SNAP Challenge Meals

Following our SNAP challenge blogs throughout the month of March, I received some requests for details about the foods I purchased and how I put them together into meals. I allowed myself $28 and I spent $25.01 so that I could use a few things from home (cooking spray, margarine, salt and pepper).


Baked eggs (raw)Baked eggs (cooked)

Given the cost of meat, I tried to get protein from eggs each day. I made baked eggs twice during the week and ate one or two each morning with a slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, a banana and a cup of milk. My baked eggs recipe is quite simple.

Baked Eggs

  1. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or rub with a bit of vegetable oil.
  2. Put a thin slice of ham in each cup and crack an egg inside the ham.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees until eggs are totally set. This typically takes about 15 minutes.


I went to work on five of the seven days of my challenge. I knew I would dwell on food a bit during this week so I wanted to choose lunches that would be very filling. Carrots and celery were the most affordable vegetables at my store, so I needed to base a lot of meals around them. At the beginning of the week I made a vegetable salad with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) that I ate for lunch with two or three clementines. I made all of the salad at once to get ready for the week. The full salad recipe was 4 cups of chopped carrots, 4 cups of chopped celery and two cans of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed). Salad dressing did not fit in my budget so I topped my salad with about a tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise seasoned with salt and pepper when I sat down to eat each day.

On the weekend days when I was not at work, I ate leftovers from dinner.


My twenty eight dollars did not give me room for a lot of variety during my week. There was much repetition. I chose two basic dishes and made them in large enough quantities to provide me with seven dinners plus a bit leftover. These dishes are not really recipes; they are just simple combinations that allowed me to eat relatively healthy for very little money.

The first was a meatless meal of whole wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce topped with some grated cheddar cheese. This was not a particularly exciting dish, but I was able to get 4 single-serving meals for just $3.87.

The second dish was based around the fact that my store had a special on chicken thighs that made them the most affordable meat option for me. I bought a package of six thighs for $3.88. I built the dish around the chicken and stretched it with some additional ingredients.

Chicken with Rice and Peppers

  1. Individual servingsSeason chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 on a food thermometer.
  2. While chicken roasts, chop three bell peppers and cook them in a skillet over medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, add a can of pinto beans that have been drained and rinsed. I used a 24 ounce can. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook brown rice according to package instructions. I made four servings, but this is flexible based on how many people you’re trying to serve.
  5. When chicken is done. Remove the skin and pick meat from the bones.
  6. Combine rice, peppers and beans, chicken and two cups of thawed frozen corn in a large pot. Cook over low heat until everything is combined and heated through.

This dish made six large servings and cost just under $10. It could easily serve eight if some sides were also being served.

SNAP Challenge PurchaseAs you can see, the volume of food available for my $28 budget was not too bad, but eating the same dish over and over again did get boring. I also ate less dairy and fruit than would be recommended. I also did not have room in my budget for any beverages beyond milk and water and I did not purchase any snacks.

My menus were largely built around the sales at my store, I chose proteins and vegetables that were at a good price and then filled them out with some whole grain products that are generally inexpensive. Since the challenge, I have continued to think this way when I determine meals for the week. My $28 budget allowed me to purchase most of the foods I needed for a week, but left no room for convenience items or snacks. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing my food and I chose only foods that gave me the nutrients I need.


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Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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7 thoughts on “SNAP Challenge Meals

  1. Christine,
    I have been trying to follow people when they do these challenges. One of my biggest concerns is the fact that Food Stamps now SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)is just supposed to be a supplemental program not provede for all the food that is needed. At least that is how I read it but as I am writing it maybe the supplemental assistance means for a limited time. Anyway I like that you are using some foods you have in your cupboards because that is another issue I have. Who acutally starts out with no food at all and they have access to food banks to pick up some staples. By the way I have been on food stamps and I was able to budget it nicely but it is alot of work planning and cooking ahead. Interesting reading your posts and the others here at this website. I refer people to this website when I am teaching classes.

  2. Hi Karen – Yes, you’re right that SNAP is meant to be supplemental. In reality, sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not depending on each family’s situation. Food pantries are always an option as well provided they are accessible. I agree that the volume of food available to me was adequate provided I put a lot of time toward planning and cooking. Thank you for following Spend Smart Eat Smart!

  3. I apologize for the tardiness of this comment, I just found your blog!
    Over the last year I have followed the various issues people have had in trying to eat within the parameters of the SNAP Challenge.
    I understand it must be quite a change for most however it is in no way a stretch to accomplish.

    I say this because my husband and I spend between $120-$150/m on groceries (month in and month out for the last 5 years). We are financially comfortable and do this out of choice.

    We eat EXTREAMLY well, all whole foods and no prepackaged or processed food. No coupons nor do we drive all over creation to hit all the sales.
    We plan our weekly menu around what we current have and then fill in based on what is on sale at the 2-3 stores we frequent. If we choose to have salmon, ahi tuna, ribeye… we do so.
    I am happy that people have given this a try but I am afraid it sends the wrong message. As an investment advisor, I work with people and their money for a living. I see what they spend and how much of that they waste (another topic). There is plenty of room for the average family to reduce the money they spend on groceries if they are willing to change what they are used to doing.

  4. Managing to plan your meals on a food stamps budget is extremely difficult – especially for a single person. Like Karen said, food stamps ARE meant to be supplemental, but for some people that is not the reality of their situation. With rising food prices, especially for healthy food options – it is extremely hard for an adult to live on a food stamps monthly allowance. It is extremely time consuming as things must be planned out carefully – where to shop, what to buy, etc. Local governments should offer more resources for those living on food stamps on how to effectively live on the allowance they are given. Georgia started implementing a program like this called Food Talk, I just wish more states would offer the same.

  5. We eat EXTREAMLY well, all whole foods and no prepackaged or processed food. No coupons nor do we drive all over creation to hit all the sales

  6. Hello!
    I love the idea of everyone getting involved in the planning — I so need to do that! And the Bob Evans mashed potatoes are crazy good! They are a staple at our house, but I haven’t tried the mac and cheese yet, but I will! Great tips!

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