Monday, March 14, 2016

Final Numbers on SNAP Challenge

I'll be posting my update and thoughts soon. Wednesday - Sunday were a bit of a whirlwind for me, so I didn't have a chance to post.

At the end of the week, it kind of fell apart due to my boss picking up lunch and a last minute invitation to hang out with some friends. So the chicken that we'd planned to have for dinner on Friday ended up getting nice and dried out by the time we'd gotten home. In an effort to not be wasteful, we will be shredding that and using it for burrito/taco night.

All of that said, using my super scientific calculations, I managed to stay under budget and kept my family fed for each meal that we ate. Approximate spent $58.60. Total meals = 40 x 1.58 = $63.20.

Were they all healthy? No. Were they all quick and easy? No.

Here is my final list... I'll be posting a modified recipe for this Baked Polenta and Pepper Sauce. It's budget friendly and quite tasty.

Food Final/Adjusted Price Price
Pasta (Spaghetti) $0.88 $0.88
Peanut Butter $2.74 $5.48 *10.96 at BJs for two GIANT jars
Jelly $0.49 $0.97
Frozen Broccoli $0.00  
Pasta Sauce $1.50  
Rice (2 lbs) $0.75 $1.49
Black beans $1.79  
4 progresso soups $1.50 $6.00
Bananas $2.49  
Whole fryers (2) $0.00 $10.90
Cornmeal $0.35 $1.38
Ground turkey $5.92  
Sausage $2.99  
Honey nut Os $0.84 $1.68
Mozzarella $4.93  
Cheddar $2.47  
English muffins $2.00  
Oatmeal $0.82 $1.64
Whole wheat bread $2.68  
bell pepper (2) $2.68  
Gevalia Coffee $3.85 $5.84
Coffee Creamer $1.25 $2.49
Peas (frozen) $0.00 $0.98
Fresh strawberries $2.28  
Plain yogurt $5.48  
Canned crushed tomatoes $1.50  
onions (bag) $0.49 $1.97
Lettuce $0.55 $0.99
Milk $3.50  
Sour cream $0.84 $1.68
Eggs $0.00 $2.49
Ramen - case of 24 for $8.28 $0.35 $8.28
Tomatoes w/ Chilies $0.69  
  Me Jay Mark
Sunday 2 1 2
Monday 3 2 2
Tuesday 3 2 2
Wednesday 3 0 2
Thursday 3 2 2
Friday 1 1 1
Saturday 2 2 2
  17 10 13
$1.58 $1.58 $1.58  
$26.86 $15.80 $20.54 $63.20

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tuesday SNAP Challenge and Chickens!

I didn’t take many notes today about my experiences, but today was easier than yesterday. I do think that eating a healthy, filling breakfast combats many issues for me. It prevents me from overeating and I also feel full for a long time, which eliminates cravings.

Tuesday’s meals:
English Muffin with Peanut Butter (this kept me full longer – I may make this a regular staple)
Fridge oatmeal topped with strawberries

Monday’s dinner leftovers (rice, beans, ground turkey, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, cheese)

Spaghetti with ground turkey meat sauce (~$4.90 for meal, 4 servings [leftovers for lunch])
He had a meltdown that there was spaghetti on his nose (he put it there)
The real excitement today is that we got more chickens! It has been a few years since we raised chickens from chicks.

I picked up 5 ISA Brown pullets, an Amberlink, and another Silkie from Tractor Supply (last two were straight run). I couldn’t help myself, the Silkies were just too cute and they had nice feathering on their legs.

I told Jay before I went that I heard they had straight run bantams, but not to worry, because they were probably Silkies and I didn’t want another one of those. Maybe this time we’ll end up with two hens out of our straight run purchases instead of two roosters. I think that eventually I’d like to transition our flock to a RIR rooster and hens that will hatch out sexlink chicks (chicks that you can easily tell male from female at hatching).

