Assistance for subsistence: SNAP and MyPlate

By Birch (Sam K)

This Saturday the teenagers (and Claire) of MAP were armed with pens, clipboards and a mission: shop for an imaginary family on a budget while following MyPlate guidelines.

My family of two consisted of one adult and one child. I am working with $72 a week. Planning for 37 meals in total left me with a whopping total of $1.94 per meal. I didn't use specific portion sizes, rather I guesstimated wondering aisle after aisle. To make this challenge more interesting I decided to give my son lactose sensitivity and we eat no pork. I also wanted to make believable meals - avoid eating tune and lettuce every meal - which wasn't always possible.

Trying to follow MyPlate suggestions was hard, especially considering how little it lines up with my regular diet and eating ethics. I'm lactose intolerant and very much against our CAFO-based meat industry. Therefore, all milk and reasonably priced, ethical meat are inaccessible. I'm also almost always on the move, 5 days a week at least. My consumption of grains and fruits is very disproportionate to my veg and protein intake.

Doing this exercise was a double edged sword of inquiry. On one side we did this to challenge the budget set up the USDA for it's meager food assistance. The other was challenging the portion sizes set by MyPlate.

MAP Meets john powell from the Haas Institute

MAP Youth and staff were thrilled to be included in activities during john powell's week-long visit to the UB School of Architecture and Planning. Many thanks to the UB Food Lab and Dr. Samina Raja for inviting us to participate in his visit.

 After attending a public talk by john powell, MAP Youth #CommitTo his idea of a #NewSocialContract:

that is based on a set of core inclusive values, one that builds on our past and embraces our future. This compact recognizes our fundamental belief that we are linked by our common humanity, that we are bound together in our work to secure a fair and inclusive democracy, and that we are united in our commitment to care for each other and the Earth. There are certain times in which we are called upon to rethink, reclaim, and boldly articulate what we stand for, and to act, and we believe we are in one of those times today.

My Bright Future

By Cameron L

I want to be an anesthesiologist because it is a doctor who puts you to sleep during surgery, or at a dentist for surgery. I want to do this because they are paid very well, I want to save lives and I want to work in a hospital where there are new opportunities and new people.

A diet is specific foods you eat to stay healthy or loose weight. A diet is good because food effects a lot of people's lives - like for some, food is a comfort. Another big thing about food is a patients diet is important because if they are in bad shape or health, that means the healthcare provider has to pay more to get the patient back to wellness.

🎵 Making my way down Tops! 🎵

By Win T

The experience I had budgeting for my family for a week of groceries was pretty fun, but also very exhausting. There was a lot of running around, especially since Tops is a huge store and we had a time limit. But, like I said, for the most part it was fun.

We did this exercise to challenge My Plate on a food stamps budget. I had a family of six, with three adults and three kids. My money came from food stamps and I got a total allowance of $156. Per meal I could spent $1.41. The portion size I used were the number of servings - compared to ounces or cups it was the easiest one! I was not very difficult for me to figure out what I needed because I had a calculator for my calculations.

Shopping at Tops was fun and exciting, but tiring. It was easy for me to determine how many cartons of each item I needed because I already had my calculations before hand, and all my little self had to so was look on the back for the serving size. The food was hard to find for me. The thing that helped is that Tops has isle labels on top. But sometimes they don't tell you everything that's in the isle so you still have to do some hunting.

The items I needed were not located in one specific area, but all over the place so I can't really tell you where they were located. The display was pretty fair to look at. There were many different brands and varieties to choose from for just one item. I feel as those the store was so-so to navigate on a budget. Some isles had many great deals like, 2 for $4, but obviously there were expensive items too.

This experience is very different from how me and my own family shop. In this exercise we did lots of calculations, but for my family we just get up and pick up the things we need.

Nutrition is a good addiction!

By Dakota P

In this exercise, my family has $156 per week and $26 to spend per person. I figured out how much food my family needed by the number of people in house. This is really the same thing that my mom does when we go shopping because she always makes a list.  Things I thought about were the recommended amount of My Plate food for kids and adults.

