How To Get Free Food As A Struggling Single Parent

Being a single parent can be a very tough job as it can be both physically and emotionally draining. Many single parents struggle financially as they try to ensure that they provide the necessities that their children need. Sometimes even providing the necessary food for their children can even be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are some government programs available that provide free food for the low income. This article will explain how a single parent can receive free food from the various programs available.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

It’s possible to get free food (groceries) as a low income person (this applies to both men and women) through SNAP, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP is a government (federally funded and run) program — and by far the most popular assistance program in the United States.

The purpose of the SNAP is to give low income families access to food and nutrition they might not normally be able to afford. Anyone who qualifies for SNAP can receive it.

However, there are qualifications that need to be met and there is an application process (so it takes time to apply and get approved). As such, this is not an emergency assistance program.

The way this works is that if you apply and are approved, you are given a plastic card (also known as the EBT or Electronic Benefits Transfer card), that operates in a similar manner to a regular debit card, but just for use with food at stores that accept it. You simply pick out the groceries from a store that accepts EBT payments, and pay with it (you get a certain amount of ‘food credit’).


The SNAP program is quite flexible in terms of who can qualify. Anyone who works, is on a pension, or is unemployed can received SNAP help. SNAP benefits also stack with other low income assistance programs (such as the WIC or School Lunch Program). As such, it’s best to use SNAP in conjunction with one of the other food assistance programs for maximum assistance.

The legibility of SNAP is calculated based on your family size, your family income (this applies to both parents if they work), and some other expenses.

Here is the full list of eligibility criteria:

  • household expenses
  • household assets
  • household income (applies to both parents)
  • Persons in household

So the more people in your household, the more household expenses, the less assets, and the lower your household income is, the higher your SNAP benefits will be.

How Long Does it Take to Apply and Get Approval for SNAP

This varies, but it can take about a month to get approval after you first apply. There are some circumstances that can expedite this process time though.

If any of these three are true, then you can expedite the food stamp application to get assistance sooner:

  • If your money income is loser than $150 and your bank account balance is lower than $100
  • If you are a migrant worker with an a balance below $100 in the bank
  • If your total income and your bank account balance add up to a sum that’s less than your calculated monthly expenses

How to Apply for SNAP

This is easy: simply go to the local SNAP locator on this website, or directly call the SNAP’s hotline number to talk to someone directly (expect to wait on the phone a long while)

National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Your children can receive free or very low cost lunches at school through the National School Lunch Program. This program is operated and funded by the Federal government, which provides food and cash subsides to schools who then serve the lunches to children. The lunches are meant to be very nutritious including fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Any public or non profit private school, high school and under in the United States are eligible to participate in this program. Furthermore, non profit child care institutions can also participate in this program.

If your income is at or below the 130% of the poverty level, your children will be eligible for free lunches. If your income is 130% to 185% of the poverty level, then your children will be eligible for lunches at a greatly reduced price, at only 40 cents.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

Along with programs like SNAP and WIC, there is another food assistance program that can help people get food who can’t easily afford paying for food in the US.

This is called the Emergency Food Assistance Program. This is also a federal assistance program that gives out foods to families classified as low income (also individuals) in the US.

This program is managed by each specific state, though it’s federal in nature. The scope of the TEFAP is to provide emergency food assistance for short term help.

This means, if you need food right away for a short period of time, the TEFAP is the program that is likely to help the most, unlike other federal food help programs likes SNAP which take about a month to gain approval.

The assistance is provided through various emergency food outlets such as soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and localized food banks in your specific area.

The food commodities given out are nutritious in nature such as fruits, meats, veggies, and dairy.

The amount of funding allocated to each state depends on that states’ poverty levels, unemployment rates, and such. This means the amount of TEFAP help in your local area depends on your state.

How to Apply

Eligability for the TEFAP depends on meeting certain criteria that your state sets.

This mainly comes down to falling below a certain income per year. The state will also look at any other government assistance program you are enrolled in as well, such as SNAP, WIC and the National School Lunch Program. So if you are already enrolled in other food assistance, you may or may not qualify for TEFAP.

However, if you receive TEFAP aid, you can still get assistance from:

  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program)
  • WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children)
  • NSLP (National School Lunch Program)

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Another very useful program that can also supplement free food for a women and her children is called the WIC program. This is quite similar to the SNAP — the WIC is a special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age.

The program provides federal grants to states who then use the finds for items such as supplemental foods, nutrition education and even health care referrals to low income women and/or their children.

The eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • categorical : children up to age 5

infants up to first birthday

For a women to be eligible, she must either be:

  • Pregnant
  • Postpartum: eligible up to 6 months after the birth of the child
  • breastfeeding: Up to the infants first birthday
  • residential: applicants must live in the state that they apply
  • income: must be at or below the income level set by the state in which they reside, usually your income level has to be less than or equal to 185% of the states poverty guideline
  • nutritional risk: must be seen by a physician or nutritionist for an assessment to determine if the individual is at a nutritional risk. The assessment is free. Nutritional risk means any individuals who have a medical or dietary based health condition.

This program lasts, on average, anywhere from 6 months to 1 year in length. At the end of the benefit period, however, you can still re-apply after. To keep the benefits or to quality, a qualified nutritionist (or also a physician) must deem you to be at nutritional risk, however. So for most people, this will be a temporary program.

For more information about WIC or to apply,  go here to find all toll-free numbers for the WIC agencies in each state.