 20 oz Coke bottles, one at a time, thus spending $14 for a purchase that could have been $3. When I worked in a convenience store, I noticed that wealthier folks tended to buy the better values more often. You would think that the poor person would be more likely to get the cheapest available item, but the opposite was usually true.

    I have never lived in a place where water more than $.002 a gallon. Just like when Mick claimed that a $9/hour job put you over the eligibility threshold for student aid, this guy is full of BS. And someone actually thinks that a fast food salad costs $7? Are you freaking kidding me? Have you seen the Dollar Menu at any point in the last decade?

    The author of this blog seems to be in an alternate universe where he pays more than everyone else and there are no student loans.

    • “When I worked in a convenience store, I noticed that wealthier folks tended to buy the better values more often. You would think that the poor person would be more likely to get the cheapest available item, but the opposite was usually true.”

      This certainly happens because poor people normally live hand-to-mouth week-by-week. They only have a set amount for that week. If you spend $3.00 on the bulk buy you may not have enough to buy other things you need.

      In this way poor people are penalized the same way that singles living alone are penalized. Reduced price bulk buys generally don’t suit them.

      If you are on a really tight budget and no food at all (some people if they move house they will only have emergency food vouchers) you may not want to spend $5 on $5 kilos of rice, you might want to spend $1.99 on a much smaller (less cost effective) amount and spend the other $3.00 on your meat for the week.

      Storage problems also come into it. Poor people often don’t have the storage available to people who are better off. I know I don’t have the storage space for a large bag of rice.

      Not only that but if they don’t have a car large bags of anything are difficult to transport.

      On my blog at you will see that these problems arise when you have a completely empty cupboard. If you stick to menu planning and build up your stocks of more expensive items like spices and oils etc you can eventually start to afford the more economic bulk buys but it takes time and it does depend on whether you can store them.

  19. Hey all- I made a website specifically about this stuff- Hope you find it helpful!

  20. […] 71.) “Eating Healthy When You’re Poor: You Can’t” at Dispatch from the Trenches […]

  21. Actually, my daughter and I are proof that you can eat healthy on very little money. I was a stay at home mom to my toddler, and when my husband walked out on us for his mistress, we had to struggle right off the bat. OK, $50 a month would be a stretch for us, but that’s because we live in the northeastern US and stuff is just flat out more expensive up here. But I did feed both of us and manage to maintain a healthy weight through healthy food and exercise, and it cost about $80/month. It wasn’t fabulous. I shopped at scratch and dents and discount grocery stores (Walmart is NOT cheap food, by the way), sometimes shopping as many as 3 grocery stores per shopping day just to get all the discounts I needed, but I did it. At one point, I did apply for food stamps, and they said I qualified for nearly $300/month. THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS! I wouldn’t even know what to BUY with $300 a month!!!! I did not get food stamp benefits, as I was denied due to my inability to produce non-existent paperwork (long story), but I do know how much is available to some people out there. Life is much better for me now, and I’m very thankful for that, but I do still manage to keep the grocery bill down around the same level, since I know it’s possible. Also, as far as being overweight, never underestimate the power of exercise. It works. Also, there are food pantries for the truly poor. If you really can’t find a way to afford food at all, they exist and are ready to help, as are Jewish Community Centers, and Catholic Charities. There are many ways to afford food and not have to live on a steady diet of Ramen noodles and cheesy poofs, nor even to have to live on food stamps at all.

  22. I have been eating for $55 Aus per fortnight. For one person.That is our version of food stamps. It is difficult as you can’t buy enough fruit.

    I record my menu plans, recipes, shopping lists on a blog. The key is menu planning and using the whole chicken;also using “twins” recipes, that is have two recipes that use 1/2 can of corn in the same week.

    Most peoplewho “eat poor” also have at least one big meal that makes 4 seperate meals (keep extra meals in freezer) each week. It can be a bit monotonous but it’s how they do it.

