15 Surprising Items You Can Buy With SNAP/EBT Cards (Food Stamps) - GoodRx (2024)

Key takeaways:

  • Food stamps, which are now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, help families with low incomes access healthy food.

  • SNAP benefits, which are typically delivered through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, can be used to pay for almost any food item.

  • Some surprising items, including seeds and food-producing plants, can also be purchased with SNAP benefits. In Alaska, even hunting and fishing gear is eligible. And anyone enrolled in the program can use their EBT card to buy food online.

Table of contents

How food stamps work

SNAP eligibility

15 surprising items

What’s not SNAP-eligible

Bottom line

References

15 Surprising Items You Can Buy With SNAP/EBT Cards (Food Stamps) - GoodRx (1)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that helps families with low incomes buy healthy food. SNAP is run by local offices in every state, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories: Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands receive block grants instead of SNAP.) Enrollees receive a monthly amount, usually via an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that allows them to pay for food using SNAP benefits.

Most people use SNAP benefits, which were previously called food stamps, to buy staple food items. But you may be surprised to find out that these benefits can be used for other items.

How do food stamps work?

If you’re eligible for SNAP benefits, funds are added to your EBT card every month.

You can use the money to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets, and other retail outlets that accept SNAP benefits.

You can buy most food meant for human consumption, but there are exceptions. For instance, your EBT card can’t be used to buy ready-to-eat hot foods, vitamins, or alcoholic beverages.

Who is eligible for SNAP benefits?

Your household must meet certain income and resource requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits. Some people also may be subject to work requirements. The income limits are consistent across the 48 contiguous states, but higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

It’s important to note that everyone in your household must have or have applied for a Social Security number. You can access SNAP benefits if you’re not a U.S. citizen, but you must be a permanent resident. You can also apply for SNAP benefits for children who are citizens, even if you are not.

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What are some surprising items you can buy with food stamps?

While you can use your EBT card to cover most of your basic grocery needs, you can also use it to buy some other, unexpected items. Here are 15 surprising things you can buy with SNAP benefits, previously known as food stamps.

1. Food online

You can use your EBT card to buy eligible items online from participating retailers in your state. But keep in mind that you can only use your card to pay for the food. You can’t use your benefits to pay for delivery, shipping, or other fees.

It’s also important to know that being enrolled in SNAP may mean you’re eligible for free or low-cost internet service, which could help give you the option to buy food online if you don’t already have it.

2. Plant seeds and seedlings

If you have a green thumb or just love the idea of growing your food, use your SNAP benefits to pick up seeds or seedlings. Seeds and seedlings that produce vegetables, fruit, and herbs are all eligible items.

3. Water and bags of ice

You can use your EBT card to pay for bottled water and bags of ice. You can also buy crushed and blocked ice with it.

4. Meals at restaurants

Some states participate in the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), which allows some enrollees to use their benefits to purchase prepared meals at certain restaurants. To qualify for this program, you must be age 60 or older, have a disability, or be experiencing homelessness.

States that participate in RMP include:

The program has been approved in New York State, but is not yet active.

5. Fishing and hunting gear

Households that receive SNAP benefits and live in extremely remote areas of Alaska, where retail food outlets are limited, can use their EBT card to buy hunting and fishing equipment to catch food. Eligible items include:

  • Bows and arrows

  • Fishing rods

  • Harpoons

  • Knives

6. Coffee and tea

While you can’t buy ready-to-sip hot coffee, lattes, or teas, you can buy brew-it-yourself coffee and tea with SNAP benefits.

7. Cold drinks

Even though you can’t buy a steaming cup of coffee or other hot beverages with your benefits, it’s OK to purchase cold drinks — like iced coffees, smoothies, and fountain drinks — if they're intended for home consumption.

8. Meal replacement shakes

As long as your meal replacement shake has a Nutrition Facts label and not a Supplement Facts label, you can use your EBT card to purchase it.

9. Protein powders, bars, and shakes

Like meal replacement shakes, you can use SNAP benefits to pay for protein powders, bars, or shakes that have Nutrition Facts labels — but not ones with Supplement Facts labels.

10. Energy drinks

You can use your EBT card to buy energy drinks as long as you choose beverages that have— you guessed it — a Nutrition Facts label.

11. Baby formula

In addition to infant formula, you can also use SNAP benefits to buy cereals, juices, and baby food to feed your little one.

If you are enrolled in SNAP, you may be automatically eligible for WIC — short for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — which provides additional nutrition benefits and health services.

12. Live lobsters and other seafood

You could buy live seafood with your SNAP benefits. This includes live shellfish — such as lobster, shrimp, and clams — as well as live fish removed from water.

Because these items are typically costly, most people can’t or choose not to spend their SNAP benefits on live seafood. Paying for premium items leaves less money on your EBT card for other purchases.

