A Healthy Diet Isn’t Always Possible For Low-Income Americans, Even When They Get SNAP Benefits


Published:

© Anne Preble on Unsplash

While researching how hard it is for low-income Americans to eat healthy on tight budgets, I’ve often found a mismatch between what people want to eat and the diet they can afford to follow. This made me wonder what eating right costs and how much of this tab gets covered by the largest federal nutrition program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.

To find out, I teamed up with Kranti Mulik, an agricultural economist.

MyPlate And SNAP

We based our nutrition assumptions on MyPlate, the federal government’s dietary guidelines, which account for differences according to age and gender. The guidelines spell out what you should eat from five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein – including meat, beans, eggs, tofu and other soy-based products, nuts and seeds.

SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and how many eligible people live in a given household.

These modest benefits, which average about US$1.40 per meal, reduce the number of people who would otherwise go hungry at the end of each month by nearly 30 percent, according to Urban Institute economist Caroline Ratcliffe.

Meal Accounting

Conversations around healthy eating often leave out cooking time. But to estimate the monthly shortfall for people living in economic hardship who get SNAP benefits, we took into account not just grocery prices and SNAP benefits but the effort eating home-prepared meals requires.

This includes traveling to stores and shopping for ingredients, as well as prepping, cooking and serving meals and cleaning up afterwards. To estimate this value, economists have used the average U.S. hourly wage rate, multiplying it by the time it takes to prepare meals. They find that labor is worth 40 percent of what Americans spend on food that they eat at home.

For people who rely on SNAP benefits, the labor costs can be daunting. They may not live close to supermarkets or any stores that sell produce. They might not own cars and lack access to transit, and they might lack the basic cooking equipment needed to prepare meals.

The government does not officially bill SNAP as covering everything that beneficiaries spend on food – that’s why the word supplemental is part of the program’s name. In 2016, however, it estimated that Americans could afford to feed a family of four a healthy diet for as little as $588 a month – less than the $649 that a family of four can get at most in SNAP benefits. Remember, this amount excludes the labor of preparing meals.

We calculate that it would take about $1,100 per month, including labor, to keep food on this hypothetical family’s table. According to our calculations, SNAP covers about half – between 43 and 60 percent – of what following a MyPlate diet costs after taking into account the labor required for meal preparation.

For households that purchase only fresh produce, grains, dairy and meat, this shortfall is much bigger than for those buying canned, frozen fruits and vegetables. Serving a meal of freshly steamed broccoli, whole-wheat pasta and roast chicken costs more than heating up canned diced tomatoes and red beans to eat with white rice.

Besides, many breadwinners who have to stretch their food dollars work multiple jobs or have other constraints on their time. For them, every hour spent on meal preparation can amount to an hour’s worth of pay lost.

$600 More Per Month

Based on our model, we found that a family of four with two adults and two teens or tweens would need to spend more than $600 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits, if they ate only fresh produce, grains, meat and dairy.

That same household would need to spend almost $500 more than the maximum SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet with a mix of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables – and derived their protein from tofu and other soy-based products, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.

Even excluding the labor it takes to put food on the table, that family would need to spend at least $200 monthly on top of its members’ SNAP benefits to consume a healthy diet.

Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, Assistant Professor of Agriculture and Human Sciences, North Carolina State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

See also:
This Isn’t Just Another Urban Farm—It’s a Food Bank
5 Innovative Solutions To Food Deserts

The Conversation

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 18, 2019

Today has several incarnations. The morning hours see high-spirited, joyful moods dominate. The vivacious Gemini Moon is complimented by Venus’ trine to Mars. Social life is pure fun. Mercury’s mid-afternoon conjunction with Pluto can have dark overtones…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Learn Reiki to awaken your healing hands to care for yourself, your loved ones and pets. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (Master-Teacher) This one-day class covers the basic...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

This class meets 4 times: January 13th, February 24th, March 24th, April 7th The Eclectic Institute of Aromatherapy and Herbal Studies offers a comprehensive hands-on training in the art and...

Cost: $625 plus a material fee of $50

Where:
Misty Meadows Herbst Center
183 Wednesday Hill Rd
Lee, NH  03861
View map »


Sponsor: Misty Meadow Herbal Center
Telephone: 603-659-7211
Contact Name: Wendy Snow Fogg
Website »

More information

With Amy Bernier In this empowering workshop we will explore the innate intelligence of our gut, “the second brain”. We will use yoga postures and breath work to refine our digestive...

Cost: $40

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 East. Hartford Ave.
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor:  Peyton Pugmire Adult level Come together in a warm and uplifting space to get creative, connect, and breathe! At each meeting, we will have fun making a meaningful craft...

Cost: $45

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

One of the most mysterious and magickal of the archangels, Uriel, has a variety of different and conflicting roles in angelic lore. In The Book of Enoch he is one of humanity’s advocates...

Cost: $45

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

World famous seminars (www.understandingofmusic.com) turns beginners into musicians, revitalizes and inspires even pro musicians.

Where:
Boston, MA


Telephone: (781) 599-1476
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Deepen Your Practice DYP-30 Hour Yoga Alliance Course January–May 2019 5 Saturdays, 10am–4pm 1/19, 2/2, 3/30, 4/27, 5/18 Looking to deepen your practice but a 200 Hour training...

Cost: $599

Where:
KJ Fitness
Tewksbury, MA


Sponsor: Relax and Recharge With Chuck
Contact Name: Chuck
Website »

More information

January 19–20 With Patty Collinsworth Weekend class hours: Saturday, 10–5pm and Sunday, 10–5pm Learn how to open the Akashic Records for yourself and others in this...

Cost: $170

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

The Eclectic Institute of Aromatherapy and Herbal Studies offers a comprehensive hands-on training in the art and science of Aromatherapy. This course covers the...

Cost: $550

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Join nationally known psychic medium/spiritual counselor, Diana Harris, for a mediumship gallery. Diana is a bridge – a conduit between heaven and Earth. Ms. Harris will answer your questions...

Cost: $70

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags