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Courtesy Leanne Brown
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Could you eat healthy on a food stamp budget?

About one in every six Americans — or 47 million — are on SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional assistance Program, formeraly known as food stamps, according to the Food and Nutrition Service.

They receive about $4 a day for food, although the figure varies by family size and income, and some argue that contributes to the poor experiencing higher rates of obesity because they can't afford healthier, less calorie-dense foods, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

But Leanne Brown, a graduate student in food studies at New York University, dedicated her thesis to creating a cookbook of healthy recipes specifically for families living on SNAP, vox.com reports.

"The idea of the book is to promote the idea that poorer Americans can eat good, healthy food," Danielle Kurtzleben writes. "The book more than succeeds in making low-cost cooking look appetizing. Thanks to artful photos of cheap, fashionable vegetables like kale and broccoli rabe, many of the foods wouldn't look out of place in a Mark Bittman column or on Martha Stewart's website.

"There's also something to be said for lending some dignity to a difficult food situation. But even though individual recipes could be entries in a foodie blog, the overall diet is rather more restrictive," Kurtzleben continues.

The cookbook, "Good and Cheap," is available for free in PDF format, or people can back the project on Kick Starter and get a printed copy of the cookbook.

Several writers have taken "the SNAP challenge" to try to eat on just $4.50 a day for a set period of time (a week or longer). Rebecca Burns spent a week eating "the most nutritious food we could" on the SNAP budget, eating roasted vegetables, lentils, beans and one pork loin.

She wrote in Atlanta Magazine: "As the week wrapped up, my attitude about the challenge had changed. Yes, it’s an artificial construct. But the exercise of living on this budget is a valuable one. It’s easy to brush aside the day-to-day lives of poor people, thinking, 'Oh, we help with food and housing through taxes and benefits,' without pausing to reflect on whether those benefits sustain even a basic standard of living."

“Tomorrow we can go back to our regular lifestyle,” Burns' husband told her. “But for other people this goes on week after week after week."

SNAP, of course, is meant to supplement a family's food budget. But as Burns writes, "for many poor people SNAP represents all the funds available for food. For those who rely on SNAP — or are waiting to qualify or been denied by state or federal policies — the difference between eating and starving can come in the form of food distributed by groups."

Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams also took on the SNAP challenge and found that it is doable. "Over the past few days, I've made soups and sauteed sausages. I've baked bread and made yogurt and jam. I've sent the kids into the kitchen to make chili. These things aren't hard to do. They take a little thought and work, but why shouldn't nourishing yourself take a little thought and work? And what concerns me is that I suspect my daughters and I are eating a more healthy, balanced and pleasurable diet on a food stamp budget than a lot of families with a whole lot more to spend."

But Vox's Kurtzleben notes that one of the reasons eating healthy on SNAP "might not be feasible" is because of "time poverty."

In a 2010 University of Washington study, "researches found that cooking foods on the plan often meant a low-income family had to spend more than the normal amount of time on kitchen prep."

So while Brown's SNAP cookbook may help low-income families navigate cooking skills and making affordable, nutritious meals, it may not be easy, just "a bit easier."

"I hope (the cookbook) is helpful, but I know it's still not going to be easy to get by on a regular basis," Brown told Vox. "To really have a truly amazing diet you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I know a lot of people won't be able to do that."

amcdonald@deseretnews.com Twitter | @amymcdonald89

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