Tag Archives: SNAP Challenge

Stuffed cabbage casserole – SNAP meal

 

This is the last of my posts of meals I made while doing the SNAP Challenge. You can look back to see recipes for Vegan Stuffed Green Bell Peppers, Turkey BLT, Turkey Frittata, and many more meal ideas. All these meals were made with about $28 for one week.

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. One grandmother is Slovak & Hungarian and my other is Slovak & Polish, so this is a classic in my family. Usually made with ground beef, they can also be stuffed. I am usually too lazy to take the large amount of time to boil the cabbage until the leaves are soft, cool them down, carefully roll each little package, then cook. I figure you’re just gonna cut them up into mush anyways. And I have still never figured out just what makes my grandmother’s cabbage rolls so mind-blowingly addicting. Maybe with a few decades more practice…

This recipe substitutes lentils for the ground beef, because let’s face it lentils are about $3 cheaper per pound. Everything else is pretty much the same. I also used turkey bacon rather than regular pork bacon because 1. it was on sale, and 2. it is healthier for your heart. All around, this meal is super cheap and also very healthy.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils, cooked
  • 1 cup rice, cooked
  • 1/2 small head of green cabbage, sliced
  • 1-2 cans tomato sauce (some people use 1 sauce and 1 paste)
  • 5 slices turkey bacon
  • Garlic salt to taste

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I made this in a crock pot on low for 6 hours, you can use a baking pan in the oven for 1 1/2 hours if you prefer.

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Step 1: Layer the sliced cabbage, lentils, rice, bacon and sauce. Sprinkle in as much garlic salt as you like. Top with some extra sauce and/or water and remaining cabbage.

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Step 2: Bake on low in a slow cooker for 4-6 hours, or at 350 in an oven for 90 minutes.

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This makes a HUGE batch, so be prepared to either freeze individual portions for later or feed a lot of people at once. Or just eat it five days in a row…

This entire pot of casserole, cost $1.76. I kid you not. I ended up with about six servings, making each serving $0.29.  Can’t really beat that.

PBB Sandwich – SNAP meal

 

When it comes to sandwiches, almost anything goes. And your options for frugal lunches is quite expansive. You have all the “salads”: tuna, egg, chicken. Probably more. You have lunchmeat, from bottom of the barrel bologna to the fanciest $20/pound roast beef. Then you have the endless options with peanut butter.

Peanut butter is a frugal food star because it is still pretty cheap per ounce, yet packs a big protein and caloric punch per tablespoon.

Peanut butter is great on its own. Or with jelly. Or with some nutella (brand or store brand ‘chocolate hazelnut spread’). Or mixed with some plain Greek yogurt. But this combo is my favorite: peanut butter and banana. If you have honey too, drizzle a little on for a full-blow “Elvis” sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bread (or a tortilla)
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 banana, sliced

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Step 1: Spread on the peanut butter.

Step 2: Slice the banana about 1/2 inch thick. One banana can make two sandwiches, or you can put two layers of slices on.

This breakfast, lunch, or snack is quick to make, portable, and costs only $0.38 per sandwich!

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!

 

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. 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

So 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)

The SNAP Challenge

 

Since September is Hunger Awareness Month, I became 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.

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.

hunger action monthI am going to allow myself one cheat 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.

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.

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 it to a local food bank. Volunteer your time to sort and distribute donations, or drive meals to homebound 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. Just start conversations about hunger, 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?