Where the Rubber Hits the Road: Shopping for the Whole Foods Food Stamp Challenge

| August 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

Last night, I put together the mother of all shopping lists, longer than any I can remember making in the last ten years. When I was finished organizing all of my outputs and inputs in my notebook, I had a neat little list to take to the store.

Except it turned out to be anything but neat.  For example, at least one of my recipes called for Red Bell Peppers, which I knew would be expensive but which I was willing to stomach. But sweet peppers are also on the Dirty Dozen list, which according to my rules meant I had to buy them organically…..and organic ones were not available fresh.  I found some in the frozen section, but of course the price-per-pound was higher, so I had to scale back to a quantity that didn’t make me choke.

There were lots of diversions. The green beans looked like hell, so I refused to buy them.  Some things were just too, too expensive to stomach once I got to the store.  Parsley at this store was selling for $1.99 for a wilty bunch, which my gardener’s pride prevented me from paying. They were out of the bulk olive oil I wanted, so I had to find someone to refill the reservoir so I could fill up my bottle. And so on.

On the more positive side, it’s a fantastic store and they made my task a pleasure. The bulk section is huge and well-organized, the spice selection is good, the produce well-tended, and they carry not just the standard bulk pourables like peanut butter, but also four types of olive oil, various sweeteners, and a ton more. Helpful people appeared at every turn, so I never had to spend any time wondering, “Where’s the….?”

All in all, I spent almost two hours in the store buying what I needed, calculating what everything cost as I went along to be sure I didn’t go over my EBT card’s allocation.  It was interesting work, but took so long that I couldn’t help but think of the trade-off I was making, as an imaginary food stamp recipient. It would’ve been so much easier to reach for the package of pre-made pita bread, the already-made hummus. And then I could’ve gone home to my family, my job search, whatever else life held.

And when they fired up the roaster and started roasting green chilis, it smelled so great I almost lost it.  That’s one of the smells of Colorado in autumn that I cannot resist.  But at the price per pound, I could’ve purchased the ingredients for a complete meal for both of us – PLUS leftovers for lunch the next day.

At the checkout, I was nervous to note that I’d already spent $177.00 of our monthly $367.00.  Roughly three-quarters of the items were purchased as organic.  Below is a partial list of what I ended up with. The food prep begins in earnest on the first of September.


Onions (bag)
Red Onion
Corn x 4 ears
Garlic x 3 heads
Cilantro x 2 bunches
Ginger Root
Red Pepper (had to buy frozen to get organic)
Green Beans

Spinach (4c)
Lemons 2
Potatoes – 2-3 large
Sweet Potato

Salad Mix for 2 dinners
Apples – a big bag at $1.99/lb for organic local apples
Peaches – local @ $1.99/lb
Beets (2 med)


Black beans
Pinto Beans
White Rice
Brown Rice
Bulgur (a tiny bit, to make veggie burgers chewy)
Dried Cranberries
Flax Seed
Sunflower Seeds
Whole Wheat Flour
White Wheat Flour
Cut Pasta
Peanut Butter
Olive Oil
Bread Yeast

Bulk Spices (I am the queen of little baggies)

Chili Powders
Smoked Paprika
Fennel Seed

Dairy Case

Eggs (2 doz)
Milk (quart)
Coconut milk
Parmesan Cheese (a small square)
Cheddar Cheese (a small block)

“Meat” for 2 Meat-ish Mondays

Salmon Burgers (on sale!)
Cod fillets


Frozen Peppers
Soy Sauce
Fire-Roasted Tomatoes 28oz x 2
Kalamata Olives
Dijon Mustard

Next: Getting Our Feet Wet: Cooking for the Week


Category: Cooking, Food, Money Saving, Organic, Whole Foods Challenge

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