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Monthly Archives: March 2013

MyPlate on My Budget, A Family Favorite

Can I follow the USDA thrifty 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.

I have a huge success to share!

For Meatless Monday last night, I made The Dependable Slow Cooker Cauliflower Indian Stew from Carrie on Vegan.

Everyone in my family liked it!  My kids even asked for seconds.

I was really shocked because the favor combinations created a really unfamiliar palate for my family.  But the coconut cream made everything a bit sweet, and I think that’s what hooked the kids.

Even though I was lazy and used canned beans instead of dry, this whole meal still cost under $7.  Plus, we have many days worth of leftovers for lunches.

So here’s my question for the USDA Choose MyPlate people… 

This vegan dish was cheap, easy, full of veggies, and something my kids actually liked.  Why not recommend Meatless Monday’s every week?

Oh yeah, they tried and got slammed for it. 

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MyPlate on My Budget, Fish Issues

Can I follow the USDA thrifty 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.

This post is about my fish problem.

The USDA recommends that people eat seafood twice a week. 

Problem #1: My kids hate fish!

Problem #2: We follow the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines, and sustainably caught fish is often expensive.

Why would I want to waste money on food my kids won’t eat, or else purchase something that is going to hurt Puget Sound?  I also don’t want my family eating fish that has been frozen, sent to China to be processed, and then mailed back to Edmonds.

But maybe my kids would like fish more if I pulled out all the stops…

So I tried pan-frying Tilapia.  Eating fried food is a special treat at my house, so I thought maybe this would work.

Instead, it was a fish flop.

Not only that, but it was a lot of work.  First I dredged the fillets through flour.  Next they went through a mixture of egg, lemon juice, and parsley.  Finally I rolled them in breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.  I pan-fried the fish in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and let it drain on paper towels.

My husband and I thought the fish turned out delicious; the kids, not so much.  My three year old ran screaming from the table.  My seven year old toughed things out under duress.

What is a mom to do?  Serve fish again in a few days?

USDA Requirements, you are driving me crazy!

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There’s no need to say you’re from Seattle

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Good Life section of The Sunday Herald.

MyPlate on My Budget, Week 2 Produce

Can I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the 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.

On Day 1 of Week 2 I went to Costco. The grand total for produce was $51.60

Ahhh!!!!  I thought I had done better than that.  The 20 lb bag of potatoes was only $4.79!

But I was trying to be better about meeting all of the MyPlate requirements.

Did I succeed?

MYPLATE REQUIREMENTS:

Vegetables: 73.5 cups

  • 7 cups dark leafy green
  • 20.5 cups red and orange
  • 21.5 cups starch
  • 6.5 cups beans and peas
  • 18 cups other

Fruits: 52.5 cups

  • Whole fruits whenever possible

WHAT I ACTUALLY BOUGHT:

Vegetables: 145 cups

  • 10 cups organic spinach
  • 40 cups carrots
  • 74 cups potatoes and squash
  • 9  cups peas
  • 12 cups other (celery)

Fruits: 36 servings plus lots of juice

  • 28 apples (half organic)
  • 8 cans frozen oj
  • 8 bananas

I’m counting this as an A+

That’s because I have a head of cauliflower in the fridge.  That means  I’ve bought enough produce to meet all of the MyPlate requirements this week.

But here’s the kicker:

When I got up to the register at Costco, my membership was due!

The membership costs a lot of money.  I’m not even sure if it’s fair for me to go to Costco on this experiment.  But I’m already getting kind of crazy about it, so I decided not to obsess any further.

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MyPlate on My Budget, No Reserves

Check out the before and after pictures of my fridge.

Above you see the what my fridge looks like the last day of the week on my normal food budget.

Below you see what it looks like on the USDA Cost of Food at Home Thrifty budget.

Here’s the door shot:

Before.

After.

During Week 1 of the MyPlate on My Budget experiment,  I made my goal.  I stayed on budget!

But you can see for yourself the toll it took on my fridge.