Tuesday's Coffee Count
 1 pour over, 2 K-cups

Weekly Coffee Count
3 pour overs, 4 K-cups

Monday, March 7, 2016

Thoughts on SNAP Challenge for Monday

My child is going to eat me out of house and home. I gave him two strawberries as I was cutting up two more to put on my oatmeal. After he’d had a cup of milk, he housed the strawberries along with a piece of cheese, a handful of (generic) Cheerios, and two-thirds of a banana. 

Gevalia coffee (spent $5.84 on a bag at Walmart) is surprisingly good. It’s no Rise Up, but it is getting me up in the morning and fueling the first part of my day. I’ve become a pour-over addict and make my first cup of coffee this way every morning. I blame you, Laura. I also bought those refillable coffee pods after using them at Colleen’s house while we were on vacation. These have already saved me money, as I used to go through about a box a week (at ~$8-$9 a box). Very happy that I got these before the challenge, or else I’d be taking my pour-over apparatus to work with me.

My fridge oatmeal was a winner! I also sprinkled some brown sugar on top and it was delicious with the strawberries. Maybe the expensive MapleHill creamery yogurt was worth it. Although I could also buy delicious yogurt from grass-fed cows at Nice Farms Creamery. If I recall correctly, I can get a quart of yogurt for $3.50 there. I know that they sell their products at several farmers markets that accept SNAP, so this would be on the approved list.

By 11 a.m., I am thinking about lunch. I’m not sure if it’s because I am focused on this challenge or if I’m just hungry. Probably both.

I heated up my Progresso Italian Wedding Soup for lunch and notice the sodium content. Nearly 1300 mg for the entire can (which I am definitely eating – one can is one serving to me). YIKES. So I start thinking about making my own soup with leftovers as well as making my own stock later in the week. Also, the soup was quite good but incredibly salty. I also realize that I have neglected to bring anything to snack on.

3 p.m. I am really wishing I had brought cheese to snack on. 

After work, I ran to the grocery store to pick up some lettuce and sour cream for the tacos. While there, I noticed that cheese was on sale for $1.50 less a pound than I paid for at Walmart. Grrr!

Dinner was awesome and filling. I always love this dinner when we make it at home… although when we have more time, we usually make fresh pico de gallo with tomatoes, lime juice, red onion and cilantro. Today I used a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies.

I made 2 cups of rice (lots left over, ~.75), ~2 cups black beans (~.45), 1 lb ground turkey (~2.96), shredded cheddar (~.83), shredded lettuce (~.33), can of tomatoes (.69), sour cream (.56).

This kid loves these flavors... he could eat rice & beans every day

Total cost of dinner for 3 people ~$6.57. There was enough left over for 2 lunches, plus enough rice for at least one or two more meals after that. I will probably have rice and beans for lunch on Wednesday. That’s about $1.31 per meal, so YAY me.

Other thoughts at the end of the day: 

I think that I will put peanut butter on my English Muffin tomorrow morning instead of regular butter. It should be more filling.

I'm going to count how much coffee I go through this week. I'm also thinking of making my own coffee sweetener/creamer. I usually use french vanilla creamer in my coffee, but I'm thinking that I should be able to make a healthier (and cheaper) version using simple syrup, milk, and vanilla (<-- I have some awesome Mexican vanilla).

Today's coffee count: 
1 pour over, 2 refillable K-cups

Weekly count:

 2 pour overs, 2 refillable K-cups

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Some Thoughts

On the first morning of the Food Stamp Challenge, I did a lot of thinking.

Here are my rambling thoughts that I dictated as I was cooking my oatmeal Sunday morning:

As I was cooking my oatmeal and making my coffee, I thought about how my aunt had made us oatmeal in Australia. While we were there, we also ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (mostly fruit) that they had grown from trees in their yard. Bonus: their neighbor has an avocado tree. Fresh guacamole every day sounds good to me!

This little guy tried to eat all of my strawberries

While making my oatmeal, I also began heating the pot of black beans that had been soaking overnight. The bean experiment was also to help assuage my fear of cooking with dry beans. I’d had a disaster attempting baked beans at Mark’s birthday party last year. Nobody likes crunchy beans.

