Home Healthy Eating Clean and Healthy Eating on Food Stamps

Clean and Healthy Eating on Food Stamps

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Following up behind the conversation about food stamps being banned for use in purchasing soft drinks… there’s also the inevitable question of what options are available for those of us who are on food stamps?

And with all this talk of farmer’s markets and fancy schmancy grocery stores that sell $7/lb mushrooms… perhaps its time we talked about the other end of the spectrum.

A few months back, a reader who identified herself as Naturally Single Mom shared with us the following tidbits:

We ARE one of the few (if I understand this correctly) places that allows you to use food stamps at the farmer’s market. Here, they charge your EBT card in increments of $10, and give you tokens that you use as cash at the individual vendors.

Whole Foods – I’m not sure if it is company-wide or not (Erika’s Note: It is company-wide.) – does accept food stamps. I’ve never seen the EBT sticker on the door of any Whole Foods, or our local health food store that was just bought out by Whole Foods (Greenlife Grocery, referenced in the above mentioned article)…I guess they don’t want the rich folks to know that us poor people are shopping there?

I live in an area with enough grocery competition that I can stretch my food stamps – I shop buy one get one free sales, and stock up on stuff like cereal (the healthy stuff DOES go on sale from time to time), salad dressing (because if you have enough salad dressing, you’ll eat salad more often, right?), yogurt, bagged salad stuff (which sometimes makes it cheaper than buying actual lettuce and cutting it up, but is definitely not a “stock up” kind of thing), frozen veggies, stuff like that. (Yogurt freezes well, and I use the frozen stuff for smoothies.)

I also buy fruit when it’s in season and on sale and make my own applesauce and apple butter, or flash freeze berries, peaches, and other fruits for smoothies in the winter.

I use websites like Southern Savers and Hot Coupon World (which has a coupon database, so you can find printable coupons online.) I never knew that you could use TWO coupons when you buy one and get one free, until I found those websites.

I go to the recycling center once a week. (Ours is only open three days a week.) They don’t care if I go digging through the newspaper dumpster and take out the coupons that other people discard. I usually walk away with 30 or 40 full coupon inserts in about 20 minutes of digging. I don’t even buy the newspaper anymore (since all I bought it for was the coupons anyway!)

The best part about food stamps, for me, was being able to buy seeds and plants with it. I have a HUGE strawberry patch ($3 for 10 strawberry plants at Wal-mart, have more than paid for themselves, and they’ll come back year after year), blueberry bushes, even an apple tree, all paid for by food stamps. (The caveat here is that you have to buy them at a store that accepts food stamps. Home Depot and Lowes and any garden place that I’ve ever seen does not.) I have a garden in my front yard growing zucchini, crookneck squash, cucumbers, lettuces of all types, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, and watermelon. As long as it is going to grow into a food, any packet of seeds or plant is covered by food stamps.

I try to use natural fertilizers – banana peels provide potassium to the soil, crushed egg shells provide calcium. Both of which can be bought with food stamps.

Like I said, I find it horribly sad that because a rotisserie chicken is hot, it’s a no-go. If it is a cooked rotisserie chicken that has been refrigerated, then it is allowed. Because I guess poor people don’t deserve hot food? I can buy freshly prepared sushi, fancy Perrier water, or pork rinds, but not a hot chicken. It’s very strange.

She asks some pretty interesting questions, if you ask me. She also put me and my bargain hunting skills to shame. Excuse me as I go find a pot so that I can grow a strawberry or something.

But honestly, I’m taking advice from her on how to penny pinch. Y’all know I’m cheap. Cheeeeeeeeeeeap.

I’ve seen suggestions that the value of food stamps should double when it comes to fruits and vegetables… and while that might work, the question will always remain “Are there stores selling viable fruits and veggies nearby the most affected areas?” Any suggested solution that doesn’t address the very real issue of accessibility and information/education will come up sorely short… and while the government tries to duke it out with itself regarding these people’s purchasing abilities, there are people like the above who won’t be affected by it at all. It highlights the idea that says “the more limited your means, the more valuable it is to be resourceful.”

While I’m not quite there on the grow-it-yourself aspect (but I’m trying!), I admire that kind of dedication to clean eating. What other tips are out there to help people make the best use of food stamps possible when it comes to clean eating?

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Alovelydai October 12, 2010 - 10:21 AM

Way to go Naturally Single Mom!

Carol June 6, 2011 - 8:32 AM

Hi! A friend of mine went shopping with me at wholefoods a few months back and she definitely did use her “Access” card! It’s like a debit card issued by the state of PA. It took the place of food stamps!

Heli October 12, 2010 - 10:21 AM

Great post. I’m not on assistance but I am frugal as all get-out and do not buy anything unless it is on sale, I have a coupon for it, or I know it’s at the cheapest possible price (I memorize price points/targets for the foods I buy most so I know a good price when I see it.) I don’t buy much processed foods and still find coupons for the things I do buy.

Buy in bulk: rice, beans, pasta, oats, grains, flours, dried fruit & nuts are often a lot cheaper this way (not to mention often less processed.) Use canisters or big jars to store bulk items.

Your slow cooker is your friend. Not only does the crock pot work wonders with dried beans, it also makes the cheapest cuts of meat tender and delicious. Even if you don’t want to follow recipes, there are tons of “dump and go” recipes you can make. Here’s an easy one: put chicken (I use boneless & it can be still frozen!) in the bottom of crock pot, dump a can of chopped tomatoes & seasoning or jar of salsa on top. By dinnertime, you’ll have chicken perfect for putting in burritos, soft tacos, w/rice and beans, etc. Just shred it up w/2 forks. Adjust seasoning to make it Italian, etc.