And what about the MyPlate requirements?  Did we meet that goal?

Well, my husband and I both ate fish twice a week, but my kids refused to eat any fish at all.

I met almost all of my veg requirements, but my husband came up short on the starchy vegetable requirement.

The kids fared even worse.

Normally I sneak leafy green vegetables into their fruit smoothies.  But I couldn’t afford to buy enough fruit to make smoothies for them every day.  So then I couldn’t sneak in the greens.

Also, they don’t like frozen spinach as much as fresh spinach, so that was another trick I couldn’t use.

But I tired, I really tried…

Half their plates were filled with fruits and vegetables almost every night.  They just wouldn’t always eat them.

MyPlate on My Budget, String Cheese

Today I got the register and had to put string cheese back.

It’s day  six of week 1 of the MyPlate on My Budget experiment, and I had $20 left in my grocery budget.  I wanted to buy oatmeal, peanut butter, apples, string cheese, a couple of things for a yummy recipe next week, and ice cream.

I had to buy the ice cream!

This morning my kids discovered that Daddy had finished all the ice cream in the freezer, and they pretty much flipped out.  In order to bring peace, I had to replace it.

That meant I was $1.50 short for the string cheese.

I know in my head that this is an artificial experiment, but in my nervous system it’s not playing out that way.

I feel like a failure for not budgeting well enough so that I can afford string cheese this week.  I feel guilty for denying my kids a healtful snack.  I feel stressed from walking around the grocery store like a human calculator, constantly adding up the contents of my cart.

Most of all, I feel humbled.

For most of my grocery shopping existence, I’m completely blind to the people around me.  I have no idea what the mom with the cart next to me is facing. She might be one of the 15.4% of Washington families who struggles with hunger.

For me, this thrifty budget experiment only has three weeks and one day left to go.  But I know that it is already changing me.

I am realizing how lucky I am to be able to afford food. 

I don’t think I’ll ever take string cheese for granted again.

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MyPlate on My Budget, Day 6

I wish you could smell how delicious my house is right now.

Today is Week 1, Day 6 of the MyPlate on My Budget experiment.

Despite all of my crazy menu planning, I goofed.  We are going to a Cub Scout pot-luck tonight, and I totally spaced.  So we’re bringing what I was going to make anyway, Rose’s Pork Roast with Sauerkraut.  (It was either that or tomorrow night’s fish.)

My result smells and tastes delicious, but it’s not nearly as pretty looking as Rose’s. 

Here’s why:

$$$

Rose’s recipe calls for red cabbage–but green cabbage was cheaper. It also calls for red onions, but I already had a bag of super cheap brown onions.

I thought I had all three apples for the recipe, but my daughter ate some.  She’s a fruit addict and on this current budget, I wasn’t able to purchase our usual amount of fruit this week.  So instead of three apples I only used one.

Luckily, it’s still yummy!

I really did not intend to make a bastardized version of Rose’s beautiful recipe, but that’s just what happened.  It illustrates a good point too.

Cooking on a super-thrifty budget often means cutting corners.  But when you cut out one ingredient here, and another there, pretty soon your’e not making the actual recipe.  If you’re not following the exact recipe, you might be losing out on some important flavors.  If you are losing out on some important flavors, you might not like a healthy food as much.  That might tempt to you eat light at dinner, and then fill up on junk food later (if you can afford it).

So here’s a promise…  Next month I’m going to try this recipe again, and you know…actually follow it.

MyPlate on My Budget, Day 5

“You just wasted a lot of money Mom.”

That’s what my seven year old said to me when he came home from school and saw shrimp defrosting on the counter.

He was right. 

That’s because neither of my children would eat it.

To make matters worse, this is what my vegetable chart looked like:

It’s already Tuesday and I still have four starchy vegetables to go!  What am I going to do?  Eat potatoes at every meal?

So this is what I made.  Shrimp, frozen corn, spinach, sauteed garlic and left-over tomato soup from last night; served over brown rice.

My kids ate macaroni and cheese.