We did this exercise at work because it shows us what we might need to so in the future as adults, and if we have kids. It wasn't that difficult to figure out what I needed for this exercise, because my mom did this before and I watched her do it.  My family is always worrying about what food to get and making sure it's healthy.

For me, the Tops experience was easy because I know what my mom does at the grocery store. The food was easy to find since I go with her and I know my way around the store. The items I needed most were located in the fruit and vegetable section. It was hard to run back and forth between the produce and dairy section since they are far away from each other.

Shopping with My Plate!

By Isabella A

I got a fake family, and I had to go shopping for them on a budget. My family consisted of two adults and three kids. My food money cam from food stamps, and my total allowance for per week is $192. I tried to figure out why protion sizes by using the USDA My Plate recommendations for adults and children. It wasn't really difficult to figure out what I needed, but it was confusing with all the math that needed to be done. I think we did this exercise to show how complicated it is to shop using My Plate standards while being on a strict budget.

The struggle with staying in My Plate standards

My list of purchases at Tops is way different than what I eat on a regular basis. Basically I purchased all the ingredients for lasagna, plus apples, for every meal of the week. I feel as though I might not eat as well as the portions recommended by the USDA because I don't follow those standards for every meal, every day. And I eat junk food sometimes too. I think my purchases at Tops would worsen my diet because it would be unhealthy to eat the same meal for the rest of my life. I think a variety of fruits and vegetables are missing from my shopping list, and that it is important to keep things not boring food-wise.


By Soliegh D

My family has six people in it, including myself. I get $180 in food stamps a week, which boils down to $30 per person per week. I had to shop for 3 adult portion sizes and 3 child portions sizes. I didn't have to do the calculations, because I was absent, so the shopping part of this activity wasn't very hard. We probably did this so we could see what it's like budging for a families weekly groceries.

It is possible to eat a My Plate meal on SNAP benefits. You can't be picky about it though, and you will have to deal with eating the same foods for every single meal, but you will survive. I had a lot of money left over after fulfilling the weekly My Plate guidelines, so I got treats and snacks to try to spice things up. But, to no avail. My fake kids hate me and my boring meals - my family ate peanut butter sandwiches, milk, frozen vegetables and an apple for Every. Single. Meal.

I think My Plate could improve upon themselves if they changed their model or added additional models to accompany more peoples needs based on their dietary restrictions. My Plate doesn't accommodate people with dairy restrictions. SNAP benefits could give more money so you could eat a variety of foods or just be able to afford better quality foods. Just because SNAP benefits allow you to buy the cheapest meats, for instance, doesn't mean you should buy them. They are often full or hormones and are raised in inhumane and environmentally unfriendly manners.

When the Stomach Roars

By Ingabire A

On Sunday my coworkers and I when to Tops grocery store. Our purpose was to challenge My Plate with different amounts of money in our shopping budget. I was getting my money from a salary, so it was a bit different than someone who was relying on food stamps.

I had four people in my family. Budgeting for them, and making sure they had the right meals was a bit stressful because of the calculations and knowledge I had to put in trying to feed them right and healthy.

As I was doing the activity I felt like:
it's a lot of work to budget, and feed people according to My Plate.
 This is because of economic issues and also time to do the budgeting. In the end it's all worth it because you feed the people you love with a nice, balanced and healthy meals.

My shopping compared to how I eat on a regular basis is so different. I had to compromise my shopping because I am used to halal meats, and Tops does not carry halal meat. So, I had to adapt and get what was available. I feel like I eat not as well as the recommendations by the USDA because of lack of money and time, but I try to balance a bit.

My purchases at Tops would worsen my diet if I ate that way every week because there weren't enough healthy food options that were affordable. The staples that were missing from my shopping list were proteins and grains. These items are important because I need grain for energy and I need protein for my bones to get stronger.

Last but not least, I had a fun experience doing this activity!

My Plate, My Budget?

By Gabe C

This exercise was a fun and interesting one. In this exercise I was tasked with shopping for my 'family' of 2 adults and 2 children. My food money came from food stamps. Which, after some budgeting calculations I determined that I had $1.45 smackaroons per meal. This amount is higher than the $1.40 smackaroons average per meal for food stamps. We did this exercise as a means to convey the unfair standards that the government expects us to live on, especially when considering any financial limitations.


