All posts by BudgetEpicurean

Long-time student turned young adult with varied interests, mostly food and frugality. Pursuing wealth so I can help others pursue health.

Chicken, broccoli and potato dinner – SNAP meal

 

This is a super simple meal you can get together in about 10 minutes for under $1. You’ve got protein from your chicken, starch and carbs in the potato, and a healthy serving of veggies from the broccoli.

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken drumstick
  • 1 medium baking potato
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen broccoli
  • Garlic salt

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Step 1: In a frying pan, cook the chicken for 10-15 minutes, until no pink at all when poked.

Step 2: Wash the potato and poke some holes in it with a fork. Microwave the potato 8-12 minutes, until soft.

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Step 3: Microwave the broccoli 5-7 minutes, until soft. Serve it all with a dash of salt and enjoy. You can add whatever else you have to top the potato: butter, sour cream, cheese, beans, salsa…

 

 

**UPDATE: The SNAP Challenge is complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Turkey bacon frittata – SNAP Meal

 

Frittatas are one of my absolute favorite meals for breakfast. You know I love any meal which is cheap, versatile, and lets me use up bits and scraps of food left in the fridge. This is exactly one of those meals. Frittatas take well to every vegetable, meat, or grain you have sitting around waiting to be eaten. Just mix in it, let the eggs bind everything together, and you have an amazing meal that didn’t end up in the trash!

Since I already had turkey bacon, I looked around to see what else would go well in my frittata. 2 pounds of rice and a pound of lentils makes an awful lot, so I added some to add heft. I have a tiny window garden, so some fresh green onions and spinach were added too.

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Helpful tip: You can grow your own green onions from the store. My grocery store regularly has them on sale, three bundles for $1. Just cut the bottom most inch or two off, leaving roots intact, and plant them! Then you will have your own free green onion garden forever after. You can see I have plants in various times of growth.

Now for the fun part.

Ingredients:

  • 4 strips turkey bacon
  • 5 eggs
  • handful green onions
  • handful spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup cooked lentils
  • 2 tbsp margerine

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Step 1: Cook the turkey bacon about 2-4 minutes on both sides, until crispy. Take off heat and let cool on a plate until you can slice it into bite-sized pieces.

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Step 2: Add the rice, lentils, and vegetables. You could add in here any vegetables you have, onion, potato, celery, the possibilities are endless. Cook in the bacon grease, adding margarine if things still stick.

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I used a cast iron skillet here, because this recipe calls for finishing in an oven. If you don’t have cast iron, or don’t have an oven, this recipe is just as perfect for an omelet. When it says “bake in a 350 degree oven”, simply scramble everything together, let cook, then flip to cook the other side. Viola!

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Step 3: Scramble up the eggs in a small bowl. Simply crack them all in, being careful to not add shells. Then with a fork, whisk them quickly. The longer you whisk the more air bubbles you create, and the lighter and fluffier the eggs will be.

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Step 4: Add the eggs to the pan. Make sure all the ingredients are distributed around the pan. Let cook on medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the eggs begin to set. You will see the edges becoming more opaque and if you run a spatula through it the bottoms will be cooking through.

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Step 5: Put the whole pan carefully into a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Just long enough to thoroughly cook the egg on top. Take it back out and let cool

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This frittata was absolutely delicious! I sprinkled on a little bit of garlic salt, and enjoyed one quarter of it each morning for four days in a row. This can be refrigerated and reheated later. They are quite healthy (unless of course you add four kinds of meat and tons of butter and nothing else) and very frugal. Try it, I bet you’ll love these and make them regularly.

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The cost of the entire frittata was $1.20! Cut into quarters, that is a cost of $0.30 per serving. You can’t do much better than that for this quality meal!

 

 

**UPDATE: The SNAP Challenge is complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Turkey BLT – SNAP Meal

 

The BLT is a classic sandwich, and when turkey bacon goes on sale for $1.99 per pound, you cannot pass it up. With a garden supplying fresh greens and tomatoes, this sandwich is otherwise quite cheap. Even if you don’t have a garden, spinach is often on sale for $1 per pound, and one roma tomato is less than 50 cents.

You can of course use more or less bacon to taste, or omit it entirely if you are vegetarian/vegan. Alternatively, you can use strips of tofu which sometimes go on sale for $1 per pound. Just drain, slice it up, and fry in a pan.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 4 slices of turkey bacon
  • 1/2 roma tomato, sliced
  • 1 small handful baby lettuce/spinach

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Step 1: Cut the bacon strips in half and fry in a pan. This should take 5-7 minutes per side.

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Step 2: On the bread, layer the bacon, tomato slices, and lettuces. Enjoy!

