Home » MyPlate on My Budget
Category Archives: MyPlate on My Budget
Got a teen girl? If so, I have a great book recommendation for you. Body and Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun and Fabulous Life by Bethany Hamilton is an easy read full of pictures–and so much more.
This book is about nutrition, exercise, and balance. The writers break down what it means to eat clean, and provide clear examples of great exercises you can do at home without any equipment. There is also a Christian theme, but not so intense that it would throw readers from different religions off.
As soon as I started reading Body and Soul I immediate thought of a student athlete I know, and what a great pick this book would be for her. But once I saw all of the recipes I decided to keep Body and Soul for myself. I haven’t been this inspired to cook in a long time! I guess I’ll be buying an extra copy on Amazon when it’s released on May 6th.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.
Americans are infamous for their obscenely gigantic refrigerators and I’m no exception. My freezer is usually so packed that something falls out and hits me in the head every time I open it.
That’s a sharp contrast to the mission countries that Wonderbag serves; places where Wonderbags mean reduced deforestation and increased quality of life. Wonderbags can be the difference between a mom being raped on her way to gather extra firewood for dinner, or staying home to help her children with their school work.
That is very sobering.
My American kitchen is a world away. But I’ve found that Wonderbags can improve my quality of life too.
This year for Lent my family is trying to simply dinner and focus on family, and our Wonderbag is part of that plan. We are following an old-school/new-school meal plan:
- Meatless Mondays
- Taco Tuesdays
- Wheat-less Wednesdays
- Throwback Thursdays (leftovers)
- Fish on Fridays
- Souper Saturdays
- Sunday Chicken Dinner
The beauty of this plan is that the kids know what to expect for dinner and I have a clue about what to cook. If I go grocery shopping on Friday, it works out great. We clear out the fridge Thursday night and have fresh fish on Friday.
Today is Wheat-less-Wednesday and on the menu is Swiss Steak made from a bunch of things from my freezer and pantry. The picture doesn’t do it justice; this meal was so yummy my kids asked for seconds. It makes a really good meat, veggie, and gravy concoction that is excellent over rice.
- 1-2 lbs cube steak
- 1 lb mushrooms
- 8 garlic cloves
- 2 onions
- 3 carrots
- 3 T butter
- 2 T Worchester sauce
- 2 T sherry vinegar
- 1/2 packet organic ranch dressing mix
- 1 cup shredded Italian cheese
- rice (for serving with the Swiss Steak)
- Sautee the butter, meat, mushrooms, onion, garlic and carrots in a Dutch oven until the meat is brown and the mushrooms have shrunk (about 15 minutes). The veggies will cook down and make a broth that will begin to boil.
- Add in the seasoning and cheese.
- Boil for 5 minutes.
- Cover the bot and bag in your Wonderbag for 4+ hours.
- Serve over rice.
For more information about Wonderbag and their mission to help the planet and improve the lives of women, please check out their video.
Here in America, Wonderbags can be purchased online through Amazon. Every time an American purchases a Wonderbag, a woman in Africa gets one too.
It’s been lots of dinners since then, and I’m ready to report. Does the Wonderbag work? Yes, definitely–but there is a learning curve.
With a Crock-Pot you can dump a bunch of raw ingredients in, walk away and come back to a cooked dinner. With a Wonderbag, you need to start your pot on the stove, bring it to boiling, and then bag it all up.
Here are some tricks I’ve learned:
- It’s better to Wonderbag with a full pot. And yeah, I used “Wonderbag” as a verb. 😉
- With my Le Creuset pot, I start heating up the pan and olive oil while I’m still chopping vegetables. That makes it all go faster.
- It’s easier to use canned beans instead of dried beans.
- Soaking lentils overnight helps.
- The fastest way to make steel cut oats? Soak them overnight, boil them five minutes in the morning, and then Wonderbag them for 20 minutes.
- The Wonderbag is great for making yogurt. It helps keep the pot at the right temperature overnight.
- The Wonderbag website has a lot of great recipes, but they are often written for UK English speakers instead of American chefs. Egad! The metric system!!!