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“My Empire of Dirt”, by Manny Howard

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

Part of my learning journey has meant checking out every unusual book about food and consumption I can find at our local library.

The first book I read was My Empire of Dirt, by Manny Howard.  (You can read the New York magazine article by the same title here.)

Howard spent a better part of a year turning his Brooklyn backyard into a farm, and then he spent one month trying to live off of the land.  This entire process was so consuming that it took him to some really dark places.

I’m not vegan, but by the end of the book I was definitely leaning that way.  There’s a finale involving rabbit #3 that is really disturbing.

The part about the book that most fascinated me, had nothing to do with food. 

The teacher in me kept wondering if Manny Howard had ever been assessed for gifted-ed.

Manny Howard seems to have a unique combination of brilliance, intensity, and the often inability to get his mind to stop thinking about something.  He has the tenacity to stick with unusual subjects, for extremely long period of times.  He’s highly verbal, but also a spatial thinker.

There were hundreds of instances in the book where you could see that his mind kept revving, even when everyone else was telling him to chill out.

Anyone familiar with Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of overexcitabilities and gifted people would read this book and say “Whoa!  This is classic.”  (I have a bit more about gifted/intense here on my blog.)

When I started reading all of the reviews on Amazon about this book, I was saddened by how many of them attacked Manny Howard personally.   I finally had to stop reading the reviews because they made me so upset.

Sometimes the more gifted a person is, the harder time they have leading a “mainstream” life.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

And what’s with the Amazon reviewers bashing him because his wife makes more money than him?  What’s up with that?

MyPlate on My Budget, Day 4

Meatless Monday from last night: tomato soup, Roses’ grilled cheese sandwiches, and frozen green beans.

Of course, I’m a big cheater.

I couldn’t actually follow Rose’s recipe all the way because I forgot to buy an avocado.  Then, I knew that if I put spinach in my kids’ sandwiches, they wouldn’t eat them.  On my thrifty budget, I can’t afford to waste bread.

So my husband and I had the grilled cheese with spinach (which was really yummy), but the kids didn’t.

The good news?

My daughter Jenna LOVES frozen green beans.  She ate three servings.

The bad news?

That was two servings too many for Jenna’s MyPlate vegetable requirement.  So I just crossed off “other”.

We are only half way through week one and this is already getting tricky.

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MyPlate on My Budget, Veggie Tracker

Yet another use for dot stampers!

(I love those things.)

Those of you who are following the MyPlate on My Budget experiment might be wondering how I’m keeping track of what my family is actually eating.

Here’s how:

I have a giant chart on the wall that tracks the vegetables each family member is supposed to be eating the entire week.

Every night at dinner we are checking off the vegetables each person ate that day.

This has been a wonderful way to become “aware” of what we are eating.

It’s also helping keep me, the primary cook, on track.  The hardest part is meeting the starchy vegetable requirement.  I basically have to serve potatoes, squash or corn at every dinner.

The yellow circles are driving me nuts!

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MyPlate on My Budget, Find a Butcher

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

Usually when I buy meat I am willing to spend extra money to buy a local, humanely raised product.

My family doesn’t normally eat a lot of meat. In a typical month, we eat a vegetarian meal two or three times a week.

But the USDA Choose MyPlate requirements don’t specifically recommend going vegetarian at all.  They advise you to “vary your protein routine” and “choose beans, nuts and seeds more often.”

There was actually a big stink with the USDA and their official, internal position on Meatless Mondays, that you can read about here. (Thank you Stacy from School Bites for educating me about that.)

Even on the USDA “Thrifty Food” budget, I still want to buy a quality product.

That’s why I drove up to Silvana Meats.  (There’s a really great article about Silvana Meats from HeraldNet here.)

I ordered Combination #4 for just under $76.  This bought me:

  • 4 packs ground beef
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 ham steak
  • 2 packs bacon
  • chuck roast
  • pork steak
  • sirloin steak
  • pork loin
  • stew meat

Driving up to Silvana meats cost me $8 in gas, which I am subtracting from my food budget.  I’m also cost averaging the meat from the whole month.  So now, instead of having $144.80 a week to spend on food, I only have $124 a week.