I had my sandwich with a small handful of grapes growing wild behind my house. It actually made enough for two sandwiches, or one thick one.

Without considering the tomato and spinach, the cost is $0.33. If you make it into two sandwiches, the cost is $0.21 each. Even if you add in a few cents for the veggies, it is crazy cheap for a delicious and healthy lunch.

 

 

**UPDATE: The SNAP Challenge is complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Simple Chicken Soup – SNAP meal

 

This is a super simple soup made from the vegetables I could afford, and a few chicken drumsticks which were on sale. It doesn’t take much to make a delicious, warming pot of soup. It’s healthy, cheap, and keeps you from getting sick (or sicker). It’s science.

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1/3 cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 2 chicken drumsticks
  • About 10 cups water
  • Garlic salt to taste

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You can see here my meals for the day, planned out and packed to go. Oatmeal with a cut up apple for breakfast, a leftover stuffed pepper for lunch, and soup in the crock pot for dinner.

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Chicken often goes on sale, sometimes for as little as 88 cents per pound. When you find a really great deal, snag some extra to freeze for future use.

Step 1: Cut up all your veggies.

Step 2: Put them in a pot with the water, rice, lentils, and chicken, leave in crock pot on low for 4-8 hours. Or, you can simmer in a pot on the stove for 1-3 hours.

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This whole pot of soup is only $1.25! Plus a negligible amount from the water used and garlic salt. I ended up having about five servings, meaning each huge steaming bowl was only $0.25!

Soup is a great catch-all, you can add in any leftover vegetable odds and ends from the refrigerator. Same goes for odds and ends of meat. Meat with bones will give the broth extra flavor. This is a great use for a whole chicken, enjoy the meat other ways, then use the bones for soup stock. It’s just one more way to squeeze every last penny out of your food dollars.

 

**UPDATE: The SNAP Challenge is complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Stuffed Bell Peppers – SNAP meal

 

This is the first dinner I cooked during my week of the SNAP Challenge. I love stuffed bell peppers, and I usually make them with ground beef. Though I have had some success with vegetarian stuffed peppers in the past.

Given the already high and rising cost of meat, I knew I’d have to take a vegetarian route to keep these in budget. Swapping in lentils for the beef keeps this recipe high in protein content, and lowers the fat, while keeping the core tastes and hunger-crushing properties of the meal intact.

Ingredients:

  • 2 green bell peppers (use any color)
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • Garlic salt

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Step 1: If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the lentils and rice together in it. If not, simmer the rice and lentils in a sauce pot with 2 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes.

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Step 2: Mix the cooked rice and lentils with the can of tomato sauce.

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Step 3: Cut the top off the pepper and pull out the seeds. Stuff the mixture inside, adding as much garlic salt as you like.

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Step 4: Bake the peppers in an oven at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until soft. Alternatively you could microwave each pepper, covered, for 8-10 minutes to soften. Another option is to put the stuffed peppers in a crock pot on low for 1-2 hours.

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Serve as a meal, or with a baked potato or salad on the side.

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I ended up eating one pepper for dinner, and the other for lunch the next day. They are quite filling, and delicious! Pretty healthy for you as well. Vegan, vegetarian, and you can make it gluten-free if you substitute in quinoa or another gluten-free grain for the rice.

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For approximately $0.84 per serving, you can’t do much better!

 

 

**UPDATE: All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

SNAP Challenge Week Lessons

 

So today (Tuesday) marks one week of the SNAP Challenge for me. (If you don’t know what the SNAP Challenge is or why I’m talking about it, take a peek at my earlier post).

The week went very closely according to plan. I ended up having so much leftover from the soup I made that I did not use the can of tuna. I had coffee 6 out of 7 days, but only one cup. And I only needed an extra boost from green tea on three days.

FOOD BREAKDOWN

Here is a breakdown of all the food purchased and consumed throughout the week:

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If I calculated out the exact costs for the week, it would be quite a bit less than my target, as I still had 2 eggs, 1/2 bag broccoli, all but 4 tbsp margerine, plenty of garlic salt, 6 slices turkey bacon, half a jar of peanut butter, a few slices of bread, some rice, potatoes and lentils, and 6 bags of oatmeal left! Even with the full price added in, I had $2.44 left to spend at the end of the week.

There were only a few cooking-intensive meals, then several meals consisting of leftovers. Peanut butter sandwiches were always a go-to in case I didn’t want leftovers for lunch and dinner, or just needed a hearty snack throughout the day.

SNAP MEAL PLAN

Here is a break-down of all the meals I ate this week:

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This ‘diet’ may actually have been for the better, as I was eating less meat and calories in general, and slowly cutting down on caffeine. I actually felt quite healthy throughout the majority of the week, though energy spikes and troughs as well as a growling tummy was more frequent.