Combine coupons w/store sales, go to stores that double/triple coupons, keep an eye out for 10/$10 or BOGO sales and stock up. As mentioned in the post above, you can get stuff free or nearly free by combining coupons with sales. On Sunday I had a $1 coupon off parmesan cheese and a coupon for free breadcrumbs with purchase of the cheese. My store doubled the $1 coupon to $2, the cheese was already on sale for $3, so for $1 I got parm cheese and free breadcrumbs. (I use them to make easy homemade breaded chicken strips for my kids.)

Look for a dented can/factory seconds grocery store. Obviously they aren’t everywhere but you can get some great bargains. Ours even has produce overstocks from the local wholesale produce market.

I live in a very rural area (20mi from a supermarket) in a town that only has a couple of small convenience markets. I think my state recently instituted some new rules about where EBT can be used because in the past few months they’ve added produce coolers and are starting to stock more fresh whole food. We give them feedback by buying it. If you only have access to a small neighborhood store & that’s where you do most of your grocery shopping, maybe talk to the proprietor. *shrug* If you go in there often, it can’t hurt to give feedback. They will stock items if they know their customers will buy.

Know your prices, and look at unit pricing instead of item pricing. If the 12oz box of frozen green beans is on sale for $1 but the big 3lb bag of frozen green beans is $2.79, the bag is still a better deal. I ignore item pricing altogether, pretty much, and only look at unit pricing.

I love hearing people say that they’re able to eat healthily on a tight budget (assistance or not.) It’s hard but not impossible.

Queen October 12, 2010 - 11:42 AM

A good follow up to yesterday’s debate. Maybe the mayor of NYC can take note…instead of putting restrictions in place, let’s talk about what healthy foods can NYC and all US cities & states take off restriction (make accessible) to food stamp recipients. Allowing food stamps to be used at all farmers markets would be great. Pushing grocery chains to offer equitable selections from one store to another would be beautiful. Education is still key, which I think is the best tip for anyone, food stamps or not. If we want to establish clean eating in our lives, we need to understand what that means. And for the majority of us that are limited by budgets or food stamps or whatever, we also need to be willing to think outside the box to make it happen. Kudos to Naturally Single Mom for making that happen in her household. Kudos to Ericka for sharing all your knowledge with us.

JoAnna October 12, 2010 - 12:19 PM

Hi Erika.

Regarding the gardening, get a 5 gal bucket from Home depot (or free from some restaurant/fast food place). Put in drainage holes, then potting soil if you only have a balcony and weight issues. Good topsoil if you can put it on the ground. Add miracle-gro once per week, or homemade compost tea. You could plant 2 cherry tomato plants per bucket, 2 cucumber plants, 2-3 green bean plants… If you get a flat rectangular planter you could plant lettuce and herbs, and harvest the baby leaves every week. Since you live in Miami, you could have free salad year ’round!

I’m building a cold frame to grow lettuce and swiss chard thru December. It’s an experiment, so I hope it works… I grew 7 types of tomatoes this past summer , baby watermelons, thai melons, green beans, basil, sage, tomatillos, cucumbers and cilantro, all in containers.

Here (Michigan) you can purchase fresh produce at the weekly Farmer’s Mkt with food stamps as long as the farmer has the debit card scanner. There’s also a very good fish market (accepting food stamps) that has weekly fresh fish specials for $1.99/pound. It’s one of those places where they scale and gut for free. Filleting costs extra. They will also fry: “You buy, we fry” for an additional fee. I bought fresh sardines for the first in my life there: about 3-4 fish per pound. It’s also fun learning what type of fish is best for which dish. And that yes! you can do more with fish than just dredge it in cornmeal and deep fry it.

I also like to try a new recipe every 2 weeks or so with seasonal produce. I’ve found out the celery root is good mashed into a soup with cashew milk and granny smith apples… leeks are fabulous grilled… and carrots can be combined with sweet potatoes and curried.

I’ve told a couple of friends to NEVER EVER purchase meat during the first 2 weeks of the month if you’re on a tight budget. The grocery stores know that the food stamps come out (and all the other govt funds), and mark up their prices accordingly. After the 2nd week, all the meat prices come down thru the end of the month.

I’ve found organic whole wheat flour at Walmart, as well as a lot of staples (extra virgin olive oil, raw sugar, sea salt, multigrain pasta, brown rice, legumes, spices, etc) that are all eligible to purchase with food stamps. And that old Vitamix commercial is true: if you make your own bread, it costs less than a dollar per loaf. My crock pot is about to be dusted off now that Fall is officially here. Bean soups, and stews will stretch those tough cuts of meat and wilting vegetables. And soup bones are often less than $2/lb. It does take a little planning, but there’s nothing like a bowl of soup or stew the and crusty bread during these brisk nights of Fall/Winter.

Adrianne October 12, 2010 - 1:38 PM

The most challenging thing for me when I was on food assistance was simply accessing a place to buy the healthier food that I wanted. We lived in an urban “food desert” where the closest grocery store was almost 30 minutes away and our city’s mass transit is sorely lacking. The small convience stores nearby that accepted EBT did not carry fresh produce, carried milk that was always a day away from or past its expiration date and grossly overinflated their prices because they knew they had us over a barrel.

Kudos to the farmer’s markets and stores like Whole Foods that accept EBT (that wasn’t the case when I was used those benefits) but the question that remains is even if those benefits are accepted, will those using them be able to access that food?