    Here is my recipe for Chicken Soup Served 3 Way to show you what I mean.

  23. the internet is always the source of cheap stuffs, you can buy cheap electronics, cheap softwares and other stuffs `~;

  24. I LOVE healthy food! I cannot afford it. A vegetable tray and bottled water are a treat for me. I am one of two working. I don’t make enough to eat the best foods there are. I cannot afford CURVES or Weight Watchers or anything that costs MONEY. I have enough money to pay my rent, the phone and gas TO GET TO WORK. There are enough advertisements about being healthy. They always show people WITH MONEY. Well, when you can barely afford to get to work and have to pay bills, there is NOTHING left. Not everyone has credit or checking or rich friends. Ya, if I could have a trainer and lose 80 Lbs, I would!!!! Until then. We eat cheap so we can survive.

  25. I’d just like to say this:

    By myself, I can live $70 a month on food. And I can eat healthy even so. How? I buy raw fruit, frozen veggies, a little bit of pasta, rice, beans, and fish every now and then. Milk, oatmeal, ceral, you know, the very basic stuff. While this lifestyle may not call for the tastiest of meals, I can proudly announce that it is not impossible to eat healthy on an extreamly limited budget. Espessialy when you’re eating mostly veggies, fruit, and then meat. Besides, its far cheaper to by each ingrediant individually then to by somthing pre-made, like say, a $1 double cheeseburger at Mcd’s.

    • I’m interested to know how cheap your fruit is. It costs about 70c Australian for one orange here. I think that’s about $1.40 US. Apples about the same at the moment.

      Are your pasta and flour products more expensive if they are wholemeal? It is that way here. If you buy wholemeal flour it is more expensive than processed flour.

  26. And on the side note, I’m not in the lest bit overweight. 5’4″ 130 pounds and losing more. I don’t starve myself, I eat 1600 calories a day, somtimes more. I walk 5 miles one way to Wal-Mart, once a week, 2 miles one way to work 4-5 times a week. Drink nothing but water, somtimes green tea, rarely milk. Just goes to show that poor people arn’t nessessarly that much worse off. It just means that americans in general are too spoiled to realise what they’ve got. So if you if get 180 a month on food stamps and you still complain, somthing’s not right.

    • Americans are totally spoiled. People need to get out of their 21st century mindset and realize that people lived without pop tarts and frozen meals for a long time. Use the internet and actually learn how to cook from scratch. That’s the key to cheaper meals.

  27. I live in Australia and have been a single mum since my husband passed 4 years ago. I am currently studying full time. Per week I have around $60-80 for shopping. Not just for food but also for toilet paper, wash powder, soap, shampoo and all other items needed to run a household. I have two children and feeding them healthily is almost impossible.

    To give you an idea of food prices in my part of Australia: 1 loaf wholemeal bread $3-4, bananas $13 per kilo, brocolli $6 per kilo, cheap mince $10 per kilo. Milk $4 for 2 litres.

    I do the best I can, often skipping meals so the kids can eat or living on toast made with the cheapest white bread. I found a butcher who uses offal mixed with flour to make patties/hamburgers and that is what I must sometimes feed my children to ensure they get protein.

    It makes me sad as my husband was a proud, hard working man and would be horrified to see where his death and a mistake on his employers part (he had ticked the wrong insurance box so we received nothing when he died) has left the family he loved.

    Not everyone relying on Government payments is happy to be on them. At least for me there is light at the end of the tunnel. I will finish my degree, earn a decent wage and be able to work towards regaining some of what my husband and I had.

    So many times I want to quit studying but that will leave us always struggling. At least this way the day will come when I can provide for my family and allow my husband to rest in peace.

    For all those across the world struggling to remain healthy despite financial hardship I wish you the best and advise you to talk to others. Sharing information, tips, recipes, storage methods and details of cheap food outlets is a small step in helping each other out. Good luck.

