Tales From A Hungry Life

April 29, 2015

The Food Stamp Challenge

by Maria Schulz

Recently, my daughter Maddie told me about something called The Food Stamp Challenge. It started with Chef Mario Batali, from ABC’s food and entertainment show, The Chew.

Mario Batali raises awareness about hunger in America

Mario Batali raises awareness about hunger in America

Batali wanted to highlight how tough it is for the poor to buy food—even if they worked, and even if they are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as Food Stamps). With SNAP, they receive about $29 per week (per person) to eat all of their meals—that’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 7 days, at a rate of a little over $4 per day for each family member.

With the goal of careful budgeting and high quality nutrition in mind, Batali set off with a stack of coupons to sales at the local supermarkets and the Dollar Store. He hoped to feed himself and his family on a small budget—about $31 per person, or $1.48 per meal for the entire week.

Of course, Batali quickly discovered that it’s easier to buy cheap carbs than protein, fresh fruits and vegetables. He bought cheaper cuts of meat like pork shoulder and chicken thighs. His grocery list included such things as eggs, lentils, rice, beans, lettuce, bananas, peanut butter, jelly, bread, pork, and chicken.

Batali said that he was starving for most of the week. He spent most of the time thinking about food and worrying about money. He told The Chew viewers: “This was really tough! I imagine it’s what it feels like to be hungry all the time. It’s not easy feeding a family of four for $1.48 per meal. Could you do it?”

Paltrow accepts the challenge

Paltrow accepts the challenge

Always one to jump in where she probably shouldn’t, the actress, foodie, and Goop blogger/yogi on the mountain Gwyneth Paltrow said, “Yes I can!”

So off she went to the grocery store with $29 in hand. She proceeded to buy romaine lettuce, an avocado, 7 limes (yes, 7…was she concerned about getting scurvy?), eggs, peas, beans, rice, an onion, leeks, cilantro, kale, corn, one tomato, a jalapeno, and soft tacos. Unlike Chef Batali, she didn’t really think about what she would need to sustain herself and she didn’t budget wisely.

I'm set for today. Wait...this has to last me ALL WEEK?

I’m set for today. Wait…this has to last me ALL WEEK?

As a result, four days into the challenge, Ms. Paltro up and quit—and went on a binge-eating blitz that included fresh chicken breasts, fresh veggies, and black licorice.

Obviously, Gwyneth is not a great shopper and probably has no idea how to live on a budget—she is the same person who famously said: “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.” But let’s face it: not everyone is a world-renowned chef that knows how to shop wisely, stretch a budget, and cover all of the nutritional bases. Even Mario Batali struggled.

Either way, here’s the real issue: poor people can’t just quit their challenges. At the end of the week, they’re still hungry and struggling. I bet they’d love to run out and get some organic chickens, fresh vegetables, and candy just to break up the monotony of beans, potatoes, pasta, and more of the same every single day, if they’re lucky…but then they probably couldn’t eat for the rest of the month.

Cheap eats

Cheap eats

Another, completely different challenge that many poor people face is that they can’t get to a discount grocery store to get wholesome yet inexpensive food. Why? Because they live in what’s known as a food desert. If you have limited transportation options (no car, can’t afford to take the bus to shop, or have to walk everywhere) and live in a neighborhood with only corner bodegas, convenience stores, and fast food, you will have fewer options to eat well on a tight budget.


I’m one of the lucky Americans who don’t have to live on $1.48 per meal, per day. Could I do it? Sure. Or maybe. But probably not. I could eat lots of spam, deviled ham, peanut butter and jelly, and pasta if I had to—it would be a flashback to my childhood. However, if I ate this way all of the time, I would weigh a ton and have lots of health issues that have nothing to do with how lazy or shiftless I am.

The point of the Food Stamp Challenge is not to fixate on how ridiculous Paltrow’s basket of food seems. The real point is to show people that Congress is looking to slash SNAP, and it’s not even adequate now! Unless this is 1950, there’s no way that $29/week is enough. Yes, I know it’s a supplemental program, but when someone is struggling, you don’t take away their lifeline.

In this land of plenty, millions of hard-working Americans are going hungry. They are not lazy slugs that lay around all day doing nothing. They are at or below the poverty line and struggling to keep their heads above water. Children and the elderly are also suffering.

So, we can all feel better about ourselves if we do the Food Stamp Challenge, because we think we’re imagining a poor person’s pain. Or, we could skip the challenge and find a local food bank, food pantry, charity, or soup kitchen that needs our help.

Today, I will thank my lucky stars that my family has enough to eat. And then, I’ll find a local charity that needs me so that I can help a child, family, or elderly person who is hungry.


To find a Food Pantry in your area, go here.

To find a local Food Bank, go here.

To help someone on Long Island, go to:

Long Island Cares, Inc.


Note: even this meal costs about $2.49 per person

Note: even this meal costs about $2.49 per person

Find healthy recipes here to feed 4 for under $10:

Do you think you could do the Food Stamp Challenge—and succeed? What would you put in your basket? What’s your favorite, budget-friendly meal? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!



  1. Ugh Congress. And omg don’t even get me started on Gweneth Paltrow. Remember when she said it was tough to be a working mom? That people who work office jobs have it easier than her? She is as detached from reality as the US Congress.