Adrienne June 12, 2012 - 1:58 PM

There is a small movement of people who have begun to create community gardens. It’s something I am looking into because in parts of my city Buffalo,NY it’s greatly needed. Access to nutritious food is key!

swandiver June 14, 2012 - 4:38 AM

Most of my sister’s career has been about solving just this issue. Through her, I’ve have met many people who have offered tons of grassroots solutions. For example:

Form a shopping club: Times are tight for everyone. Gather a group together, pitch in a few dollars each, and offer someone with a van money to take you shopping once a month.

Buy in bulk together: One of my sister’s friends joined with about 5 or 6 other families and buy staples in bulk from a local healthfood store. They get affordable food and the local business gets guaranteed monthly income. If you’re buying a lot of stuff, you may be able to negotiate a delivery deal which is another perk of buying local.

Grow, grow, grow!: Even if you think you don’t have time to grow something, you do. Start off simple. Take the root end of scallions, put a toothpick through them and set roots in water. Take the root of celery, stick it in a coffee can with dirt and let it grow. Youtube is full of comprehensive videos for small space growing.

nettid October 12, 2010 - 2:11 PM

I love the ideas that Naturally Single Momm posted. This is good for people who arent on assistance. Pinch the penny till it screams!

Jaci October 12, 2010 - 4:15 PM

I once heard a woman talk about buying organic fruits and vegetables while on food stamps. She talked about how other shoppers looked at her as if she should not be allowed to eat such extravagent things and if she did have fresh, it should’ve been from the “wilted lettuce” aisle and the cans from the dented cart.

Eating clean should be available to anyone. And I think we all should make the move to it. However, we as Americans are incredibly lazy and we are of the mind set that if it isn’t from a dorito bag, it gotta taste nastey.

Erika- you gotta get yourself some pots as JoAna suggests. Get the lettuce planted and really make those salads even more fabulous.

JoAnna October 12, 2010 - 7:09 PM

I have to agree with Jaci’s comment. Some people feel that being poor means being ignorant and low-class. It’s common knowledge that poor people tend to not be as healthy as more well-to-do. But it is a lack of access to what can keep them healthier, not ignorance. If you don’t know that eating an orange is healthier than drinking fortified “Tang”, you give your kids “Tang” ’cause it’s cheaper. If you don’t know how to cook baked chicken with carrots and potatoes and celery and a green salad for $10, you’d probably buy one of those fried chicken meals with a biscuits, side of slaw, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes for $12.99 to feed your family. If you don’t have good produce in the market where you regularly shop, you buy stuff that not gonna go bad.

The information is out there, but you have to have a need to find it. If most of the people around you are chowin’ down on fast-food and soul-food, and you’re told that “thick” with a lot of make-up and weave is sought after, and that food isn’t edible if it hasn’t been fried and doused in gravy, that’s your “normal”.

Another problem is that the information is sometimes not wrapped in an attractive package. Exercising and sweating are not attractive. Cooking brown rice, prepping vegetables, cutting up large cuts of meat are not attractive activities. Trekking across town to an outdoor, crowded noisy farmer’s mkt where you have to carry multiple bags for blocks is not attractive. The results are, but not the process. Understanding the steps to get to the desired outcome can make the process interesting, and then later attractive, but even that takes time. And we are and “instant” “gotta have it now” culture.

I had to show a visiting relative that fresh basil and oregano mixed with tomatoes from the garden could make a quick delicious marinara sauce in 15mins, not hours of simmering on the stove. And that you don’t mix sauce and pasta in the same pot (a whole ‘nother post!) And that there are more types of apples than red and golden Delicious. And that ripe peaches and strawberries smell like peaches and strawberries, are soft, and are sweet wnough without additional sugar or fruit dip.

JuJuBe October 13, 2010 - 1:48 PM

I am on food stamps, and let me tell you, the BEST investment I ever made was a for a chest freezer. It was about $300, I borrowed the money from a family member, and it has helped be stretch my food stamp budget immensely. When meats go on sale, I stock up. When frozen veggies are on sale, I buy 20 bags. When I buy fresh veggies, I buy double or triple the amount, then blanch and freeze the extra.

Another trick: I am not a big milk drinker, so when I buy a carton, a lot of it ends up going to waste. So, now I buy fat free powdered milk, and make it as I need it. I usually make a cup at a time, and use it primarily for my coffee.

Costco near me accepts food stamps, which has been a great thing. I am a big believer in bulk foods, even though I live alone.

And, for nonperishable foods, I do not worry to much about expiration dates. If it is something for baking, then it will not work as well after it expires. But if it is cereal, or rice, or anything like that, you can still eat it past the expiration date, even months past.

When stocking up pasta and rice, you can get little bugs if your packages are not sealed correctly. So, I buy bags instead of boxes for pasta. If you keep a few dried bay leaves in the cabinet with your flour, cereal, pasta, etc you will not get bugs. I had a huge problem with bugs and now I keep about 5 bay leaves on each shelf on my pantry and have not seen a single bug since.

Oh, and if you like sweets, get or make a bag of Amish bread starter. Each time you make it, you end up with two loafs of sweet bread and 4 starters. Each of the starters can be frozen up to 4 months. There are all kinds of variations on the basic recipe, and it is so much cheaper than buying entenmanns (sp?) or little debbies.

