What can I buy with food stamps?

“What can you buy with food stamps?” is a question that many new recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may ask of themselves about this life-saving program.

With an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, SNAP recipients may purchase authorized food items such as certain types of meat and dairy products or fruits and vegetables.

However, the purchase of most non-food items and all alcoholic beverages is prohibited. In most cases, food stamp recipients are also prohibited from using their benefits to purchase hot foods or restaurant meals.

As part of the list of eligible food stamp items under the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), program recipients may purchase live seafood, but they may not purchase live birds or other animals. To learn more about what SNAP beneficiaries can and cannot purchase with their food benefits, review the information below.

What can you buy with EBT cards?

“What does food stamps cover?” SNAP beneficiaries may ask. With an  , qualifying SNAP participants may purchase nutritious food and beverage items that can be used to prepare meals for their household. For instance, households may use an EBT card to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and meat, poultry or fish. While live birds or other living animals are not eligible food items, beneficiaries may use their SNAP benefits to purchase live seafood, shellfish or fish. Additionally, families may use their food benefits to purchase dairy products, cereals, breads, bottled water and food-producing plants and seeds.

Other things you can buy with food stamps include pumpkins, as these gourds qualify as an edible food item. However, inedible gourds or decorative pumpkins are not eligible food items, and you may not use SNAP benefits to purchase them. Moreover, the USDA’s list of eligible food stamp items also includes the following:

  • Gift baskets, as long as any non-food contents do not exceed 50 percent of the basket’s purchase price
  • Cakes for birthdays and other special occasions, as long as the cake’s non-edible decorations do not exceed 50 percent of its purchase price
  • Block or crushed ice

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Note: In some cases, what you can buy with EBT cards varies by product. Generally, you can use SNAP benefits to purchase a gift basket that contains mostly meats and cheeses or other edible food items, but only if the basket’s non-food contents do not account for more than 50 percent of its value. For instance, you cannot use SNAP benefits to purchase a gift basket if most of the basket contains toys or other non-food items.

Does the USDA’s list of eligible food stamp items include prepared meals?

While the USDA’s list of eligible SNAP items does not include hot foods or restaurant meals, there are several exceptions. For instance, restaurants in some parts of the U.S. may accept EBT cards as payment if customers are homeless, elderly or hold a disability. Additionally, customers may use their SNAP benefits to purchase cold, prepared food items such as sandwiches or salads, as long as they intend to eat the food item at home. If the item is hot during the time of purchase, however, customers may not use their food stamps to pay for the item.

Can you buy baby formula with food stamps?

When determining what you can buy with food stamps, it is important to note that SNAP beneficiaries may use their benefits to purchase infant formula and baby food such as cereals and juices. However, households may not use their SNAP benefits to purchase non-food items such as baby wipes or diapers.

Can you buy alcohol with food stamps?

One of the things you cannot buy with food stamps includes alcohol products such as beer, liquor and wine. Additionally, you cannot use food stamps to purchase tobacco products or cigarettes. If a gift basket or seasonal item contains an eligible food item and an alcoholic beverage or cigarettes, you would not be able to use your SNAP funds to purchase the item.

“Can you buy energy drinks with food stamps?” is another question that new SNAP beneficiaries may ask. In most cases, customers may only use their to purchase energy drinks if the product contains a nutrition facts label. If the energy drink has a supplement facts label, however, customers cannot use their food stamps to pay for the item.

Like other foods on the USDA’s list of eligible food stamp items, the same rules apply to products such as protein powders, nutritional shakes and energy bars. If the food item contains a nutrition facts label, customers may use SNAP benefits to purchase the product. If the product contains a supplement facts label, customers may not purchase the item with their food stamps.

What other things can you buy with SNAP?

What you can buy with EBT cards typically varies depending on whether the product contains a nutrition or supplement facts label, as only products with a nutrition facts label qualify as an edible food item under SNAP. Moreover, these same rules also apply to condiments, cooking spices, tea and coffee. As part of these rules, you may use your SNAP benefits to purchase these edible food items, as long as the product contains a nutrition facts label and the tea or coffee is not hot during the time of purchase. For instance, the USDA’s list of eligible SNAP items includes tea, instant coffee, coffee beans, creamer, ground coffee and single-serve pods.

What can you not buy with food stamps?

While there are many things you can buy with food stamps, you cannot purchase the following items with SNAP benefits:

  • Non-food items
  • Hot foods or drinks
  • Coffee filters
  • Foods that are meant to consumed in the store or eaten immediately
  • Pet foods or toys
  • Paper products, cosmetics, soaps, and household supplies
  • Toothpaste, personal care or grooming products
  • Products that contain any amount of alcohol or tobacco

“Can you buy vitamins with food stamps since they promote a healthy lifestyle?” SNAP beneficiaries may wonder. Since vitamins do not qualify as a food item, SNAP recipients cannot use food stamps to purchase medications, vitamins or most other types of nutritional supplements.

In some cases, what you can buy with food stamps varies depending on the state in which you live. For instance, you cannot purchase fishing bait or hunting equipment with your food stamps unless you live in a remote part of Alaska and wish to hunt or fish for your food. Under this rule, you may use your SNAP benefits to purchase fishing rods, lines, nets, hooks, knives or harpoons. However, you may not use your SNAP benefits to purchase firearms, explosives, ammunition or clothing.

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