LESSONS LEARNED

Overall, this week was not as difficult as I imagined it being, but I recognized some significant advantages:

1. I have a fully functional kitchen. This includes a microwave, stove-top, oven, refrigerator, and freezer. I have ample containers in which to store excess cooked food to be eaten again later. This all helps in stretching the food you do have.

2. I do not mind the process of cooking, eating leftovers, or the same meal multiple times. In fact I enjoy those things. There are tons of people who do not like one or all three. Being able to cook, even simple methods, is limitlessly helpful in stretching your food dollars versus convenience foods. And being willing to cook large batches and re-eat that meal later is also a huge money saver.

3. I have access to fresh, affordable produce and very reasonably priced staple food items. Many, too many, people do not have access to fresh produce, the ability to stop at four different stores to price-compare, or to pick up 2 cucumbers for $1 just because they’re on sale, they look fresh, and you want a snack.

4. I have been in the practice of planning, shopping, and cooking for myself on a very tight budget for a very long time. Many people who end up on SNAP due to unfortunate circumstances have no practice with coupons, budgeting, or meal planning. They may not know how to stretch a dollar because they never had to before. This just adds to the overall burden.

Over the next few posts I will be posting the recipes of meals I cooked during the challenge, so stay tuned!

 

Final Thoughts

I decided I am going to buy a duplicate of all the foods I had this week, and donate them to a local food pantry so others in my community can be fed. I am also hosting a food drive at my work place until the end of the month.

I hope you took something away from this, and if you’re not inspired to take on the challenge yourself, at least you’re more aware of the daily struggles millions of your fellow Americans face, and know more about how you can help.

 

 

 

**UPDATE: All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Better than take-out Beef & Broccoli

 

Ever want the addictive taste of Chinese take-out, but not want the MSG, additives, preservatives, sugar, salt, and calories??

The answer of course is, duh! Yes!

Good news! Making your own Beef & Broccoli at home is super simple, cheap, and nearly as fast as dialing and waiting for delivery. Try this easy weeknight favorite for yourself, and save the tip for a treat for yourself.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef cubes (can use chicken or tofu too)
  • 1 bag frozen broccoli cuts (or 1 head fresh broccoli chopped)
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • Dash garlic
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, or 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp sriracha, or to taste

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Step 1: Mix all but first three ingredients in a small bowl. If you have time, marinate the meat for 1-6 hours in refrigerator.

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Step 2: Cook the beef in a frying pan 5-10 minutes until browned but not completely chewy. Meanwhile, use a sauce pot to boil rice, or a rice cooker.

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Step 3: Add the sauce to the meat. Microwave the broccoli 3 minutes, or cook in the frying pan, covered, for 5-7 minutes.

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Step 4: Mix beef and broccoli, serve over rice with extra sauce.

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You can add cornstarch or a little flour if you like a thicker sauce, or add more water/fish sauce/vinegar for a thinner sauce. I added a little extra sriracha with servings because I like a little kick! Enjoy never having to stop for take-out again.

 

SNAP Challenge – Tracking Week

 

If you don’t know what SNAP is, or why I’m talking about the SNAP Challenge, check out my earlier post about SNAP.

Wednesday ended my week of tracking for meal costs. I calculated every thing I ate each day, and used receipts and records to add up how much each day’s food and drink cost. You can see on the graph below that I averaged just over $5 per day.

SNAP track week

This does not include costs of food given to me by other sources, such as shared snacks at my work place, cupcakes a new neighbor baked for me (so sweet), or food and drinks at a party. I also cook and eat the majority of my meals at home.

Days 2 & 3 included half a Chipotle burrito and that is why the cost is significantly higher. Eating out is (almost always) more expensive than a home-cooked meal.

For the upcoming week, my challenge is to live off only $28.70 worth of food and drinks.

My strategy is always to make cost effective foods the center piece of the meal plan, supplemented by as much fresh and frozen produce as possible. I know I have a significant privilege and advantage over the average SNAP recipients in that I have access to no fewer than five different grocery stores, each offering rotating sales.

Sprouts Farmers Market is always my first stop for extremely reasonably priced fresh produce. I got a 5 pound bag of potatoes, and a few small amounts of fruits & veggies. With a rough idea of a meal plan, I headed to King Sooper with the change and rounded out the week. What you see below is what I will be eating.

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And to prove that I am still within budget, in fact with $4.31 to spare, here is the spread sheet where I figured out exactly how much each item cost and how much I had left to spend:

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I also calculated the cost of a cup of coffee (16oz is a cup for me…) with cream as $0.17, including the filter, so depending on how often I need coffee I will add that in at the end.

Wish me luck! (To participate in the challenge yourself, check out Feeding America).

