By Caitlin St John
April 14, 2015
Couple grocery shopping

Earlier this month, the Food Bank for New York City and Mario Batali launched #FoodBankNYCChallenge. Together, they're asking that we put ourselves in the shoes of the 46.3 million Americans who are dependent on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) by attempting to feed ourselves for an entire week on a budget of just $29.

Twenty-nine dollars a week? That's $4.14 per DAY and just $1.38 per MEAL. This morning, I bought a coffee and muffin on my way to work for $3.62, which I thought was pretty cheap—but if I was adhering to a SNAP budget I would be left with just 52 cents to spend for the rest of the day. Meaning no lunch or dinner, but I might be able to pick up a banana from a street vendor.

Since 2013, the government has cut the SNAP budget twice making it significantly harder for individuals to make ends meet. And this isn't just affecting single person households; approximately 70 percent of those who participate in the SNAP program are in families with children. In 2014, the average monthly benefit for a family of four was $464. These families are also struggling to put healthy food, which is typically more expensive, on the table.

If you've heard about this challenge, it's likely because of all the buzz surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow's participation. Late last week, she posted a photo on Twitter that displayed $29 worth of (lots of green!) groceries. Uproar began as people critiqued the calorie content of her purchases, explaining that someone on SNAP would need to consume far more calories in order to survive due to lifestyle differences. It's likely that SNAP participants work manual labor jobs or don't have the luxury of owning a car, and instead rely on walking. Rather than critiquing Gwyneth, let's appreciate the fact that she is drawing added attention to such a serious issue. She does have more outreach and ability to influence change than most of us.

Living on a SNAP budget for one week is only a brief experience—you'll probably daydream about devouring a $15 sushi roll next week, and then actually do so. But millions of low-income families don't get to choose when they will or won't be on a tight budget, so let's keep this conversation going.

So what do you say...Are you going to accept the #FoodBankNYCChallenge? And be sure to join the social media conversation by sharing your photos and experiences on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

Looking for tips on how to complete this challenge? Read this mom's menu plan who feeds her family of four on $200 per month.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Couple grocery shopping via Shutterstock