Sticking to a nutritious, SNAP-type food budget

It’s harder than it looks, keeping to a strict shopping budget, trying to stock up and buy in bulk without breaking the bank, planning wholesome family meals that won’t take days to prepare.

But with food prices inching up and American incomes pretty much holding steady — let’s not even get into gas prices — more of us are finding a strict food budget a matter of necessity and urgency.

Amid my meal planning, which can probably be categorized as somewhat obsessive, I recently tried out a handful of recipes from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the new name for what many of us know as food stamps.

My menu included a beef roast, green bean sauté, roasted root vegetables and a salad. All of it would feed my family of three for at least one supper and probably two or three good-sized lunches. Note: You can find the other recipes on our website, theadvocate.com/features/recipes.

The beef roast was the most expensive part of the meal, and somewhat uncharacteristic for us.

We eat beef only occasionally not only for health reasons but because it’s a pretty expensive addition to the table. But this time, I chose a chuck roast that, for the amount of food it provided, ended up being a good value.

Next on the expense list was, surprisingly, the salad. Fresh produce is pricey, particularly the apples this recipe calls for. However, it made a ton of salad that fed us that night and made for a couple more lunches and another supper serving. And the 3-year-old ate it happily. You can’t put a price on that.

The two sides, root vegetables and the green beans, were inexpensive winners.

I’m not a huge fan of canned green beans, but the onion and mushrooms dressed up an otherwise boring dish. And, by choosing root vegetables that were in season, I saved a little bit of money. Nothing beats oven roasting for bringing out the sweetness of late winter root veggies, especially when paired with salty Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

With so many families facing fixed costs of housing, car notes and utilities, the food budget is one thing we can squeeze, and we tend to do it with abandon. Just remember not to leave out the nutrition or the taste.

Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at bcolvin@theadvocate.com.