How to Eat on a Very Low Income During These Hard Times

A local food bank may be able to provide you with basics.
A local food bank may be able to provide you with basics. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

It is not easy to stretch a small income to meet the demands of daily living. Once you have paid for essentials such as your home and utilities, there is often little left for other essentials such as food and medications. Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet is important to your physical and psychological well-being, and although unhealthy, fast foods may seem the only foods that are affordable, there are a number of ways you can enhance your diet.

Apply for federal food stamps. Low income individuals and families may qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Applicants must have a Social Security number and be either a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or be a qualified alien. The amount of help you get monthly will be dependent upon your income level. Assistance comes in the form of a credit-type card that can be used at participating grocery stores. Food stamp application forms are available at Social Security offices nationwide.

Visit your local food bank and find out if you qualify for its program. Food banks are often run by nonprofit and faith-based organizations, and simply expressing a need is sometimes the only criteria. Food banks will generally provide you with sufficient basic pantry items to keep you from being hungry. Feeding America is the leading domestic hunger-relief nonprofit, and you can find local food banks by visiting its website and entering your zip code in the "Food Bank Locator" tool.

Find congregate meals sites in your area. If you are a senior citizen your local senior center should offer a free, hot, nutritious lunch on weekdays. If you are unable to leave your home, you may qualify for home-delivered meals. These programs are funded through the Older Americans Act and are available to seniors across the nation. If you are not a senior, you may find faith-based and other organizations in your area that provide free or low-cost congregate meals. If you have children, their schools may have meal assistance programs.

Become a savvy shopper and start stretching your food dollars. Make a shopping list each time you go shopping and do not stray from the list of essentials. Cut coupons and check for discount days and special offers at your local grocery stores. Buy generic brands instead of more expensive brand name products, which are often the same items packaged differently. Buy fruits and vegetables that are cheap and in-season, as opposed to their expensive, out-of-season counterparts. Get together with a group of friends and make savings by buying in bulk and sharing the products.

Eat a hearty breakfast to stave off hunger until lunchtime. Choose generic, whole grain cereals and cheap, nutritious egg dishes, such as omelets or scrambled eggs.

Make your lunch and take it to school or work with you. You will then avoid buying a more expensive lunch alternative from a local cafe or food truck. Drink tap water instead of more expensive and sugar-laden beverages.

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