First and foremost, I think this is kind of a “soft opening” for my SNAP Challenge. I haven’t had the time to prep for it due to the surprise GenCon trip with Studio 6d6. Also, I forgot our camping trip this weekend with Saturday spent at the Bristol Ren Faire. While I could probably keep it in the $4 budget at the campsite, at the Ren Faire that would be impossible. I’d dehydrate and collapse long after my $4 was gone. Without eating.
I have found a couple of tricks though. Ones worth sharing. Also some pitfalls, which are also worth sharing…
Your New Best Friend
Eggs. Seriously, if you want protein and cannot spare the budget for meat these are your go to. I sprayed down a cupcake pan with baking spray and put an egg in each spot to bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or so. (I went by sight on them and was pretty close to spot on.) Each one cost about 26 to 28 cents. Baked are a bit healthier than fried and can be stored for easy transport. I brought one with my lunch today.
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
One of my go-to dishes is a kale and/or asparagus risotto. It takes a while to make, but it is good, filling, and a slightly impressive dish to serve. The problem was the cost of not only the rice, but the herbs (fresh basil and parsley), the kale, and the broth. So my goal was to device a cheaper version of this dish. And what I came up with is about $1 for a lunch serving and $1.50 for a dinner serving.
- 1.5 cups of arborio rice
- 32 oz box of chicken broth
- about 6 oz fresh spinach (2/3rds of a bag)
- olive oil
- Italian spices (basil, oregano, dried onion, etc)
I use a mixed blend of spices from an Italian grocery in Racine. A large container usually lasts me a year, about our rate of visiting the place. Olive oil is standard fare from the grocery, nothing fancy.
With the olive oil covering the bottom of your sauce pan on medium heat, throw in the rice until translucent. Toss the spinach on top just before done and cover the saucepan with the cover. Once done, mix with your wooden spoon and throw in some of the broth. Just enough to slightly cover the rice. Cover again for a minute or two to stew the spinach. Keep adding broth and slowly mixing with the wooden spoon. Once a stew like consistency, add some more broth until it is all absorbed. The spices can be added at any time – I add them with the oil to saturate the flavors through the dish.
Notes: I did keep the cost down as the spinach was on sale this week – $1.33 per bag. I also discovered a cheaper bulk bag of the rice that cut the cost by at least 35% for the whole batch. That went a long way to keeping a $1.00 lunch cost. Also, to make this a fully vegetarian/vegan meal, switch out the chicken broth with vegetable broth.
What I Would Change
If there was no budget to consider, I would add in the fresh basil (about a $1.50 hike to the whole batch) and switch out to kale (about another $1 or slightly more to the batch). Additionally (as we are from Wisconsin), I usually add some cheese to it as well. Without the cheese, some salt may be needed for the dish. And finally, meat. Either to the risotto, or served with it instead of the egg.
What I Have Found
This may be an indication of my pre-challenge diet, but I find myself snacking on bananas (13 cents each for my current bunch) and the like because I’m hungry. Also it helps meet my concerns on the amount of fruits and vegetables I am eating. I do have a couple more recipes that I am altering up this week/weekend to address these as well.
The part that really struck me though was the drinking. I have been drinking more water. I have also used a Crystal Lite drink mix in a squirt bottle that runs about 12 cents per 8 oz drink. How much smaller would my meal plan be if I had to purchase ground coffee beans to brew my own coffee? Or pay for the creamer? I set a caveat that my morning coffee would not be included in the budget. My reduced price drink at the drive through is $3.26 after tax. (A trienta iced coffee with cream.) I did go a couple days without it, but had to buy a soda/tea due to the drag effect.
I am not playing around with going cold turkey, because coffee is one of the stages in staving off a migraine before it settles in fully. Between the allergy medication, Advil Liquigels and coffee, without these I would be having a lot of problems this week.
Just in the food reduction (and coffee limitation to 1 per morning), I can see how difficult this budget is to continue under. And why people resort to ramen packets and processed mac & cheese for meals. Eating healthy within these limits is tough. And it definitely limits the amount of meat in your diet.