Setup & Rules

Please note: The EBT formula expects 30% of a person’s resources (net income) to go towards food. Therefore, I did not eat solely on EBT but rather the budget of someone who uses EBT.

PROFILE: On the SNAP Statistics page I highlight two categories of recipients that are most similar to my situation. My profile throughout my experiment was a childless, non-disabled adult living in a one person household. Using the average benefits from the second SNAP category sized down to a household of one, I most accurately simulated the situation of a person on food stamps. My monthly food budget added up to $196.42, of which $27.23 was out-of-pocket.

GROCERY STORE: To further assist in creating a likely scenario, I opted out of shopping at my tax-free military grocery store and instead bought groceries at ALDI, a nation-wide discount grocery store. Although ALDI is an inconvenient 20 minute drive without traffic, owning a car still gave me a grocery shopping advantage. Many people using EBT must rely on public transportation, limiting the amount of groceries they can buy at one time.

TIME FACTOR: Because many food stamp recipients must work and raise children simultaneously, they do not have much time to spend cooking food. With this in mind, I decided to time the entire cooking process – from grocery shopping to washing dishes. Part of my goal was to make this lifestyle manageable for struggling Americans.

MONITORING: The main goal of the food stamp challenge was to maintain a healthy diet without exceeding budget. While tracking health can be quite scientific, I simply used my morning weight and my subjective overall feeling of wellness to monitor the project’s effects. As a 5′ 4″, fairly active, 22 year old female, my ideal morning weight hovers around 123.5 lbs (yet as small as I am, I can out-eat all my friends). I intended to maintain this weight, give or take a few pounds, throughout the project.

RESOURCES: I allowed myself to use any resources for which my profile qualified, including food pantries, church dinners, and other community events.

HERB CALCULATIONS: I consider many herbs to be a one-time buy, because they are very simple plants to grow and maintain in small spaces both indoors and out. I conducted a quick Ebay search of herb seeds. For $14.37, shipping included, I found a set of these seeds: caraway, catnip, chamomile, chives, coriander, curled cress, dill, fennel, oregano, curled parsley, flat Italian parsley, sage, savory, basil, marjoram, and thyme. While EBT covers seeds for food, it cannot be used on EBAY. Unfortunately, I had to use my out-of-pocket portion to cover these herbs. That left me with $12.88 to spend on whatever food I wanted and $169.19 to spend on food stamp-approved items (basically any food that is not vitamins, alcohol, or already prepared). After purchasing these seeds, I found equally cheap seeds at ALDI, as well as a whole set of herbs and spices in large containers for only $1.

Check out daily updates found under the 30 Days On Stamps category to read about my experience.



  1. What about the cost of the food preparation items? One must have access to a variety of basic kitchen items, including more pricey items such as a food processor, blender, etc. I think there is great potential for this as a program and I have suggested a similar idea to our church as a helpful tool for those willing to take these steps. It would be nice if churches, community groups, etc. would commit to providing a package of kitchen basics that would allow this type of cooking for those who would commit to class sessions.

    • Jen, I thought about that when I was on the challenge. I never used a blender, and I don’t recall using my food processor. I tried to keep my tools down to basic items: skillet, knife, vegetable peeler, oven, stove, spoon … I did use my milk steamer to make lattes – a $5 purchase at a church garage sale.

  2. I am seeking information on how to set up a very simple cookbook for our food pantry recipients on Wilson NC. I am willing to come take classes from you. I love your blog and story in the N&O. Most also receive food stamps.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    Do you have an email address where I could contact you? I work at Urban Ministries of Durham, a local homeless shelter, as a Healthcare Navigator. We are actually working with our kitchen and pantry right now to help better educate and serve our population through cooking demonstration, healthy meal planning and food education. I would love to speak with you about your experiences and get your insights!

    Thanks so much!

    • Rebecca, I would love to speak with you as well! My email is, and my phone number is 314-956-4437. It’s usually better to first contact me via email, as my schedule is all over the place when it comes to answering phone calls. Looking forward to hearing from you!

  4. Sarah, I volunteer to help homeless and at risk families, many of which live in and out of motels and bounce between sleeping on the couch at a friends house or sometimes sadly in their car (if they have one). They not only have limited financial resources, but limited cooking options as well. I’m interested in learning ways to help our families provide healthy meal options for their families. Thanks for this blog. I’ll be following.

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