My plan of action when shopping was to deprive my family of any food-based joy, and only feed them the essential nutrients, which can be found in chili, milk and apples. Just like nature intended. Theoretically, I could live off a large pot of chili with milk and apples, as these are some of my favorite things to ingest. I would probably get sick of it, but, if my life was on the line, then I would get over it, because starvation is not chic.  I would have to change it up as to stave off my stomach's insanity.

Three ways that that my shopping list is good:
  1. it falls way under budget
  2. it fulfills everything the My Plate recommends
  3. I would only have to cook once a week.
Two ways that this would stink:
  1. It would get boring, fast
  2. It isn't very healthy.
  3. I would end up having my children hate chili

My Plate on food stamps? Challenge Accepted!

 By Thaint T

For this budget exercise I challenged My Plate on a food stamp budget. Was I successful? Read on to find out.

For this set up, I have a beautiful family of 5. Two adults and 3 kids. And the money for my food comes from food stamps. My weekly amount is $192, (or $38.40 per person, or $2.13 per meal). This is more than the national average food stamp cost per meal, which is $1.40. I had to prepare 90 meals each week, Monday through Sunday for my lovely family.

Hey Thaint you might ask, how do you know how much food you need? 

Well, I calculated using a conversion table Danielle provided me. Using cups and ounces I figured out how many servings I need. Servings to me is the easiest way to know how much food I need to grab at the store.

Looking at my list of food that I 'bought' at the grocery store, I can imagine the dishes I could make. I did buy food from every category - dairy, grain, vegetables, fruits and protein. Sure, it may not be diverse, but I still bought a little bit of difference food.

I did buy a lot of canned veggies, but I can still work with it. Plus, it was 10/$10 for canned veggies, and you can't beat that. I did not buy a lot of 'breakfast foods,' but from the looks of it, I can still make a decent breakfast. I bought milk, orange juice, and muffins. What more do you need for breakfast? I even bought fruits. Now my kids can't run away!

Some foods that really wouldn't 'work' would be this Italian cheese blend that I bought. It's a seasoning, so I can't do much with it. I also bought six jars of meat sauce, but no pasta or noodles. I can add my chicken thighs to the meat sauce with cheese and eat it with toasted bread.

I had about $40 left over after shopping. One big difficulty was that time was our enemy. But then again, who does their weekly shopping in one hour?? Either way, I succeeded.

Dakota meets Weiss Farm at the market

By Dakota

I talked to these people at the farmers market who had a farm name Weiss farm. For their growing and production methods they kill the bugs and tear out the weeds. That's how they care for their soil and crops.

What they sell at their stand were grapes, eggplants, gourds, apples, onions and all kinds of other stuff. These products are marketed to the consumers with baskets of crate with bags in them. What I liked about the presentation about their products were that they would put the veggies and fruits in a bag before putting them in a basket to prevent dirt from getting on the fresh produce. I would have like to see the prices of how much the products cost as well.

Meeting Kindred Kreek at the farmers market

Kindred Kreek is a farm based in Akron that sells meat from alpaca, rabbit, cow, pig, lamb and chickens. They sell at the farmers market and at their farm. As a business owner the farm faces challenges from regulations because they are constantly changing. The signage was very nice and showed all their products, contact information and prices out front of their stand. I think they have a great stand because I knew who they were and wasn't left with any questions.

Talking with Belleview farm at the market

By Gabe C

Belleview farm is a family farm specializing in selling lamb. They sell frozen and vacuum packed cuts of lamb that they themselves raised. They hand rear the young, then the sheep live in a very open field, with little to no antibiotics or medicine - only in cases of emergency. The sheep are butchered on the farm. They are a relatively new farm stand at the market, and thus are working hard to market themselves, so they were happy to answer all my questions regarding their products.

I liked their honesty and how determined they were in selling a reputable product. They were very determined in trying to get people to know of their problems they face in a small business - one problem being competition with big agriculture.