If you are interested in finding out more about Wonderbag and their mission to save the environment and help women all over the world (seriously!), then please check out their website.
In the meantime, if you are a Pinterest person, I’m making a new board: Wonderbag should be a verb.
Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today in The Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131013/BLOG5205/710139973/Need-not-abuse-should-be-focus-of-debate-on-food-aid
I have to add, I tried several times to write Rose’s name into my column from today, so that I could express my thanks for her help and support in March, but I kept running into a word count brick wall.
So let me say it now on my blog, Rose really helped tremendously during MyPlate on My Budget. I had her email address on speed dial! Please be sure to click on over to her blogs and be inspired.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a MyPlate on My Budget post. For readers new to my blog, that was an experiment I did in March with help from food blogger Rose McAvoy. My goal was to figure out if I could follow the USDA Choose My Plate requirements, but also stick to the USDA Cost of Food at Home “Thrifty” budget. Here were the results.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about MyPlate on My Budget a lot these days because of the prospective changes to SNAP benefits in our country, and how they might effect families.
Today when I was at Trader Joes, the food demo was a dinner I thought was cheap, easy, and something kids would like. The downside, was that it’ll only serve three, and contains gluten (which means I can’t eat it).
Anyhow, I thought I’d pin this to the MyPlate on My Budget board for future reference:
- 1 bag Ggnocci with sauce – $2.99
- 1 bag frozen peas – $1.29
- left over cheese (I’m figuring $1s worth)
Total $5. 28 for three people.
* Includes 5 servings of veggies (peas)!
* Only $1.76 per person!
Here’s what I wished my dinner table looked like every night. But who am I kidding? Most nights, I’m lucky to just get the table set. Cooking dinner is hard enough, even though I somehow do that about 340 nights each year.
If you’re a mom or dad who cooks dinner too, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So remember the theme to Mission Impossible? Good. Now play that in your head.
Then you might want to take one last look at the MyPlate on My Budget project from my ” I Brake for Moms” column in The Everett Daily Herald from today.
Thank you to Rose McAvoy, from Our Lady of Second Helpings. I couldn’t have done this project without you! I’m adding Our Lady to my blogroll, so be sure to check Rose’s blog out the next time you are looking for a healthy recipe or inspiration to lose weight.
To all of my regular Teaching My Baby to Read followers who stuck with me last March when I totally veered off topic from Early Childhood Education, Thank you!
I’m ready to let my grocery obsession pass now, and move on to other crazy adventures. The scary part is contemplating what those might be…
Here’s my receipt from Whole Foods. I’m blowing it up so you can really look at what I bought (and what I spent). If you add in the cost of the Silvana meat I still have in the freezer, I spent about $190 a week on groceries for my family of four.
Last March I fed my family on $144.80 a week as part of the MyPlate on My Budget experiment. Could I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the Choose MyPlate advised daily nutrients? The answer was yes, but it took a big toll on everyone.
An interesting thing I have discovered is that most people are extremely reluctant to share what they spend on groceries each month. The exception is people who are spending a ridiculously low about, like $300 a month for a family of six.
Food is really expensive and I’m wondering if many people, (like me), feel guilty when they get to the cash register.
Don’t feel guilty!
If the MyPlate on My Budget experiment taught me anything, it’s that quality food costs more because it’s inherently worth more. Washington apples vs. New Zealand apples; Oregon shrimp vs. farmed shrimp from Thailand; freshness comes with a price AND a reward.
Filling your kids up with healthy snacks they actually like, means they might have better behavior. That’s worth it, right?
I think that stores like Whole Foods and PCC get a bum rap for being too expensive.
But if you are really careful, you can do just fine.
For $183.80 I bought a week’s worth of groceries, including two gallons of organic milk, lots of fresh veg for making green smoothies, GF yummies for mom, and the makings for a homemade pizza my son needs to make for a Cub Scouts requirement. I also bought a bunch of crackers, because we are all out. (That has been a major source of grumbling this past month.)
$190 a Week on (Mostly) Organic Groceries for a Family of Four
That’s not bad!