13. Bakery cakes and edible food decorations

If you’re throwing a party, you can use your EBT card to pay for edible food decorations as well as a cake from a bakery — as long as nonedible decorations account for no more than half the cake’s cost.

14. Gift baskets

You can use your SNAP benefits to pay for gift baskets, as long as eligible food items make up at least 50% of the cost. For example, a gift basket of fruits, crackers, cheeses, and a small toy would likely be eligible, because everything but the toy is an eligible food item.

15. Military commissary items

Military commissaries are similar to grocery stores, except that you find them within military installations in the U.S. and overseas. While the goods are often sold at a discounted rate, shoppers pay military commissary surcharges, which are extra fees that pay for building, repairing and maintaining these facilities.

This 5% surcharge is waived when you use SNAP benefits to pay for items. You also aren’t charged a user fee if you make purchases with an EBT card.

What can’t you buy with food stamps?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) overseas SNAP benefits. And the agency’s website is clear about what items you can’t buy with these funds:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, and tobacco: This includes low-alcohol beers labeled as non-alcoholic, liquor-filled chocolates, dealcoholized wine, and e-liquid for electronic cigarettes. However, you can use your EBT card to buy cooking wine, wine vinegar, and vanilla extract, because they are used as cooking ingredients.

  • Vitamins, medicines, and supplements: An item with a Supplement Facts label is considered a supplement and is not eligible for purchase with SNAP funds.

  • Live animals: There are exceptions, as noted earlier, for live shellfish and live fish removed from water, as well as animals slaughtered before pick-up from the store.

  • Hot, prepared foods: These items include chili, stew, hot cocoa, or prepared meats.

  • Non-food items: This includes pet food, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, cosmetics, and cooking utensils.

How do you apply for SNAP benefits?

You can apply for SNAP benefits at any SNAP office or Social Security office in your state or territory. And some states allow you to apply online or over the phone.

If you are also applying for or already receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, your Social Security office can help you complete your SNAP application. And they’ll submit it for you.

Once a SNAP office receives your application, you’ll need to do an interview — often over the phone —and submit documents to confirm your identity and income.

You should find out if you’re eligible for SNAP benefits within 30 days (or 7 days if your household qualifies for expedited service).

The bottom line

Many people think their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can only be used for essential staple foods. But you can use these funds, which are usually loaded onto an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, for a lot more.

There are a surprising number of items that can be purchased with your SNAP benefits, including plant seeds and seedlings, energy drinks with Nutrition Facts labels, bakery cakes, and certain live seafood items. You can even buy fishing and hunting gear if you live in remote areas of Alaska.

Your EBT card is also good at military commissaries, provided you are eligible to shop at one. In addition, some states participate in the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), which allows you to pay for prepared food with your EBT card at participating locations. Knowing how broadly you can use your SNAP benefits can help you make the best decisions to take care of yourself and your family.

View All References (28)

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AskUSDA. (2019). Are protein powders, bars, and shakes eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

AskUSDA. (2019). Is baby food and infant formula eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

AskUSDA. (2019). Is crushed or block ice eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

AskUSDA. (2019). What foods are eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

AskUSDA. (2023). Are drinks (hot coffee, tea, fountain drinks, slushies, iced coffee, coffee, smoothies, etc.) eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

AskUSDA. (2023). Are nutritional supplement and replacement bars, shakes, powders, and beverages eligible for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits?

California Department of Social Services. (n.d.). The CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program.

Colorado Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Defense Commissary Agency. (n.d.). Commissary history.

Defense Commissary Agency. (n.d.). Commissary shopping eligibility.

Defense Commissary Agency. (n.d.). Commissary store locations.

Dewey, C. (2022). Federal program allows some Americans to use food stamps for select low-cost restaurants, prepared meals. USA Today.

Governor Kathy Hochul. (2021). Governor Hochul signs legislation helping homeless, disabled and elderly SNAP recipients to purchase prepared meals.

Illinois Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Participating restaurants.

Maryland Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Restaurant Meals Program.

Michigan Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Restaurant Meal Program.

State of Rhode Island Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Online purchasing & Restaurant Meals Program.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (n.d.). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (n.d.). What is Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)?

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2018). Food determinations – Eligible food (excluding meal services).

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2020). Food determinations – Eligible food (excluding meal services).

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2021). Am I eligible for SNAP?

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2021). SNAP retailer reminder – Allowable items.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2021). What can SNAP buy?

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2022). Restaurant Meals Program.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. (2022). Stores accepting SNAP online.

U.S. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) facts.

U.S. Social Security Administration. (2017). Program Operations Manual System (POMS).

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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15 Surprising Items You Can Buy With SNAP/EBT Cards (Food Stamps) - GoodRx (2024)
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