Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recipes & Menus for Eating Organic on $4 a Day (Part 2) - Hunger Challenge 2010

Four dollars a day per person is a tough food budget for anyone, but if for health or other reasons you are committed to eating all organic it can be a daunting experience.  As part of my participating in Hunger Challenge 2010 and spending only $4 a day/person on meals (similar to what someone on food stamps would receive), I decided to plan an "all organic day" to see if I could do so.  The answer, was yes, one could eat 100 percent organic, but not without a lot of time shopping and cooking.  While there was definitely enough to eat and I was able to create a relatively nutritious meal plan for the day, I kept thinking if I could have only bought some ingredients non-organic I would have had more food (and definitely more chicken) in my day. Another compromise was relying on frozen and canned produce to keep down costs. Even within those constraints I tried to work in fruit, vegetables, fiber, calcium and a little variety.

For Part 1 and more background on the Hunger Challenge, please click here. For what else I've posted on Hunger Challenge 2010 and links, please click here.

Here's my menu plan and costs with some recipe suggestions.  All foods used were certified 100 percent organic and were purchased at Whole Foods. (For more on Whole Foods and how to shop for healthy food on the cheap, check out the post on my budget shopping tour.) 

Note: Menu plan was based on 4 servings.  (So that's leftovers for 1 or a complete meal for a family of 4).  Everything was organic.  My per person total for the day came out to $3.90. Since I like strong flavors, I would have used that "extra" 10 cents to add some more spice to the corn soup and or the pasta sauce.  I utilized "fractionalized" costs on ingredients that I did not use up in total in a recipe.  Some are pantry staples, others would be used in other meals on another day (such as the leftover pasta sauce and pasta).

See below the menu and recipes for my lessons learned.

Breakfast   -- Oatmeal with Fruit and Yogurt -- 75 cents a serving:
Rolled oats (per serving: 1/2 cup oats in 1 cup boiling water with dash of salt, cook, stirring for about five minutes) served with sliced apple, a drizzle of honey and 2 Tbs. of yogurt per person.

Lunch -- Corn Soup with Bread -- $1.25 a serving
My Hunger Challenge Corn Soup might have been a little less expensive with fresh corn since it's in season, but I wanted to make it a quicker meal.  Serve with 1 slice per person of whole wheat bread.

Hunger Challenge Corn Soup
Serves 4

In hindsight, if I had cut out the chicken in the pasta sauce and used beans, I would have put some of the savings into amping up this soup, which but could use some more vegetables or some beans.
1 Tbs. oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. paprika or chili powder (optional)
1 carrot, chopped
4 cups water
1 vegetarian or chicken bullion cube
15-oz. can of corn, drained
8 oz. frozen spinach (1/2 bag, reserve rest for another use)
7 oz. diced tomatoes (1/2 can, reserve rest for another use)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in bottom of soup pot, brown onions and garlic. And optional paprika or chili powder and carrots.  Saute for a few minutes. Add water. Bring to simmer. Add bullion cube, stirring until dissolved.  Add corn, spinach and tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. Cook until carrots are cooked through. Taste and correct seasonings. If desired, puree part of the soup for a creamy texture.

Snack: -- 1/2 cup per person of non-fat yogurt --- 40 cents per serving

Dinner -- Pasta with Sauce and Bread OR Half of an Apple -- $1.50
This meal was the hardest, I kept having to take out fresh veggies (such as steamed broccoli or a green salad) and reducing the portion of chicken because of the cost of organic meat.  Another way to go would have been to skip the meat and use 2 cups of cooked white beans with bulk beans that would have cost a total of  56 cents, a savings of $1.19 over using just the 1/4 pound of chicken in the pasta sauce. I also could have skipped the bread or apple and used a bit more chicken in the recipe. 

Pasta with Peppers, Onions and a Hint of Chicken
Serves 4

Pick a pasta sauce with strong seasoning to help flavor the sauce without having to add other herbs or spices.
If you are not going to serve the sliced bread or half of an apple (either with the meal or as an additional snack), you can add an additional chicken or a side of steamed carrots and stay on budget.

1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 small thigh)
1 Tbs. oil
8 oz.  frozen red and green pepper and onion mix (1/2 bag, reserve rest for another use)
7 oz diced tomatoes with liquid (reserved from soup recipe)
1 cup pasta sauce (from 25oz. jar, reserve rest for another use)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups cooked whole wheat pasta

Chop chicken very fine.  Heat oil over medium high heat in a deep fry pan or wide pot. Saute, stirring until chicken is browned, breaking up any clumps.  Add pepper and onion mix, and stir until beginning to defrost. Add tomatoes with their liquid, and pasta sauce.  Lower heat to simmer, and cook covered, stirring until the vegetables and sauce are heated through.  Serve over pasta. (If using beans, leave out the oil and chicken and add 2 cups cooked beans when you add pasta sauce.)

Lessons learned:  I think if I had kept the day vegetarian I would have been able to have more food and more choices (and a more filling lunch), which would have been very much appreciated.  Another tact would be to decide which foods were the most important to have kept organic and just looked for high quality alternatives that were not necessarily organic.  I was determined to shop in one place (Whole Foods in this case), because many food stamp recipients don't have the wherewithal to go from store to store looking for bargains.  One place to look might have been local farmer's markets.  Another here in the West is The Grocery Outlet chain, which sometimes has organic canned and packaged goods for very low prices. Overall, though, I thought that Whole Foods was a good choice for accessible one-stop organic shopping, although locally I have several independent food stores that offer good choices. Many regular chain markets now offer some organic choices as well.


