SNAP Food Stamps Challenge | Privilege, Gratitude & My Game Plan

Since announcing my participating in Mazon’s week-long SNAP Food Stamp Challenge, I’ve been truly overwhelmed with your responses – on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in my inbox.

Thank you to all who shared your stories with me. You’ve given me – and all of us – much to think about!

For those that missed the earlier post, my husband and I will be participating in Mazon’s SNAP Food Stamp Challenge to live for one week on the typical food stamp budget of $31.50 per person.  Our goals are two-fold:

  1. To build awareness and engender empathy for those among us living in poverty and receiving food stamps, who have no choice but to spend only $31.50 per person per week on food.
  2. To demonstrate that with a little effort and strategizing, one can eat well and healthily, while still being frugal.

In order to expand the reach of this initiative, I have teamed up with two other kosher bloggers, Susie Sharf from the Daily Cheapskate and Chaviva Galatz from the Kvetching Editor.


Reflections of Privilege and Gratitude

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been focusing on how I want to structure my family’s meal plan for the week – and how I plan to shop for this Challenge.

Here are some of the things I’ve been pondering:

  • Whether we should use coupons and price match
  • Whether we should limit our shopping to only one store
  • Whether it’s “fair” that my kids are at camp next week and will therefore have lunch provided for them Monday through Friday
  • Whether we should invite guests for Shabbat – or if accepting a meal invite would be in the spirit of the challenge

Here’s what I’ve concluded: I can only participate in this challenge through the paradigm of my own life experiences.  

I recognize – now more than ever – that even as a staunchly middle class earning family, my husband and I enjoy many luxuries that we may not be able to afford if we were SNAP recipients.

We have not one, but two cars – not to mention the money to pay for gas (and maintenance and repairs) on those cars. So while I try to combine trips and don’t schlep to one store for just one thing, I do have the luxury of being to afford to shop at multiple stores if I want to one week.

We have a fully equipped kitchen. Sure, I complain about the lack of counter space – but I also recognize that we enjoy many luxuries (a KitchenAid, a BlendTec, a microwave, a food processor, an ice maker, etc. etc.), which make it so much easier for me to cook from scratch for my family.

I work part-time from home; and my husband works from home. We have zero commute time. We each have one job, and only one job – so time is another luxury we have. It may not feel like it some days, but the truth is we have time to shop, time to coupon, time to prepare meals, and time to obsess over our budget.

It’s amazing how much just preparing to participate in this challenge has caused me to zero in on my gratitude for the many blessings in my life. Blessings which I might otherwise have overlooked and taken for granted.


My SNAP Challenge Game Plan

My top priority for living within our $157.50 allotment for the week is to menu plan. As I said to my friend Susie, “I’m going to menu plan the heck out of this challenge!” Our Challenge starts on Sunday Monday, so on Sunday, I will share our one week, 21-meal plan with all of you.

Most of you know that I’m a big proponent of menu planning, but I don’t usually make a plan for breakfasts and lunches. We just wing those. Given the structure of this challenge, I think winging it is ill-advised, so I’ll be planning for all 21 meals plus snacks.

I will be price-matching. I just can’t bear to overpay for something that I don’t have to – what can I tell you?! If you are new to price-matching, I do it primarily (almost exclusively) at our Neighborhood Walmart. Here’s more on price-matching at Walmart.

Those receiving SNAP benefits are not allowed to use their card to pay for personal care items, diapers, household cleaners, or prepared foods. (Cigarettes and alcohol are likewise off-limits.) So, I won’t be counting any non-food purchases toward my $157.50 budget, even though you all know that normally, I do include them in the same category for my regular budgeting.

The rules set out by Mazon don’t allow you to rely on food you already have in your fridge – so, by extension, I have decided not to use food in my stockpile either. Obviously, shopping at home is a HUGE money-saver, but for this one week, I will forego that. I do like a challenge!

Regarding my kids’ lunches at camp – I’ve thought about this and here’s what I’ve decided: I could send my kids with lunch instead of having them eat lunch at camp – but part of the tuition we pay for camp is intended to cover their meals. Not to mention that there is a social component to being able to eat what all their friends are eating, and barring food allergies, I don’t feel that I can ask my kids to give that up. So, just know that my kiddos’ lunches Monday thru Friday won’t be eaten out of this budget.


In addition to sharing our menu plan with you, I plan to document all of our shopping trips, share some budget-friendly recipes, and let you in on a few money-stretching-without-coupons tricks, too.

Just three more days! I’m getting excited and am so pleased that a number of you will be joining me!


  1. Where I grew up, the public school serve 2 meals per day to students from low income families, families who also have food stamps and the district is debating serving dinner too. I don’t mean to dismiss the challenge, but to point out that lunch provided by camp shouldn’t be an issue particularly.

