Eating healthy on a budget of about $196 a month may seem impossible to some, but Sarah Bogan, a military spouse at Fort Bragg, has accepted the call to try to debunk the myth and perception that eating healthy has to be expensive.
“The biggest perception in America today is that healthy eating is expensive and that all the cheap stuff (foods) are those that are canned or boxed goods,” said Bogan, “Healthy is a very vague term, but my definition of eating healthy is eating the most natural foods as possible considering the budget.”
While attending college at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., in what Bogan describes as a pretty impoverished region of Missouri, she frequently visited a local second hand shop and became good friends with the owner. The owner would later inform her that many people received items from local food pantries but they had no idea what to do with them so often the items remained unused and on the shelf.
After hearing those words, Sarah knew that something had to be done.
Although she did not attend culinary school, she obtained formal training while serving as a backup chef for her aunt and various chefs from around the country.
“With my passion for cooking, I thought it would be a great idea for me to start teaching lower income people how to cook,” said Bogan.
As she pondered on the challenge, she also began to think about the struggles lower income Families; things that they go through just to survive, and even question if it was possible for them to maintain a healthy diet on such a low income.
To prove to herself and others that you can eat healthy on a budget, Bogan decided to start a project she called Food Stamp Challenge: “Surviving on Stamps.” For 30 days, she blogged about low-cost, nutritious breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner recipes that require minimal preparation time and everyday cooking items that can found around the home.
Before starting the challenge, Bogan traveled extensively both nationally and internationally to provide a variety of healthier meal options.
“I did a month of traveling (last September). I traveled to New York, New Orleans, and the Dominican Republic. All the people that I met told me how expensive it is to eat healthy,” Bogan said.
During her travels, Bogan faced the challenge of being able to connect with her target audience.
“So part of the SOS project was to get my mindset similar to someone who lacks the resources because I felt very disconnected,” said Bogan. “I really wanted to see if I could do it and put myself in the situation of someone in my target audience.”
To prepare for the challenge she did all of her shopping at ALDI, which is a discount grocery store.
“On the first trip I spent about $100. It made me feel very nervous and discouraged because I was not sure how long this food was going to last, I really had no idea,” said Bogan, ”I would choose a packaged chicken over eating McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets or dried beans instead of canned because they were more affordable and healthier. Through my experience, all the fresh produce has been much cheaper than the foods with the longer shelf life.”
Her goal was not only to save money but to limit the number of shopping trips and the amount of time it takes to complete the meals.
“There are factors other than food to consider when undertaking a diet such as time and means of transportation to and from the grocery store,” said Bogan, “These are things that people who are not in that situation would tend to overlook or never think of.
“For breakfast, I usually eat eggs, for lunch I usually eat left overs from dinner. Dinner meals were usually under 30 minutes because I utilized my Crockpot a lot. At the end of the project, I still had food left over. The rest of the money was spent at the local farmers market,” she said.
Although Bogan said she preferred the fresh produce and vegetables offered at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market, there was one problem she faced.
“The Fayetteville Farmer’s Markets does not accept Electronic Benefit Transfer card, (electronic benefit transfer card replaced the food stamp coupon) but, there are some farmers markets in North Carolina that do. There are people at the farmer’s markets in Fayetteville who are working to get local farmers to accept EBT card,” she explained.
Bogan said it was a good experience and one she highly recommends.
“It is possible at least with my definition of healthy. I think I did a very good job. It takes a little bit more work initially, but once you get it down, you end up saving money and by imitating a healthy lifestyle you lower grocery bills and cut medical costs,” she continued.
To bring her expertise and experience to the Fort Bragg community, Bogan is currently looking for agencies in the local area to open their kitchens to her in order to offer free cooking classes for both adults and children.