Tracy Smith with Feeding Illinois poses this question for the day: The cupcake truck is outside your building, calling your name, but at $3.25 that decadent temptation is out of the question. What will you be snacking on instead to refuel?

No sweat. I would (hypothetically) go with an old favorite: a spoon full of peanut butter, which has lots of protein, unsaturated fat and a boatload of flavor. Plus, it will absorb more slowly into my blood stream, so my blood sugar won't spike and then drop precipitously, making me tired for the rest of the day. If I'm really hankering for the sweetness, I'll drop a dollop of locally-made honey in the middle. Even though I buy the expensive peanut butter (Smucker's Natural) and honey is always expensive, both products go a long way if you use them judiciously. A heaping spoonful of peanut butter probably costs about $0.10, and a coating of honey is probably about the same, so I've got a healthy snack for just $0.20.

Back in reality, I stuck with a simple breakfast today: a cup of orange juice and a cup of tea, which cost me about $0.40 total. (I only buy orange juice when it's on sale, and I reuse my tea bags at least once.) For lunch, I had 2-2/3 cups of steamed mixed vegetables, one teaspoon of vegan butter and one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, for a total cost of about $1.20. That leaves me about $2.90 for dinner. I'm going to make one of my favorites: knock-off Chipotle veggie burritos. That includes rice, black beans, salsa, shredded vegan cheese, corn, red onion and bell peppers in a steamed tortilla wrap. It's fantastic, and it will probably cost me about $2.60-$2.80 to make, since I buy generics and sale items. The only costly thing in there is the vegan cheese, which I only buy once in a blue moon. UPDATE: I skipped the cheese because it was old and moldy and found some burrito shells on sale. That saved me enough to afford a snack of ICE CREAM! (It was on sale at County Market - 10 for $10, but I only bought a couple.) Now, I have both some delicious, cheap ice cream for later and some leftover burrito fixings. Awesome.

So far, I'm not really having trouble staying within my budget, aside from my love of sweets. I did have to exercise some self-restraint last night when I was hankering for some ice cream, and I haven't yet been faced with the prospect of going out for dinner with friends, but I think I'm doing pretty well so far. We'll see what happens when my body realizes that I'm eating proper serving sizes and not snacking between meals - that could cause a bodily backlash...

As I mentioned yesterday, my sister Natalie is a registered dietitian. She and her husband already eat on a self-imposed budget that nearly matches the average SNAP benefit. Their budget is $250 per month for the two of them, which is actually $20 less than the SNAP challenge would allow for two people over a month. ($4.50 X 30 days X 2 people = $270/month for the challenge) That means they each eat on about $4.17 per day - a pretty impressive feat when you consider the gourmet meals my sister can produce on that budget. Here's how she does it, in her own words.

 First of all, almost anything you can make at home will be cheaper than buying prepackaged, convenience foods or eating at a restaurant.  Of course, really watching your portion sizes so you get enough food and nutrients but not excessive amounts at one time (your body can't absorb them all, so it is like wasting precious nutrients!).  I find if I keep my menu simple, like the basic food groups--fruits, vegetables, grains, milk/cheese, meat/protein, I feel more satisfied and am not wasting my money on crap!  We regularly do the things below and save a ton of money on groceries!  We can actually afford to buy the occasional Oreo or special item because of it!  :-)   We find ourselves splitting treats more too, like each of us gets one of the Reese's cups that comes (2 per pkg) for 88 cents... or having smaller bowls of ice cream because then we get more.  :-)

Peanut Butter:  good fats and protein, very filling and satisfying

Beans:  Canned--rinse canned to decrease sodium buy~40%, or dried--soak in water overnight to help decrease gassiness.  Good for protein and carbs, low in fat!

Lentils: cook much faster than beans from dried, and you don't have to soak!

Rice--choose long grain, brown rice, generally pretty cheap!

Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper, and can remain good longer.  Often the nutrient values are about the same.  I buy generic as much as I can!

Instead of using jelly yesterday with my pb&j, I used frozen raspberries that I microwaved.  More tart (they had no added sugar), but still delicious and had actual nutrients!!

Generic dry cereal (not always cheap, but cheaper)...I would try the generic oatmeal that you actually have to make (old fashioned, still very easy, but has more fiber to keep you full)

Skip soda and juice, unless you have "leftover money"--100% juice is nutritious, but not very filling.  It is better to have the whole piece of fruit with peel, etc.

Same goes for chips and crackers, and snacky things--see if you have "extra money Calories in your budget"...and still get the generic, much cheaper and sometimes more tasty (...and sometimes NOT!)

A bag of potatoes can go further than a box of processed ones.

Eggs are cheap and a great source of protein and other nutrients!

Milk is a great source of nutrients (any type, but cow's milk is generally cheaper).  Small amounts of cheese are probably okay, but can be more expensive.  Yogurt is good, but I would pay more money on the good stuff, and not all the sugary, flavored kinds.  I like the plain 0% fat greek yogurt and add my own fruits or flavorings...

I think it is better to "splurge" on good quality meat, like the extra lean ground sirloin vs cheaper, fattier meat...however, on a strict budget, many families cannot make that sacrifice (so for them it is the best they can do to buy the cheaper meat).  I prefer to just limit it (Flexitarian) and eat more beans, rice, peanut butter, etc!  :-)

 There you have it - some specific tips from someone who already makes it work. I hope that's helpful to anyone struggling with their food budget!

 If you have any questions or comments, email me at Thanks for reading!

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