    Can’t wait to read all about it. We do feed and diaper and buy household supplies for less than the $31.50 per person per week. But it is certainly made easier by having 1) transportation, 2) fully stocked kitchen and large appliances for storage, 3) money to front for extra buck deals, other deals, and bulk purchases, 4) a parent at home, 5) a kosher diet. . . . we don’t eat two pricey ingredients together, i.e. meat and cheese, kosher meat is pricey so we don’t rely on it and end up expanding horizons into a larger variety of cuisines.

  2. Tzipporah says

    Firstly, I am totally please to see how serious you are taking this challenge. I feel you, unlike some others who unfortunately as using this as a chance to try and stick it to others–as some kinda display of how they could do it better than most SNAP recipients, are actually using this as a chance to try and get a feel for what it’s like to be someone else. I applaud this wholeheartedly! You truly seem to have understanding of the real spirit of this project.

    Can I make a recommendation? (Actually it was my husband’s suggestion.) Since you are deciding to use your children’s lunches from school instead of taking it out of your budget–it might be an unbalanced outcome to the many of us who don’t have that option on SNAP. What if you just calculated how much money it *would* take to send them lunch and take that out of your budget? It would still keep to the same principle, but not take ACTUAL money out of your pocket in real life–only on paper for the sake of the project. I’m sure the though of tightening your food budget even more than you considered doesn’t appeal to you lol, but that is the idea after all.

    Anyhow, I am REALLY looking fwd to what you have to say during and after this project and I hope that more people till take on your humble attitude!


  3. Tzipporah says

    The person above did make a good point in that some public school do cover meal costs for low-income families. But that isn’t how it is for everyone. This is never how it was for me growing up, nor my husband. And for my children (which are homeschooled because I can’t afford tuition, amongst other reasons) I am one of many examples of people who live on the budget without the school meals. Of course being that it is summer and school is not in session, the “free meals” would apply to even less SNAP users right now.

    Perhaps you could even go so far as to calculate what it would have cost under both scenarios? I think that could be very interesting! Just a thought.

  4. YaelAldrich says

    As far as I recall, most children who are on SNAP would also qualify to get free/reduced price breakfast and lunch (at least in the urban environments in which I have lived). At camp in Chicago, our children (and all the children in the camp) got a government subsidized lunch through their camp even though we did not personally qualify for any social programs.

  5. If you are still looking for menu ideas, rush over to It’s written by Brandy Simper, mother of 7 in Las Vegas, who feeds her family on 40 cents per person, per day. (Yes, 40 cents is correct.) She has elegant meals that are often meatless.

  6. I know that in Houston, there was free breakfast provided for all public school students — during the summer as well. And free and reduced price lunches were available during the school year and when summer school was in session. I think you’re making exactly the right decision about your kids, btw.

  7. Forgive me I am confused. You want to build awareness and engender empathy?
    Then you want to demonstrate with little effort and strategic planning? Something is not right here. As you pointed out your privileges and gratitude why don’t you try to eliminate as many as you can for the week? For starters try walking to the market. If you have air conditioning in your home don’t use it for the week. I assume you wash clothes once a week, how about going to the laundromat? If you can only participate in this challenge through the paradigm of your own life experiences then how can you engender empathy? Go work in a food bank and see the despair in the eyes of the poor. We can come up with food plans from the comforts of our own homes.

  8. Price matching at Wal-Mart?? This is really not in the spirit of the SNAP Challenge…if you’re trying to get a sense of what life is like for low-income populations, you might try temporarily WORKING at a Wal-Mart store. You’ll likely be paid a low wage, won’t qualify for employee health care, will experience sexual harassment, will be threatened with termination if you even think of voting yes to unionization, etc. Wal-Mart makes life HELL for its employees, and all they can do is keep their mouths shut and live with it because they have no other choice. As one associate put it, Wal-Mart’s “open-door” policy is really the “open your mouth and we’ll show you the door” policy.

    • Tzipporah says

      Gila and Gina– I TOTALLY hear you and I had the same feelings. Which is, in all honesty, why I don’t think this challenge will make any global difference for anyone. The truth is that by eating like a “poor person” who has all the modern conveniences of the “well-to-do” life you don’t really learn much about what it means to live in poverty. In fact I worry that it’s causing many people to look even more down on those in lower socio-econimic groups b/c they are puffing themselves up in the challenge and thinking “wow, this isn’t so bad! I could do this way better and probably off of assistance in a month or less”. (I have read many comments like this for the last week or so on the web…)

      The truth is that is is easier to believe people are poor because they did something wrong, and that other people are not poor because they did something right. etc. It’s a lot easier on the conscience.

