Friday, February 28, 2014


As part of a requirement for my Community Nutrition class, I am partaking in the SNAP challenge, also known as food stamps more info here, eating on a budget of $32 for 1 week.  The purpose of the SNAP challenge is to experience what it feels like to eat on the tight budget, as a person relying on SNAP benefits does. As a student already on a tight budget I feel ready for the challenge, however; I am quickly realizing the constraints I will face.

Day 1 of SNAP Challenge:



My morning routine of brewing a pot of organic fair trade $10 coffee was put to a halt as I started the SNAP challenge.  My expensive organic products would stay in the cabinets until the challenge is finished in 7 days. Although I am on a tight budget working part-time and in debt working towards a Masters degree in Nutrition, eating wholesome fresh foods has always been a priority of mine, even if it meens spending a little extra on organic foods.  All of my spending money goes to grocery shopping and I don't spend much money elsewhere.I realized as I started the SNAP challenge today, there were many things I would be sacrificing.  Organic food, was the first thing I would be giving up.

All my food has to be purchased at a store that accepts SNAP benefits so I won't be able to purchase already prepared foods, unless I find processed snacks or frozen meals at the supermarket.  Since all of my meals have to be prepared at home, I carefully thought out my SNAP budget of $32. I realized what an inconvenience this week would pose as I am strapped for time with papers to write and tests to study for.  As I wrote my grocery list, one thing I decided I would absolutely not give up was coffee.  I rely on it to get my day started and my brain focused for schoolwork.  One thing was for sure, I would not be drinking my fancy $10 organic fair trade coffee when I only had $32 to spend.

I started my grocery shopping at La Placita Mini Market, a local central american market in Ossining.  I was able to get 2 bags of dried beans, 6 plantains, 2 avocados, and a bag of bananas for $9.68.  I continued on to C Town for more choices and bought bread, peanut butter, rice, oats, milk and coffee for $14.88.  I spent  over an hour between the 2 stores, trying to find the best prices and figure out what would nourish me best throughout the week.  One thing I decided I would not eat unless it was organic was eggs or milk. Since I couldn't afford both the milk and the eggs, I settled on the organic milk.  It was on sale for $4 and I could use it to make yogurt which would give me a hearty breakfast all week.  Yogurt it also much quicker than cooking eggs each morning and I can pick it if I am in a rush.  As a busy college student, I was also thinking about maximizing time.

The next hard choice for me was buying bread. I figured peanut butter sandwiches would be a filling choice and easy to pack for school and work.  I usually buy my bread at Mrs. Greens or the farmers market for $5 a loaf.  The bread I choose is a whole wheat organic bread made with only the basic ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, salt and yeast.  When I scanned the isle at Ctown, I noticed my choices were limited for my budget.  My choices were various white breads for $1-$2 or whole wheat bread's for $3.  My problem with the whole wheat breads in my price range was, they were not made with all whole wheat flour and they were loaded with sugar.  I didn't see the point in buying whole wheat bread if it had more sugar than white bread!  I must've switched between choices 5x because Ian, my boyfriend was complaining that he wanted to get home already.  After 20 minutes I finally settled on a sliced Italian white bread baked on Arthur Avenue with no added sugar  and minimal ingredients, $2.50.  I never realized how hard it would be to find something affordable that didn't have tons of ingredients and added sugar.

I went home and made myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich and thought about my choices.   I  had $7 left to spare and I figured I would go to the farmers market on Saturday to get the lowest price vegetables I could find.  New York City offers SNAP card holders are offered health buck coupons worth $2 when they spend $5 at the farmers market.  Our teacher was giving us the option to utilize this incentive program.  WIth the health bucks incentive program, My $7 becomes $9.  I plan to buy cabbage, carrots, apples and some sort of dark leafy green.  Let's see what I can afford tomorrow...

I have a pot of beans boiling now that I will eat for dinner in a few hours.  I don't have fresh garlic or onion to add to the pot, and I dont have any vegetables to eat with the rice and beans.  I will have to make due with what I have for the evening.  I am relying on a 100% vegetarian diet, which works for me because I am a vegetarian.  I'm going to be eating much of the same foods every day because that is what I could afford.   I won't be snacking and I won't be eating between meals.  I'm already feeling stressed about my limitations and I am further understanding the life of many people struggling in our country.    It isn't until you experience it, that you can truly understand.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wait, you don't need a yogurt machine to make yogurt?

No, it's really much easier than I ever imagined.

1/2 gallon of whole milk
2 tablespoons of yogurt (this is the starter or live bacteria to help make the yogurt.  Look for a yogurt brand with live active cultures in it).

Tools needed:
2 quart size mason jars 
1 large sauce pan
meat thermometer
Cooler or a pot w/lid & bath towel
Optional: ladle and slotted spoon
Optional but recommend: reusable cheese cloth or sieve (This must be used to make greek yogurt)
strainer and bowl

1. Heat the milk in a large sauce pan on medium low heat until it reaches between 160-170 degrees.  Stir constantly so the milk doesn't scorch or stick to the pan.  Turn off burner and remove from heat.  
2.  Meanwhile, bring a large sauce pan of water to a boil.  Once the water reaches a rolling boil, lower the heat and place the empty mason jars (without the lids) into the saucepan.  Cover saucepan and let the jars sterilize for ten minutes.  With a slotted spoon carefully remove jars from water and place on the counter.  
3. Once the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, pour or ladle the milk into the mason jars leaving about 1/2 inch at the top.  Note: there may be a small amount of leftover milk. Add 1 tablespoon of yogurt to each mason jar.  Cover and shake gently so the yogurt gets incorporated into the milk.
4. **This step is crucial and the reason you don't need a yogurt machine.** Place the jars into a cooler and fill with warm water (110 degrees) until the jars are surrounded with water, just below the lids.  This is the happy temperature so the healthy bacteria will grow, giving you yogurt!  
5.  Leave the mason jars in the water bath for at least 4 hours. For a more tart yogurt, let them culture  for up to 16 hours.  It's important to check on the water every few hours and add hot water as needed to keep the temperature close to 110 degrees.
6. Open up the yogurt and smell.  If it smells like yogurt, refrigerate or proceed to step 7. Sometimes a batch can go bad by either contamination or overheating the yogurt. If it smells rotten or looks like cottage cheese, the batch went bad, don't eat! 
 7. For Greek yogurt: Place a bowl underneath a strainer.  Line the strainer with a reusable cheese cloth (a thin dish towel or a clean t-shirt will also work).  Pour the yogurt over the reusable cheese cloth. Place in the fridge, covered, allowing the yogurt to strain for 1-4 hours.  The yogurt will reduce in size to about half.  Discard the liquid byproduct and spoon yogurt back into mason jar.  Refrigerate and enjoy!

Finished product before straining into greek yogurt:

Greek yogurt final product: