food stamp challenge

Food Stamps Challenge

Food stamps are far from an extravagant benefit. The average allocation is $1.40 per person per meal. (Try it some time.)

from Rolling Stone The Republicans’ War on the Poor

My mom friend Stella has convinced me to try the Food Stamp challenge. It’s not about losing weight. It’s about bringing attention to Food Stamps and how politicians want to cut this important social program back. The GOP, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, is waging a war on the poor, pushing to decimate the food-stamp program which benefits the most vulnerable out of sheer spite.

The way the program to provide the poor with the bare minimum of daily nutrition has been handled is a metaphor for how the far right in the House is systematically trying to take down the federal government. Breaking all manner of precedents on a series of highly partisan votes, with the Republicans barely prevailing, the House in September slashed the food-stamp program by a whopping $39 billion and imposed harsh new requirements for getting on, or staying on, the program. The point was to deny the benefit to millions. As recently as the mid-Sixties, actual hunger and starvation existed in this country on a significant scale, particularly in the Deep South and Appalachia.

Food stamps are far from an extravagant benefit. The average allocation is $1.40 per person per meal. So, to bring attention to this important social issue, I told Stella that I would try the Food Stamps Challenge. When I brought this up at a family dinner, there was not much enthusiasm. In fact, several unnamed members of my family were downright hostile. They did not want their food messed with. The idea of trying to live on $1.40 per meal per person was threatening and scary to them. And we were only considering doing this for a week! Our compromise is to make 5 dinners for $1.40 per meal, per person. Stella and I had discussed how school aged children would qualify for a free lunch if we were on food stamps. Breakfast was also tricky because it’s tough to get my kids eat breakfast at all so I’m calculating that they would spend less than the remaining $2.80 on breakfast.

food stamps

As for myself, I will eliminate the fresh pressed juices I like. And raw milk cheese. That will be hard to give up! I don’t usually eat breakfast and I don’t drink coffee so that helps stay within the SNAP Challenge budget. There is no eating out nor using food in the pantry, fridge or freezer either.

To find frugal recipes for dinner, our Brit friend Lydia, steered us to blog called A Girl Called Jack. Jack is a British single mom who lost her job and somehow managed to make healthy, nutrition meals for herself and her young son on just 10 pounds ($16.42) a week for an entire year! She said she got to know the basics line of her supermarket intimately!

A girl called Jack, SNAP challenge, food stamp challenge

I’m going to start with her Carrot, Cumin & Kidney Bean Soup: 14p

Ingredients, makes 4 generous portions!

1/2 an onion, 9p (18p for 1) Lard, 2p (39p for a block I’m scared to eat too much of)

300g carrots, 15p (75p for 1.5kg) 1 vegetable stock cube, 2p (10p for 6)

Cumin, 10p (50p for a jar)

400g can of red kidney beans, 18p (18p per can)

Chop the onion and add to a medium sized saucepan with carrots and a little lard. Cook on a low heat for a few minutes until going golden on the outside. Add the veg stock cube, 500ml of water and cumin and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Add the cumin and kidney beans (rinse well if using canned ones) and heat through. Pulse in a blender until smooth. Serve as a soup or pasta sauce. Variations: this works well with coconut milk added and fresh coriander and a spoonful of chilli, but I pared it down for the purpose of cheapness!

She’s published a cookbook!  

A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes by Jack Monroe

I’ll post later on the recipes I used, how it went and what the cost was.

Are any of you, dear readers, interested in trying the SNAP Challenge too?

Here are the details:

What is the SNAP Challenge?

The SNAP Challenge encourages participants to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger. By accepting the SNAP Challenge, you’ll commit to eating all of your meals from a limited food budget comparable to that of a SNAP participant – $1.50 per meal.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) provides monthly benefits to supplement the food budgets of families in need, but in many cases these households still struggle to put food on the table.

While it is impossible to fully comprehend the difficult decisions low-income families face, sharing your experience with the SNAP Challenge will help raise awareness about the issue of hunger in America. I’ve Accepted the Challenge, Now What?

  1. Choose the duration of your SNAP Challenge. For Hunger Action Month, we are encouraging everyone to take the SNAP Challenge the week of September 15-21, so we can combine our voices on social media for maximum awareness.  However, any day or week (or longer!) is great for the SNAP Challenge.
  2. Your food budget for the week or day of your Challenge will be based on the average SNAP benefit, which is $4.50 per person per day– for ALL your food and beverages. You can use coupons while taking the Challenge but should not shop at membership clubs.
  3. Using your Challenge budget, decide on groceries to purchase and how much to put aside for food incidentals. Be aware of ALL food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week/day.
  4. During the Challenge, do not eat food that you purchased prior to starting the challenge.
  5. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or while at work.
  6. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week, in particular the choices you made between the variety and quality of food you ate.
  7. Invite others to join you, including your co-workers, family members, and elected officials.
  8. Share your SNAP Challenge through social media and by blogging about your experience.

food stamps facts How Do I Share My SNAP Challenge Experience? Maximize your impact by talking about your SNAP Challenge on social media. Below you will find seven prompts, one for each day of a week-long SNAP Challenge experience. Use these as a starting point for a blog post, Facebook post or tweet; tag @FeedingAmerica and use hashtag #SNAPChallenge so we’ll see it!




