Day One: Shopping on SNAP

by KMcGee

My food for 5 days, as part of the SNAP Experience


Last week, I received a press release from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada to participate in the SNAP Experience, a five day challenge to eat as healthy as possible on $4.06 a day, or $20.30 per week, the average amount a person receives on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the United States. I decided to challenge myself–a food lover, constant snacker, and Starbucks addict.

The project is part of a week-long focus on the SNAP program in Nevada, where I work as a reporter for Reno Public Radio.

According to the Nevada Department of Welfare and Supportive Services, 355,349 Nevadans participate in the SNAP program. That’s 1 in 7 Nevadans. Since 2007, the department has seen a 165% increase in the number of people who need food assistance across the state.

To qualify, a household of one(like me) must make less than $1,862 per month, before taxes and other deductions. Based on how many people live in a household and the total income of the people living together, people on the program can receive $16-$526 per month.

The general guidelines are to eat healthy on $20.30 for five days. I cannot accept free food, I cannot go to fast food restaurants because they do not take SNAP benefits, and I could not buy alcohol, cigarettes, household products, paper goods or pet food.

The first task was to go food shopping. I chose to go to WinCo for cheaper prices. I spent more than an hour in the store, trying to plan meals for the week while staying under budget. At first, I thought I would splurge on peanut butter. I thought I could buy some bananas and celery and use it as a snack. But I quickly learned $20.30 does not really provide enough money for snacks. I had to focus on making sure I had enough money to cook three meals a day.

I walked around the store with a calculator, deducting money as a I placed food into the shopping cart. I constantly found myself going back to double check prices, put food back and weigh my options. I found the easiest way was to pick foods that I could easily combine to create a variety of meals. At first, I had put some tofu($1.48) in my cart, thinking it would be a good source of protein. However, I soon realized it would not go with anything else I had in my cart, and put it back. Everything I purchased was the cheapest brand possible.

When I got to the cash register, I quickly realized I went over my limit. The total was more than $24. I had to ask the cashier to take the peanut butter($3.48) and celery ($1.88) out of my cart.

In the end, I purchased a dozen eggs and two bananas for breakfast food, a box of rice, pasta, tomato sauce, two cans of black beans, a bag of ice burg lettuce and salad dressing, a block of cheese, tortillas, and a can of tuna, along with coffee and half and half. The coffee was the only thing I spent an extra $1, because nothing is worse than a bad cup of coffee.

One thing to note, those who use SNAP benefits on an EBT(Electronic Benefit Transfer) card do not have to pay sales tax on food and beverages, which I did pay because I don’t have an EBT card.

When I got home from work, I was starving. I quickly made myself two soft tacos with a half can of black beans, some cheese and some lettuce.