How I Survived as a Single Parent on Food Stamps - Part 1 - Adaptive Nourishment

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Associated Song of the Week – I Will Survive

This is a topic that I have spoken to many people about throughout the past few years. I can’t tell you that is the easiest topic to speak about but it is of great importance to get the information out there. You see, my life completely changed after I got separated. I had a 2 year old and a 5 year old when this life event happened. I was working one part time job, one day a week, when my mom could watch my kids for me.

I kept the house, because it was mine before I had ever met my ex-husband, but that means that I also had a mortgage. Luckily, I was pretty savvy when I purchased my house, at the ripe old age of 22, and made sure to purchase one that was not beyond my means. At least my car was paid off, but that still left all of the regular utility bills, insurance and gas to pay for. Lastly, of course, there was food.

The Breakdown

My parents did everything that they could to help me out during this financially tough time in my life. They used to bring us over toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, soap, cleaning supplies and the like because I simply couldn’t afford them. Every once in awhile they would bring me some wine too. I cherished that wine like nothing else in my life!

My ex-husband was so angry with me for leaving the marriage (even though we went to marriage counseling for awhile and even our counselor came to the conclusion that our marriage was pretty toxic) that he decided he wasn’t going to pay me any child support for almost the first year of our separation because according to him “I did’t deserve it.” That’s a story for another time, but the long and short of it is that I was trying to live, while having two small children full time, on approximately $800 a month.

Even with my mortgage only being $512, that didn’t really leave much left over for the basics, let alone anything else. The rest of the monthly bills broke down to approximately $263, for a grand total of $775 in basic monthly bills that I had to pay for. That left me $25 for gas and food. Are you starting to see how this picture was weaving together?
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The Solution

Somewhere during the first month of living like this, I heard that I could apply for food stamps. I didn’t really know anything about them before this because I had never been in a position like this. I went online and read about my two different options, which were WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Food Stamps (SNAP now).

After reading through both program descriptions, I decided upon the Food Stamps route because it didn’t limit what I could purchase as long as they were food or beverages (non-alcoholic), whereas the WIC program had a list of what I could purchase. Since both my son and myself have Celiac, as well as were all vegetarian and ate organic, that made shopping for “regular” food a bit more difficult.

Once the decision was made, I had to physically go down to the office to apply, which meant bringing both of my children with me. This was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. It was very difficult for me to sit in the crowded office for hours upon end with a 2 year old and a 5 year old, with not much to entertain them. I brought books, snacks, water bottles, etc., but it was a very uncomfortable situation. We were there in the waiting room for over 4 hours before a caseworker ever called us back. The caseworker was very friendly and helpful, although she mentioned that they really don’t see people “like me” down there very often. For the 2 1/2 years that I was on food stamps, I heard this regularly.

The caseworker issued emergency food stamps for us because of how extreme our situation was. The maximum they could give us was $526 a month for food. I was very grateful to her for expediting the disbursement and got my EBT card in the mail 3 days later.


I already knew how to budget, because when I was still married we were living primarily on my ex-husband’s meager income of $27k a year, for a family of 4. I knew that if I could make that work, then I could make $526 for food work for the 3 of us.

I clipped coupons like nobody’s business and looked in the Sunday ads for specials and deals (this was before all of the fantastic apps that we have now). I had also heard from some of my friends in playgroup that they had started using the pharmacy stores for their deals and rewards because they were able to get things for free regularly. I began doing that with them too.

Since I have a background in nutrition, I was lucky in that I knew how to pair foods together to create complete proteins as well as how to stretch food to the maximum. I purchased more nutritionally dense foods than the standard foods that you think of when you hear someone is on “food stamps.” The next post will be more about what I purchased regularly to make this work for us efficiently.

If you have ever been in a situation where you didn’t know how you were going to afford food for your family, how did you make it work?