The Food Stamp Challenge

3SquaresVT is what we call food stamps in Vermont. And from November 11-17, I’ll participate in the 3SquaresVT / Food Stamp Challenge, living on $38 in groceries for the week.

Here’s the deal:

“The 3SquaresVT / Food Stamp Challenge seeks to highlight what it is like to eat on the average 3SquaresVT benefit — approximately $1.80 per meal for a single person. The many people who have taken the Challenge have learned first hand what it is like to try to make ends meet on the average benefit.

“The purpose of the Challenge is not to emulate the reality of food insecurity for Vermonters – many of whom may rely on a variety of programs and resources to meet their families’ needs – but to instead draw attention to the experience of living on a strict food budget allotment and how that may or may not change your daily life both physically and psychologically as a participant (3SquaresVT Challenge website).”

One in every eight Vermont households is “food insecure,” meaning they lack access to enough food to meet their needs at all times. Out of a population of 626,431, 97,000 Vermonters receive 3SquaresVT – that’s more than 15%.

By participating in this Challenge, I hope to gain some empathy for my neighbors. I’m actually working up a menu and budget for the week and this isn’t going to be easy. I’m relying on cheap staples like rice and beans, but I don’t want to fall back on generic mac ‘n’ cheese or ramen noodles. I know many households must do that, which only emphasizes the difficulty of healthy eating in poverty. Also out the window? Fast food, eating out and food already in my pantry.

Learn more about the 3SquaresVT / Food Stamp Challenge.

Throughout the week, I’ll track my meals and expenditures. I’ll also blog about the experience. I fully expect this Challenge to feel limiting and difficult, but I also expect it to simplify a number of choices.

I don’t mind eating the same meal for a few days, and that I love challenges and budgeting, but I can’t imagine trying to coordinate all of this for a family of two ($57/week), three ($84/week) or four ($98/week). I can only imagine having to justify a repeat meal to kids or not being able to afford a date night out.

And that’s the point of this Challenge: to be able to imagine, to be able to share, to be able to empathize with others that I’m only a few paychecks or a financial setback removed from.


Photo credit: Conway L.

3 Comments for “The Food Stamp Challenge”

Keri Brown


This is great! I’m so glad to hear you’re doing this! I just wanted to emphasize your point that living on this type of budget takes a lot of coordination and planning if you want to also continue to eat healthful foods. Sadly many of the people who receive these benefits work full time at physically demanding jobs and simply don’t have the time or energy to put into that kind of planning.

Michelle Barber


I agree with you totally, Keri. I went shopping today for this week’s groceries and it took me some time to plan the recipes, estimate my costs, and to look at the week ahead and decide what I’d need and when. Now I’m planning out when I’ll have time to cook some meals in advance. I’ll make it work, but I’ve got pretty easy circumstances compared to many.