Finally, do not be afraid to rely on a local church or food pantry when you have more days in the month than you have food stamps. The food pantry near me gets donations from Trader Joe’s and they have no problem sharing with anyone in the community, even if you are not a member of their church.

changinginsideout October 16, 2013 - 9:15 PM

Thank you for the tips JUJUBe! oh and those bugs are very hard to get rid of they are the reason why i put all flour and pasta in the fridge. I might try the bay leaves tip. I am so scared to go to the local church, I have to get over myself. I have done so good this year exercising and changing my lifestyle and having to go on assistance is hard but i cant back track my healthy eating habits!!! thanks again!

and thank you for this website it’s so useful!!!

Greta November 14, 2010 - 4:06 PM

The farmers markets taking food stamps thing is becoming more widespread, but I’m not sure that many people are using them at our markets in New Haven. It’s a step in the right direction, but it does seem odd to see so few people of color at them considering there is a large population in the city and even in surrounding neighborhoods to where my FM is.

Not sure if it’s a publicity issue or if the stuff just isn’t affordable.*

(an aside: have you seen the website Stuff White People Like? (http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/) Farmers markets!! I always giggle when I think of that.)

Another tip for readers is that some libraries have coupon tables where you can leave coupons for others and take some for yourself. You don’t have to leave any to take any.

*I know, poor white people use food stamps too and I work with that population, but they look different than the other white people at the FM. No sisal baskets and Nantucket baseball hats. 🙂 No Keens, different tattoos. 🙂

swandiver June 14, 2012 - 4:47 AM

In Springfield, MA we have a Farmer’s Market right in the middle of the black neighborhood, The Mason Square Farmer’s Market. It’s the only Saturday market in the city. It’s the only one that accepts EBT. There is also a federal program that gives food stamp recipients 30 cents for every dollar they spend on fresh fruits and vegetables to help stretch their budget.

changinginsideout October 16, 2013 - 9:18 PM

haaaaaaaaa Greta a white person told me about that website there is one for us blk folks too. I guess we like curtains, which is standard in my place i have them in every room. haaaaaaaaaa.

adrienne December 28, 2010 - 4:27 PM

Naturally Single Mom is an inspiration. FYI B.J.’s wholesale club takes ebt so that you can buy in bulk.

Toya January 29, 2012 - 8:37 PM

Thank you for this post. I work at TJ’s in Mn and I have always found it interesting that people on assistance avoid shopping there when we accept it. I guess it maybe due to the fact that TJ’s has no sign saying they accept EBT or it maybe the misguided idea that it is expensive to eat healthy. When people on assistance do shop our store I do feel like employees watch what they buy and it passes them off if a bag of chips enters their carts.

superbien August 3, 2016 - 8:51 AM

How do people know if someone has EBT? It’s on a debit card, right?

And people can be jerks. Nobody’s business.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 9, 2016 - 10:55 AM

It’s a blue debit card with the word “Benefits” across the front. And, if people think you look like the kind of person they’d “expect” to be on government assistance, they’ll actively look for your card to see if they were right.

It’s extremely gross, but that’s what it is.

superbien August 9, 2016 - 11:01 AM

People stink sometimes. I’m not on food assistance, but am so glad that it exists, and wish our social safety net was a lot better. $4/day is not enough. Blessings!

MakeUpSchools April 2, 2011 - 10:45 AM

Thank you, this post helped me to understand many important things. Great !

Golda Smith June 6, 2011 - 10:19 AM

Kudos for the message shared by Naturally Single Mom. As a single mom who was also using food stamps myself I also appreciated being able to feed my family the best foods that I could. Shopping at stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, the local farmers markets and being able to use coupons was wonderful. For me the key is in meal planning and shopping only for what we needed AND when the food was purchased making sure that it didn’t go to waste.

Latoya J. June 13, 2011 - 8:06 PM

I never actually looked at food stamps in that manner. She really takes the time to actually utilize the food stamps beneficially and not for snacks and meat.

Stacy June 21, 2011 - 12:47 PM

Thank you so much for posting this. I am college student and my budget is tight. However, I always wanted to get of the “junk-food” diet that I have been on and eat more healthier, but on the cheap. Thanks for the great advice.

Connie June 25, 2011 - 11:30 PM

Got a suggestion. Speak to the manager of your local grocery store. Find out what they do with the “day old” or “damaged” items. If you belong to a church or any other non-profit and you are willing to share what you get, you might be able to arrange to pick up these items as “donations”. The grocery store will take a tax right-off where they can and you will get free stuff. I do this at a local grocery store two times a week. I normally leave the store with 3 carts of groceries on each visit. I visit the produce department for anything that has an expiration date or is a little off. Most of the off stuff I discard. However there are always veggie trays that have expiration dates on them but are still good. I toss the ranch dressing that comes with them, but I end up with free celery, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. They also give me fruit bowls and prepackaged strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. The fruit it still fine – they just can’t sell it because the package has a date on it. Then I visit the bakery. They load me up with a bunch of stuff that I shouldn’t eat – that is the stuff that I donate to the snack shack at our church for sunday morning coffee hour. But they also have fresh bread and sometimes even organic baked bread with rosemary and olive oil. Yum! The last place I hit is the stock room in the back of the store. There I get tons of cereal (healthy stuff too!), toilet paper, paper towells, diapers (you would be surprised at how ppl will go into a store and take 1 diaper from the pack and then put the pack back on the shelf!), granola bars, bottled water, etc. Now I share. After I pull a few things for my family, I take the rest and divide up boxes for elderly and low income members of my church and then the rest gets donated to a homeless shelter. It is just a thought… but it is how my family of 5 lives off of one income. Best wishes!!!