I could easily have spent higher than that if I wasn’t careful. But $190 was enough that I could buy food for a week without stressing out. Probably $200 a week would be a really comfortable level.
Rose McAvoy has some more thoughts about saving money on groceries that you might want to check out. In the meantime, I’m pouring myself another cup of coffee (with cream) and enjoying some GF pineapple cookies.
And I don’t feel guilty at all.
A recent comment suggested I take a loot at the documentary American Winter. It’s currently running on HBO.
Can you stomach another post about how my kids won’t eat fish?
Because guess what! They still won’t.
This fish taco dinner was a total bust. Even looking at it now in the picture, it doesn’t look that appealing.
And you know what? It was still a lot more expensive than the yummy vegan soup I made another night, (which my kids actually ate.)
I’m really starting to freak myself out that I might have ruined my kids for fish forever. Before this whole experiment started, they willingly ate fresh, Wild Pacific Salmon all summer. Now they’re thinking fish means frozen fish, and I’m just not as good at cooking that.
So I’m revolting!
I don’t care what the USDA Choose MyPlate recommendations are. In Week 4, I will not be serving fish twice a week. I’m done with that.
Today’s post is about accidents.
My fridge is empty. I’ve got a cold. All of the chocolate is gone from the house. The final week of this experiment cannot be over quickly enough as far as I’m concerned.
Normally, if one of my kids spills some milk or I accidentally burn some bagels I don’t freak out. Big deal, right?
Like, if the coffee filter gets messed up and the coffee tastes like sludge, you’re not supposed to start ranting and raving at your husband like a total lunatic. (That’s really bad.) You just make some more coffee and move on with your life.
But what I’ve learned this past month is that when a family’s food budget is so tight that you are literally counting every quarter, then life’s little food accidents become bigger problems.
Burning your toast might mean there’s nothing for your lunch.
Spilling the last bit of milk might mean that Dad and the kids eat bagels, but mom can’t eat her GF cornflakes that she was really counting on…
It can all just snowball into something bigger. Families with generous food budgets aren’t necessarily dealing with any of that.
So, that’s my food for thought for today.
P.S. Don’t forget that RoseMcAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is hosting a free breakfast for a month give away!
A time honored way of saving money is to eat hot cereal for breakfast.
Well I’m not so sure that’s true.
Hot cereal doesn’t save you any money if your kids won’t eat it!
Yet another bowl of porridge down the drain…
Along with the brown sugar, toasted nuts and whatever else my kids had fun sprinkling on.
But guess what!
Rose McAvoy has a breakfast cereal give-away going on at Our Lady of Second Helpings right now. Be sure to check it out!
Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.
Coming back from vacation in the middle of Week #3 of my experiment means my food budget is shot. So I decided to recoup by allotting myself $42 for four days of groceries. (That was the money left in my wallet.)
By the time I made my second lap around the grocery store, I knew I had to be careful.
Here’s what I bought:
- 1 gallon milk
- 1 tub plain yogurt
- 1 package string cheese
- cheddar cheese
- 1 dozen, cage-free eggs
- Fair Trade, organic coffee (my splurge)
- organic apples
- frozen spinach
- frozen broccoli
- chocolate chips
I’ve already got meat and fish in my freezer, carrots in the fridge, and potatoes in the garage. So I think I’ll be able to keep up with the Choose MyPlate requirements.
But I had to make some tough choices.
I started out with a three lb. bag of oranges in my cart. I traded them for the bananas. That allowed me to buy the frozen spinach. Not buying gluten-free bread (for myself) meant that I was able to afford the frozen broccoli and chocolate chips. Now I’ve got veggies for dinner, plus I can make cookies for the kids. That will keep them happy since there’s basically no desserts in the house.
When I got to the checkout stand I had a revelation.
Cashiers are awesome.
Because you know what? I bet they can totally tell what moms are doing. I bet they know when you have to put back oranges and buy bananas instead. I bet the cashier looked at my cart and knew that I was really making some tough choices.
I usually live on the other side of that. But it doesn’t matter if I’ve got a $200 cart stocked with organics, or a $40 cart supplying the basics, the cashiers always treat me well either way.