While cooking my oatmeal and heating the cold beans, it made me start thinking about other countries (the beans made me think of our trip to Mexico) and how they eat. It also made me consider the obesity epidemic in America. Why do we have such a problem and why are we so fat?

Taking the food stamp challenge has made me rethink a lot of food choices just for affordability. I think part of the problem that we have in America is that there is so much variety of food. You can get nearly anything anytime you want it, and we don’t tend to eat seasonally like a lot of other places. Germany has Spargelzeit - a season (and festivals!) devoted to asparagus.

If you travel in Mexico or other countries in the Caribbean, they eat a lot of rice and beans. They’re cheap and are a good source of nutrients. They also eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and often grow them themselves. It seems that their fresh vegetables for some reason are less expensive than ours. At least if you shop in their regular stores: you know - the ones that tourists don't go in. Or the cheap roadside stands selling produce for next to nothing.

I was also thinking that this challenge would be easier during the summer when I can grow some of my own vegetables. However that is also a luxury that most people on food stamps probably don't have. I would imagine that most of them don't have access to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

It makes me think how more cities could offer Urban Gardening initiatives to help those on food stamps eat healthier.

Other thoughts on this challenge at the start:

Eating healthy on SNAP requires a lot of cooking.
I'm not sure how anyone who is working a full-time job with kid(s) or especially a single parent would have time to do this. This also brings back some memories from my own childhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were pretty poor when I was growing up. My dad also wasn't the greatest cook. I always joke that I grew up eating nothing but popcorn and sardines. It is the honest truth, at least at home. Our staples were sardines, popcorn (air popped, of course), bread (made with dad’s yard sale bread machine), Ramen (Dad never bought it unless we could get 6 packets for $1- that’s what he thought was a good deal), and of course fruit on the bottom yogurt which we mixed with dad’s special Life Extension MixPowder (oh the irony – my dad died at 58). Geez, this stuff is $60, no wonder we were poor!

Apart from that, we ate out twice a week. Monday night was two-for-one pasta night and usually Thursday nights we would go to McConnell’s for a 3 piece dark fried chicken meal, which we would split.

Dry Beans take a LONG time to cook.
They were finally done around 8 p.m. after an overnight soak and about 12 hours of low heat. I think next time I’ll do them in the crockpot.

I am incredibly fortunate.
I don’t feel like I need to explain this one. My husband and I both have good jobs and can easily afford not only life’s basic necessities, but can also afford to eat out regularly.

Jackie is Awesome.
Jackie is a friend who has been organizing a diaper drive for the past several years. Last year, she organized a drive that donated 18,186 diapers (along with other supplies) to St. Martin’s Barn. 
Currently, there is no program in place to provide diapers to low income families. I can’t imagine trying to keep Markface fed, let alone having a dry bottom while struggling to make ends meet.

And finally:
I already screwed up on the challenge. I blame Jay. He invited his cousin & wife over. When I heard they were coming over, I said, “Oh okay… are they coming over for brunch? I can make eggs benedict!” Jay replied: “No, they just want to hang out. They won’t be here long.”

Which of course resulted in our eating pizza that night because they visited for six hours. I started out okay – I already had my pound of cheddar cheese to put out for snacking, and a sleeve of crackers that cost about .50 if I needed to figure those into my budget.

If I had known, I would have planned accordingly. I was hoping that they were coming over for eggs benedict, because I knew that I could make it work in our budget, along with having ham for sandwiches in the week. Although some may consider it fancy, you can make eggs benedict for about $8.50 for 4 people. That comes to $2.12 instead of the usual $1.57 per person for meal, but it’s an incredibly rich dish and would be considered more of a dinner type meal.

Also, my dog ate half of my mozzarella when I walked out of the room after shredding, so I’ll be eating cheddar for my snacks instead. Jerk!

