Last September, people participated in the SNAP Challenge. To those who may not be familiar with the SNAP Challenge, it is an annual event hosted by Feeding America to raise awareness about hunger. Due to last year’s success in raising awareness, I know a few people will be participating in the challenge this month.
People harshly judged Gwenyth Paltrow last year when she had attempted the SNAP Challenge, and ultimately failed. Although her intentions were good, people noted that she choose foods which were not terribly cost effective, versatile, or nutrient dense. It was eye opening to see how far or how little people could really stretch their money.
I have never used food stamps, so I cannot speak from experience, but I have still had moments of financial instability due to the costs of school and living on my own (with two room mates.) Two years ago, as I was stressed beyond belief to make ends meet before I wrapped up my last quarter of college. I found myself trying to stretch $40-50 a month on groceries. I utilized the following tricks:
- Utilize tougher cuts of meat by cooking them slowly in a crock pot, because the price per ounce is usually cheaper. This is an especially important tip for working families. Everything can be added to the crock pot in the morning, and 8 hours later, dinner is done.
- Make soups out of whatever leftovers are on hand; taco night leftovers can be turned into a delicious taco soup with the addition of low-sodium broth (extra points if you make your own out of kitchen scraps.)
- When using ground meat in a recipe, substitute up to half of the meat volume with vegetables or grains-some of my favorites have been cooked lentils, cooked beans, cooked rice, mushrooms, or dry oatmeal. This works especially well in meatballs, lasagna, meatloaf, and burgers.
- Use meat as a flavoring, not the main event of a meal.
- Go meat-free at least once a week.
- Stock up the pantry with versatile staples such as dried beans, rice, canned tuna, potatoes, and dried pasta.
- Learn how to bake bread, instead of buying it (5 Minute Artisan Bread is a great place to start.)
- When on sale, stock up the freezer with the most multi-functional vegetables such as frozen peas, corn, and broccoli.
- Bake a cost effective Wacky Cake/Depression Cake when a sweets craving hits. This recipe has no eggs, butter, or milk-all of the ingredients are shelf-stable. It is much cheaper than most other cake recipes, and remarkably cheaper than buying cake from a bakery.
- Instead of going out with friends to eat, invite them over for a potluck. This was my favorite trick, because I was lucky enough to have other aspiring chefs as friends.
To be honest, it was a huge challenge trying to stretch my food budget that far-even as a culinary school student who was eating one or two (technically pre-paid) meals a day in class.
I realize that others do not have that kind of luxury. I know that some people might feel intimidated by cooking. As a culinary graduate, home cook, kitchen manager/chef, and writer, I believe I have a certain responsibility to share any resources I may have. Below, I’ve outlined a few of my favorites:
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
I have been truly inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Oliver set out to change the way that families see food. His first step was getting people into the kitchen. Oliver advocated public cooking centers, where communities could attend drop-in cooking classes and gather inspiration to feed their families more wholesome foods. On his YouTube Channel, he offers a multitude of recipes. He proved that everyone should seek out resources to learn how to cook their own nutritious foods.
Eat On $4 A Day Cookbook Good And Cheap By Leanne Brown
This is an incredibly gorgeous FREE downloadable PDF eBook that has been my savior. It is full of beautiful pictures, and stunningly easy recipes. Each recipe has been costed to show the price of each recipe, and each serving. My favorite section of the book shows multiple variations of oatmeal-even savory options. This cookbook has proven that eating cheap does not have to be boring.
I stumbled across this website about a year ago, while doing a search for a dragon noodle recipe that one of my co-workers had brought for lunch. Beth’s site features recipes broken down by category, with all meal and recipe costs shown. Her recipes are not only cost-effective, but extremely creative. I still continue to visit her site to draw inspiration. She even features a few easy bread recipes, such as her no-knead focaccia, which has been one of my go-to favorite bread recipes.
I hope that more people will be inspired to cook.