Of course, I have no idea how they treat you if you are paying with an EBT card…
Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.
And now for a confession…
Week three kicked off with a two-night trip to Victoria, British Columbia. I’ll be sharing more about our adventure in my “I Brake for Moms” column this Sunday. We had a blast, but for the purposes of my thrifty food experiment…. Eeek!
I could beat myself up over my derailed food budget, or I could give myself a break, and reflect on what I learned from Canada.
Thanks to a restaurant called Cora, I learned a lot.
(This is the part where I wax philosophical on how much I love this restaurant, and my Canadian readers can mock me for falling in love with a franchise.)
Every single thing on the menu was loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Here’s my son’s breakfast. Notice all of the fresh fruit. If this was an American diner, that fruit would probably be canned or covered in syrup.
This was my husband’s breakfast: Eggs Benedict loaded with asparagus.
My breakfast was tons of hashed up potatoes and veggies covered with an egg.
This was myhusband’s lunch one day. Notice the creative way veggie sticks are presented. It’s like a shot-glass of veggies with a little bit of dip on the bottom.
My favorite was this omelet. It is packed with shredded broccoli, carrots, onions, mushrooms, peppers and I don’t know what else. It was super yummy.
What I learned
- I’m going to start hashing up random vegetables and keeping them in a Pyrex in my fridge. Then I can cook them up in a skillet for breakfast, before I add eggs.
- Instead of presenting my kids a plate of horizontal veggie sticks, I’m going to to give them their own shot-glass of veggies. It’s so much cooler!
- Maybe I should buy a mandolin slicer? I still don’t know… But vegetables sliced in creative ways seem more fun to eat.
One of the questions people have been asking me about this project, is “What about food allergies and sensitivities?”
Lucky for me, I’m dealing with both! I have a soy allergy and a gluten intolerance.
Allergies and intolerances are two different things, but they both mean you have to be extra careful.
I’ve been dealing with the soy allergy by entire life. The gluten intolerance popped up mysteriously in my mid thirties. I’ve been to several doctors about it including a GI specialist. It’s a real thing.
$$$ and Food Issues
1 lb spagetti and 1 can pasta sauce. Total meal = $2.45 for a family of four. Right?
Not so fast!
Often times the cheapest spaghetti sauce has soy in it. That’s pretty weird when you think about it. What’s soy doing in Italian food?
The dry/corn/gf noddles they sell at the store for $3 a lb. are really gross (imo). The only gluten free pasta I really like is $7.40 a pack.
So on nights when I make pasta, I usually make the standard stuff for my family, and the expensive soy-free/g-free stuff for myself. That means I end up cooking two meals and spending a lot of money.
That’s why I don’t make spaghetti very often!
Then there’s my issues with breakfast…
The cornflakes on the right are gluten-free. The corn flakes on the left, aren’t. Guess which one is cheaper?
And no, I can’t eat oatmeal even if it is labeled gluten-free. It feels like little knives cutting into my stomach. I’ve read that a lot of gf folks have the same problem with oats.
I can do eggs, potatoes, fruit, smoothies, gf toast, grits, brown rice cereal, and gf corn flakes. A lot of that ends up being more expensive than the $1.50 box of cereal on sale at your local grocery store.
What about carbs?
Usually I eat about 2-3 servings of gluten free bread, crackers, scones, or cornflakes a day. But on the MyPlate on My Budget experiment, I haven’t been able to do this. $5 a day doesn’t go far when a loaf of gluten free bread is $4.50 and half the size of a normal loaf. So I’ve been eating eggs for breakfast.
That means that most of my carbohydrates are coming from potatoes, rice and quinoa.
I’m beginning to get crabby…
I feel hungry a lot…
I’m rationing my corn flakes…
For the past two weeks I’ve followed the Thrifty budget. I’ve fed my family healthy, nutritious, Choose MyPlate following meals. But I’m not feeling particularly well-fed myself.
This makes me think about all of the moms out there who might not be feeding themselves properly due to cost.