Could YOU Live on Food Stamps? Take the Challenge with Our Mahogany Chicken Thighs Recipe and a Day of Frugal Foods

Mahogany Chicken 500x500

Mahogany Roasted Chicken Thighs

I just realized that I am lucky. Very lucky. I have the luxury to be able to dash to the grocery store frequently and rarely think of the cost of groceries, unless I’m splurging on an item like crab or shrimp. But a hunk of Parmesano Reggiano? No problem – just grab a hunk and head home.

So when I saw a news article recently advertising a “Food Stamp Challenge,” I was intrigued. Only $4.00 per day per person??? Could I really live on cook delicious food with that??? Not just live on drive-thru food-like substances, but make real, healthy, delicious, actual food?

I decided to take the Food Stamp Challenge and find out. Next week the state is challenging folks to try to eat with the same amount of money as folks who live on food stamps November 8 though 14. That’s $4.00 per person per day. It almost goes without saying that this is incredibly hard to do. Even chicken thighs, a very frugal cut of chicken, are about 75 cents per thigh, which is half of the allotment for one entire meal.

It was hard – very hard – to come up with even one day’s menu – let alone come up with a week – or, Heaven Forbid, a lifetime – of menus that fit the challenge.

My heart goes out to all the folks who live this as a way of life and not just a limited and obviously artificial challenge – especially the single moms who work hard, nurture kids, pinch pennies and deal with all the stress that comes with poverty. Years ago a very close lifelong friend of mine had a period of extreme poverty with an unemployed husband and five small children. She said to me “When you’re poor, you can’t do anything else but Be Poor – all your energy, your whole being is focussed on survival, and you have room for little else in your life.”

Here is a touching account by a single mom that moved me to tears and should move us all to want to reach out. And check out food blogger Diana at Dianasaur Dishes and her fabulous post.

So, here is my small token of empathy – a day’s worth of meals with a recipe for Mahogany Roasted Chicken Thighs – at approximately $4.00 per person per day.

Breakfast: $.80 per person

Oatmeal ( fiber, protein and low in carbs – and incredibly cheap ), with a sprinkle of brown sugar

Poached Egg ( a protein powerhouse at  about $.12 per egg )

Glass of 2 percent milk ( other milks are much more spendy )

Lunch -$1.20 per person

Peanut Butter and Grated Apple Sandwich (2 Tablespoons peanut butter; one-quarter apple, grated)

2 cups tortilla chips

1/3 cup salsa mixed with 1/3 cup cottage cheese ( cottage cheese amps up the creaminess and protein )

Snack – $.25 per person

1 banana ( so satisfying, and so frugal )

Dinner – $1.75 per person

Mahogany Roasted Chicken Thighs ( recipe below )

Barley Risotto ( about $.30 per serving, a Rice Pilaf here would be even less)

Maple Syrup Glazed Roasted Fresh Pumpkin Wedges ( when in season, pumpkin is an extremely frugal and healthy food )

— posted by Donna

 Note from Anne:

News of this challenge hit home for me, to say the least.  I haven’t discussed it much on this blog, to date,  but as of early this year, I’ve become a single mom, and due to a number of changes in livelihood, am now on food stamps myself. I don’t qualify for much, but I’m also not in a position to turn down any amount of help as I try to pull a life together for myself and my daughter.

To say it has been humbling is an understatement. You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting nearly as much as Donna has, and this does, frankly, have a lot to do with it. I can eat and cook fairly well, if anxiously so, for the first week and a half or so after my SNAP allotment arrives, but thereafter, it gets dicey. It’s hard to prioritize what would be new and exciting,much less  photogenic, as a Food Blog Recipe when your top priority is trying to eat decently, period. To think: our previous blog incarnation focused on frugal cooking – and I still have a hard time coming up with material now. I also have a whole new understanding of how obesity is affected by poverty, and it has less to to with fast food than it does with the fact that variations on starch (and processed crap in general, it goes without saying) are by far the cheapest foods available.

