A student's reflections on the SNAP Challenge

Can you live on $4.50 a day?

Natalie Uy's huevos rancheros recipe.
Huevos rancheros. Photo courtesy of Natalie Uy.

That’s the premise of the SNAP Challenge. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as the food stamp program) provides money for 47 million Americans, roughly at $4.50 a day. From Congressmen to Newark mayor Cory Booker to food Panera CEOs to ordinary folks, plenty of people are taking up the challenge, especially in the wake of possible budget cuts to the program.

For the CHEF elective at Baylor, I did this challenge for four weeks to experience what many of our patients deal with. Sure, we can tell them all about the health benefits of quinoa, salmon, and pomegranates, but if they can’t afford them; well, that’s of little use to them.

And, unfortunately, I hear it all too often from my patients when I try to educate them about eating a healthy diet: “Sorry, but I can’t afford healthy foods.”

 The rules

  • My budget was an average of $4.50 a day. The budget accounts for all food, including dining out.
  • I could not rely on free meals from home, friends or Baylor meetings that offered food (no free pizza allowed!).

One important note is that SNAP is designed to supplement, rather than be the sole source, of income for the recipients’ food. Just like your college financial aid, the program calculates for an expected family contribution.  So it’s not entirely accurate to say all recipients live solely on $4.50 a day  (although 25 percent do).

The experience

This is a great way to make one more conscious of a need as basic as food, which many of us may not think twice about (one lunch at a restaurant could possibly cost more than your entire day’s budget). Though I only endured this budget for four weeks, for some of our patients, it could be a way of life.

Recipe on the budget

Here is an example of one recipe I made during the SNAP challenge.

Huevos Rancheros


Pico de Gallo

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped (half cup)
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (or fresh)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 jalapenos
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • chili powder, paprika, ground cumin, to taste salt and pepper, to taste


  • Olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pinto beans, cooked or from can
  • 3 corn tortillas
  • shredded cheese (Colby jack, cheddar, or mozzarella) fresh cilantro, to garnish


  • Combine all the ingredients for the pico de gallo. Adjust spices to taste.
  • Prepare the tortillas by heating them in a large non-stick skillet with olive oil on medium high.  Heat minute or two on each side until softened with pockets of air bubbles (alternatively, microwave them).
  • For the fried eggs, heat olive oil on the pan on high heat. Crack eggs into the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, depending on how cooked you want them.
  • To serve, top tortilla with beans, fried egg. Top with pico de gallo and garnish with cilantro.

Natalie Uy is a first-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine

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