Hunger Challenge - Living on SNAP

This exercise requires students to think about the logistics of meal planning and shopping on a SNAP budget, and to imagine the material and emotional realities of poverty.

Activity: Hunger Challenge - Living on SNAP


  • To give Harvard/other college students, most of whom have never experienced food insecurity first-hand, a taste of the mental labor of living on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
  • To provide Harvard/ other college students a more grounded way to imagine living in poverty and coping with food insecurity

Class: HIST 60T – The History of Hunger

Introduction/Background: The activity does not need any prerequisites beyond an understanding of what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is. In this particular class meeting, the topic of discussion was food stamps and policy approaches to hunger. However, the exercise could fit in any class concerned with food, hunger, policy, or poverty.

The instructor developed this activity based on the SNAP challenge. The SNAP challenge ( requires participants to shop, cook, and eat for a week on a SNAP budget of $4.40 per person per day. Since many college students are on meal plans at their dorms and do not cook for themselves, the SNAP challenge did not seem feasible. This exercise requires students to think about the logistics of meal planning and shopping on a SNAP budget, and to imagine the material and emotional realities of poverty.


Before Class Preparation:

  • Students are assigned to skim Leanne Brown's 2014 cookbook Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day before class. The cookbook is available in PDF form at
  • Instructor will prepare a handout before class, and hand it to students in class. This handout will guide the simulation
  • The handout will have the following prompt: “Imagine you are cooking for four people, including yourself, on SNAP benefits (as described in Leanne Brown’s cookbook Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day): $4 a day per person x 4 people = $16 to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, or $112/week. Look through Good and Cheap and make a meal plan for a week’s worth of meals for four people. Make a grocery list for the week. Figure out which is the cheapest grocery store near Harvard, how long it will take you to get there, what mode of transportation you will use, and how you’ll carry all your groceries on the way back. Write up your meal plan, grocery list, and any math you had to do. Be ready to explain your plan and your choices to the class.”

In Class Activity:

  • Students will take the first five minutes of class to review the cookbook
  • Next, students will use about half an hour complete the activity
  • They will begin by examining recipes in the cookbook, evaluating them according to price, number of ingredients required to buy for each dish, and taste/variety of foods
  • Next, students will write out meal plans for three meals a day for seven days, calculating to make sure that their meals remained within the financial limits of the SNAP budget.
  • They will then write up grocery lists of all the ingredients they used in the week, research which grocery stores are closest to Harvard, and strategize about whether they would walk or take the bus to the grocery store.

De-brief & Follow-Up:

  • The class should spend 10-15 minutes discussing the students' findings.
  • The instructor should open up the discussion and have students go around describing a day of his/her meal plan, discuss the challenges of planning within a strict budget, and describe his/her feelings about the experience.


  • The instructor noted that the experience gave a human face to student discussions of food policy, and gave students an opportunity to cultivate empathy and reflection.
  • As students were not responsible for preparing their own meals, many of the instructor’s students were unfamiliar with the concept of meal-planning.
  • It is helpful to be very explicit about what meal-planning entails (a day-by-day breakdown of what should will cook for each meal).

Submitted by Carla Cevasco, Department of American Studies 



good_and_cheap_discussion_questions.docx10 KB
inclass_good_and_cheap_assignment.docx11 KB