SNAP, Eating Healthy for Less

For many Americans, spending four dollars on their favorite beverage at Starbucks may be a frequent occurrence. A four-dollar lunch sounds like a great deal for most people. But did you know that four dollars is about the daily food budget for millions of Americans? Shocking isn’t it?

Limited Budget?

Right now, millions of Americans are living on roughly that amount. SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as food stamps) only provides a few dollars a day for each person. However, without this money, many families would go without food.

SNAP assistance has increased from $30.2 billion in benefits in 2006 up to $71.8 billion in 2011.[1] However, with the November 1st cutbacks, the average individual in California under SNAP receives only $138 a month; this breaks down to approximately $4.60 per day (a decrease of 30 cents per day).[2],[3] Consequently, millions will need to adjust to living on less.

Eat Healthy for Less?

A relative once explained to me the reason they couldn’t eat healthy: “It’s just too expensive.” The common belief is that “unhealthy” products are affordable, but anything qualifying as “healthy” must be expensive. Is this claim really true? Is it possible to live healthy on a limited budget, say between 2-5 dollars a day?

If you throw away the high sugar and empty calorie foods, and begin focusing on food items that add to your health and energy, you may be surprised how far your money can go.

An article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine discovered that those on the SNAP Program use approximately 2 billion worth of benefits on sugary drinks each year.[4] This is unfortunate, as consuming high sugary drinks is very unhealthy and has been shown to make individuals hungry quicker. Currently there are no regulations prohibiting participants from buying such items. However, if the Healthy Food Choices Act of 2013 is approved, it will limit what program participants can purchase beyond the current minimal restrictions. “Junk food” such as sugary drinks, chips, and other items not allowed under WIC guidelines will also be banned.[5] (WIC stands for: Women, Infants, and Children and is another government nutrition program.)

Maximizing Nutrition

A report published by the USDA examined the difference in cost between healthy food and junk food.[6] The report studied multiple factors that influence food prices including the price for food energy, the edible weight, and the average portion. It also considered if the portion and food energy would meet daily nutrient recommendations.

The study found that high-calorie foods (generally from high fat or sugar contents) tended to be cheaper. However, foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains were cheaper in terms of portion size and meeting the daily nutrition requirements. In addition, it is important to factor in medical expenses and loss of wages associated with regular unhealthy food consumption.

While certain types of health foods are undoubtedly more expensive than nutrient deficient junk foods, here are some examples that show how it can actually be cheaper to make positive food choices:

  • 5 ounces of oatmeal for breakfast costs approximately $0.38 while 5 ounces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal will run you about $0.95.
  • 1 pound of protein packed dry lentils or beans (which makes 3 pounds cooked) costs between $0.81-0.99 while 1 pound of chicken is around $1.53 and beef runs about $3.45 a pound.
  • If you reach for some raw peanuts or sunflower seeds you might spend about $0.99 for 11 ounce, while an unhealthy 11 ounces. bag of Doritos will cost you $1.67.
  • A fresh peeled medium banana (4 oz.) can be found as low as $0.16 while a 2 oz. snickers bar will be 5 times that at $0.86.
  • You could pick up a 2 liter of soda on sale for $0.67 or you can hydrate yourself with much needed water for free.

Note: the prices listed above are average and may fluctuate from store to store.

Creating a Menu

Below is a sample one-day menu costing less than $4 per person. Based on your budget and daily nutrient requirements, other healthy choices may be added or servings reduced.

Breakfast: 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal with 1 chopped apple, cinnamon and 1 medium banana = $0.77

Lunch: 2 cups of vegetable lentil soup and 2 slices homemade whole wheat bread = $1.36

Dinner: 1.5 cups of brown rice, 1 cup of black beans and a fresh salad (Romaine lettuce, spinach, and tomato with olive oil dressing) = $1.47

Total daily cost = $3.60

Successfully incorporating healthy foods into your tight budget is entirely possible, and it will benefit more than your wallet. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet will help with energy level, mood, productivity, and brain functioning.  It will also help fight against pesky colds and the flu. Perhaps most importantly, it will help you immensely in the fight against more serious diseases such as heart attack, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases.

You can eat healthy for less, give it a try today. If you would like further tips, be sure to read our article: Shop Healthy and Save Money.



[1] USDA Food and Nutrition Service:

[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:,

[3] USDA:$PP.htm

[4] USDA:$PP.htm

[5] United States Legislative Information:

[6] USDA Economic Research Service:

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