  28. Dear Theresa,
    Maybe look into replacing soap, shampoos, and other household products with natural (and healthy) options if you haven’t, which also should be cheaper in any area. I find shampoo ingredients to be disgusting (truly), so I started using baking soda and vinegar for my hair. I have to wash my hair less often and its incredibly cheap (even higher end baking soda which don’t contain metals). I do wash my face with extra-virgin olive oil, but a few drops goes a long way and I don’t need specialized soaps and lotions anymore to have healthy skin.
    Instead of bleach, detergent, and carpet cleaner, use simple white vinegar. Napkins (and T.P. if you’re daring) can be replaced with washable towelettes.. I handwash a lot of my clothes – originally to make the fabric and dyes last longer, but I had to do it when I couldn’t afford to use a washing machine. I’m also a student and I try to listen to lectures and educational recordings while washing clothes so I don’t find it to be a waste of time, just hardwork.

    Check around for deals on protein powders. I’m vegan so I use organic hemp or soy powders to supplament the protein found in vegetables and grains (not much but its there). I’m not really a fan of soy despite using it, but most powders should be cheaper than meat or milk and many of them contain added vitamins. Chocolate whey tastes great, too. Just an idea. I get mine off amazon. Best to you.

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  32. […] (Eating healthy on a food stamp diet.) according to at least a couple of bloggers (here), and (here). They posit that people who are earning insufficient wages to buy nutritious food can afford to […]

  33. I grow things like cucumbers, tomatoes, lemons, capers, parsley, arugula, chives, basil, sage, watercress, nasturtium flowers, and other things so I don’t have to go out and buy them. Yes, I eat the nasturtium flowers and leaves. They’re nutritious and safe to eat. I live in Southern California so I can do that much of the year. I do this on my two balconies. I rent, I don’t own. I find it wonderful to go out and pick delicious things I grew, to eat. I realize, as a born New Yorker, you cannot do this outside all year long in much of the country. But, since I’m here, I will continue to do so as long as I’m here. Even while back in NY, I grew , in a small space, as much as I could and often had a bounty. It takes very little effort, really.

  34. I am really tired of all the people that want to blame the rich for having too much or the Government for not doing more. I grew up in a low income household and remember eating pinto beans and cornbread for most meals. But that has absolutely nothing to do with why I am poor today. I am poor because I made stupid decisions. i.e. I dropped out of High School, smoked pot, drank beer, and hung around a bunch a losers just like me. Even when I have done well in life I did not deserve it. I just got lucky enough to land a good job because of someone I knew. My whole life I believed the entire liberal BS that the Government owes me something and had an I want what the rich people has attitude, but I was never willing to work for it. However, now I know the truth, the Government only gives people enough to keep them needing more, so they will stay dependent on them, thereby giving the Government more power. The bottom line is anyone can make it in this world if they would just stop blaming everyone else for their problems and take responsibility for their own mistakes, screw-ups, piss-poor decision making or whatever is keeping you poor. Every rich person out there has either busted their ass to be successful and rich or they have busted their ass to stay rich. Many people have acquired wealth in some way or another, but wealth does not change who anyone is as a person. That being said those individuals are as poor now as ever, because they kept living the same way they were living. So the bottom line is there is plenty enough help out there to help anyone who is willing to bust their ass to improve their life and their situation for the better. I am living proof; I went from being drug addicted 12 time loser to being a successful Physician Assistant with a very prominent cardiology practice, making over $90,000 a year. I am married to the woman of my dreams and a wonderful son. Once I took responsibility for my own life and stop blaming the world for my own shortcomings and have had nothing but success. Was it easy? Hell NO!!!! But if you think making it in this world is easy, that is your biggest problem and you’re never going to amount to a hill of beans, period!!!

    • Man, Travis, you haven’t just been drinking the kool ade. You’re drunk on it. Will you listen to yourself? ‘Every rich person out there has either busted their ass to be successful and rich or they have busted their ass to stay rich.’ Really? That’s what you wanna go with?