      BUT, this challenge is only about the food. Likely because MAZON feels that it will at least give people a *small* window in one of the many challenges poverty stricken people deal with every single day. And in reality how many people would be willing to give up their entire lifestyles and live in the actual shoes of a “poor person” for an entire week? Not many I bet. So this will have to do. and I think Mara is better hosting the spirit of this particular challenge (whether I agree with the project itself or not) better than most other bloggers I’ve read about.

  9. Karen Rubin Brown says

    If you are looking for some ways to eat healthy on a budget, check out the blog 100 Days of Real Food. It is by a woman here in my area who wanted her family to eat real food, but do it on a budget for her family of 4. Granted, some of her purchases were a bit out of line (imho)…there are other places to buy real maple syrup than Whole Foods ($$$)…but it did give an interesting snapshot of being creative and healthy and on a budget. I am not sure of how her budget (which I now forget) would be in comparison to what your’s is on SNAP, but it might be worth a quick look 🙂

  10. Setting all anecdotal evidence (“I know someone…”) aside, what percentage of people in the US living below the poverty line do you think have air conditioning? What percentage of people in the US living below the poverty line do you think own cars? Guess.

    • Tzipporah says

      Having AC and a car don’t reflect your income level nor your poverty status. We live in a very wealthy society–one that often requires the use of cars for the purposes of obtaining a job. It isn’t unusual at all for a family to have a car and no food in the fridge. Especially those without access to public transportation. Also a lot of the apartment buildings have AC that is a part of the total cost of rent…

  11. Right around 75% for air conditioning and a car.

  12. Tzipporah, I wasn’t saying ANY of that. You are inferring. It was implied that in order to duplicate the SNAP experience, you need to turn off your AC and walk to the store, when in fact, that is not the case for most people living below the poverty line.

    76% of American households living below the poverty line had working air conditioning in 2009 (last known dataset). Source is here:

    75% of American households living below the poverty line owned one or more working cars in 2009. Source is here:

    I just wanted to clear up some factual misconceptions. We all know people who are living in poverty who have none of these amenities and are truly destitute, and my heart breaks for them. But for the majority of households living below the poverty line, they do own basic necessities and thank God for that. I’m not minimizing their suffering by saying this. It is what it is.

    My personal goal in taking this challenge was not to engender sympathy for those on Food Stamps. I already had that before I started this Challenge, and frankly, that’s easy; any compassionate person feels sorry for those who are living in poverty. My personal goal was to engender empathy. And to do that, I need to be honest with myself about who Food Stamp recipients are and how I need to refine my own attitude toward shopping, food, needs vs. wants, gratitude, frugality etc. My lens is going to be different from your lens and your lens is going to be different from Mara’s lens, etc. and that is sort of the point. None of us are “using this as a chance to try and stick it to others–as some kinda display of how they could do it better than most SNAP recipients.” Why on earth would I do that? I believe that many of the 47 million recipients of Food Stamps today are using their ingenuity and resourcefulness to stretch their small SNAP budgets and I’m going to try my hardest to stretch mine as well. That’s one of the ways that I’m going to personalize my experience. I beg of you to please set your anger aside and respect my approach. Thanks.

  13. Tzipporah says

    I’m sorry you felt I was inferring anything–I truly wasn’t. I was just saying what I have found to be true–that many people under the poverty line still have AC and/or a car. I didn’t mean to direct it towards you in any particular manner and I apologize if it came off that way.

    The truth is that many ARE using this as a chance to explain how they could do better than SNAP recipients. They are using this as “proof” that food stamps aren’t worth wasting tax dollars on etc. I have read numerous comments (and had them personally said to me) these exact ideas. I wasn’t accusing anyone here directly, and certainly not accusing you (how could I when my post was like two days ago?)

  14. Tzipporah, I appreciate that, thank you. (FYI, my last post on this was 2 days ago.)

    I am going to try to take politics out of the picture as much as I can in going through this Challenge, ( though I might bring them back in at the end of the Challenge if I find that my politics have been affected by the experience). I am hoping that this experience will be transformative for me on many levels.

    Have a good Shabbos and thanks again for your response.


  15. Food stamp recipients are given federal funded school breakfasts and lunches and camps apply so that campers can be on the school lunch program. Food stamps are supposed to subsidize a family’s food budget and are not intended to be the entire budget, even if there are those who must live only on food stamps. It is not recommended to eat so cheaply because the family’s nutrition may suffer.
    The problem that I have with food stamps is that it will cover anything that is considered food that has a nutrition label on it. It is sad that when a child is 5 years of age, he loses WIC and now instead of milk with his meals and snacks, he is given soda which is cheaper and tastier than milk. A child grows until age 18 and still needs his or her milk. I wish that food stamps were more like WIC and only covered nutritious foods.

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