When Leigh Ann Luscan decided to go back to work after her youngest turned one, the holistic nutritional coach heard over and over again, people just didn't have the time or money to cook nutritiously.
She knew many families were facing a challenge using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, eating on very little money. So that became her goal. In Virginia, where she lives, SNAP gives $128 per person per month, for her family of four that would be 512 dollars, for three meals a day for 31 days.
Feeding her family of four has taken on new meaning for Leigh Ann. In creating the 512 Project Leigh Ann realized how tough it is to eat nutritious food on such a limited budget. Before, her husband Dave often bought breakfast AND lunch out. Not possible on this budget. Dave used to spend 10 to 15 dollars a day! Now he packs leftovers for lunch. "That's really made a huge difference," Leigh Ann said.
Now Leigh Ann relies on staples like dry rice, beans and lentils to save money. And almost every recipe starts with, "Onions and garlic and carrots and celery..they're the base for anything we do," she said.
A wok full of vegetable fried rice cost about seven dollars to make for dinner. There will be enough for Dave to take at least two lunches.
Leigh Ann says now, they no longer toss out food, it's used before it expires. " Now we make soup, the pot is frequently going on the stove," Leigh Ann said.
Typically Leigh Ann would shop organic, but in this shopping challenge she's realized not everything has to be. "It costs $5 for a head of organic cauliflower and probably two for a head of conventionally-grown."
She saves also in her choice of meat, buying less expensive proteins like chicken thighs instead of breasts. And she's cut way back on processed meats. She's even saved on things we usually grab without much thought. She recently roasted her first whole chicken and used the leftovers to make chicken stock.
I spoke with Leigh Ann today and she said they have 8 days left in their month long challenge. She's trying to convince Dave to keep at it. But she told me, as a nutrition counselor she's realized how many resources she has that many on SNAP don't. "I have a car, I can drive around looking for better prices on items, many people on this limited budget don't have that ability. It's really opened my eyes to the challenges they face to cook healthy meals."
To learn some of Leigh Ann's recipes and read more about this eye-opening journey you can visit her facebook page for the 521 Project.
Thanks to Jennifer Warnick from our Raycom station WWBT in Richmond for her work on the original version of this story.