Yaasha June 28, 2011 - 3:37 PM

You know, for those of us who can’t do it on food stamps alone, the local food pantries can also be a good resource for clean eating. Most of us associate them as an oasis of canned food, and while this may be in many cases, many well-stocked pantries can be a great resource for staples such as fresh milk and eggs, and if you go on the right days, the farmers’ market donates the produce from the end of the day to the pantry for you to have your pick of all kinds of organic fruits and veggies. Furthermore, Whole Foods and other organic markets and bakeries give their day-old baked goods to various food depositories. Most poor folk just skip over anything that’s brown, so multigrain artisan loaves are not rare finds in these piles of bread. Different pantries have different policies, but it’s worth a try to go down to their offices and fill out the questionnaire to see what you’re eligible to receive. Eating healthy is not just a privilege for the rich!

Mally McGinnis September 25, 2011 - 12:23 AM

My adult son who is in grad school full time and I are on food stamps. I have a small income, he has none. We eat a quality cereal for breakfast, fruit salad for lunch when in season, else a dark leafy green salad with kale, mustard greens, red leaf, Brussels sprouts, or whatever is fresh and available at the time. Suppers also consist of dark, leafy green salads on which we sometimes put grilled salmon, grilled steak from the “use today” bin, or more often, frozen grilled chicken breast from Sam’s. Green olives go on most every salad, but not too many; they are rich in calories as well as those those healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

I like making my own dressings, and they can be made using almost no fat. One that I make fairly frequently is made of cottage cheese, and a packet of ranch dressing blended in a food processor, blender or what have you. I also like using the McCormick packets in their cruet, but with lemon juice, soy sauce, and water to bring the level in the cruet higher than suggested. I do use a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar as recommended, of course, sometimes some barbeque sauce, usually some yellow mustard, just whatever is in the fridge and seems good at the time. If I feel a little Asian, I add sesame oil instead of the olive oil. It’s nice on a salad with oranges.

Lauren January 29, 2012 - 11:23 PM

Wow, I didn’t know about veggie plants! I should try that, I wonder if the different states have different rules for EBT? I haven’t tried the farmer’s market either, but I do try to stick with buying healthy food.

cris February 8, 2012 - 2:12 PM

Noticed your site…very good.

I live in NC, and noticed a woman yesterday, buying a hot chicken at Walmart.I called up the Supervisor of the program and found out they just issued an updated listing, showing Walmart, for mow can sell hit chivkens for food stamp users.

stelbell July 1, 2012 - 6:49 PM

My question is why would someone call the supervisor if the see someone buying chicken that is cooked????

Tiera May 29, 2012 - 11:36 AM

I’m glad you brought this topic up because it is very crucial. Not only is it difficult to shop organic on food stamps, but it is also a problem, simply put, that organic grocers are just not available (or very scantily available) in certain areas (especially Urban areas where food stamp usage is most common). Look around. In most Urban areas you see mostly the low-cost food stores or fast food joints. Obesity in Urban areas may not be an occurrence because Urban people “choose” to eat unhealthy or not to exercise, but it could be because there is a lack of health food stores and gyms in those areas and some Urban people use public transportation (or their feet) to get around. I believe that people who live in Urban areas want to be healthier but the resources are just not available to them. Do health food stores think that only rich people want to live healthy?

Carol June 8, 2012 - 8:45 PM

This is just about the best post I’ve seen on “bggtwl”.

Thank you Erika. Thank you, all you strong , smart, resourceful woc (women of color). Just when I thought I was having it bad, you all come along with all of your ideas and triumphs. As a friend of mine used to say, “We do this everyday”. So you all just keep on doing it.

Adrienne June 12, 2012 - 1:50 PM

I guess it depends on where you live. In my hometown the problem we have is access to reasonably priced, quality produce. We have several corners stores on the east side of my hometown where most black people live, but the quality of fresh produce is in a word, disgusting. Really bruised apples, moldy tomatoes, oranges and brown bananas. What we need is more fresh markets in that part of town. One good thing about the summer time though is that food stamp recipients get vouchers for the local farmers markets. On is located centrally downtown. I had no idea you could buy seeds or fruit trees with food stamps! IU l live in NY state and have bought rotisserie chickens with food stamps. Some people even but pizza…
And be wary of that “organic” label. Many times it’s a way to just price things higher. Just wash your fruits and veggies well and buy them in season. I have taken several nutrition classes and that label ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.. Just like those products that claim they have “zero trans fats” then you turn the box around and there are hydrogenated oils in the product. Everything isn’t as it seems!

Ms.Ty July 2, 2012 - 11:57 PM

Thank you SOOO much for this valuable advice!!! I agree with what a lot of people have said. Not eating healthy mostly is NOT b/c of choice but b/c access. If you don’t have a car, its really hard to lug around pounds and pounds of groceries and in my city, the bus line doesn’t go to the “good” farmer’s market. There is one in an urban area, but some their food looks like it fell off a truck in the middle of the highway! 🙁 There are some small farms here that do pick-your-own produce that are accepting EBT, but they’re so far out, that people with cars don’t even waste their gas to drive there. I would love to start a farm in the inner city where people can grow and pick their own vegetables. I’m also SUPER excited to find out that I can buy seeds with food stamps… my only concern is that I REALLY would like to purchase these seeds from sellers who sell certified non-GMO seeds. Has anyone found a place that offers this? THANKYOU ALLL for your GREAT SUGGESTIONS!!!! xoxoxoxo

Tanya July 21, 2012 - 3:25 PM

This is a great article. I live in a rural area and have only recently gone on food stamps, so I am trying to learn how to make the most of them. I was actually shocked to find out how much I got for our family of nine because we already shop frugally, buy in bulk, raise as much of our food as we can (we have two acres for a garden and chickens), and get raw milk from a nearby farm. We also have a friend who gets perfectly good produce from a local grocery store for his animals and he shares it with us. We use as much as we can fresh and freeze and can the rest. I was thinking that I probably look bad when I use my card because I have no meat, milk, or produce in my cart! I want to tell the cashier that, yes, we actually do eat healthy food!

