Vegetarian Meal Planning While On Food Stamps
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food stamps for grocery shopping. However, the financial assistance is limiting in terms of what you can buy, and you may lack regular access to fresh produce. Under these circumstances, it may seem impossible to maintain a vegetarian diet. However, with careful planning, it is manageable. Here are some tips to help you.
Establish Your Rules
Vegetarian and vegan is not the same thing, but there is a lot of crossover between the two diets. If you are a vegetarian, as opposed to a vegan, you might include dairy and eggs in your diet – some people include fish also (technically this is pescatarianism). Vegetarian meal planning can be tricky, even more so when working with food stamps, so it’s best to have these rules worked out well in advance for the purpose of planning.
Budget for Protein
Even if you are including calorie-rich, protein-based items such as eggs and cheese into your meal plans, they can sometimes prove a little expensive. It can be good to add these sparingly to dishes, while ‘bulking up’ on other ingredients. Other popularly suggested protein sources for vegetarians, such as nuts and quinoa, can be very expensive; more practical protein solutions might be whole grains and legumes. A benefit to this is that by not buying meat, you can save on protein purchases and have a little more to spend on vegetables.
How to Deal with Availability
Many people who depend on food stamps live in “food deserts” and may be unable to find fresh fruits and vegetables in close proximities. If getting to the grocery store is an effort, planning is key. Try to find out in advance what produce is in season (which is likelier to be cheaper), and plan as many meals as you can around those items to make them worth the purchase. Freezing in bulk is also a great option if you have the space. You may have a farmers market within travelling distance that accepts EBT – again, buying in season is a great money-saver, particularly towards the end of the season when supply starts to outstrip demand.
Take Advantage of Canned and Dried Foods
If you lack access to fresh produce, canned vegetables are a good solution. Canned produce is often judged as being less nutritious than fresh – however, this may not necessarily be the case, especially if the fresh produce has to travel thousands of miles before being sold. Canned vegetables are a great source of vitamins, as well as being very efficient in terms of cost and storage – if you are concerned about additives, rinsing the vegetables thoroughly can help get rid of unwanted sodium.
When incorporating legumes into your diet, as most vegetarians on a budget will, dried can be much better than canned. Canned are, of course, more time-efficient, as dried beans and lentils usually have to be soaked overnight before cooking. Dried, however, can work out to as little as a third of the price of canned (for the same amount). You are also able to better control the amount that you use, perhaps using a little at a time, to bulk up soups and stews.
If you have a list of staple items that you know you will always use , it is worth doing some research before shopping to see if any of these items are on sale in stores that accept EBT. (You may also be able to use coupons, though it is important to take the added tax into account.) Buying in bulk is expensive at the outset, but if you can absorb a larger purchase into your budget, it can be worth it. These kinds of purchases can be best for long-storage items, such as canned and dried foods, frozen vegetables, and whole-grain flour and rice.
Grow Your Own
Seeds to grow vegetables should be available to purchase with EBT, which can solve the issues of availability and cost-effectiveness. Gardening uses both time and labour, of course, and so it is not for everyone, but if you have a backyard or communal space where you can grow something, it might be worth giving it a try. There may be a fruit or vegetable that flourishes easily in your local climate with minimal tending.