But I feel good about buying local.

I don’t think you can really tell from the picture, but that Washington chicken I bought was gigantic.  You really can tell that it wasn’t raised in a box.  That’s important to me.

What I’m not getting, is specific knowledge about the ranches the meat comes from.  When I buy meat from PCC Natural Markets, I get a lot more information.  That’s important to me too.

I’m still feeling really good though.

The MyPlate on My Budget experiment has already caused me to expand my normal shopping boundaries and explore other options.  My seven-year-old and I had a fun drive up to Silvana together, and we talked about where food comes from the whole way.

Tonight I made Rose McAvoy’s beautiful roast chicken with homemade stock, and life is good.

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Team Laura vs. Team Rose

Sorry to break it to you Little House fans.  Today’s the morning when I mess with your mind.

My “I Brake for Moms” column in The Everett Daily Herald.  Check me out in the Good Life section of the Sunday paper.

One thing that I didn’t mention in my column but which ties into this whole MyPlate on My Budget experiment I’m doing right now, is that Rose Wilder Lane held a lot of resentment towards Laura and Almanzo for allowing her to grow up in poverty.  Rose had horrible tooth issues as an adult, and she blamed this on poor nutrition growing up.

MyPlate on My Budget, Week 1 Produce

Can I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the 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.

It’s Day 2 of Week 1 and I just came back from Trader Joe’s.  The grand total for produce was $33.61.

Now for the tough part.

Did I buy the right amount of produce for my family to hit all of the MyPlate requirements?

MYPLATE REQUIREMENTS:

Vegetables: 73.5 cups

  • 7 cups dark leafy green
  • 20.5 cups red and orange
  • 21.5 cups starch
  • 6.5 cups beans and peas
  • 18 cups other

Fruits: 52.5 cups

  • Whole fruits whenever possible

WHAT I ACTUALLY BOUGHT:

Vegetables: 67 cups

  • 6 cups frozen organic spinach
  • 9 cups tomatoes and tomato soup
  • 16 cups potatoes and sweet potatoes (5lbs total)
  • 0 cups beans and peas
  • 36 cups other (celery, cabbage, organic romaine lettuce, cauliflower, garlic and frozen organic broccoli)

Fruits: 24 servings

  • 7 apples
  • 3 lbs oranges
  • 7 bananas

Fail!!!!!

I didn’t realize until I got home that I forgot beans and peas.  I also didn’t realize that I hadn’t bought enough starches.  5 lbs wasn’t enough?  Holy heck!

I guess I should have also bought two bags of frozen corn or squash. But that would mean we would be eating potatoes, sweet potatoes squash or corn at every dinner. It normally never occurs to me to do that.

But I’m still going to make the MyPlate requirements this week.

That’s because it’s Day 2.

Yesterday we ate snap peas and there are still some left overs in the fridge.  We had oven fries with dinner and there’s a bunch of frozen fruit in the fridge.

Of course, I typically don’t count french fries as a vegetable!

Today I learned that $33.61 wasn’t enough money to buy MyPlate produce for my family for seven days after all.

But maybe it was enough for six days?

MyPlate on My Budget, Am I Thrifty?

It’s not fair!

I follow all of the grocery shopping rules.  You know, the ones that are supposed to save you money.

I make my own freezer stock.

I can stuff.

I grow my own vegetables.

I grocery shop without kids whenever possible.

I cook 95% of our meals at home.

But we still end up spending way more than $144.80 a week on food.

If you asked me if I am thrifty I would say “Yes”.  But normally, my family does not follow the Thrifty Budget according to the USDA Cost of Food chart.

We also don’t usually follow the MyPlate requirements because we don’t eat fish two times a week.

Is it possible to do both?

Today the “MyPlate on My Budget” experiment begins.

I am beyond words nervous…

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