I will definitely use my card for seeds and plants next year, and we have a Whole Foods about an hour away, so we will probably travel there to do some bulk-buying. It’s funny that food stamps are supposed to be for nutritional assistance, but using them actually makes it more difficult to find places to buy the healthiest, most frugal options. I was surprised to see comments that people in urban areas can’t get quality produce–how sad. I suppose I don’t realize how good I have it in the country. Using the food stamps will actually give us a little breathing room for some snacks and prepared foods I usually can’t afford. We love producing and putting up our own food, but it does take a lot of time and energy, which we don’t always have.

My best frugal tip would be to watch for the lowest price on items you use often and stock up enough to wait for the next sale, if you can. Quik Trip puts butter and bread on sale at super low prices, and I saw that they take food stamps. You’re usually limited in the number you can buy, but I just buy five pounds of butter every time I pass Quik Trip until my freezer’s full, lol!

Monisha October 15, 2012 - 11:47 AM

This is a great article. I coach running classes in urban Dallas and also teach at a school where some of my students are teen moms. I will most definitely be taking them on a trip to Whole Foods at the end of the month now!

Marianne October 26, 2012 - 12:06 AM

Thanks so much for such a really great article! I have my appointment for food assistance on Monday. I’m so happy I found this to prepare myself for healthy shopping within a budget. As it is I try to eat as healthy as possible, minimizing artificial ingredients and processed foods as much as possible. But with only a few dollars it’s hard to get full on healthy foods, when you tend to get fewer calories for your money. It’s really sad how poor and ethnic communities have so much less access to healthy foods in most areas. I study nutrition and it breaks my heart when I read statistics, specifically about minority children. Every child deserves the best food he has access to. If a parent can spend $1 more to ensure foods are free of chemical additives and genetic engineering I hope that they do. Not only are these processed foods, marketed predominately to poor people, less nutritious but they are also some of the leading instigators of cancer and type 2 diabetes. Echoing Yaasha’s comment, Whole Foods does five away a lot of really great food. Last summer when I was homeless I attended food distributions by Food Not Bombs and they regularly have day old bread, organic produce, even pastries. It’s not just for homeless people, but I would hate for someone to drive up in their car and rob these homeless people of perhaps the only wholesome food available to them, but they are happy to spread the wealth.

Kimberly December 18, 2012 - 3:49 AM

I’m currently on food assistance and I try So hard to pick and purchase healthy foods but its so difficult when you don’t really live close to a wholefoods store. But my question to the masses is this, why is it that all the healthy foods super expensive and all the fast food places have cheap, taste great but its bad for you. Why is this system like that? Is it designed to make us fail or die quicker as black people because of possible over population of the earth? I might be overreaching on this but it is a legitimate question that I’d truly appreciate a valid and informed answer to. Thank you for your time.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 19, 2012 - 10:25 AM

There actually is a legitimate answer to this question… it’s just much more of a blog post than it is a comment response. Sigh.

Anna June 25, 2013 - 3:03 AM

“But my question to the masses is this, why is it that all the healthy foods super expensive and all the fast food places have cheap, taste great but its bad for you. Why is this system like that? Is it designed to make us fail or die quicker as black people because of possible over population of the earth?”

In a word, yes. But this system is not only meant for minorities or the poor, although they are on the front lines so to speak. If I’d the time I’d write about Agenda 21 & CODEX Alimentarius. For now, I suggest you look up the latter on youtube – there’s some good video there. Infowars.com is also decent for info.

On topic: Naturally Single Mom made excellent points. You can indeed buy seeds & any food crops (including potted plants so long as they’re food!) with ebt. I’m surprised more ebt users don’t know this? Walmart is a good place to start for buying that kind of stuff. You’d be surprised what you can grow in a pot in a small space! Do it!

I live in MD (not far from Silver Spring) I’m lucky the Whole Foods downtown is only 10mi away & accessible by bus, it also accepts ebt – though they don’t advertise this on their store front! Not all stores advertise they accept ebt; it’s best to call & ask. What I buy at WF comes mainly from their bulk bins; buying in bulk is almost always cheaper. Lot’s of organic rice/grains; I eat this for dinner almost every night. Their 365 brand spaghetti is also pretty cheap; non-organic less than a dollar, organic $1.40. I buy canned crushed tomato instead of jar, costs less for the same thing. Anyway, better to focus mainly on staple foods: spaghetti, yogurt, cheese, milk substitutes, frozen veggies, etc. NOT everything sold at WF is organic! The only organic foods have the word “organic” on their packaging. I eat a lot of the same foods for breakfast & dinner, but I eat mostly organic and I don’t go hungry so Lord knows I cannot complain!

