Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cheap Fast Healthy Favorites

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

(Hop on over here to participate in our first ever giveaway.)

Last night when I was triple dog tired and finishing up my post (with several things ahead of me still in need of doing), I couldn't help but notice the title for Apron Strings blog: Could You Live On Food Stamps? That caught my eye and I thought, "Yes, ma'am, I could." Because I am an extremely humble person and, frankly, because--at this point in life and family--I could.

Upon reading Donna and Anne's joint post, however, I couldn't help but be impressed by their more humble, kinder attitudes. Donna talked about the Food Stamp Challenge--a challenge to eat on $4/per person/per day ($24/day for our family). And Anne, in a particularly poignant and wise post, pointed out the dangers of a challenge like this: namely that it is essentially an artificial situation and can encourage classism--richer people playing a game at being poor, and then making a judgment either of pity ("Those poor people; this is just impossible") or disdain ("Ha, I just did that for a week and it wasn't so hard either"). I also appreciated her comments on many of the challenges of living on much less, especially much less than what one is used to.

Boy, it got me thinking. (Note: Thinking is great and all, but it did interfere with my other tasks for the evening, which were also begging for a part of my brain. Alas.)

In particular, I thought about the challenges of living on less--whether you use food stamps or just live out of necessity on a significantly small food budget (I put our family in this camp). That challenge is really what spurred the idea for this blog. I wanted/needed to cut something out of our budget and food was the thing I felt I could control the most.

However, Apron String's post also got me thinking about how much harder that would be to do if you were a single parent (or, for that matter, if both parents were working outside the home), which is a challenge I don't have. Consequently, I do have more time to plan and prepare food. Also, my children are small. I'm not so dumb that I think $10/day is going to fly when we have 3 or 4 teenagers under one roof as we (let me give a big budgetary shudder here) one day will.

So, while feeling a little humbled, I wondered what recipes/ideas I might be able to contribute because the point (besides a bit of empathy) to these things also seems to be to come up with good solutions.  Maybe that doesn't sound empathetic, but it doesn't really help to sit around and weep into our hankies, now does it. (Although we certainly all have those budget moments too.)

Below you'll find 7 of my favorite recipes. They are all intensely cheap (I tried to keep it under $2.00--at most $3.00--for 4 servings--those would be servings for normal people, not teenagers) as well as quick and easy to prepare for those who are time-strapped. They're also, with the exception of the cake which is there for comfort food purposes, all quite healthy as well. And did I mention they're some of my favorites--they taste GOOD.

Falafels with Cheater Sauce
Serves 4
Cost: $2.00 when you include tortillas to wrap the falafels in ($.50/serving)
Prep and cook time: 25-30 minutes

These have foods my husband wouldn't touch if he knew what they all were. I try to keep him in the dark because he totally loves these.

Jeanie's Mac and Cheese
Serves 4
Cost: $1.60 per 8x8 inch pan ($.40/serving)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

And this has meat--I even used humanely raised meat (not a booty load, but enough) to come up with this cost.

Chicken Fried Rice
Serves 4
Cost: $1.30 per meal ($.32/serving)
Prep time: 20 minutes if boiling chicken
Cook time: 30 minutes if making rice
However, if you make this as a leftover meal (veggies, meat, and rice that you have in the fridge from other meals), this will be ready in 15 minutes flat.

Fried rice can have meat or not. The great thing about it is that a little meat can go a long way.

Spinach Quiche
Serves 4
Cost: $2.25 per meal ($.56/serving)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Cool/set time: 5-10 minutes

Kiss me, you perfect quiche, you. Loaded with spinach and protein.

Dal with Tomatoes and Cream
Serves 4
Cost: $1.95, plus you'll want bread or tortillas so you'll need to add $1.00 for that ($.75/serving)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

Looking at this picture always makes me drool, not because it looks so amazing, but because I remember how unbelievably good it tastes.

No Knead Oat Bread
Makes 1 loaf
Cost: .45 per loaf (or about .10/serving)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Rise time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes

Yes, it still takes an hour to make this, but you barely have to do anything. Still not perfect if you're coming home from work at 7:00 and exhausted, but still economical on time as far as breads go.

Wacky Cake
Serves 24 (well, it should, but it doesn't around here--it makes a 9x13 inch pan)
Cost: $.88 per 9x13 inch pan (that's $.03/serving--beat that Betty Crocker)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

This cake is so easy and so so good. It's made in the pan. You have one dish to wash when all is said and done (and lots of little kid fingers and faces, but I'm not counting that). It requires no eggs, butter, or milk (so it's allergy friendly as well.) It's really one of the best cheapskate, time saving foods ever and recipes like this were said to have been used during The Great Depression and I believe it. We do usually eat it frosted, but it can be eaten without to good effect as well, especially if you've got a dusting of powdered sugar.

Note if you're interested: The Food Stamp Challenge begins November 8th and goes for a week, at least in Utah. I don't know if it's nationwide or just a Utah thing. I also don't know how much the daily allotments per person are in Indiana.


  1. I'm guessing that the people in charge are probably assuming that any children in families who need food stamps are getting a free breakfast and lunch at school. Meaning that They probably allot less money per person than they actually thing will be needed. Just a thought.

  2. Hey jeanie - I really appreciate your blog AND your glass-half-full attitude about food and life. Your family is very lucky to have you!

    I am very, very excited about your Wacky Cake. My aunt and grandma used to make this and tell us stories about the Depression, when their family of 6 only had two eggs that a neighbor had given them, and their dad had to eat them so he would have the strength to go out every day and look for work.

    I always thought the wacky cake was our family recipe UNTIL I SAW YOUR POST!

    I'm now a dedicated Tasty Cheapskate fan. Definitely going to make your Wacky Cake soon!



  3. It is an interesting idea. I don't think it sounds terribly difficult and probably requires more thought than I'm willing to share at this time in my life. I did think about this tonight as I was in line at the grocery behind a family of 3 adults and a newborn who were spending their entire $600 SNAP benefits in one grocery trip.

    More interesting I think would be to give each child $31 and say, here ya go, kid. Eat up. :)

  4. This is quite a moving post and I will have to check out the food stamp challenge. Although I am not considered midle class I make a decent living and I also live alone. It is not easy but I manage to have a nice shelter, food and everything else (barely) with one salary. What struck me the most was the 4$ a day per person statement. I bought my breakfast and lunch at the store on my way to work and it was a very cheap 6$, yet more then the food stamp allowance. And I have yet to have dinner.

  5. Thanks for all the comments everyone. They keep me thinking.



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