Could you live on $4.50 a day?

Could you live on $4.50 a day?

By Caché Cantrell
Opinion Editor

Photo from CEO of Panera Bread, Ron Shaich, documents his SNAP Challenge shopping experience.
Photo from
CEO of Panera Bread, Ron Shaich, documents his SNAP Challenge shopping experience.

How much do you think you spend on food in a day? Fifteen dollars? Twenty? Personally, I could easily spend $20 on one meal. What would you think if all you had to spend was $4.50 for an entire day’s worth of meals? That is exactly the amount 47 million low-income Americans on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as the food stamp program.

In order to spread awareness about the 15 percent of Americans on SNAP, people across the U.S. are taking on the challenge of trying to survive on less than $5 a day for meals. Hunger relief charity Feeding America is calling it the SNAP Challenge.

To partake in the SNAP Challenge individuals pledge three, seven or 30 days to live like those Americans receiving food stamps. To pledge, go to

The site also has rules for the challenge including the eligibility to use coupons but not to shop at membership clubs, not to eat any food that participants have purchased prior to taking the challenge, not to take free food from others and that the $4.50 also includes beverages.

Even those in the culinary industry are getting involved. Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich took the seven-day challenge and blogged about his experience on the website LinkedIn.

“…I wasn’t able to afford the fruits, vegetables and meats that most would say belong in a balanced diet. I ultimately tried to go heavy on the grains, under the belief that I can eat cereal in the morning, lentils and chickpeas for lunch, and then cap each day with a pasta dinner,” said Shaich.

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing I thought when I heard “$4.50 a day” was Top Ramen. How many ways can I make Top Ramen? I wanted to now exactly how much food I could get if I decided to take the seven-day challenge. This would mean a budget of $31.50 for a week’s worth of groceries. I made a list of the items I usually purchase to find out how many of the items I would actually be able to afford.

Before I got to the store, I knew this was going to be an interesting experiment. Although I appear to be thin and moderately fit, I have been told that I can eat like a grown man.

In the end I was only able to purchase the items I would normally buy for breakfast: eggs, milk, oatmeal, cottage cheese and strawberries. When I began to go down my list of lunch items I was already over budget by the time I got to the third item. When I realized I was over the $31.50 limit I began to gain an overwhelming respect four who received SNAP saw a decrease in their benefits by $36 a month, for those who have to struggle and prioritize when it comes to buying food for their families on such a small budget, focusing on quantity and not always quality.

Even though these families were already financially stressed, beginning on Nov. 1 the average family of CEO of Panera Bread, Ron Shaich, documents his SNAP Challenge shopping experience.

While some of us walk into a grocery store looking for the healthiest choice in foods, other must buy what they can afford. For some, the kinds of food they consume isn’t necessarily about health but more about sustaining and survival.