How did your shopping cart look compared to a normal week? What choices did you have to make about the types of food you could afford, where you shopped, or the nutritional quality and variety of food?


What have you cut out of your routine to stay on budget (e.g. COFFEE)?


How would this experience be different if your spouse and children were also eating off a limited food budget for the week?


How has eating on a limited budget impacted your mood? Your concentration? How has that impacted your interaction with family and coworkers?


Are you worried about your groceries running out before the end of the Challenge? Do you feel you are you eating a healthy, balanced diet? What nutrition decisions did you have to make?


We know that low-income Americans have to make choices between groceries, prescriptions, gas for the car, utilities, and other household necessities. After living on a limited food budget this week, how has your perspective changed about the decisions families facing hunger must make?


In November 2013, the government will cut SNAP benefits for all recipients. These cuts will be $36 for a family of four – dropping the average benefit per person per meal to under $1.40.  How would this week have been different for you if you had even less money to spend on food?

p.s. Here’s an article on how Food Pantries at Schools Offer Lessons in Support.

p.p.s. And did you know that minimum wage workers need food stamps because they are not making a living wage?

food stamps and minimum wage food stamp challenge

Jon Stewart Slays The Food Stamp Fraud Dragon In One Hilarious Clip in this 9 minute clip.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. What a serious challenge. I’m guessing it’s going to be extremely difficult — and certainly eye-opeing to live on a Food Stamp Budget. I look forward to seeing how it goes.
    Erica recently posted…Game of the Month: Hoot Owl HootMy Profile

    • Hi Erica,
      I’m not sure if we can pull off a week but I am going to try to rework some recipes to see just how much a serving it actually is. My friend Stella has been doing it all week. The first day was tough and overbudget. But by Friday (today), she said that her kids were up for a second week.

      We are meeting for lunch today to celebrate a friend’s birthday from our boxing moms’ group and Stella will come and just drink water. That’s tough because she’s a foodie and it is demonstrating to me how tough it is to live on food stamps.

      She said she might do the 2nd week on $2/meal per person just to see what a vast difference having an extra fifty cents makes per person per meal.

      I am a little nervous to start my week …
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…3rd Grade Book Club for Boys and 6th Grade Book Club for Girls My Profile

  2. I don’t have to pretend to live on food stamps – I experienced that 20 years ago when I came to US as a refugee. It was hard to manage even then, and now food prices have sky rocketed. A gallon of milk costs almost $4 where we live – here goes 2 meals. And then there is always judgement of those who pay with foodstamps. As someone who went from foodstamps to 6-figure salary I’d think twice before judging food stamp recipients or cutting their benefits.
    Natalie recently posted…Think Like a Scientist–Separate Two MaterialsMy Profile

    • Hi Natalie,
      I agree with you that cutting benefits to food stamps recipients is not what I personally support. On the other hand, my boxing trainer has been sucked into our food stamp diet conversation since we talk about it at our boxing moms’ group. He said that he grew up on food stamps and that he worked in Human Services investigating Food Stamp fraud. He said Food Stamp fraud was rampant and that there is no screening for qualifying. In the old days, food stamps could be used for liquor and lottery tickets but I don’t think that is true anymore.

      I guess there is two sides to every argument but I just want to make sure that those who need it have access.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…3rd Grade Book Club for Boys and 6th Grade Book Club for Girls My Profile

  3. I have never been on food stamps, Mike and I lived on a 10GBP/week (less than $20/week for the two of us) grocery budget for a while when we were grad students (living off of the money I had saved teaching high school, not on your traditional PhD stipend), and it was NOT pretty. We pretty much bought the cheapest cold cereal money could buy, and ate a lot of boiled potatoes (surprisingly nutritious), sometimes with cheese on top as a treat. We used to go to talks just to get the free (very mediocre) cookies at the end. A couple of friends used to feed us a proper meal on Sunday afternoons, and that was how we survived. It’s not an experience I would ever care to repeat. We eventually worked out a better funding situation so that we could afford to eat more reasonably. We managed to do pretty well as a couple on $40/week about 12 years ago (while I was saving my teaching salary so we could go to grad school in the first place), but food was cheaper back then – it wouldn’t stretch nearly as far today. Plus, we only ate beans, rice, corn chips, salsa, and pasta with red sauce. Not very glamorous, but easy to do that when you’re 21 years old!

    Nobody goes on food stamps for fun, and I am upset about this program being cut. I’m glad you are raising awareness about it!
    maryanne recently posted…Crafts and Activities for Books by Laura NumeroffMy Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is easier to cut back on food when you are young but I would hate for moms and kids to experience food shortages because their food stamp benefits are cut. It’s nice that your friends helped you and Mike out. I can imagine that it would make a huge difference.