 

**UPDATE: Challenge complete, with many lessons learned! All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Vegan vegetable stew

 

This is a recipe born of necessity while house-sitting for a friend. I was feeding and playing with the puppy, and got hungry. She had said I can use anything in the house, so I took stock of the pantry and fridge and came up with this.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup orange lentils
  • 1/2 purple cabbage, shredded
  •  2 leaves kale, shredded
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 cup rice

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Step 1:Dice all the veggies. Put into a pot with 2 cups of water and the coconut milk. Stir in mustard.

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Step 2: Simmer, covered, for 60-90 minutes. Meanwhile, cook rice in a separate pot.

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Step 3: When lentils are fully cooked, season as you like. Serve over rice.

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This curry is crazy healthy for you and you wouldn’t know by how delicious it is! There are infinite additions you could make too, such as using broth with the coconut milk, adding in shredded chicken or sausage, or varying the type of vegetable or bean. You could also make this in a small crock pot on low for 2-3 hours. Enjoy!

The SNAP Challenge

 

September is Hunger Awareness Month, I’ve recently become aware of a social movement being dubbed “The SNAP Challenge“.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and is how millions of low-income Americans obtain the necessary food to survive. The benefits, lowered in November of 2013, now equate to on average $28.70 per individual per week, or $4.10 per day, roughly $1.36 per meal.

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The premise of the challenge is that you will only spend the equivalent amount of SNAP benefits on all food and drink for one straight week. No eating out, no bulk buys, no food sharing or freebies. This gives the challenge-e a peek into the lives of those who live on this budget not by choice but out of necessity.

THE CHALLENGE

I decided to take on this challenge in two parts. As touted on this blog, I already cook and eat in a frugal manner. Years of school-life budget have forced me to find shortcuts and substitutions to keep my bank account out of the red while still enjoying my meals.

So, the first part of this challenge will be to track every food expense for one week. Then I can see just how much more than SNAP I spend daily in my usual routine.

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The second, likely more difficult part of the challenge, would be to take $28.70 to the store to get all the food and drinks I would have the following week. Then I will track every item and post every recipe.

I am going to allow myself one “cheat” rule here.

I am always looking for deals, and keep a detailed record of each food purchase. Therefore I will allow myself to use some previously purchased, but unopened, food items which I have a receipt record of for this challenge (such as oatmeal).

This is because people on such a budget likely do not spend it all in one day (though the majority of those households on SNAP have run out of benefits by the third week of the month) and have some non-perishable items they use throughout the month or beyond.

THE PLAN

As of now, I am planning my week’s meals around staples which I know from experience give the most “bang-for-the-buck”, nutrition for the price. I intend to build in a $5 “cushion” if I can manage it, for food emergencies. I am also going to try to get as much fresh fruits and/or vegetables into my budget for the week, and build in snacks. Because I am human, you know.

This week of tracking will end Tuesday, and my week of SNAP meals will begin on Wednesday. I will post an update on the tracking on Thursday, and check in on the lessons I learned soon after the week is over.

CALL TO ACTION FOR READERS

If you are intrigued and want to learn more, or if you are interested in taking the challenge yourself, check out Feeding America, the USDA website, or FoodShare.

It is estimated that one in six Americans go hungry every day. Your colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors may be quietly struggling. You can do small things to make a big difference.

Host a food donation drive in your church, work, school, or community and donate the food to a local food bank. Volunteer your time to sort and distribute donations, or drive meals to home-bound people in your neighborhood.

Donate money, because in the right hands a dollar still has a lot of buying power to feed a kid who otherwise couldn’t have more than one meal today. And just start conversations about hunger and food insecurity, learn about it and share.

orangeHere are some suggested questions to ask yourself during your SNAP Challenge week from Feeding America:

DAY

PROMPT

1

How did your shopping cart look compared to a normal week? What choices did you have to make about the types of food you could afford, where you shopped, or the nutritional quality and variety of food?

2

What have you cut out of your routine to stay on budget (e.g. COFFEE)?

3

How would this experience be different if your spouse and children were also eating off a limited food budget for the week?

4

How has eating on a limited budget impacted your mood? Your concentration? How has that impacted your interaction with family and coworkers?

5

Are you worried about your groceries running out before the end of the Challenge? Do you feel you are you eating a healthy, balanced diet? What nutrition decisions did you have to make?

6

We know that low-income Americans have to make choices between groceries, prescriptions, gas for the car, utilities, and other household necessities. After living on a limited food budget this week, how has your perspective changed about the decisions families facing hunger must make?

7

In November 2013, the government will cut SNAP benefits for all recipients. These cuts will be $36 for a family of four – dropping the average benefit per person per meal to under $1.40.  How would this week have been different for you if you had even less money to spend on food?