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MyPlate on My Budget, Cookbooks

Can I follow the USDA thrify food plan and feed my family the Choose MyPlate advised daily nutrients?  That’s the question I’m asking this March with MyPlate on My Budget.

Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.

Another source of help has been cookbooks.

I already had two cookbooks on my shelf promising cheap recipes:  Gluten Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn, and Cheap. Fast. Good. by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. Then I borrowed two more from a friend: Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn and $3 Slow-Cooked Meals by Ellen Brown.

All four of these books promise to help you trim your grocery budget.   All five authors deliver what they promise.

Mary Ostyn boasts about her total bill coming in well below the USDA Thrifty Budget.  Beverly Mills and Alica Ross each have their own version of a weekly meal plan that would follow the Thrifty Budget too.  Nicole Hunn faces the added challenge of cooking g-free.  Ellen Brown is committed to offering recipes that don’t use a lot of mixes, boxes, or processed food.

But here’s where it gets interesting…

What about the MyPlate recommendations?

The USDA says to eat fish twice a week. 

Mary Ostyn says on page 25 of Family Feasts for $75 a Week that she only serves fish about once a month.

Nicole Hunn doesn’t really deal with seafood at all in Gluten-Free on a Shoestring.

If I counted right, I believe that Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross offer a total of four seafood recipes in Cheap. Fast. Good.

Elen Brown’s $3 Slow-cooked Meals offers the best selection of inexpensive fish recipes.  But honestly, I haven’t tried any of her seafood receipes yet because the whole idea of smelling fish cook all day in my crock-pot sounds kind of gross.

Learning from the Experts

What this tells me is that the bona fide and published experts on thrifty cooking don’t buy a lot of seafood!

I totally understand why.  Fish is expensive.

Then if you do cook fish and your kids won’t eat it, that’s a lot of wasted money on food!

(I haven’t even mentioned the environmental impact of seafood, but be sure to check out Seafood Watch.)

Another issue is vegetables.

Cheap. Fast. Good. (which I love btw) has two sample thrifty budget meal plans on pages 456-465.  Both plans would come in at or under the USDA Cost of Food at Home, “thrifty budget”.  But neither of the plans would meet the current USDA MyPate requirements.

There’s not enough fish and only 1 serving of fruit and 1.5 servings of vegetables per person, per day.  The plans wouldn’t even come close to hitting the variety of vegetables MyPlate wants you to eat each week either.

I’m not saying this as a criticism!  I really like this cook book!

I’m just pointing out that there is a huge tension between the MyPlate requirements and the ability to meet them on a strict, thrifty budget.

That’s why MyPlate on My Budget is such a challenge.

Wish me luck!

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  1. Cynthia says:

    I am so impressed with the project you are doing and your thoughts. I deal with the same issues as I work with the Backpack Buddies program. We send a small bag of food home for elementary students who go home to food insecurity on the weekend. We work hard to put in food that our volunteer group can afford and that students will use. New this year we are trying to put in fresh produce with some written cooking lessons to add better nutrition to the bag of food, for instance, how to grate a carrot into your ramen noodles. I look forward to reading yours and Rose’s thoughts during this next month. Keep up the good work.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Thanks for stopping by Cynthia! Sorry your comment got caught in my SPAM folder for a while there.

      Backpack Buddies sounds like a wonderful program. I bet a lot of those kids would otherwise be going hungry on the weekend.

  2. JoAnne says:

    Do your meals have to be dinners? We use canned tuna (the slightly more expensive one sold at Costco that has 50% less Mercury) and canned wild-caught salmon to supplement our fish meals. We do fish about 3x a week, with frozen salmon and cod fillets making up the difference. We can do tuna salad lunches, or most often it’s a tuna or salmon patty/hash. Also, what are your dietary restrictions? We’re gluten and mostly grain-free, though we’ve reintroduced rice. We do white rice because brown has proved indigestible, even when properly soaked. To make up for it I used homemade bone broth to cook it. (We are sort of Paleo, you see, but the Perfect Health Diet variety that aims for a slightly higher starch ratio. Using potatoes, rice, and other more nutrient-dense starches like sweet potatoes has liberated our food budget somewhat, though we are in the “low cost” and not the “thrifty” area on the USDA plan.) You also “know” me as eloquacious from the Homeschool Forum, btw.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      That’s a good tip about the more expensive tuna at Costco having less Mercury. My main problem seems to be getting my kids to eat fish in general. So I could try sending my son to school with tuna fish in his lunch, but he probably wouldn’t eat it. Then he’d be a hungry, raving lunatic by the time he came home. 🙂

      I can’t eat gluten or soy, so I tend to lean towards the Paleo side of things anyway. That’s why normally I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. But usually we eat potatoes a few times a month, not six or seven times a week like on the MyPlate guidelines.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • jenbrdsly says:

        A post from another commenter that got lost:

        I’ll bet many people on a thrifty budget plan would not be able to afford the Costco membership fee nor the investment when you buy the large packages of fish. Perhaps if they have a friend or relative with a membership they could split large packages with someone else.

        Why do I write about this? I just retired from teaching in high poverty elementary schools. My families faced these issues every day. Like Jennifer described in her blog, I think about these issues a lot. I applaud Jennifer and Rose for looking at the issue of meeting the government’s MyPlate requirements on a Thrifty Budget. I am eagerly watching for tips I can use as I work on nutrition education with those very same families, now as a retired volunteer.

        May your noble experiment continue!

  3. JoAnne says:

    Not my dream scenario (I’d prefer to only have organic pastured chickens), but we use the little packs of chicken thighs as well as the whole chickens at Costco, too. The thigh bones make great chicken stock when added to the carcass of the roasted chicken that we do once a week Together they make several meals (lunches and dinners), including chicken salad and soup. Until we pay off Mother Yale, I’ll definitely be sticking to the budget chicken. 😉

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I use those same tricks too, only its usually with organic chicken. (Yet another reason why our food budget is so darn high!) Whole Foods sometimes has organic chicken thighs on sale for about $3.40 a lb, and I stock up. Sorry, I did NOT mean for that to be a bad pun.

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