Lana said...

I applaud you for doing this challenge for three years. And trying to to id following certain limitations, like organic food or kosher, is particularly hard. Good to know that it can be done. Good luck!

FJKramer said...

Thanks, Lana. I have a few more "limitations" that I didn't get around to this year, so I guess I'm doing HC 2011 and beyond.

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha ha ha

why do you think so lowly of people on food stamps? you think they cant go to more than one store to shop?? do you honestly think they only get $4 per day per person? wow, the government has you fooled. hopefully some day you will wake up.

I know many many people on food stamps. most of them sell about half of the monthly allotment. and they still eat just fine. they buy lunchables and junk food and even steak! and they laugh at stupid self righteous white people who go around clutching their pearls over the poor folk on food stamps.

dont be a joke.

FJKramer said...

Wow, Sorry you thought that, too bad you didn't leave a way to get in touch with you so we could could have a dialogue on the issue.

I think that my approach balances accessiblity, budget and mobility.
Many food stamp recipents don't have access to a lot of choices. Many do. I'm trying to take a lowest common denominator here and make a point. I do give other options locally for organics as well. If you read through all my other Hunger Challenge posts over the years you can see I address a lot of different scenarios.

As someone who grew up on food stamps, I certainly know the variety of folks that depend on them.

To be honest, most food stamp recipents have other food resources -- be it some of their paycheck or other income and or food bank/food pantry handouts -- but many don't have much more than the allowance from SNAP (the new name for food stamps)

Certainly even some of the folks doing the Hunger Challenge are making poor food choices -- that's part of the education outreach associated with the Hunger Challenge.

I don't know your friends, but if they are indeed scamming the system, you should report them. They are literally stealing food out of the mouths of people who really need it.

Here in California the screening process is so difficult many truly needy families can't qualify.

You know, Anonymous. You may be laughing at what you assume my naivete, but I think your data is skewed. Even if it not, the reality is if even a few people are helped by the Hunger Challenge and the food bank I'm happy.

SFFoodBank said...

The anonymous commenter might be interested in what one of our food bank clients has to say. Janie recieves $200 in food stamps per month for herself and her teenaged son:

"I’ve been working since I was 12 – started out with a paper route, and I did a youth program and then I worked in delis and restaurants, but then I got injured. Now I’m disabled. People don’t come onto this earth thinking they’re going to be poor.

"I have a son, a sophomore in high school. This is a growing kid who’s constantly eating, wants something to eat all the time. And, sad to say, a lot of times it’s like, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat.” And that’s the worst thing. When your child is hungry and he can’t just go into the refrigerator or cabinet and get something to eat when he wants it. And a lot of times, I eat less and sometimes don’t even eat, just so he can have something. Even if he gets lunch at school he comes home and he is just hungry."

Anonymous said...

well, to be honest, Im in Arizona. maybe our system is easier to scam than the one in California. all I know is, sometimes I only have $20 to spend on food for the week, and I get by without food stamps. I have gone without a meal simply because I dont have anything to make. I see lots of people that I know that are on food stamps, and they all eat expensive microwaveable junk and laugh at the system and Im jaded and sick of them.

I shouldnt have laughed at you. I apologize. I realize that you are trying to help those that need help. I just think the number of people who truly need help are very very few and far between. I think most people are just playing the system.

FJKramer said...

Dear Anonymous
Thanks for coming back and creating a dialogue. I really appreciate that, although I would suggest that most people on food stamps really need them and only a small minority are "scamming the system."

First, I'm told that applying for food stamps anywhere is a complex and daunting process. And even then probably 1 out of 4 families in California who should qualify don't because of the vetting process. I'm sorry, I couldn't find the comparable stats for AZ

Obviously I don't know the people you are observing in the stores who are "squandering" their allocations. But I do know if you don't have access to nutrition info or don't have access to a kitchen to cook, you might make choices other than the ones others would think are best to feed yourself or your family.

I hope that if you are interested in learning more about those who rely on food banks and food stamps for support that you would consider volunteering at your local food bank or pantry.

In terms of your own situation, I wish you the best of luck.

Take care,

Shelly said...

I've seen signs posted at the Jack London Square farmers' market indicating that food stamps are accepted there. There is one farmer in particular at that market who sells high quality produce at very low prices--I don't think I've seen anything for sale at her stand for over $3.50 per pound, and most items are $1 or $2 per pound. She uses organic farming methods, but cannot afford to pay for the high cost of organic certification. I don't remember the name of her farm, but her stand features distinctive wooden vegetable crates and she sells flowers as well.

Anonymous said...

I think more people should be open minded and compassionate. I used food stamps for a while when my husband was laid off, and it was very embarrassing because of the hateful stereotypes I know exist. Many people on food stamps don't have access to a kitchen (or limited cooking skills) so would buy more convenience foods. Or maybe they have to walk 1 mile to the nearest store (no car, limited bus fare) and therefore have trouble getting to further stores for better deals to stretch their dollars. There are just so many varying circumstances, everyones situation is different.

FJKramer said...

To the commenter from 10/14/10 -- I agree with you 100 percent. That's why looking for other models to get fruit, vegetables an unprocessed foods to those who would otherwise be unable to get it is so important. I also tried to get the food bank interested in the concept of community kitchens for those who don't have access in their living quarters. Thanks for your insightful and thoughtful comment.