Kimberly December 19, 2012 - 11:16 AM

Its so difficult in America, being a short framed black female who is and I’m gonna be honest, overweight. Its weird how life is sometimes, like I was 24 and a size 6-8 and now I’m 34 and I’m a size 20+. I just had this 10+ love affair with food and I didn’t realize how that would effect my metabolism coupled with aging. Don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming anyone but myself I just wish I could reverse it somehow. The gyms I live near want an arm and a leg for using thier equipment after they sweeten the pot by saying you only have to pay $10 dollars a month. So now what do I do? Where do I turn to? Who do I turn to? I’d really like to change my eating habits, I suppose what I’m really looking for is support, someone to say that they’re going through the same thing. Anyways, thank you Erica for responding to my comment. I know how complicated an answer can be to a very loaded question. Take care, Kimberly.

regina April 6, 2013 - 10:43 AM

Thank you so much for some much needed guidance as it concerns food stamps. My husband and I are unfortunately one of the many working poor families here in the US so we struggle everyday to provide healthy nutritionally sound meals not just for ourselves but for our children as well!

RJ April 21, 2013 - 5:48 PM

So many have commented that it isn’t about knowledge so much, but $ and being able to get fresh food. I completely agree! I have seen that in some places companies are sending fresh food trucks (a rolling fresh farm market) to areas where there is a problem with accessibility to fresh food. I wish we had MORE of that!! We all deserve to have the ability to make the choice for real food!

Erika Nicole Kendall April 21, 2013 - 9:56 PM

I want to caution you; those who have access to my blog often have the knowledge because they frequent blogs and spaces like mine that give it to them; when I go out and speak to people who weren’t originally familiar with my blog, their biggest complaint isn’t money or access, but knowledge.

All I’m saying is that we can’t use my comments as a control group; we’re all similar in a lot of ways, and the fact that many of us are educated in more fields than one is one of those ways.

Monique June 6, 2013 - 12:31 AM

Another idea which can be almost free PLUS provide a small income is raising chickens. You get pets for free, sell the eggs to neighbors, and get 1/2 of the chickens food at no cost thru local grocery stores. Smaller ones I’ve had better success with, our local health food store has organic and fresh produce and veges. When it expires we get it at no cost.We feed the chickens with it, only buy some of their food via the Feed Store and the rest of the expired fruits/veges go into the compost pile. As it ages with the chickens manure, we use the aged manure in our vegetable gardens. We grow part of our food too. Another idea is orchards, when the fruit is aging offer to pick it for them at no cost or just ask fi you can collect the old apples, pears, etc then use that for compost and food for the chickens.

Monique June 6, 2013 - 12:45 AM

The only Vegetable I grow COMPLETELY FREE is various types of potatoes. And they are delicious! !!
I create a separate compost pile utilizing my neighbors horse manure, leaves and old fruit from our local orchards. The potatoes can be bought already aged and ready for planting at a local nursery or you can save organic potatoes yourself in brown bags. After the eyes have grown out, you plant them. It’s exciting to see them pop out of the compost pile.

I am also a moderator for our local Freecycle group so I post offers for such resources as local green grape cuttings to meet others and network. I’ve met people offering all types of herb plants amongst other stuff, including vegetable starts.

And we had a yard sale a month ago selling our excess vegetable plants, including the potato plants. Did $50 worth in 3 hours, not too shabby

Thank you for this website, I appreciate reading everyone’s ideas

Elizabeth Gentry June 28, 2013 - 7:47 PM

I never knew about farmers markets accepting food stamps until recently. I always thought since all the vendors took cash that you had to have cash or you couldn’t buy from them. I recently met a friend who is manager of a local farmers market and is on the board of directors for all the farmers markets in the area so she knows alot about the markets and programs that are available and didn’t mind sharing her info with me. I soon realized that not only do almost all of our local farmers markets accept food stamps but they also have a “Double Dollars” program which is a federal funded grant that allows the market to double every food stamp dollar spent at the market up to a certain amount each week. They are also given grants that allow them to purchase farm equipment to “Loan Out” as needed to those that want to farm but are not able to purchase the equipment to do so. They can help with basic tools such as a Tiller, hoe, shovels, stakes ect. These items are loaned out for a set amount of time then collected and are available on a first come first serve basis. This is how we were able to Till our garden and it’s doing sooooo much better then it did the year before when we tried to do it by hand with a hoe. We were able to plant more and there are a lot less weeds to deal with then last year. The Vegetables are so much healthier and are already close to being ready to eat and last year we only got a few veggies ready to eat by late August into September just before everything died. There are very cheap alternatives for tomato stakes that I came up with when the cages we were supposed to receive did not arrive. I got tired of waiting for the cages since they were already 3 weeks past due to be delivered and my plants were already high enough to need support. I went to Lowes and we bought 3 20 foot pvc pipes and requested the guy at lowes to cut them for us into 4 ft sections. That gave us 5 stakes per pipe. The guy made the cuts for us at an angle so they would be easier to drive into the ground and we didn’t have to worry about driving home with a 20 foot pipe hanging out of our car window 🙂 The reason we bought the 20 foot ones was 2 fold. First of all the other option they had were 10 footers and you could only cut that into 2 5 ft sections so by getting the 20 ft you got an extra piece included. (2 10 ft – 4 5 ft pieces) (1 20 ft – 5 4 ft pieces) It was also cheaper and stronger. The 20 foot stuff was a higher gage plastic so more durable. and it was cheaper. 1 10 ft piece was $2.30 1 20 ft piece was $3.80 The better quality tomato steaks they sell at walmart are close to $2 and they are 4 Ft tall and less durable then these pipes. We did all 40 of our plants with just 3 of the pipes for a total of about $12 . We used a $1 roll of string to secure the plants between the stakes. Another good idea is you can make planter boxes out of used plastic gallon jugs like Gatoraid / Hawaiin Punch. Just cut them in half with a sharp knife – then spray paint the outside and allow the paint to dry fully (the paint not only makes it look cuter but it also protects the plant roots from the sunlight) – you can get a can of paint for $1 at most dollar stores. We always have extra on hand so it didn’t cost us anything. Poke or drill a couple holes in the bottom for one I used a cordless drill because it was easier the other one I just used a knife to poke holes in it and both have worked fine. Fill them up with dirt preferably potting soil of some type because ground dirt in containers becomes very compacted and causes your plants to grow much slower. Trust me I did one with some pretty well fertilized top soil but they grew slower then the others planted in potting soil. You can buy a pretty large bag fairly cheap and it will last you a long time. We use these planters to plant herbs and green onions on our porch. That way we always have fresh herbs and didn’t even have to buy pots (also helped keep a little extra plastic out of the landfill) Our farmers market manager also hosts community garden plots for anyone that doesn’t have land available to grow their own garden so check for something like that in your area if you don’t have a lot of room. One last cheap gardening tip and upcycling tip as well // We were having trouble last year with deer getting into our garden and eating our tomato plants. I did a lot of searching and found a couple of helpful hints. First I made a barrier around the garden out of stakes and string. Then I took tin cans saved from Canned vegetables and rinsed them out and took off the paper then used a hammer and screwdriver to make a hole in the bottom of each can. I did about 20 of these cans then tied them together in pairs of 2 along my string fence. If the wind blows or the string is moved they will all rattle which startle the deer away from the garden. I also planted basil along the edges of my garden and at the corners. Not only is basil an awesome herb to cook with but it has antiseptic properties as well 🙂 (and deer and rabbits don’t like it) They do not care for the scent so it acts as a natural repellent. I have not had one nibble missing from any of my plants this year and it didn’t cost me a penny. I got the basil at the farmers market on my food stamp card with my dollars doubled. The plants were a dozen for $2 so I really got a dozen plants for $1 on the food stamp card. Good luck with the healthy eating on a budget and feel free to pass any of these tips on 🙂

