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Food Stamps


Food Stamps: Basics Before Menu Planning

Food stamps are not a government benefit that many individuals want to be on. They are a necessity that some families and single individuals find themselves needing in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, food stamps may not offer that much assistance or may offer assistance that requires special budgeting methods. Before you begin budgeting out food stamps and creating menus, you will need to first understand what you are looking at.

How Much to Work With

Knowing how much you have to work with is the basis for any menu planning. You need to know how much money you have to work with and in the case how much food stamp benefits you have to work with. Food stamps are regulated . You will receive a maximum benefit for one person, two people, three people and so on. The average American who receives food stamps will receive around $200 a month for one person, $350 for two people and so on depending on the number of children. Some families may also receive an added food benefit program known as WIC. WIC does not have any set monetary value. Instead the recipient receives WIC checks that list specific foods that can be purchased for each check. Overall, if a family uses all their WIC checks for the month, they will receive around $50 worth of food with that food being geared to children in the family.

What Can Be Purchased

Food stamps allow you to purchase most food items at grocery stores and chain stores throughout the country. You cannot purchase alcohol, tobacco products, prepared foods from delis (like fried chicken, sub sandwiches and the like) and you cannot purchase from fast food stores. This will be important when you begin to create menus. You will not be able to use food stamps to create menus that contain alcohol.

What You Need

To create menu plans you will need a few items. You will need to know your food stamp limits and how WIC, if you have WIC, will figure into this menu plan. You will need have the items for the menu plan method you choose. This guide will offer several methods of menu planning that can be used with food stamps. Each method has a list of requirements and needs. Pick the one that works best for you and gather those needs. Keep in mind that none of the needs are expensive. Most needs will only be pen and paper while others may be more elaborate. Most of the menu plan methods will also require a few staples to be in your kitchen. These staples are things like flour, sugar and basic spices. You can buy these staples with food stamps.

Types of Menu Planning

There are several types of menu planning that can work with food stamps. These types are basically the same, but with minor twists. It is the twists in the menu plans that makes the difference in a menu plan that works or one that fails for many people. This guide is going to give you the types of menu plan options available to you and then go into detail about each type.

Index Card Menu Planning

Index card menu planning is one of the easiest ways to create a menu plan. The basic idea is to take a stack of index cards and simply write down a meal on each card. One side of the card has the meal name and ingredients while the other side of the card has the recipe. The benefits to using this type of menu planning are the ease of changing the weekly or even daily meal plan at the drop of a hat or the rise of grocery prices.

Computer Software Menu Planning

Using computer software, like excel and other software, can help make menu planning easier. You can also keep track of sales, prices and other aspects of your menu planning purchases that will be effected since food stamps are your currency. Computer software does give you an easier way of keeping things organized, but it does have some disadvantages that will be noted later in this guide.

Sale Planning

Sale planning means that you are planning your menus on a weekly or every two week basis using sales flyers from area grocery stores. This is a bit difficult and hard to budget, but it can be done. There are several tactics to make this work for you, with your food stamps and bring you extra savings in other places if you know what you are doing. This guide will help you learn how to use this method to create a menu that fits all your needs.

Budget Planning

Budget menu planning can be one of the most stressful methods of menu planning when dealing with food stamps. Budget planning means taking your food stamp and WIC budget, if you receive WIC, and working with that on a daily spendable amount , weekly spendable amount or monthly spendable amount. This can be difficult when prices change throughout the month. There are advantages to this for those individuals who work better with a money limit plan than a food item plan.

Index Card Menu Planning

Index card menu planning is by far the easiest choice for many people. It uses you or your families favorite meals. A benefit of this type of menu planning is the ability to pick and choose meals that fit with the food stamp budget as well as current sales ads, coupons and other methods that stretch your food stamp budget. What You Will Need: • Index Cards ( 30 for breakfast, 30 for lunch, 30 for dinners, 30 for snacks) • 2 Index Card Holdesr or Recipe Boxes • Card Dividers • Ink Pen (any color)

Creating Meal Cards

Most individuals who use the index card menu planning method will use the 30 meals method. The 30 meals method is 30 breakfast meal cards, 30 lunch meal cards, 30 snacks and 30 dinners. This gives you a one month menu plan. Each card will have the name of the meal at the top of the card with the ingredients needed for that meal under the title. On the back of the card will be a recipe for that meal. Make sure that you put everything you need for each meal on the card. Spices, salt, pepper, everything should be listed on the cards.