The judgement out there for those on any kind of assistance is astonishing, particularly when it comes to food choices. Go to one internet item about food stamps and you’ll find in the comments (or sometimes the body of the article) someone inveighing indignantly about the person she saw buying what she considers junk food with food stamps. Go to another post and you’ll find another commentator offended to the core that someone on food stamps was buying organic produce or gluten-free items or something that they clearly consider too good for someone receiving assistance. You. cannot. win.

So even though my experience with SNAP is limited and hopefully temporary (as are most recipients), and I am still incredibly privileged in the big picture of the world, I still bristled a bit at the concept when I first learned about this challenge, however well-meaning. Such contrived experiences are often laden with classism; I worried that some of the entries might come off with an air of “See? It’s not so bad to be poor!” I also worry that zeroing in on one isolated aspect of poverty misses the big systemic picture – it is an incredibly complex issue in the macrocosm as well as an incredibly complex state of being in the microcosm.

Some experiments have attempted a more thorough, more realistic facsimile of life. I am reminded of the TV series “Thirty Days”, created by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me”. In each episode, people were challenged to immerse themselves in environments that were completely foreign to them, and likely to be uncomfortable. The homophobe goes to stay with a gay couple in The Castro, the pro-life crusader goes to work with pro-choice activists, and so on. In the premiere (watch here), Spurlock and his fiance both decide to see what it’s like to live on minimum wage – and they commit to every detail of it: finding an apartment, having no health insurance, no clothing or pantry items or any amenities of any kind from their former lives, and so on. By the end of the experience they were as truly changed as people could be, given that it was still contrived and temporary. Barbara Ehrenreich went a bit further in her fantastic book “Nickel and Dimed”, where she chronicles living on a number of subsistence level jobs in a similarly thorough fashion.

But what I’ve read so far, including Donna’s entry here as well as those she links to, have been very worthwhile and as empathetic as this kind of  artificial situation can be. It always helps to have some more frugal recipes up your sleeve, right? So I hope some fellow recipients are able to get some new ideas for affordable but nourishing meals, and that the participants in this challenge who are coming from a place of privilege walk away with a renewed sense of compassion for those less fortunate.  And I hope we are all inspired to you are able to reach out to others, especially as we enter the holiday season.


2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (optional)
8 skinless chicken thighs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Whisk together all ingredients except chicken.

Place chicken on a baking sheet. Brush with soy mixture on both sides. Roast for about 40 minutes until well browned and cooked through, basting on both sides every 10 minutes.

Serve immediately.


  1. Annett Hindmarsh says

    The first thing required by the food stamp office is an application. Most counties have an online application process. The electronic application allows the process to get started the moment the application is submitted. Paper applications will be accepted, but the process will take longer than an electronic application. Most food stamp offices have computers available for applicants filling out electronic applications. Workers will be available on hand to answer any questions about the application you may have. ..,

    All the best to you

  2. April says

    I am doing and have done it for over 10 years since my husband left us on Christmas Eve. Life has it’s ups and downs but it is doable and I have 3 teens. There is always hope. There is always a way to make ends meet. We don’t have food stamps anymore because my ex told them I make a ton of money blogging. lol we all know that doesn’t happen unless you are Dooce or Pioneer Woman.{I get a small contract every now and then. This is my only work} We are now no food stamps no child support and still making it work. Hang in there friends. If you expect miracles things always work out and there is always something we learn from it all.

  3. says

    I love this post. I have been working with a budget of about half that for our family, and it has been really frustrating, even with a nursing infant, whose budget still gets used up in baby food.

    I love Anne’s note about the nutrition aspect of it. I have noticed that going vegetarian and legume heavy makes a slim budget easier to live on, but it takes so much more time, which I am lucky to have since I am at home with my kids. I really feel for those poor single moms who don’t have time OR money.

