How to Create a Sugar-free Meal Plan While on SNAP

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The food stamps provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, or SNAP, are limiting in terms of which products you can buy – and, of course, if you are using food stamps, you will be on a pretty tight budget, anyway. Healthy, sugar-free food has increased in popularity in recent years, but these special foods are still often expensive and/or hard to find. With these restrictions, eating a sugar-free diet may seem unmanageable – but with planning, it may be easier than you think.

Setting Your Sugar-free Rules and Exceptions

How sugar-free is sugar-free? This is important to bear in mind when you remember that sugar doesn’t just mean the white, granulated stuff you buy in bags; that’s sucrose, or ‘table sugar.’ Will you also be cutting out corn syrup, or dextrose? What about honey? How strict do you intend to be? These questions are best answered before you begin, so you can plan your meals and shopping accordingly. However, unless you are cutting sugar for diagnosed medical reasons, it is also crucial to know that you can flex your own rules. This may seem a strange place to start, but sugar-free meal planning is difficult across the board, and will be especially challenging on food stamps. Knowing that you could adapt a little as you go can prevent you from getting overwhelmed and throwing in the towel.

Replacements Instead of Substitutes

When it comes to recipes that would traditionally need sugar, many sugar-free recipes and meal plans will list all ingredients to use instead – agave syrup, maple syrup, raw honey, dates, coconut sugar, stevia, xylitol, etc. The problem is that these substances are almost always very expensive, and are often difficult to find. The best and most cost-effective way to deal with this is to replace the foods that need sugar, altogether. A complicated cookie recipe involving three different sugar substitutes can be something to save for, but in terms of everyday meal plans, perhaps some baked apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon would be good after-school/after-work snacks? Or peanut butter and oatmeal pancakes? If it doesn’t need sugar in the first place, you can skip the substitutes and save.

Go Natural With Fruit

Although it is technically sugar, fructose, which is naturally found in fruit, is a very important source of energy, and is not excluded from sugar-free diets in its natural form. As mentioned, fruit is a great way to replace sugary foods. However, fruit can be hard to find at affordable prices – or at all, for those living in “food deserts” with little-to-no fresh produce available. Canned fruit, unfortunately, is often preserved in sugary syrup, which often takes it off the table for sugar-free meal plans. Buying fruit seasonally is often the most affordable option, particularly toward the end of the season. If you live near a farmers market, check and see if it accepts EBT. Otherwise, grocery stores will often drop their prices for fruit that is in season. Buying and freezing in bulk is a great way to take advantage of this.

Buying More Expensive Items

Substitute sugars are expensive – but these types of purchases can be planned. Do some research and see if any stores in travelling distance are having sales on any of these products, and decide how much you are willing to spend on bulk-buys. (You may be able to use coupons, though the added tax is something to note.) Try making a list of all the recipes you could make with the item to decide if they are worth buying.

Avoiding ‘Hidden’ Sugars

Some sugars are hiding in plain sight, particularly in canned and processed foods. This can be a major problem for food stamp meal-planning, as these items are usually more affordable and more available than others – but there are sugar-free versions out there. Here, research will be of great benefit. If you familiarize yourself with the words used to disguise sugar on labels, you can avoid them: e.g. dextrose, maltose, cane crystals – the list goes on. It is also worth having a list of products that guarantee themselves free of added sugars. This will probably be advertised on the label, but knowing in advance can save you time on your shopping trip.