If you receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, better known as food stamps, you can buy most types of food at your local grocery store. Still, there are some restrictions on what you can buy, including alcohol, pet food and vitamin supplements. You also cannot buy hot, cooked food that you can eat on the premises.
One thing you probably already know is that you cannot buy alcoholic beverages, including wine, beer or spirits, with food stamps. One exception to this rule is that you can buy cooking wine for use as a cooking ingredient. You can also buy nonalcoholic mixers, such as club soda or soft drinks with your food stamps.
Live Animals and Pet Food
Food stamps cannot be used for pet food, even if the food is for seeing-eye dogs or other service animals. Nor can you use food stamps to buy live animals, including chickens that could lay eggs, or animals that you plan to butcher for food.
The food stamp program does not cover over-the-counter medicines and nutritional supplements. This includes items that you might suck, drink or chew, such as cough drops, and any item that has a “supplement facts” label printed on its packaging.
If your supermarket has a deli or hot-food counter, you can't use your food stamps to buy any hot foods or prepared foods that you eat in the store. You also can't use your SNAP benefits to buy food that you will cook at the store, such as a frozen burrito that you cook in a convenience store's microwave. Certain approved charitable-meals programs for seniors, the homeless and the disabled are exceptions to this rule.
Food Preparation and Storage
You can't buy cooking equipment, canning supplies, plastic containers or food preservation items, such as dry ice, with your food stamps.
Ornamental Vegetables and Gift Foods
SNAP classifies pumpkins as a food, and you can use your food stamps to buy them. Inedible gourds used for decoration, on the other hand, don't qualify as a food, and you can't buy them with food stamps. If you buy a gift basket, the nonfood items cannot compose more than 50 percent of the basket's value. The same is also true of birthday or special occasion cakes decorated with figurines: You can buy one of these cakes with food stamps as long as its inedible decorations aren't worth more than the edible parts of the cake.
While you can use your food stamps to buy seeds, saplings and food-bearing plants, you cannot use them to buy gardening or plant-growing supplies. For example, you can't buy fertilizer, plant food, bug spray or garden tools with your SNAP benefits.
- United States Department of Agriculture: Eligible Food Items
- CBS News: 7 Things You May Not Know About Food Stamps
- WBTW News 13: 7 Things You May Not Know About Food Stamps
- Food and Nutrition Service. "SNAP Data Tables, Latest Available Month July 2019 State Level Participation & Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2019," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- USDA." What Can SNAP Buy?" Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.