The Balancing Act: Feeding a family healthy meals on a food stamp budget

When the federal government recently changed the health guidelines, many people were struck by the fact that for people struggling to make ends meet in today's economy, it was just about impossible.

So, in order to see if the government is living up to their own standards, NewsChannel 15 asked a mother and a chef to see if they could feed a family of four healthy meals for a week with just $68.88, the average amount someone on food stamps receives from the government.

But even for families not on food stamps, such as families facing unemployment and foreclosure, the rising cost of food and dwindling resources make eating healthy and cheap a real challenge.

Beth Goff is a homeowner, a wife, and a mother who on an average week spends around $115 on groceries, trying to eat as healthy as possible.

As she points out the all-natural chips in her pantry, she realizes making an entire week's worth of food last on $68.88 is not an easy task.

"I thought it was crazy," said Goff. "But I was up for the challenge."

A challenge, she could see would be difficult not just for her, but also for her husband TJ, and her two children, 6-year-old Karoline and 5-year-old Anderson.

"Just going down that first aisle, it was really upsetting because it was a huge chunk of my money. It was really frustrating that I knew I was leaving behind things to feed my family."

Beth tried her best to go by the new Federal Food and Drug Administration standard.

In July, the FDA threw out the food pyramid and now tells us to go by the food plate, which suggests nearly half of your diet should be fruits and vegetables.

But the more fruits and vegetables Beth put into the basket, the less food she could buy.

"I bought way less fruits and a lot less vegetables than we are normally accustomed to, because it was just too expensive. We couldn't get it."

At just the end of day one, the family's frustration grew with an unforseen difficulty. "Going into day two, we had half a loaf of bread, and by the end of day two, we had like two slices left. We still have day 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 to go."

"I like to think that I know a good bit about food and food purchasing," said Chef Darren Smith. "It wasn't easy for me, and I do it every single day of the week."

Smith owns the Rivertown Bistro in Conway and agreed to the challenge as well, but he attacked the idea of making the federal guidelines and money meet in a different way.

Instead of buying as much food as he could, he separated the amount of money he'd spend on breakfast, lunch and dinner. "I was also in my mind utilizing the left over pieces to enrich dinner and the rest of the meals."

But when getting produce, he ran into a familiar problem. "You put a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, which everyone would love to eat, it's almost impossible."

He instead bought frozen vegetables, and on the few occasions he was able to, he bought in bulk. Cooking has to be the main ingredient because prepared foods are easier, but they cost more, he said.

"You should have a firm outline menu, a budget, the sales papers coupons." he said. "It takes legwork, a lot of strategy and the ability to say no."

Though the task is tough, it could be reached, but variety would not be an option, said Smith. "As much knowledge about food that I have, I can make that work, but it would be a chore."

By day three at the Goff's, variety was long gone, and pancakes became lunch on day four.

"We ate a lot of peanut butter," said Beth. "We're out of bread."

By the beginning of day five, the Goff's high hopes started to fall with their lack of food, and after day five's breakfast, the food wasn't enough.

"You're cooking every meal breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. How quickly the food goes away and we're on day five and all we have is scraps of little things left. Nothing we could put together for a meal."

The lesson she learned for stretching the money is research before you step foot into the grocery store.

"I think it's doable, if you can do your research. Really shop and get the buy one get one free deals where you can get the better deals where your money is going to stretch longer."

How you stretch your dollars and make the most of your food budget? Leave us a comment below letting us know.