Tia August 13, 2013 - 9:28 AM

What did u mean by us poor people?? Not all black people are on food stamps I’ve seen a white lady that might have been a single parent in a whole foods market using her EBT card and I want consider myself as poor using EBT working a fulltime job making Minimum wages and still don’t make ends meet with bills & children its a struggle but a little help with EBT to keep providing food on the table is a blessing to me 🙂

Laila June 10, 2014 - 5:27 PM

First off congrats on that weight loss…u look BEAUTIFUL!!!! What did u do for a work out..and how long ..how many days a week..I just read ur blog on juicing..that scared me..I thought I was actually doing justice !!!! But that does make sense! I am all about trying to eat as clean as possible..it’s funny how they charge more to eat animals and vegg without the peaticides and hormones??? Wouldn’t it cost more to add that stuff? It’s just a big scam when u want to be healthy..all those sugars added to the foods and other process keep u sick and needing a doc..I think it all goes hand and hand!

blazeaglory August 29, 2014 - 1:12 AM

I want to ask a question and this a a real question but can I buy an orange tree? Or a plum tree with my food stamps? It says you can buy seeds and plants, so are fruit trees currently listed for purchase with EBT card? I am in California btw. Thank you

Erika Nicole Kendall August 31, 2014 - 10:20 AM

The last time I checked, the answer was yes. Don’t be afraid to call your local store and ask a manager – not a sales associate – for verification.

Greta September 1, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Pretty sure many farmer’s markets take food stamps now. Ours in New Haven, CT has for years.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 1, 2014 - 11:07 AM

Mine does, but not all have caught on yet.

Abigail April 23, 2016 - 3:51 PM

For a while the places that were supposed to accept food stamps always had their scanners busted. I don’t know if that’s still the case but that’s because I stopped asking after maybe half a year.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 25, 2016 - 9:43 PM

That’s really weird – if the states use the card, it should be the same reader as the regular credit card.

kaythegardener September 29, 2014 - 5:22 AM

Here in western OR, the farmers’ markets manager sells $1 tokens in $10 increments deducted from SNAP card. They can be spent at the various booths, so can be saved from season to season. Only drawback is that each branch market has its own tokens & they are not interchangeable…
2nd tip — for another source of fresh produce, try ethnic markets — in the Metro area covered by the Portland transit system, there are probably 2 dozen or more different ethnic groups that run markets…
New immigrants eat more veggies & less meat than yuppies, so there is rapid turnover & lots of fresh produce… KMC

Jennifer hagan February 20, 2015 - 11:10 AM

I’ve grown organically and hydroponically. You can grow organically with bat guano. It is a great organic fertilizer. I would suggest that you use that and compost and you’ll have great output. In growing organic vegetables you need more nitrogen than potassium. That helps increase the quality of output. Although heirloom breeds are great, they have lower output and often are very seedy. I’m on food stamps because I’m a grad student single mother of two. It is hard. But, I lived in France and the French where I lived knew how to stretch a penny. I make quiches for dinner, make my own bread (baguettes, croissants,pain chocolat, brioche), I make desserts for my children from scratch and we eat lots of puréed soups. A potato, carrots, spinach, a lean cut of meat and/or stock, leeks and even broccoli made into a pureed soup is a great meal and filling. We eat our largest meals during the day and our smallest during night since we are less likely to get rid of the calories while we sleep. I buy organic meats at costco. It actually helps. I make tons of soups because it goes a long way and it is cost effective to feed a family of four. I also make my own pasta. Buying pasta can be cheaper but having a huge supply of frozen fresh pasta comes out cheaper than buying in bulk.

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