Skip to Content

Can You Buy Hot Food with EBT?

Can You Buy Hot Food with EBT?

Can you buy hot food with EBT? We get asked this question a lot and unfortunately, the answer is a lot more complicated than you might expect. In this post, we’ll explain who can buy hot food with EBT and how it works.

What is EBT?

EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer, which is the method that the government uses to issue benefit payments through TANF, SNAP and other public assistance programs.

Since relatively few people receive cash assistance through TANF, most people who ask questions about EBT are actually asking about the SNAP program. SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is designed to help low income Americans purchase food for their households. About 42 million Americans rely on this program in order to feed themselves and/or their families.

Can you buy hot food with EBT?

The answer to ‘Can you buy hot food with EBT’ is usually ‘no’ for most users but there are exceptions. People in disaster areas are often temporarily allowed to purchase hot foods. Some states allow certain people to use their food stamps funds to purchase meals at participating restaurants. It just depends on where you live and what the rules in your area are.

Can most people buy hot food with EBT?

No, usually people cannot buy hot food with EBT. In fact, the USDA guidance specifically states that “households cannot use SNAP benefits to buy foods that are hot at the point of sale.”

Most of the time, the rule is that you cannot buy hot food with EBT benefits. However, there are certain exceptions that are allowed for certain people at very specific times and places.

Can you buy hot food with EBT during disasters?

The answer is yes, affected EBT users can often purchase hot food with EBT during designated disasters because D-SNAP has different rules.

D-SNAP, which stands for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is only issued when the government declares a disaster. This often occurs due to a hurricane, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster that may make it difficult for people to eat and prepare their own food at home.

In order to receive D-SNAP, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must live or work in an affected disaster area.
  • You must have been affected by the disaster.
  • You must meet D-SNAP eligibility criteria, including income limits.

If you are eligible for D-SNAP, you’ll receive one month of benefits that is equal to the maximum monthly SNAP allotment for your household size. You can use those funds to purchase groceries at local authorized retailers or even from online retailers like Amazon.

When D-SNAP is issued, the government also issues a number of other waivers that affect EBT users. These changes may include issuing a temporary waiver that allows EBT users to purchase hot food that is prepared and ready to eat. This hot food can typically be bought from any authorized SNAP retailer statewide, but the waiver typically only lasts for a few weeks to a month after the disaster. It is intended to temporarily allow people to buy hot food with EBT while they are unable to cook at home or while they are dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.

If you are affected by a disaster, it’s important to know a few other things about D-SNAP as well. For example, you may be eligible for replacement benefits that can help you replace any food that was destroyed during the disaster. This is a huge help for low income families who rely on these programs.

Can you buy hot food with EBT from restaurants?

Certain people in certain areas may be able to buy hot food with EBT from restaurants if they meet the eligibility criteria for the Restaurant Meals Program and live in an area that participates in that program.

The Restaurant Meals Program is authorized under the federal Food Stamp Act, but each state and sometimes each individual county can decide whether or not they want to participate in this program. In areas that participate, only specific restaurants are authorized to accept those benefits.

For example, in the state of California, not every county participates in the Restaurant Meals Program but many do. Homeless, elderly and disabled people in the participating counties may be able to use their SNAP EBT benefits to purchase hot meals from McDonald’s, Subway, Dominos and even Denny’s in some circumstances.

We have a list of participating areas and restaurants here for your convenience.

Can you buy hot food that has been chilled with EBT?

Many retailers, including Walmart, have found a workaround for users with EBT. They’ll put certain foods that are usually served hot, such as rotisserie chickens and prepared deli foods, in the refrigerated section. The food just needs to be reheated before you can eat it.

Although it isn’t quite as convenient as picking up a hot, ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken on your way home, it is still much more convenient than making a whole meal from scratch.

Sometimes, convenience stores will allow you to buy cold items and then reheat them in a microwave. Many users have commented on this on Twitter, claiming that this rule is ridiculous and burdensome for low income customers.

tweet from @grownupfool answering can you buy hot food with EBT

We’ve also found some local take-and-bake pizzerias that will allow EBT users to purchase cold pizzas to go and then cook those pizzas on-site for an additional fee. You can find more information about those pizzerias in our list of EBT hacks.

Why does SNAP make it so hard to buy hot food?

The rule that bans most EBT users from buying hot, prepared foods was designed to encourage people to spend their benefits wisely. After all, hot ready-to-eat food is generally more expensive than items that have to be prepared at home.

According to University of Richmond associate professor of political science Tracy Roof, “The idea [is] that you shouldn’t be getting advantages that, say, a struggling lower-middle-class family is unable to get; if they can’t afford prepared food, then somebody on food stamps shouldn’t be able to afford prepared food.”

Many people believe these rules make no sense. After all, you can purchase basically the same food from the refrigerated section as long as you reheat it at home. Some members of Congress have indicated that they think this rule should be changed but, so far, there has been no definitive changes made to the way these rules work.

What can you do if you want to buy hot food?

The easiest way around this rule is to check your local grocery store’s refrigerated section, usually placed near the deli area. Oftentimes, there will be an area where some of the hot food has been placed in sealed containers to get cold.

Once the food is cold, it becomes eligible for purchase with EBT because it is no longer hot and ready for immediate consumption.

Stores may or may not label these products as EBT eligible. I’ve seen many stores place “EBT” stickers on these products as a way to let people know they can be purchased, but not all retailers label them as such.

It is certainly not as convenient as buying the food while it was still hot, but it does provide an easy work-around that allows you to quickly reheat the same food that was available hot in the store.

Wait – there’s a few other EBT hacks you need to know!

If you’ve got EBT, you really should check out our list of over 1,000 EBT discounts and freebies. We update that list continuously and we’re always finding new EBT hacks that you’ll want to know about.


We get a lot of questions about how to buy hot food with EBT, so we’ve added the most common questions and answers in this section. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please let us know in the comments below!

Can you buy hot food at Walmart with EBT?

Unfortunately, no. Walmart does not sell hot food that you can purchase with EBT in any state but they do often set hot food aside in a refrigerated section for EBT users.

Can you buy hot food at 711 with EBT?

7-Eleven is a convenience store that accepts EBT but they cannot sell hot food to EBT users. Often, they will allow you to purchase cold items and heat them up in-store.

Can you buy hot food at Publix with EBT?

Unfortunately, no. Publix does not allow you to purchase hot foods with EBT. However, they may set aside hot food in the refrigerated section so that it can be purchased by EBT users.

Can you buy hot food with P-EBT?

Unfortunately, no. P-EBT follows the same standards as EBT, so you cannot use P-EBT to purchase hot foods either. The only exception to this rule is D-SNAP, which is issued during disasters.

Can you buy hot food with EBT in California?

You can buy hot food with EBT in California if you are eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program and live in a participating county. When a disaster declaration is in effect, the state may also temporarily waive the rules so that you can buy hot food with EBT or D-SNAP benefits. However, these are the exceptions and usually you cannot purchase hot food with these benefits in California.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.