      I’m glad my friend Stella is making me do this because it’s a good experience for me and my family to think about food costs and wasting food by having such a small budget. I am a little nervous to start it and make drastic changes but I think it will be a good learning experience and make us more empathetic.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…3rd Grade Book Club for Boys and 6th Grade Book Club for Girls My Profile

  4. I had just been talking to my husband the other day about how going Paleo, has made our food bills so much higher. I can’t just make do with some noodles and cheese as we eat protein all the time (mostly animal protein).
    One of the hardest things about living on such a small budget is that all the really healthy stuff like protein, fruits and veggies are so expensive.

    • Hi Faigie,
      My friend Stella who has been doing the Food Stamps diet all week has been watching the sales to buy food in order to meet the budget. Protein, fruits and veggies are expensive. A box of Clementines is in her budget though. She mentioned that she gave her oldest 3 Clementines for breakfast and that was right at budget ($1.50). She is keeping a spreadsheet to track it. I’m not sure what she is doing for protein beyond looking at what is on special at the supermarket or just cutting back and substituting with beans.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…3rd Grade Book Club for Boys and 6th Grade Book Club for Girls My Profile

  5. My mother made Irish Stew, beans and rice, corn bread, hot cakes or pancakes, oatmeal, corn, and we had family packs broken up into smaller sizes in freezer bags for less expense. Fruits bought in bags for a better deal instead of individual. Apples cost $1.30 a piece but a bag of 18 cost $2.99. Bogo-buy one get one free. Mac and Cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches with soup. Toast with Jam in mornings. Along with egg sandwiches. Flour used for biscuits and gravy, or tortillas. Most of this will feed for 3 days. Her 9 kids ate this and chilli for hot dogs, frito pies with cheese or over rice.
    Apply for food stamps and dont steal my vcr to pawn to get food is my motto.

  6. Kathy

    My friend lost her job a few years ago and applied for food stamps. She was given 80.00 worth. (one person) So I suggested we make a game of it! Since most people have mayo, mustard and ketchup salt and pepper and a few seasonings she was allowed tio use those to season her food. But she had to buy food for $20 a week to feed her self 3 meals a day, a few things we came up with were: 1lb of rice, 1lb beans, 1 ib lentils, 2 onions, 1 garlic bulb, 5ib bag of potatoes, 1 pkg of bullion cubes, 4 apples, 3 bananas, 1 dozen eggs, 1 loaf of bread, 1 ib of ground beef. That adds up to $20. The potaoes may keep for another week so she can just add to what she has leftover. You can see there is not much room for treats…Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Hi Kathy,
      The food stamp program really does work to help families from starving but you are right; it’s not much money at all! You can barely survive on it. And our local book banks can only give out food for 3 days per month because they just don’t have enough resources. I hope when they reform (or think about changing) the food stamps program, no one suffers needlessly.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…FREE Fun Factoid App: Parent and Child KidQMy Profile

  7. Interesting! The fact/fiction clip brought up a lot of my objections. Cutting welfare sounds good until you realize how very little people are actually getting. I don’t understand how generations of welfare recipients survive.

    Until we worked with Safe Families, I didn’t really know any homeless people with kids. It’s different when homeless children have been in your home and at your dinner table. You want them to have better. –And yet, I’m not sure that just handing it to them is the answer, either. It’s a hard subject, and I’m glad we’re talking about it.
    Shecki recently posted…Favorite Children’s Books for AutumnMy Profile

  8. This is very very interesting. Food stamps is not something I think about – at all. I see people using them at the store, but don’t think much about it.

    Thanks so much for raising awareness. I learned a lot from this post. Thanks also for informing me what’s going on!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Homeschool Link-up – #homeschoollinkup – Week 50My Profile

  9. Dottie D'Lange

    This is great, so glad you are bringing awareness to this issue. I just want to tell my story. I have been on Food Stamps several times in my life. I have had several highs and lows with my income due to going to college with 2 toddlers, a divorce, and then the economy. I am a working artist so my income potential can be high and sometimes low. Currently I work at a grocery store and people complain about the person in front of them using FS, not realizing I am on FS too. I have nice things because i would rather do without while saving for quality items when i can. I have nice thing because sometimes my income is rather good. So people look at me with beady eyes when they see my big phone. If they look at little closer and see its not a Samsung, but a knock off. Also i was able to afford it due to a waitress spilling liquid on my last phone and the restaurant paid for my new phone. At this time i have 2 teenagers, and feeding them on $500 a month is a real challenge. For a time i lost my job due to a health issues, so i made it my job to research how to coupon and make low cost meals. I learned that my local stores reduce meat that is a few days old first thing in the morning, the earlier you go the better deals you get. To be honest we skip a lot of meals. I only cook once a day even on weekends. My kids will feed themselves some too. But generally we only eat 2x’s a day. I make sure that the one meal a day has protein and fresh veggies. Even with that i rarely make it all month and we spend a week eating odds and ends, sometimes i am able to get food from a local charity group. Thank you for understanding a poor girls situation.

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