Storing and Using Meal Cards

The best way to store and use meal planning cards is to use two index card or recipe card boxes. One box should be able to hold all of your index meal cards. Separate the cards with index card seperators labeled for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. When you begin to choose your menu for the week or for two weeks, take the cards you choose out of the main box and move them to your family menu box. It’s that simple. You can line up the menu plans according to the day or just in their own sections and choose for that day.

Using Food Stamps to Purchase your Meal Card Plan

Once you have made your meal cards it is time to plan your shopping trip and use your food stamps. The best method is to sit down with the local grocery flyers, your budget amount from food stamps and other food assistance and your box “30 box” of index meal cards. Look at the items that are on sale and see if you can match meals to those sales. This will reduce your overall bill which means your food stamps will stretch farther.


When you are using this method try to find stores like Winn-Dixie that over fuel discount programs, BOGO offers and special coupon days like triple coupons. Apply your food stamps to these programs to stretch the food stamps even farther, gain discounts on your fuel purchases and use coupons to help increase your food benefits.

Computer Software Menu Planning

Computer software menu planning methods are fairly easy to compile. You plan the meal by placing the title of the meal in the first column of the software and the ingredients you need in the following columns. After each meal is compiled into the software you create a shopping list and print it out. Before you choose this method, however, there are some tips, tricks and information you should know.

Tips and Tricks

When you are creating and printing out your menu plan and shopping plan for the week, two weeks or a month try to use the local grocery sales flyers. If you have at least 30 meal items for each meal time, then picking and choosing meals that fit local sales will be easier. You will also be able to save more food stamps and extend those food stamps as far as they can go. Coupons are another great way to make food stamps go further, especially when you are using menu plans and sales flyers. Many people feel that they cannot use coupons when they are paying with food stamps. This is not true. Coupons, sales and other store offers are all valid when using food stamps. This means that if you can coupons, combine the coupons with sales flyers and use your meal plans you can stretch your food stamps further. Have a backup plan when you print out your meal options, if you are using a sales flyer system. The reason for this is due to some stores running out of stock on sales items. You will want to have a backup plan so your entire budget is not thrown off by a few changes at the store. You may also find that some advertised sales are not as good as some of the unadvertised sales you find in stores. Have a backup plan for this cases so you can make last minute changes to keep your food stamps stretching and working for you not against you.

Disadvantages of this Method

The biggest disadvantage that many people find with the software menu planning method is the portability of the plan itself. You can print it out, but many people cannot afford the ink or may not have a printer. Another disadvantage to this method is how time consuming it can be. For example, if you choose to use the index card method, you may spend a few hours creating the cards and meal plans and after that move around the meals to accomodiate sales and needs. This is somewhat the same for the software, but you would need to print out various meal plans, recipes, etc. It does become time consuming.

Sale Planning

Sale planning is commonly used hand in hand with meal planning and menu planning methods. The idea is usually to take sales flyers and your meal cards to create a shopping list and meal plan for a particular span of time. Unfortunately, some people may have problems combining the two and will choose to use just the index cards or just the sale flyers to create a shopping list for their food stamps. If you are using only sales to plan your shopping trip you will need to make sure that you are considering stock of the item. Some stores run out of sales items quickly. Your best bet would be to hit the sale on the morning of the sale right when the store opens in order to ensure you are getting the items listed before they run out. Sale planning is also tricky depending on the date your food stamps are deposited. Some people receive their food stamps as early as the first of the month while others may be around the middle of the month. You will need to plan accordingly and make sure that you have enough food to work with this type of system.

Budget Planning

Budget planning tends to go hand in hand with meal and menu planning. However, what budget planning focuses on is the amount of food stamps you have to use for the month then for the week and finally for the day. When you figure out how much you have to work with on a weekly basis you can then begin the meal plan to work with that amount. The truth is that budget planning is a method better utilized for individuals who are not on food stamps. Food stamps work best with index card meal planning and other planning methods since the amount is set and the sales can run with the food stamp deposit dates. Budgets should be considered and if you are using food stamps you will be able to work with the same budget each month.


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