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Florida-Agriculture.com
Division of Marketing and Development
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Mayo Building, M-9
407 South Calhoun Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800
(850) 617-7300

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Adam H. Putnam, Commissioner

Debunking the Myth

High-Quality Meals for Low-Income Families

Set up:

USDA Logo

Families on fixed or low incomes are often eligible for financial assistance for food. The national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state agencies. Eligibility is based on gross income and household size, and qualified families receive monthly financial assistance.

The Myths:

  • Fresh and nutritious foods are too expensive for low income families.
  • It's practically impossible to buy healthy and wholesome foods if you're limited to a "food stamps" type program.
  • Low income families are forced to consume processed or poor-quality products.

The Challenge:

Chef Justin Timineri

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam assigned the FDACS Division of Marketing and Development and Executive Chef Justin Timineri to challenge those myths. The staff was tasked with creating a menu of nutritious meals for a full week, using fresh fruits and vegetables, and staying within an average SNAP budget for a family of four.

Based on the chart below, Chef Justin chose to err on the side of caution and spend approximately $140 to prepare a week-long menu for a family of four.

SNAP: Average Monthly Benefit Per Person
Income Chart

The Rules:

  • Spend no more than $140.
  • Buy little to no processed foods.
  • All grains must be whole wheat.
  • Sugars and salt must be kept to a minimum.
  • Follow the USDA nutritional guidelines for recommended servings per day.
  • Have enough food for breakfast, lunch, a light snack and dinner for seven days.

The Shopping List:

The entire shopping list is provided at the end of this report.

The only processed foods (foods altered from their original state) purchased were graham crackers, syrup and salsa. These were necessary for a few snacks and recipe ingredients.

$137.77 worth of groceries
$137.77 worth of groceries

Grains were whole wheat. Additional dry items were all low fat, contained little to no sugar or were purchased in their simplest forms.

Nearly 40 percentof the items were fresh fruits and vegetables. The remaining were dry/grain, meat and dairy products.

The total for all groceries was $131.77, well within the guidelines for purchasing.

Note: Sale items, the type of produce, and the use of store brands can all affect the cost and menu options. Our staff looked for bargains when shopping. All consumers are likewise encouraged to seek out sale items and use coupons. Knowing what produce items are in season is also important when purchasing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Finally, it was assumed that basic pantry items (i.e., sugar, flour, oil, honey and spices) were already in each household; those items were not purchased.

The Menu:

The detailed menu is attached at the end of this report.

A total of 21 meals and daily snacks were created from the items purchased. Leftovers were used in a few of the dishes, as all food items would not likely be consumed in a single meal.

Breakfast

Breakfast Example
Breakfast Example

A total of 21 meals and daily snacks were created from the items purchased. Leftovers were used in a few of the dishes, as all food items would not likely be consumed in a single meal.

Lunch

Lunch Example
Lunch Example

Three lunches consisted of simple peanut butter and jelly/honey sandwiches with a side item and fruit. Two used leftovers or unused ingredients from a dinner recipe.

Dinner

Dinner Example
Dinner Example

Three different meats and one seafood item were purchased for dinner meals. Each dinner included vegetables and whole grains. Two of the meals used a whole chicken that was roasted, two of the dinners included beef as their main ingredient, ground turkey provided the base for two additional meals, and fish was used as the main ingredient in one of the recipes.

Snacks

Snacks for Family
Snacks for Family

A variety of healthy snacks were purchased, including graham crackers, pretzels and peanuts. There were enough apples and oranges left over from breakfast to be used as snacks, as well as, celery and carrots left over from dinner meals.

Beverages

It is recommended that families encourage children to drink water; however, there are inexpensive options. Staff purchased tea, sugar-free juice mixes, pure fruit juice and milk. These beverages were used during different meals.

Conclusion:

A family of four can indeed prepare and eat a week's worth of healthy, balanced and nutritious meals for under $140.

The assignment was completed without considering other forms of supplemental income (WIC, school meal plans, etc.). However, many families will need more education about cooking, using healthy ingredients and creating week-long family menus.

