Food Stamp Challenge: Days 1-3

This Food Stamp Challenge, called 3SquaresVT in Vermont, has been an unique experience.

Here’s a check-in from the first few days on the Challenge:

Day 1 (Sunday) was pretty easy, considering that I (unwisely) blew money on a coffee shop visit, did the grocery shopping for the week, and then enjoyed beans and rice for dinner (actually, one of my favorite meals).

Day 2 (Monday) brought on a killer caffeine withdrawal headache that had me in bed by 8:00 pm. The coffee I have in the house is decaf and another coffee shop visit and/or soda purchase was out of the budget. I maintained a somewhat human mood throughout the work day by mooching off of a colleagues candy dish.

But this brings me to the Struggle of Days Two and Three: other people’s food.

I have two dilemmas actually, here’s the first:

1) If I were really on food stamps, would I resist other people’s candy dishes or turn down the free meals at work-related events? I doubt it – and so I didn’t. On Monday night and on Tuesday for lunch, I had free food connected to a work event. I’m thankful that those opportunities existed for me this week; I acknowledge that not everyone had those opportunities; and I’m not going to count it against my weekly budget.

Day 3 (Tuesday), I had a 7:15 am doctor’s appointment and then a solid half hour until I had to leave for work. I went to a coffee shop.

So here’s my second dilemma:

2) Food stamps don’t cover prepared food or coffee shops, so should I count my two visits to a coffee shop this week against my $38 benefit? Oh, it’s so embarrassing: I’m totally rationalizing here, can’t you tell! Someone really on food stamps wouldn’t be able to use them for a coffee shop visit, so a coffee shop expense would have to be weighed along with heating, electricity, gas for the car, clothing, and other expenses.  Actually, many of those things aren’t choices, i.e. you can’t pay only part of a heating bill.

So my resolution to Dilemma 2 is to limit and track my coffee shop visits and present them in addition to $38 in real food expenses.

Here’s a day-by-day, meal-by-meal breakdown:

Sunday (yes, I usually eat this light on the weekends)

Coffee shop latte and ham & cheese croissant  – $7.00

Beans, rice and veggies*


Breakfast: Coffee, cream and sugar; Half an apple*

Lunch: Beans, rice and veggies*

Dinner: Beans, rice and veggies*

Evening: Work-provided cookies and cider – $0.00

Water and a few snacks from the candy dish throughout the day – $0.00


Coffee shop latte and ham & cheese croissant  – $7.00

Work-provided sandwich, salad, chips, cupcake and soda – $0.00

Crispy Sesame Tofu and spinach*

Two other work-provided sodas throughout the day – $0.00


*So my grocery bill is still at $21.25 from Sunday.

I’ve spent $14 on coffee shop visits.

And I’ve probably gotten $15 worth of free food at lunch, had I gone out to eat and/or purchased the food on my own.

Hypothetical total: $50.25 – way over the $38/benefit and it’s only Day 3.

What I’m learning from the Food Stamp Challenge is that a hyper level of awareness is required of food stamp recipients around food, food costs, cooking and meal planning.

When free food was available, I found myself thinking “Oh! This will save me a meal later in the week.” I’m also planning more time in my schedule to cook or prepare meals. And I’ve turned down a few offers to go out this week, because I wasn’t sure how it would fit in the budget.

On national and state levels, there’s an enormous amount of debate around food stamps and other government benefits. I’m also aware of the way-out-there stereotypes, but when I look at my challenge this week, it’s all ridiculous in proportion to the measly $38/week that a single person would get on Food Stamps.

Yes, I understand too that $38/week multiplied by 97,000 statewide participants adds up, but that shifts the focus to big, big numbers rather than your eight-year old neighbor kid or your co-worker or your mother who might be hungry and eligible for Food Stamps.

This evening I’m feeling thankful and, luckily, not hunger.


5 Comments for “Food Stamp Challenge: Days 1-3”

Stacie Jacques


You might want to visit a food shelf. Anyone is welcome to go (and you can appease your conscience by donating back to the food shelf after you’re done your project). I think it would be a good addition to this project as most people who are on 3Squares would also be visiting a food shelf to supplement the inadequate food stipend that they receive.

Michelle Barber


Hi Stacie! I’ve visited, volunteered at, and donated to food shelves before – the Vermont Foodbank is a MACHINE in getting food out across the state. I’ve also had friends who’ve used local food shelves and their experiences range widely. I’ll consider some food shelf research within this project, though – thanks for the suggestion!

Did you see my post yesterday ( I found the Times Argus article you mentioned. It provides a slightly different experience – a family of five – than mine, although I think we all sound kind of whiny in documenting this Challenge.

By the way, I like your blog: – would love to see more of it!

Stacie Jacques


I’m glad that you found the article! I don’t know if ‘whiny’ is an inappropriate word or not. I certainly felt pretty damn whiny when I wasn’t able to get the healthy food that I needed because of financial constraints. I think it’s wonderful that you’re raising awareness of this issue–and highlighting the meager amounts that 3Squares recipients receive. Food insecurity is a widely overlooked class issue–I think because it makes people feel really uncomfortable to know that there are children who are, as I type this, going to bed hungry.