The SNAP Challenge - What It Is and How to Meet It

Begun in 2006, the SNAP Challenge was designed to educate and publicize the plight of tens of millions of people here in the United States who must decide daily between paying for housing, utilities, medical care or food. Since then thousands of politicians, advocates, religious leaders, reporters, and average citizens have taken the challenge.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which is the new name for the food stamp program. The food stamp program began in 1964 and was renamed in the 2008 Farm Bill when all such assistance was provided through a specialized debit card instead of printed coupons or stamps.

One of the interesting things about the challenge is the effort to highlight who is struggling with hunger in this country. Some people lost their jobs during this recession and have not found new employment or, if they have, the salary is not at the level of their previous job. The disabled are much more likely to be unable to work or to find work. Even in the richest counties in the country at least 1 in 10 people reported not having enough to eat at some point within the last twelve months. In other counties, better than 1 in 4 reported the same. In fact, according to the USDA Report: Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2011 published November 2012, in fiscal year 2011, about 44.7 million people living in 21.1 million U.S. households participated in SNAP on average per month. Most SNAP participants were children or the elderly (just under 55%). Many SNAP participants had jobs (30%). The majority of SNAP participants do not receive a cash welfare benefit.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) offers a toolkit you can access online which gives ideas on setting up a challenge in your area and how to publicize it. Search on "FRAC SNAP challenge" to find the toolkit and learn more about the challenge.

The Challenge Guidelines as listed in the FRAC Toolkit are:

  1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $X0 (currently $35) for all food and beverage.
  2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
  3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
  4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
  5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
  6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

While the average benefit varies from state to state, the national monthly average SNAP benefit person in 2012 was $133.41 per month or about $4.45 a day. You can find your state's average SNAP benefits on USDA's website. (

There are those for whom this challenge is not hypothetical and it does not last only a week. If you are new to this experience or you just need to lower your food budget due to short term budget hits, it is important to know that it is possible to feed yourself and your family with this amount. However, it does require planning, careful portion control, and diligent, careful shopping. Any food you can grow yourself will help your food dollar stretch a bit farther. Eating on this restricted amount also rules out or reduces the frequency of some activities many Americans take for granted like eating out or enjoying a juicy steak. However, rethinking your diet due to budgetary restrictions could also lead you to making healthier choices. You will find lots of terrific ideas on how to live on a small food budget in our book "Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day". There are shopping strategies, cooking tips, menus (including a six-week austerity plan for when the cupboard is totally bare), recipes, and much more. Everything is spelled out for you. You do not have to starve even if the budget is tight. The guidelines and ideas in this book will keep food on your table and in your tummy.

Other Articles of Interest

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Testimonials for:

Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day
Keep your family fed during lean times. Serve up to 3 wholesome meals and 2 snacks per person (a total of 12 meals and 8 snacks) for $4 a day. Learn how! Includes valuable resources and much more.
Size: 8 ½ in. W X 11 in. H
46 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9779576-8-2
Price: $10.00

Here's what readers have to say:

This is a gem of a book, a valuable natural resource, and a compassionate toolkit full of practical shopping advice and wise nutritional guidance, with everything you need to know about how to make ends meet when it comes to food. You can do it, this book assures you, and the authors have analyzed every aspect of what you need to think about: planning meal sizes and planning menus; when to shop and where to shop; comparing prices and ingredients; the importance of chewing and of hydration; how to find free food and how to qualify for food stamps (federal poverty guidelines included).
Health is as important as thrift to Mack and Celia Webb, and the book is full of sound nutritional advice and shopping advice aimed at getting the most nutrients for the most reasonable price. There are menus for school or work lunches, snack ideas, and concise, to-the-point hints about how to be a smarter shopper, a healthier eater, a wiser spender. The book includes a meals-and-snack 30-day menu, and appendices with recipes for soups and noodles and much more, a substitution chart, a conversions chart, and a graphic that walks the reader through the details of a typical food label.
But the heart of the book is the section on Austerity Eating: here's where push comes to shove and it's eat or be eaten when your family really, finally has to get by on only $4 a day. If I had to survive like that, I would want this book and this advice, which includes six weeks of purchase lists for meals and snacks and six weekly menus. For $10, this book is a heck of a deal. Buy it. Read it. Use it. And share it - at food pantries and food banks, especially, where hungry people gather. This book could be of real benefit to them, and to all of us.

Larry Stillwell

"As director of Fauquier Community Food Bank, it is my responsibility to purchase as much nutritious food as possible with the funds I have available. Mack and Celia Webb’s book “Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day” does that and more for your family. This book explains, in detail, the necessary steps to accomplish that. It explains how to read food labels, what recipes to use, food substitutions, in short, a complete guide to economical and nutritious eating. Thanks to a generous donor I am able to give a copy of this book to some of the largest households we serve. I hope more donors will help us provide these books to all of our clients."

Roland Serrano, Director, The Fauquier Community Food Bank

"In a time when more and more of our citizens are falling below the poverty line, the cost of food as well as the quality of diet takes on added importance for millions of Americans. In their new book Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day, Mack and Celia Webb provide detailed information which addresses both of these issues. The focal point is a six-week “austerity-eating plan” including shopping lists detailed with specific quantities and prices. While not intended to meet all of the requirements of an ideal permanent diet, this plan is nonetheless varied and nutrition conscious as it allows people lacking in financial resources to make-do until their circumstances improve.
In addition, the book provides useful information on meal and serving sizes, menu planning, nutrition, shopping strategies, food stamps, sources of free food, recipes, food labels and other food-related issues. It also presents a detailed 30-day “budget friendly” menu plan (three meals and two snacks per day) and suggestions for school and work lunches.
I highly recommend this book to all of those who need to stretch their food budgets as well as to professionals and volunteers who work with individuals who find themselves in these circumstances. It is a valuable resource for those in need."

Edward V. Jones, co-author of "These are Our People...Life Stories of 24 People Served at The Fauquier Community Food Bank

"I particularly liked the way this book lets you approach cutting the food budget in a few different ways so that there was help for you if you like to follow directions exactly or if you prefer to understand the general idea and then create your own plans. The authors clearly set out an approach which can be personalized; they also recognize that sometimes a hardline austerity budget is needed for a short period, and that it is possible to "tighten your belt" for a little while and stay healthy, but then add more choices when funds come available. The clarity of prose and the lack of typos or other mistakes which can plague both self-published and publishing house books makes the book a pleasure to read. I would recommend donating a few to your local food shelf or homeless shelter as well as keeping one for yourself.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am related to the authors, but I'm also a tough old broad and wouldn't give a positive review if it weren't well-deserved."

Patricia Norton

"I like this book for its boots-on-the-ground practicality. From portion size, to daily menus with the recipes for them; weekly shopping lists with prices; workable substitutes when you don't have something on the shelf; informative conversions which tell for instance, that 8oz dry spaghetti equals 4 cups cooked and how reading that “Food Label” can be a guide into healthy choices for my family. This knowledge helps me."

Many thanks from, “I can do this”, in upstate NY

Special Deal for Non-Profits

Does your non-profit organization serve people struggling with food insecurity? Contact us today to order Feed Your Family of Four for $4 a Day at a discounted price for distribution to your clients.