Food stamps have a pretty far range of what they can purchase, and a fairly short list of what they can’t. But there are some downright steals that can be had with food stamps, and some that probably shouldn’t see the life of day.
Frozen Mixed Vegetables: A bag of frozen mixed vegetables is inexpensive, easy to prepare, and adds instant nutrition and “fill” to any meal. As a rule of thumb, meals that are colorful tend to be better to eat.
Oats: Not only are oats one of the cheapest foods around, but they’re also loaded with nutrients, with one serving (half a cup of dry oats) providing 5g of protein and 4g of fiber. Remember to maximize savings and nutrients by buying plain dry oats in canisters rather than in individual packets.
Lentils: Incredibly high in protein and fiber, these legumes also contain folate, iron and potassium. They’re also very affordable, don’t require presoaking, and can be added to just about any dish.
Rice: Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, as the healthy layers haven’t been stripped off so there’s still a good amount of fiber, zinc and potassium. It also only costs pennies for a quarter-cup serving.
Beans: Because of their low glycemic index, the energy from beans is released slowly into the bloodstream, resulting in a longer, fuller feeling. And beans can be bought dry and in bulk, which means that they’re a cheap and easy meal supplement.
Eggs: These may be slightly pricier than the other items on the list, but the nutrient punch they pack is unrivaled. One egg contains 11% daily protein, with one or two a day safe for cholesterol levels.
Fresh Fruit: This doesn’t have to be an expensive purchase at all if done smartly. Fruits like apples, oranges and bananas are generally available inexpensively year-round, while seasonals like pineapple, melons and papayas should be treated as occasional splurge items.
Tinned Fish: Tuna and salmon are some of the easiest ways to feed the brain and heart, and cheapest, too. They can be made into sandwiches, casseroles or salads, or fish cakes/sticks. Just make sure to get it in water instead of oil, and look for the reduced sodium tins.
Soda: A little bit of soda is okay, but daily indulgence is not. It’s loaded with sugar, which makes it hard to burn off and easy to convert into fat around the middle, the worst kind. As well, the carbonic acid—the stuff that makes soda fizzy—gives soda a low pH (high acidity) that eats away at tooth enamel. Lastly, it’s way overpriced for what it contains and how easy it is to prepare.
Ice Cream: Real ice cream is essentially just cream, sugar, water and emulsifiers (eggs), but “fake” ice cream, the kind that sells very cheaply, is laden with preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. Choosing the former is okay, but the latter, not so much.
Candy: There’s pretty much nothing but processed sugar and hydrogenated fats, two of the worst things that can be ingested. And like soda, making candy costs mere pennies, but is marked up hundreds to thousands per cent higher.
Alcoholic Beverage Mix: Mixes are just gussied-up sugar, which leads to “gut rot” and possibly a harder time identifying intoxication. Some, like Red Bull, contain caffeine which act antagonistically to the downer effects of alcohol, which may lead to a reduced perception of drunkenness. If you’re going to drink, try to limit the amount of sugar and caffeine.
Chips: These crispy, tasty goodies are okay in moderation. But in excess, they’re hard on the wallet and kidneys. Chips contain a ridiculous amount of sodium and hydrogenated fats, both of which the body hates metabolizing. For example, one bag of Doritos contains almost 2,000mg of sodium and 10.5g of trans fats, with the human body only needing about 500mg of sodium to function under normal circumstances. Trans fats are even worse, as only less than 1% of daily caloric intake can be trans fats, or about 2-ish grams each day.
Buying groceries on food stamps is hard enough, but knowing how to make the right choices so your body gets what it needs and the SNAP benefits last the entire month can be trickier. But with a little bit of practice, anyone can become a pro at knowing what to pick up and what to leave on the shelf.