Special Blog Post By: Lisa Mazzocco, Stanford Graduate School of Business Class of 2016

We learned that fifteen students from Stanford Graduate School of Business took on the SNAP Challenge in April – they wanted to experience what it’s like eating on the equivalent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (i.e., food stamps). Encouraging others to take on the challenge with them, students wrote a series of articles sharing logistics, tracking tools, and menu planning.

Interested in taking on the SNAP Challenge? Lisa Mazzocco’s lays out the challenge and why it matters.

Why the SNAP Challenge?

Because you’re reading this, we bet you have an interest in healthy living, and maybe even in helping others achieve that. Fortunately and ironically, though, few of us can say what life’s actually like at the neediest level. So we thought – why not find out? Let’s…

  • Examine what would be different about our abilities – physical, mental, emotional – if we had to eat with these constraints
  • Raise awareness of the true value and cost of food
  • Get insight on a huge market (2016 SNAP budget = $83 billion) in need of innovation, and where even simple ideas have big business potential
  • I’m in! How does this work?

  • Spend up to $4.50 per day on food (including dining out), for up to seven consecutive days. Calculate the $4.50 pro-rated based on what you consume that day – we built this handy budget tracking tool to help you
  • Eat as healthy as possible, keeping in mind that this is how many people eat every day, whereas you can make up for lost nutrients next week
  • Avoid eating free food or beverage to which folks on SNAP benefits wouldn’t have access (ex. on-campus lunches, office espresso machine)
  • Try to only eat food that you purchase for the project. If you eat food that you already have at home, account for it in your SNAP budget (pro-rated based on amount you consume)
  • Refrain from items SNAP participants wouldn’t normally purchase, even if it fits into your pro-rated budget (ex. a SNAP user probably wouldn’t consume almond butter, or coffee that sells for $15/lb)
  • Your SNAP shopping list and meal plan: How-to

    $4.50 a day doesn’t sound like much. But with some smarts and planning, it can go a long way. Here’s how to shop:

    Step 1: Get sales flyers from local grocery stores and find the deals that week.

    Step 2: Plan your menu for the week, using the deal items and your own nutritional needs as inputs for meal selection. Round out your shopping list with other necessary items*, and before you head to the store, see where your total comes out. Lucky for you there are oodles of great resources to help plan meals, including:

  • Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/day – includes cost/serving estimate
  • USDA SNAP recipe search – includes cost/serving estimate
  • eatFresh.org
  • *Remember, you CAN use items already in your household, as long as 1) you account in your budget for how much of them you eat, 2) they are items that someone on SNAP could reasonably purchase.

    In addition, consistent with what SNAP users have access to, the following do NOT count against your $4.50/day budget:

  • Coffee/tea available for free at your workplace/residence. But steer clear of the espresso maker, fancy milk alternatives, and other beverages, even if they’re normally free to you.
  • Free food at church/religious events. We don’t advocate posing as something you’re not to get a meal – but since food is often offered at faith gatherings, which (by and large) don’t make socioeconomic exclusions, this is fair game for SNAP users and also for you.
  • Typical food pantry allowance. These items comprise a typical week’s selection at SF-Marin Food Bank pantries, free if using SNAP and so allowable outside your budget (see “starter shopping list”).
  • Step 3: Go shopping! Buy in bulk where possible, weigh your produce, use coupons, choose store brands, and watch the checkout to make sure items are charged correctly.

    Step 4: Test your meal plan and track your spend in our handy budget tracker, accounting only for the amount you consume.

    *** Are you taking on the SNAP Challenge? Share your experience with us on our Facebook page.