Surprising Things You Can Buy With EBT

2 years ago
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If you go through the aisle of major grocery stores, you’ll discover so many surprising things you can buy with EBT. The EBT card is a great way to get food for your family without paying the full price. That said, here’s what you can actually purchase with your EBT card:

Some unexpected items that you can get with EBT include snacks and cakes, live lobsters, gift baskets, restaurant meals, fishing and hunting gear, and energy drinks. You can also get packed coffee and tea, plants, and seeds. Note that these things do not necessarily fall under SNAP-approved items. However, there’s a wiggle room in the rules that allows you to buy them.

Let’s go over some of these items in more detail.

What is EBT?

The Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system was created by Congress as part of the 1988 Hunger Prevention Act and the 1990 Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act. It was designed to help low-income families who need assistance feeding their children. This includes people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.

SNAP provides cash benefits to eligible individuals or households based on income. Eligible individuals must be at least 18 years old and have an annual gross household income below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Households may consist of one person or two or more persons living together.

How to Check EBT Balance

EBT cards work like debit cards. They’re used to make purchases from participating retailers. When using an EBT card, the retailer will swipe it against a reader. The amount of money deducted from your account will depend on the item purchased.

You can see how much money has been taken out of your account before paying using the ConnectEBT app or website. Simply visit the website or download the app from the iOS Store or Google Play.

Surprising Things You Can Buy With EBT

So, if you’ve got an EBT card, what exactly can you buy? Here are some surprising items you can buy with your EBT card.

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Energy Drinks with “Nutritional Facts” Label

One surprising item you can purchase using your EBT card is energy drinks. These beverages contain caffeine, which gives you a boost of energy. Suppose you’re out shopping with your EBT card. In that case, you can grab several varieties of energy drinks if they meet specific criteria.

Manufactures classify energy drinks as either food products or supplements. Some drinks carry nutritional facts labels, while others carry supplemental facts. Since EBT laws only allow you to purchase food items with your card, energy drinks with “nutritional facts” labels make the cut.

Energy drinks that qualify for EBT purchases include Starbuck Double Shot, Rockstar, and Redbull. However, drinks like 5-Hour Energy, Bang Shot, and Tweaker have to remain on the shelf.

All Kinds of Snacks

It’s undoubtedly common information that SNAP participants can use their EBT cards to buy household basics like meat, milk, eggs, veggies, and bread. On the other hand, the USDA-approved snack list is not as well renowned. It contains a vast selection of desserts, from pudding and popsicles to marshmallows and marzipan.

The list also contains cakes, pies, doughnuts, muffins, pastries, and other flaky and cake-like baked items. In addition to ice cream and candies, the USDA also gives thumbs up to various other sweets and delights like chocolate, custard, scones, and churros. 

Live Lobster

The USDA’s list of things you can’t buy includes live animals, medicine, vitamins, etc. However, there are exceptions. Live lobsters are among them.

This rule pertains to “fishes that have been drawn from the water” and “animals slaughtered before being purchased.” So, while your EBT doesn’t cover purchasing a pet, you can still get yourself a fresh lobster meal.

Gift Baskets Containing Mostly Edible Items

According to the USDA, you can buy gift baskets and similar items with your EBT card as long as it contains over 50% of edible items. This means that you can buy fruit baskets, cookie baskets, and even cheese platters.

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However, if the number of non-food items like toys, tins, or stockings makes up at least half of the basket, you’ll need to find another way to pay.

Seeds and Plants

SNAP beneficiaries can purchase food-producing plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash to grow in their own garden. They can also buy edible plants like lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, beans, peas, and broccoli.

The USDA says that an EBT cardholder can save up to $25 for every $1 they spend growing their own produce. Plus, they will be able to eat the fruits of their labor without spending extra money on groceries.

Meals at Certain Restaurants – in Some States

You can’t use SNAP to pay for restaurant meals unless you’re eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) and live in a participating state. RMP helps vulnerable groups, such as the aged, homeless, and disabled.

Individuals who meet certain conditions can dine at affiliated restaurants for “concession rates.”

The RMP is offered in a small number of states and is not as stringent as Alaska’s subsistence hunting program. However, it’s available in Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Michigan, California, and some Rhode Island counties.

Fishing and Hunting Gear for Those In the Most Remote Areas

This is a special section of the USDA’s approved foods list for those living in the most rural areas. According to the agency, this category was created because many people living in remote communities in Alaska don’t have access to grocery stores. So they rely almost exclusively on fishing and hunting as their primary food source for their families. 

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services grants them a special license to get simple fishing and hunting equipment, including harpoons, lines, nets, rods, and knives. It, however, doesn’t cover the purchase of guns and ammo.

Tea and Coffee

USDA doesn’t allow you to buy hot beverages with your EBT card. But they do permit you to buy tea and coffee. Suppose you want to take advantage of the convenience of buying ready-to-drink tea and coffee when you’re out shopping. In that case, you should consider paying cash instead.

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The rules, however, do allow you to purchase packed coffee and tea – including creamer – to brew at home. 

What Can You Not Buy With EBT?

SNAP benefits aim to help low-income individuals and families afford nutritious food. While there are certain things you can buy with your EBT card, there are others you cannot.

According to the USDA, you cannot buy beer, cigarettes, tobacco, wine, or liquor. It also restricts holders from purchasing medicines, vitamins, and supplements–and extends to food items and drinks with Supplemental Facts labels. 

Other items your EBT card doesn’t cover include live animals, cleaning products, pet foods, hygiene items, and hot foods at the point of sale. 

Where can I use EBT online?

Depending on their state of residence, EBT cardholders can purchase food and groceries online at Amazon, Walmart, Instacard, and participating stores, ShopRite, Vons, Albertsons, and Safeway, to name a few. 

The USDA keeps a list of participating online vendors based on their state. Some stores allow you to complete home delivery orders using the card. Others require you to visit a store location to pick up your order.


The EBT system ensures that low-income residents receive the nutrition they need to stay healthy. It provides an important safety net for those who are struggling financially. And it’s one of the best ways to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, healthy food. But while the USDA provides clear guidelines on what is permitted, there are still some unexpected items you can purchase with EBT.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all our Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) articles here. Here are some of our most popular articles about EBT:

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