Time to cook improves nutrition for SNAP beneficiaries

A report examines how more time to cook could improve nutrition profiles for families that use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offers support to low-income families to purchase much-needed food, but many of these families may not have the time necessary to prepare nutritious meals. A report in JAMA Network Open looks at the link between funding and time availability with the nutrition profiles of meals made by families who receive SNAP benefits.1

The investigators evaluated the nutritional quality of SNAP recipient meals through decision analytical modeling. The model depicted the food and grocery purchases, in-home meal preparation, and meal planning for a family of SNAP participants, which included 2 adults and 2 children. The food costs were taken from a single zip code. The investigators’ primary outcomes were the amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein, sodium, sugar, and fiber consumed from generated meal plans as well as the number of home-cooked meals made.

The model showed that increased time for food preparation was tied to an increase in the percentage of home-cooked meals as well as fruit and vegetable servings, along with a decrease in sodium consumption. Additionally, increased SNAP funding led to greater consumption of fruits/vegetables, protein, sodium, fiber, and sugar. The model included 20 minutes per day of cooking time or 60 minutes per day of cooking time. The funding included $400 SNAP benefits and $100 or $600 of funding from the family.

With 20 minutes of cooking time and $100 in self-funding plus the SNAP benefits:

  1. An average of 20.1% (0.3%) meals were home cooked
  2. 0.5 (<0.1) servings/d per person of fruits/vegetables were consumed
  3. 100.3% (0.6%) of daily recommended protein per person was consumed
  4. 115.1% (0.8%) of daily recommended sodium per person was consumed
  5. 241.8% (1.0%) of daily recommended sugar per person was consumed and
  6. 31.2% (0.3%) of daily recommended fiber per person was consumed

With 20 minutes of cooking time and $600 in self-funding plus the SNAP benefits:

  • An average of 23.9% (1.0%) meals were home cooked
  • 2.8 (0.1) servings/d per person of fruits/vegetables were consumed
  • 134.9% (1.6%) of daily recommended protein per person was consumed
  • 200.9% (3.1%) of daily recommended sodium per person was consumed
  • 295.1% (3.1%) of daily recommended sugar per person was consumed and
  • 90.1% (1.0%) of daily recommended fiber per person was consumed

With 60 minutes of cooking time and $100 in self-funding plus the SNAP benefits:

  • An average of 52.7% (0.9%) of meals were home cooked
  • 1.4 (<0.1) servings/d per person of fruits/vegetables were consumed
  • 109.0% (1.1%) of daily recommended protein per person was consumed
  • 108.7% (1.0%) of daily recommended sodium per person was consumed
  • 298.6% (2.0%) of daily recommended sugar per person was consumed and
  • 38.8% (0.4%) of daily recommended fiber per person was consumed

With 60 minutes of cooking time and $600 in self-funding plus the SNAP benefits:

  • An average of 42.8% (1.2%) meals were home cooked
  • 4.3 (0.1) servings/d per person of fruits/vegetables were consumed
  • 144.4% (1.8%) of daily recommended protein per person was consumed
  • 165.2% (2.8%) of daily recommended sodium per person was consumed
  • 322.4% (2.4%) of daily recommended sugar per person was consumed and
  • 91.0% (0.9%) of daily recommended fiber per person was consumed

The investigators concluded that a greater amount of time to prepare meals was linked to an increased likelihood of SNAP families eating meals that were nutritious. The investigators said that this indicates that just an increase in funding would not be enough to improve nutrition in families using SNAP benefits and that helping those families create time for cooking would lead to even better nutrition.

Reference

1. Olfat M, Laraia B, Aswani A. Association of funding and meal preparation time with nutritional quality of meals of supplemental nutritional assistance program recipients. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(6):e2114701. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.14701