Michele: Making Due at the Dollar Store
I participate each year in the SNAP Challenge and have learned a lot about how to put together healthful meals on the tiny budget allotted. But this year my favorite discount grocer had closed shop, so I had to think about where else I could go where my food dollars would really stretch. For many people relying on SNAP, the options are truly limited. If you’re only getting $4.39 a day for food are you going to spend $5.00 on bus fare getting to a cheaper store and back? Not if you don’t have to. I know Dollar Stores are often the best option for people living in food deserts, so in the spirit of the SNAP challenge I decided to shop there.
In some ways I was pleasantly surprised: riced cauliflower, shelf-stable milk, and real coffee for only $1 each! But the options were severely limited—unless you are talking snacks. I had to hunt high and low to find things that weren’t overly processed or high in sugar and fat. I’m only doing 3 days of the challenge, so that helped. But even so, I spent nearly ¾ of an hour putting together meals based on the meager choices before me while keeping to my budget. While my nutritional needs will be met, I already know what I’ll miss most: fresh produce. I snagged some peach and pineapple fruit cups, but nothing I purchased makes a crunch when I bite into it.
Not that crunchy foods weren’t available—there were aisles and aisles of empty calorie snack foods. Probably most of them offering more flavor than the foods I purchased. Dollar Store did have a lot of spices available, but I couldn’t afford them. I couldn’t imagine the kinds of battles I’d have had to face if I took my kids shopping with me and had to get past all the tasty-junk before reaching the relatively nutritious food in the very furthest corner of the store. It was a hard enough battle with myself. In the end I had to be really stern with myself to get that riced cauliflower instead of stretching pasta out another day and grabbing some peanut-butter cheese crackers. I know I wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of discipline for long. And right now, I’m kind of regretting the healthy choice. I wonder what kind of toll it takes on people who face a constant feeling of deprivation.
-Michele Zurakowski, Executive Director