  4. says

    I’ve fed my entire family (there’s 9 of us) on about $3 a day per person for the last 4 years. (I just figured it up and its about $68 per person per month) I don’t use coupons, but I shop sales, I do cook mostly from scratch and we don’t eat out. I have a 6’6″ 17 year old son who eats like a hog :) and 3 other teen age kids as well as some young school age kids. I’ve never felt deprived because of my small food budget.

    It can be really difficult to live on so little. When food prices go up, my food budget can’t, so we just make due with less. We are very blessed in where we live. We have enough room to grow a large garden that feeds us all year round thanks to all the home canning and freezing we do. We also have generous friends who run some fruit orchards and donate fruit to our family. I realize that many people in our circumstances aren’t so lucky.

    I wish more people would take this challenge. They might have more empathy for those who go without. Even if all they get is a glimpse. Even if all it does is make them more grateful for what they have. Maybe in turn they will be just a little more generous to the people they meet.

    In a strange way, I’m grateful for our situation. My children understand what it means to be in need and I hope they will remember it no matter what their circumstances are later in life. I know that if my situation ever changes, I will be much more generous and much less judgmental of others. We all fight our own battles and we never know what someone else is going through.

    • says

      Wow, Toni ~ thank you so much for this comment, really made my post worthwhile to hear from you. I know it is a VERY limited experiment, but for me, I found it worthwhile. You have to walk a mile in another person’s moccasins to know their journey. Especially during the Holidays, I am going to make more of an effort this year to reach out.

  5. says

    Wow. I am so so incredibly amazed. I can’t really imagine having to live off of so little money but I am so impressed that you went and created a meal plan and did it. And a really healthy one at that!

  6. says

    Interesting post. We are lucky not to need food stamps and are lucky that I can be home to cook (which cheapens so much). However, we live on a pretty limited food budget (and budget in general) and therefore end up spending less than $4/day/person (several of our persons are quite small and I do understand that I’m in for it when they get big) and eat healthfully and happily. It’s actually what I’ve dedicated my blog to. I like and appreciate the thoughtful and understanding tone of your post. Thanks for the post and the inspiration. I’ll be linking to and possibly expanding on tomorrow.

  7. Darla says

    I have a very dear friend on food stamps right now and it has been so sad to watch her and her life deteriorate. I need to reach out more to her – thanks for the reminder.

  8. says

    Donna, Thanks for the shoutout (and the tears) for my post. It’s such a tough topic to write about well…

    Anne, Hell just come here and let me hug you. This too shall pass.


    • says

      No, Beth – Thanks are owed to YOU. I was so touched by your personal experiences – so good for folks to hear from people and be aware that their actions have an effect. Anne and I send our best wishes to you!

    • Anne says

      Aw, hugs right back to you! Thanks so much. I know eventually I will make it, thanks in large part to many kindnesses from people like Donna, but it’s still really rough to be in the midst of it sometimes.

      Again, thank you.

  9. Shannon says

    I am also a single working (never been unemployed) Mom. However I do want to point out to people who think that recipes like this can make it easy, try feeding a 6’4″ 15 year old boy who can easily consume 2500 calories a day pr more, who DOESNT like junk food. Hes also tall and slim.. not overweight. No allowance is made on food stamps as to whether or not you have a 2 year old child or a teen…makes it even tougher. Im not trying to be a cry baby, just point out that well meaning ppl who think they can make 4$ a day feed each person, it doesn’t.

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment, Shannon. Very good for us all to know. I had never thought about the teenage children factor – yet another challenge!

    • says

      That’s so true Shannon. My cooking requirements really changed when we took in a couple teenage exchange students. Each boy ate double my husband and I combined! I started looking for inexpensive snacks with lots of protein that I could have for them to eat. Homemade cheese spreads, tuna and chicken salad, boiled eggs, things like that really helped my food budget but it still had to double to feed them. I think it’s great your son doesn’t like junk food and commend you for all that you do!

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