Tag Archives: eating on a budget

Matthew’s SNAP Challenge Introduction

Today’s post is the first in a series written by a dietetic intern working with us over the past month. As part of their internship experiences, I like to have them do a SNAP Challenge to better understand the experiences of people trying to eat smart on a tight budget. ~Austin

My name is Matthew D’Aria. I am a dietetic intern from Meredith College. I did my undergraduate and graduate work at Virginia Tech within the Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise department. My interest in the field of dietetics is to work with overweight/obese children and their caretakers. I want to help them reach a happy and healthy lifestyle together.

Playing with pasta

My love for food stems from my Italian heritage.

I am about to attempt to eat on an average SNAP budget for one week. I will try to only spend $43.10 on groceries, the maximum allotment for a college-aged male. I will also be taking advantage of the doubling program at the farmers market for a total of $20 of extra matching funds.  

I look forward to this challenge because I can only imagine how difficult it can be to plan meals on such a tight budget. This experience will help influence my practice as a registered dietitian, allowing me to have first-hand experience of the challenges of living on SNAP benefits, which will help me connect with potential future clients. One strategy I plan to use is to eat mindfully. Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to your body and the sight, smell, taste, and pleasure of food when eating. This will help me feel satisfied and not focus on the fact that I am eating less than I usually do.

I have never been on SNAP benefits before and I have never had to pay much attention to sticking to a budget or plan my meals. I do not expect this to be easy for me because I am not use to having restrictions on the amount of food I can buy and eat. With my busy schedule as a dietetic intern, I plan to prep ahead as much as possible. With that said, tonight I will be making overnight oatmeal so I can have breakfast ready to go in the morning. Unfortunately, it’s getting late now, so I may have to wait until tomorrow to get started on the rest.

Day 2 of Julie’s SNAP Challenge

This morning I ate oatmeal with some skim milk and peanut butter swirled in. I must say that I really love milk. When I was little, my mom made me drink it and I didn’t find it that amazing, but now that I am older, I can’t get enough of the stuff! Good thing too, because it is so good for you! Do you like to drink milk? I prefer 2% actually, but I bought skim this week because it was cheaper.

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Introduction to Julie Knopp’s SNAP Challenge

Hi there! My name is Julie Knopp and I am a VT Dietetic Intern on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian. Currently, I am working with Family Nutrition Program. As part of the internship, I am taking the SNAP Challenge, in which I will limit my budget to $32 for one week to see if I can meet all the dietary guidelines, if I can plan all my meals efficiently, etc. This will be useful for me as a future dietitian, because it will allow me to experience living on a tight budget. In the future I may help other low-income individuals with their own SNAP meal plans, and by taking the Challenge myself, I will gain better skills with this.

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Farmers Market SNAP Challenge Resources

Farmers Market SNAP Challenge

Why would I want to voluntarily cut back to a bare bones food budget? How in the world can I eat healthy for so little money? What makes this a Farmers Market SNAP Challenge? How does this affect me? These are some common questions you might be asking yourself as you consider or plan for the Farmers Market SNAP Challenge.

Why does it Matter?

As we talked about before, the Challenge is an exercise in empathy to experience just how difficult it is to eat healthy on a SNAP Budget and experience how essential the SNAP Incentive Program at the Blacksburg Farmers Market is to helping the 3,441 hungry families in the local community. The Feeding America Southwest Virginia recently presented startling statistics on the prevalence of hunger in our region that highlights how many families are struggling to put food on the table, even when receiving SNAP and other food assistance.

Spent is another informative way to gain a better understanding of the daily struggle of limited-resource families doing their best to make ends meet. Play Spent here and see how well you can juggle the competing demands on limited funds.

You can read more facts about the SNAP program here. This resource (and the others linked to on that page) give an eye-opening look at the true picture of the SNAP program and its impacts on food insecurity, health, and the surrounding community.

How to Balance Nutrition and Cost During the Challenge

Eating healthy on a budget is tricky and doing so on a SNAP budget is even more difficult. Using the following strategies will help you stick to $52 for the entire week.

  • Part of the message of the Farmers Market SNAP Challenge is how beneficial the SNAP Incentive Program is for stretching food dollars while purchasing fresh, local food. By shopping at the Blacksburg Farmers Market on Saturday and Wednesday during the Challenge, you are seeing the advantage of the extra $10 match per visit, allowing your Challenge budget to be set at $52 instead of the average $32 most Virginia SNAP recipients have. (This post has more specifics on how we calculated the Challenge food budget.)
  • Along with the SNAP Incentive Program, shopping at farmers markets can save money by taking advantage of the lower prices of seasonal foods. Check out this post for some Fall produce recipe ideas.
  • A new cookbook is available that was written to provide Good and Cheap recipe ideas that fit on an average SNAP budget. If you use any of these recipes, let us know how they turn out. They look delicious!
  • Make a meal plan and stick to it. SNAP recipients don’t wing it if they want to make their food last all month and you shouldn’t either.

What other questions do you have when thinking about the Farmers Market SNAP Challenge? Share them below and we’ll do our best to help!

Better Flavor, Better Savor: Marinara Sauce

Written by Lindsey Wallace
Part of National Nutrition Month 2014

Have you ever considered how much money is saved by preparing meals from scratch? Want better flavor and be a better saver for your family? Consider preparing your own marinara sauce.

Save yourself from high sodium and mediocre flavor when buying store bought marinara sauces. Venture to make your own from fresh produce from your local grocer or farmers market.

homemade tomato sauce

Image by Lindsey Wallace

Your marinara will be flavorful and inexpensive compared to store brands. The savings are more than monetary; just 50mg of sodium per serving compared to most store brands of 400mg sodium per serving. Foods low in sodium keeps the heart healthy. Sodium in excess can damage the heart by making the heart work harder to pump blood.

The taste of homemade marinara with fresh ingredients is much more dynamic than store brands. The various herbs, spices, and aromatics are creating the flavor instead of salt. I hope you are up to the adventure of making your own. Enjoy the flavors!
Consider canning your sauce for serving up a quick. Safely canning practices allow you to savor these flavors year round! The recipe below is intended for canning 8 pints of marinara; however the recipe can be adjusted to fit your serving size needs. What’s your favorite meal to serve up your marinara?

how to can tomato sauceIngredients:

Yield: 8 pints

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 8 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper


AmyZoe (2009, January 9). Canning marinara sauce. Retrieved from

American Heart Association (2014, February 19). Sodium (salt). Retrieved from