Here is what we would have had for our meals yesterday that I had planned:

Banana, Oatmeal prepared with milk and topped with about ½ cup of fresh strawberries
Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, orange
Baked chicken, rice, broccoli
Snacks: oranges, cheese, crackers

Breakfast was Markface approved

Monday is a new day. I have fridge oatmeal prepared and ready for breakfast. I just need to cut up some strawberries for the top. I’ll toast an English muffin and eat a banana. For lunch, I will have soup. Dinner will be my version of a burrito bowl: rice, black beans, tomato salsa, ground turkey, cheese, lettuce & sour cream. Hopefully there will be enough leftover for lunch on Tuesday. Dinner Tuesday will probably be the roast chicken that I planned to make on Sunday.

Food Stamp Challenge Starts Tomorrow

So the bulk of the food has been purchased for the Food Stamp Challenge.

Yes, that is Markface's little hand grabbing for the bananas.

One of the major impacts for me is my Rise Up Coffee addiction. It costs $15 a pound, which is nearly half of what one person would eat a week. Wow. We go through probably one bag every other week, but during this challenge I will be giving up my Rise Up. I bought some other coffee that will hopefully be palatable.

I decided to spend a little extra on my yogurt for the challenge too. One of my breakfast items is going to be fridge oatmeal, which I had started eating a few months back. It's filling and pretty healthy. 

Another larger purchase I made was cheese. I spent about $5 a pound on cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. I'll be cutting those up for snacks and shredding them for some planned dinners.

It was quite an interesting experience to be checking out in line and thinking, "Geez, this is really adding up. Maybe I shouldn't have bought that brand of yogurt."

I'm looking forward to the challenge and am also hoping that it will kick off better eating and spending habits as well.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Winter and Being Sick Sucks

But I’m going to do my best to overcome it and do something positive.

I’ve been stuck in a funk because I’ve been sick. A lot.

I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty healthy person. I got maybe two or three minor colds a year… the occasional stomach virus. The usual. No big deal. I get migraines, but those are knocked out by injectable Imitrex quickly.

I don’t know if it’s because my kid now shares all of his germs from daycare or what, but this winter has been brutal. I got sick two weeks before leaving for Key West in late November/early December. Then I got sick again a few days before leaving for Key West. On the plane, I thought my head was going to explode, and I couldn’t hear for two days after we arrived.

Then I came down with the flu on January 2nd. It was like I got hit by a bus. I’m one of those people who rarely miss work due to illness… it’s something I pride myself on. Well, I missed nearly an entire week. I tried working from home and got a few hours in here and there. What I should have done was not attempt to do anything and just slept to get better. Three weeks later I wasn’t feeling much better, so I went back to the doctor. I ended up with a steroid injection in the ass, a breathing treatment, and a hefty dose of antibiotics. That finally seemed to knock the remnants of that crud out.

At the beginning of February, I ended up with either food poisoning or a stomach virus. Another day of work missed. Things weren’t right with my digestive tract for probably a week. It was not fun. Then we went to Arizona and I seemed to have recovered from everything! Then I came home. Last weekend I got to hang out with a bunch of girlfriends for our annual Galentines Day celebration. This time, at Turnbridge Point. The company and food was spectacular. And then I started getting stuffy and sore throaty again. Markface was also congested, so I am thinking that he was the vector of my illness yet again.

Last week before I started feeling craptacular again, my acupuncturist  mentioned that she was participating in the Food Stamp Challenge for Talbot County.

My plan is/was to give it a go. I was trying to get Jay on board with doing it too, but he said that he knew too many people that take advantage of the system. Including of course, members of his family (although to my knowledge this is no longer the case). I may have reported aforementioned person to the fraud office when they posted on Facebook that they could get people half price food. ;-)

Fraud notwithstanding, I can’t imagine having to feed my family for $33 per person per week. So my plan is to do it for as many meals as possible. The challenge starts this Sunday, on March 6th.

I’m still trying to come up with my budget for the week, as ours will be a bit convoluted since Jay is gone 2 days of the challenge and will mostly just be eating my challenge dinners, since he doesn’t want to participate.

Fingers crossed that I will find the time and energy to blog about my experience. If I can finally stop being sick, I'm sure that will help a lot!