This Cookbook Will Teach Anyone How to Eat Healthy on a Food Stamp Budget

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This Cookbook Will Teach Anyone How to Eat Healthy on a Food Stamp Budget
Rachel Bolden-Kramer is pictured with her daughter, Issa, 2. Bolden-Kramer wrote “My Food Stamps Cookbook” to help low-income families get healthy with cheap meals. Photo by Sunshine Velasco

Rachel Bolden-Kramer always assumed her life would turn out fine. And if you look at her now, you’d guess that she was right.

At 33, she is a full-time entrepreneur. She owns a small preschool in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her 3-year-old daughter. She is a doula and parenting coach for new moms and dads.

And after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $27,000, her first cookbook, “My Food Stamps Cookbook,” will be published in October.

Her cookbook is filled with nutritious recipes for those who want to eat healthy foods, but have next to no financial resources. But it’s also her personal story of how she fought her way back to mental and physical health after poverty, illness and injury.

Bolden-Kramer knows what it’s like to have no choice but to eat on a fixed budget — and to stretch that budget to eat the healthiest foods possible. For years, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children program kept food on her table.

Harvard Diploma? Check. Job? Not Exactly…

Food stamp budget

Photo by Sunshine Velasco

Bolden-Kramer grew up poor in San Francisco and attended what she describes as one of the lowest-performing high schools in her district. But her parents had always taught her that as long as she worked hard, she could get into a good college and everything else would fall into place.

So that’s what she did.

She got nearly perfect grades all through high school and she didn’t just go to a “good college.” Arguably, she went to the best — Harvard University.

Bolden-Kramer was the first in her family to earn a degree. Her future was supposed to be bright.

“I heard my whole life, ‘Just do your best in school and everything will be fine,’” she said.

But two years after graduation, everything wasn’t fine.

It was 2007, and Bolden-Kramer was back in the Bay Area living with her parents. She couldn’t secure a second year of funding for a health and wellness program she started for local teenagers at risk of not graduating high school. And despite her Ivy League education, just securing a job interview was nearly impossible.

“I actually found myself struggling,” Bolden-Kramer said. “I could not find a job… (and) in my second year after school, found myself to be very low income.”

For a while, she was able to keep her head above water.

She taught yoga and wellness classes. She found freelance work. And as it turned out, parents in the neighboring school district were willing to pay top dollar for the tutoring services of a Harvard grad.

She was even able to move out of her parents’ home and get an apartment of her own. Life was not perfect, but it wasn’t so bad.

That was until an injury made it impossible for her to work full time. She had chronic pain and also experienced anxiety and depression.

“I was on disability and learned how to navigate those systems like Social Security and the county-based aid systems like food stamps,” she said. “That was not something I thought would come out of having a Harvard education, but it is the circumstances of my life.”

Getting Healthy on a Food Stamp Budget

Food stamp budget

Photo by Sunshine Velasco

While this period of nearly a decade could be characterized as some of her most difficult years, without it, “My Food Stamps Cookbook” likely wouldn’t exist.

That’s when food stamps, which help feed more than 42 million Americans, went from being something that supplemented her freelance income to becoming the only way she could pay for food.

To keep her intake of medication low, she was determined to use food as her medicine and eat herself healthy.

“In learning how to heal myself, I was finding all these resources like community farms that will just give you bunches and bunches of greens and herbs for free if you’re low income,” she said. “I learned that with farmers markets, you can double the value of your EBT with ‘market match’ programs. I just learned how to be more aware of how to be a savvy consumer of a tiny budget, as well as being more or less a master in understanding the (government) support systems. “

The recipes included in the book are the same ones she was eating. They feature low-cost natural ingredients and leave out common food allergens like animal proteins, gluten, dairy and soy.

She also borrows flavors from countries like Jamaica, Vietnam, Mexico and India to make sure that food never gets boring just because budgets are low.

Bolden-Kramer says the book is her way of making a difference to poor families, which are more likely to deal with a wide range of physical and mental health issues, from infant mortality and diabetes to anxiety and depression. She hopes that as they get physically and mentally healthier, they, too, will be able to overcome just about anything.

The ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ of Her Experience

The nearly 10 years Bolden-Kramer spent on food stamps helped set her on her current path. She started earning income as the primary caretaker for elderly family members. That inspired her to become a licensed child care provider and eventually made it possible to buy her first home, open a preschool and publish this book.

Those who preordered copies during the Kickstarter campaign will receive them in October. But if you missed the Kickstarter, don’t worry. You still have a chance to learn more about the book and get one at MyFoodStampsCookbook.com.

Bolden-Kramer also plans to give away free copies so the low-income families the books were meant to help will have access to them.

“I really consider this my life’s work and my passion,” she said. “It’s really the blood, sweat and tears of my whole experience as an adult… This is our opportunity for liberation. By healing our bodies through what we eat, we have more capacity to transform our lives.”

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She can’t wait to test out a few of Rachel’s recipes.