    Comment by Christine Lagalante — April 29, 2015 @ 8:24 am | Reply

    • Her claim that movie actresses have a tougher life than office worker moms was hilarious. You can buy lots of groceries when you make $10 million + per project!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 29, 2015 @ 12:50 pm | Reply

  2. It’s so sad to see how many people around us are going to bed hungry. It could be your neighbor and you wouldn’t even know it. We recently started a food bank where I work to help with some of the student’s families. I pray that one of your readers can show your blog to the politicians. They are all living in their own little safe protective world. How can they even think $29.00 can feed a family for a week? Thanks for getting the message out!!!!

    Comment by Kathleen — April 29, 2015 @ 8:32 am | Reply

    • Of course, the average $29 a week is meant to be supplemental. You are supposed to use 30% of your income to provide the rest (and some say the average is as high as $40-$50 for families). But everyone knows that sometimes, poor people have to choose between paying the bills and eating. And emergencies also cut into income when you’re struggling! It’s not a program that should be slashed. We can do better.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 29, 2015 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

  3. You liberal give away person!!!! Don’t you know the story about the fish or teaching how to fish? Of course I am kidding. Hunger should not be a liberal or conservative position the only thing that matters is that in this country of plenty the poor, including children, doesn’t that follow? are going hungry every day. And world wide they don’t even eat every day unless they pick the food off the garbage dumps. And for all you Jesus “freaks” he made sure everyone he came in contact with ate, including himself. So forget about judgments people let’s do the right thing and love the poor, the mal-treated, the hungry because there for but the grace of God goes us! Oh and BTW we have to do more than love if the hungry are to be fed. Loving without actions is nothing!!!

    Comment by Bglou — April 29, 2015 @ 10:03 am | Reply

    • I’m not a liberal or a conservative; I’m a human being. It makes me sad to think of children not knowing where their next meal will come from, or the elderly going hungry, or veterans down on their luck not eating enough. Really? That’s not right.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 29, 2015 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  4. Thought-provoking post, Maria. Thanks for the important reminder about supporting local food banks. They get a lot of promotion around the holidays, but then we forget they still need us now.

    Comment by lisasafran — April 29, 2015 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  5. I really enjoyed your blog, Maria. I spent 6 years living on Food Stamps, and for me on Long Island, I had about $50 a week to spend, and that was not easy as a single person. In those years I went to a food pantry once, and couldn’t bring myself to go back. In the first few years, I had a friend who brought me her leftovers from dinners, saying her family refused to eat them. And now the house I rent through HUD allows me to be able to afford my groceries on my own since I no longer qualify for the Food Stamp program. Luckily, I gave up eating all processed and pre-packaged foods last year, and my grocery bill is less than half what it used to be. I never knew it was economical to eat healthy, but I have no idea how anyone could possibly feed a family of four for $29 a week.

    Comment by Andrea Benosky — April 29, 2015 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

    • That $29 is supposed to help the poor along with other income and supplemental programs. But why are there so many hungry people in a country like ours? By the way, congratulations on cutting out all the processed foods. You’re very inspiring!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 29, 2015 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  6. Somehow G. Paltrow thinks “poor” people buy lots of limes. I think if we go back to our own roots –Italian here– a lot of the traditional dishes were designed for big families on modest means –pasta and beans and a sprinkle of olive oil with a little onion and garlic I’m getting hungry). I’d have to add wine:) But even without the wine, I can’t imagine covering three meals or two meals a day for a family of four on $29.00 a week! I do think that all sodas should be cut out of the SNAP program. I do think there needs to be a return to home economics classes on cooking in schools. And yet, I do give to the food bank and the Salvation Army. Great piece, Maria!!! (do you remember Home Ec, perhaps that’s another article?)

    Comment by carolinebock — April 29, 2015 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

    • I never took a Home Ec class, but I did learn how to cook from my mother. I also worked as a cook in a deli as a teenager, so I have skills and can make an inexpensive meal. By the way, the $29 budget is for one person–a family gets anywhere from $120 — $300 depending on need. The Food Stamp Challenge just takes that small amount ($29 in GP’s case) and has you try to figure out how to make do on very little. If it gets people talking about hunger and how to help, it’s a great thing.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — April 29, 2015 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

  7. Maria, I would find it hard to be a success on that food challenge. I see families every day, with both mother and father working and they still don’t have enough money to buy healthy food for their children. There is a whole group of people out there who are called the working poor. How are their kids going to go to school hungry, worried about if they will have a roof over their heads, or clothes on their backs and learn? If they don’t learn they can not have access to a productive job and this perpetuates the need for them to be helped when they become adults. What is wrong with the people in this country who think everyone on public assistance is lazy and laughing at those who pay into it? Where are the religious people who proclaim they want to help their fellow man? I guess that’s after they have all they need, and doing so does not take away anything from them. I just found out that my wife’s school has a Food Pantry and that there are several families that go to bed hungry every night. The kids come to school hungry, that’s a shame. Everyone, when they go shopping, should pick up a number of items for a Food Pantry and thank god that they don’t have that pain in the pit of their stomach every night, as well as after the meager meals they eat. Just venting because I am tired of people who have so much trying to blame others for not having as much and wanting more for their families.

    Comment by Tony Lagalante — May 30, 2015 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

    • I can’t argue with that! Forget about No Kid Left Behind, how about No Kid Left Hungry? What a shame. How can you learn and succeed under those conditions? Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — May 30, 2015 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

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