SNAP Challenge: Sweet (one dollar!) Potato Soup
It’s SNAP Challenge week. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called Food Stamps. I—along with professionals and individuals from Maryland, DC, and Virginia—am attempting to shop for my household for one week on $33. While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles Manna families encounter week after week, it does provide those who take the Challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding of why SNAP benefits should be improved.
As you read in previous posts on Manna Minute, I lead grocery store tours around the county to teach clients how to shop healthy on a tight budget. Cooking Matters tours are often advertised as being a program designed specifically for families utilizing food assistance programs like WIC and SNAP. I wasn’t even worried going into this challenge thinking, “I’ve been teaching families to save money on groceries for over a year—I’m equipped for this.”
I was convinced I could come up with a healthy, hearty, and supremely delicious menu for $33. I even wrote out this week-long meal list using similar ingredients in various recipes throughout the week, utterly convinced I would be waaaaaaaaaaay under budget.
And day one was a flop.
I spent $13.55 on one meal. Sure, it’s a meal with 12 servings—meaning my hubby & I could eat it for lunch each day and maybe even freeze some for next month. Technically, that’s $1.13 a serving—certainly cheaper than fast food or convenience food. Victory, right?!
But I spent over one-third of my budget on one meal. And was only Monday. And I didn’t buy anything for breakfast (Cue head droop & sad Charlie Brown music).
And if we’re being toooooootally honest here, there are two receipt items I didn’t plan on mentioning: a $6 chicken for my husband (who is not participating in the challenge) and a bag of gala apples. A $12 BAG OF APPLES. It looked like the apples were on sale, but apparently the variety I chose wasn’t. And I was tired and desperate to get home and didn’t feel like waiting on a Shoppers Food Warehouse employee to void my transaction at the self-checkout line. That means, oh yes friends: my total bill was $32.67.
I stared at the computer screen: that can’t be right, I’m making soup for Pete’s sake! $32.67 is my entire budget for the week! I was frustrated at myself as an experienced Shopping Educator. I felt totally defeated on Day One. And there were people in line behind me I didn’t want to annoy; I clicked PAY NOW.
Of course, I had garlic and oil and leftovers at home to use up. It didn’t really matter if I went over-budget because I can, literally, AFFORD to make these amateur mistakes. For Manna’s clients, it’s a different matter. These are working individuals just like me, hoping to get in and out of the store after a long day—without using a calculator to manage the bill.
So here’s the $1.13 dinner I was really excited to tell you about. I invented this recipe a few years ago when we had next to nothing in our fridge—the soup is thick and creamy and filling. I’ve made this in the kids’ cooking classes I teach at White Oak Rec Center, where it’s also hailed a hit. My hubby (not participating in the challenge) loved dunking the pita crisps into the soup. But with two legs of chicken next to his bowl, his plate was a lot fuller than mine.
Sweet Potato Soup with Whole Wheat Garlic Crisps
from Lindsey’s home kitchen, serves 12
3 large sweet potatoes
1 carton low-sodium broth
1 bunch scallions (or 1/2 onion), chopped
3 whole wheat pocket pitas
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Slicing the potatoes into planks is a simple (and safe!) way to then chop potatoes into even pieces. Still, I struggled through these monstrous tubers despite my sharp, fancy chef’s knife. Already I realized the challenge in this simple step for many busy home cooks.
Place the chopped sweet potato and light parts of the scallions (hang onto the tops!) into your pot. Add the broth and heat until the vegetables are completely tender. I tossed in a carrot I had in the fridge—waste not, right? I adapted this soup for those who don’t want to linger over the stove: put all the veggies and broth into a microwave-safe container and heat until the vegetables are completely tender.
KID-FRIENDLY STEP: Preheat the broiler. While the veggies are cooking (whether in a covered pot or in the microwave, both take less than 10 minutes, even for eight cups!), kids can slice or tear the pita into quarters. Then gently open each piece and brush with olive oil, garlic, and a little grated Parmesan if you have it.
KID-FRIENDLY STEP: By now the veggies should be tender. In the soup pot or microwave-safe bowl, kids can smooth out the soup with a potato masher—add more broth, water, or even milk to thin out the puree.
For a more efficient soup, use a blender or immersion blender to puree the soup.