Instruction and materials are available through a variety of sources.

Seven Day Menu for a Family of Four

Click on the links below to download a high resolution photo of each recipe:

Day 1

B: Cheddar Scramble with Home Fries and Fresh Fruit (JPG)
L: Zucchini Cakes with Spiced Yogurt (JPG)
D: Oven Roasted Chicken with Greek Style Green Beans (JPG)

Day 2

B: Cereal with Fresh Fruit and Cottage Cheese (JPG )
L: Creamy Potato Soup and Salad (JPG)
D: Spaghetti Bolognese with Salad (JPG)

Day 3

B: Oatmeal with Cottage Cheese and Fresh Fruit (JPG)
L: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches with Fruit Salad (JPG)
D: Soft Tacos with Black Beans and Rice (JPG)

Day 4

B: Cereal with Fresh Fruit and Cottage Cheese (JPG)
L: Pasta Bake with Salad* (JPG)
D: Pan Seared Sirloin with Roasted Potatoes and Stewed Cabbage (JPG)

Day 5

B: Whole Wheat Pancakes and Fresh Fruit (JPG)
L: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich with Potato Logs and Fresh Fruit (JPG)
D: Steak Fajitas with Black Beans and Rice (JPG)

Day 6

B: Huevos Rancheros with Fresh Fruit (JPG)
L: Lentil and Squash Soup with Salad* (JPG)
D: Cheesy Chicken and Vegetable Bake with Coleslaw* (JPG)

Day 7

B: Peanut Crusted French Toast with Fresh Fruit and Yogurt (JPG)
L: Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches with Fresh Fruit (JPG)
D: Corn Crusted Tilapia with Zucchini Sauté and Brown Rice (JPG)

* Indicates items using left-over dishes or ingredients (i.e., chicken pieces used in Cheesy Chicken and Vegetable Bake, chicken stock used in soup and ground turkey added to Pasta Bake)

Shopping List

Quantity Item Weight/Ounces Price
  Dry Items    
2 wheat bread   $2.16
2 whole wheat tortillas (8 pack)   $4.00
  whole wheat pancake mix   $1.94
  brown rice 16oz $0.72
  dry lentils 16oz $0.94
  dry black beans 16oz $1.08
  whole wheat spaghetti 16oz $1.00
  whole wheat elbow macaroni   $1.00
  graham crackers   $1.98
  dry roasted peanuts   $1.98
  pretzels   $1.48
  tea bags   $1.48
  sugar free peach drink mix   $1.98
  mild salsa   $1.98
2 diced tomatoes, canned   $1.26
  syrup   $1.67
  peanut butter   $2.37
  strawberry preserves   $1.84
  apple juice   $2.78
  oatmeal   $1.18
  corn flakes   $1.78
  Produce    
2 3 pack romaine hearts   $5.56
3 3 pack tomatoes   $3.00
  apples 3 lb bag $3.67
  honeydew   $2.50
  potatoes 10 lb bag $4.97
  oranges   $4.98
  celery   $1.34
  green cabbage 2.31 lbs $1.57
  green beans 1.22 lbs $3.03
  onions 1.56 lbs $1.78
3 yellow squash 1.36 lbs $3.10
3 zucchini 1.60 lbs $3.65
  carrots   $2.14
  bananas 3.12 lbs $1.81
  orange juice   $1.98
  Dairy    
  low-fat shredded cheese 32 oz $6.00
  low-fat cottage cheese 32 oz $2.50
  low-fat plain yogurt 32 oz $1.96
  low-fat vanilla yogurt 32 oz $1.96
2 gallons 2% milk   $6.26
  18 eggs   $2.46
  Meat    
  low-fat ground turkey 3 lbs $5.78
  5 tilapia filets   $5.62
  sirloin steak strips 3 lbs $9.13
  large whol checken, raw   $7.89
    Total $131.77

For recipes of the meals, visit the Fresh From Florida Blog.

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