      They didn’t bust their ass, Trav baby, they busted yours. And mine and a lot of other people’s. Hugo once said that behind every great fortune was a great crime. You think it was all hard work? It was some hard work…thieving, murdering, extorting, bribing, etc etc etc. What are, you? 13? Grow up.

    • This is golden, I had to comment on it.

      Let’s say it’s true that you “busted your ass” and now run your own cardiology practice, making $90,000 a year. Well, this of course implies that other people who aren’t making $90,000 a year are lazing about and smoking pot like you were. I’m not going to talk about my story where I did none of these things and genuinely bust my ass every day at my job for $17 an hour, which is quite honestly damn good pay and I don’t complain about it a bit (nor live on government assistance). However, I didn’t get there alone.

      See, the government paid for the roads I drive on every day to get to work. And they paid for the ones you drive on too. They also provided you that Sallie Mae loan for the education you needed to learn about cardiology, and quite possibly had a lot to do with regulating the loans you inevitably took out to start that practice. The government also provides for your child’s education (regardless of whether or not it’s at a public school), and subsidizes your health insurance by paying for the most expensive health risk group (the elderly). By doing this, they also subsidize each and every one of your cardiology customers, either directly by providing the Medicare payments your practice receives (as you’re in cardiology), or indirectly by alleviating insurance companies from the aforementioned major health risk group, so your customers can afford to pay the obscene profits of their insurance company.

      It’s also not true that all rich people “busted their ass” to become rich. For some evidence of this, consider the dynasties of wealth that existed in the 1910s and 20s and have come back again today. Wealth goes through families, I recommend you watch Born Rich and The One Percent by Jamie Johnson (of Johnson and Johnson). Very good movies and they completely contradict your position.

      You also said that you’re poor today, but that’s contradicted by your $90,000 a year income. I’m sorry, but everything you’ve said is just wrong. People make money by working hard, it’s true, but it’s absolutely not true that the only reason people are poor is because they’re lazy or smoke pot. It’s degrading and condescending.

      • Thanks for this, Zeke. I’ve apparently lost my ability to be patient with such people. You make (part of) the case very well.

    • Okay, what about those who are disabled, and CANNOT WORK or who CHOOSE not to be fraking rich? Maybe that is incomprehensible to you. What about the reality of people who work minimum wage jobs, people who cut your lawns, sell your clothes, feed you and clean your house? What about cutbacks in financial aid for poorer students, who can no longer afford college? What about the college graduate who can’t find more that a minimum wage job, and has to live with his or her parents? You needrink a serious reality check. This isn’t an Ayn Rand or Horatio Alger fantasy.

  35. I’m eating yummy knockoff kraft dinner! Tomarrow: can of lentils. Happy joy! 🙂
    I’m in Canada and I’m poor, but after college, just like all my friends who graduated animation, I will be making 1000 a month to start out. I can’t wait to cleanse my Collin, then! Lol.
    I work out lots to manage my weight and eat the canned veggies and lentils at least.
    Good luck! Don’t let being poor make you chubby! You caaaan doooo it! 🙂

  36. This how to eat healthy when your poor list is great!!

  37. What about getting a roommate or two? Even if you are in a small place, a roommate can work. I paid rent to sleep on a couch when I was younger. Not perfect, but it allowed all of us in the house to live decently on minimum wage.


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  41. Well the obvious solution is to become one of the rich people! If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Those bootstraps won’t pull themselves up…

  42. Boy, do I hear you. I’m trying to Lose some weight. I have a very difficult time doing so. My endocrinologist tells me I should eat between 1800 and 2000 calories a day. I am trying, but I can’t afford to eat that way, unless I consume more than the “daily requirement” of carbs. What diet websites, dieticians and other “health sites” don’t address is poverty. They also don’t address health issues that come up on low carb diets. I tried a very low carbon diets, and got horribly sick. There has got to be a happy medium, but I haven’t found it.

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