SNAP Challenge, Day Five #JFSnapChallenge

It is the last day of our challenge. We have not fared well. Day four was near impossible for us to stick to our menu. I had a business breakfast that meant I was not eating at home. Maurene refused all lunches offers except an apple and the girls were too enthralled with a movie before a school sleepover to eat dinner. Audrey ended up eating half a PB&J but Maurene had nothing that was not provided at her school after I dropped them off.

I attended a fundraiser for a friend's new catering company benefiting the food bank we have partnered with for our SNAP challenge. When I showed up I was teased about breaking my challenge with gourmet foods and French wines. It was not a good day for our challenge. I hope even though we have not been good about sticking to our budget we are still showing how hard it is to live on such a small food allotment. 

One idea my husband had when we started this challenge was to make a food donation monthly. We use Amazon Subscribe & Save for dry goods and toiletries. It helps us not have to remember to purchase items we need all the time and we also get a discount for bulk purchases. My husband signed up to have a monthly shipment of canned fruit delivered to our local food bank. We are helping with a small donation but it is so easy we never have to think about it. If you use Amazon at all I encourage you to look into setting up a monthly donation of this type.

Since we had such a hard time at the end of the challenge we decided to sign up to help a little with Thanksgiving at our local food bank. The girls and I are baking two pies for those receiving a hot meal. Audrey and I are also going to help pass out the food on Wednesday. My purpose for involving my girls in this challenge was for them to understand the challenges people can face if they are receiving SNAP assistance. I also want them to understand these are real people and it could be anyone they know. We don't have much but we want to do what we can to help.

If you live in our area I invite you to make a small monetary donation to Just Food, volunteer to pass out food Wednesday, or bake a pie (we will pick it up and deliver).

Those who are not local I invite you to help in your area. There are food banks all over the United States helping those in need.

These girls are why I wanted to participate in this challenge. I want my girls to understand we are all people and to help those in need.

SNAP Challenge, Day Four #JFSnapChallenge

As we go into day four I have to admit the food has not been the challenging part of this challenge. I have missed most the little things. Like a small piece of chocolate or a glass of wine. My girls wanted honey for their cornbread. They also want a piece of pie after dinner. We all would like to live on more than $4 a day.

On to our grocery list. These are the items I purchased and the prices I paid. After I did all my shopping, meal planning and most of our meals I learned that on food assistance we would not have to pay sales tax. This would leave a little more room in our budget for more bananas for my youngest and maybe ingredients for a pie for dessert.

Checkers
Oats 2.15
Apple Jelly 1.59
Peanut Butter 1.56
Garlic .22
Peanuts .30
Black Beans .99
Pineapple, crushed .99
Frozen Orange Juice 1.49
Frozen Cauliflower 1.89
Oil 1.88
Raisins 1.95
Cornmeal 1.27
Ro-tel .99
Vinegar .99

Aldi
Flour 1.19
Sugar 1.66
Baking Powder .99
Apples 1.88
Bananas .71
Onions 1.69
Canned Tomatoes (2) 1.98
Tomato Paste .39
Navy Beans (2) 1.18
Chili Beans .59
Chili Powder .99
Cinnamon .99
Italian Seasoning .99
Bread .99
Cocoa Powder 2.19
Tortillas .99
Soy Milk 2.29
Mushrooms (2) 2.98
Frozen Peas .95
Frozen Corn .95
Carrots .99
Celery .59
Apple Sauce 1.49
Spaghetti 1.49
Pasta Sauce 1.49
Brown Rice .67
Canned Pumpkin .89
Salt .39

Natural Grocers
Soy Butter 2.99


We got right back on the horse and only ate food on our menu within our budget. Day three was a little harder because we joined friends at a play date. Normally at the play date we enjoy fast food and I have a nice cup of coffee. This time my girl friends enjoyed a yummy meal of noodles from Ramen Bowl and their children munched on chicken nuggets. Maurene and I packed our lunches and I was not able to warm my hands by wrapping them around a warm mug while my friends and I chatted. My girl friends felt bad about eating noodles in front of me.

Dinner was Black Bean Soup with cornbread. I found it very enjoyable but the girls stuck mostly to the cornbread. After they tried several bites of the black bean soup they begged for slices of pumpkin bread with butter.

We will see how well breakfast goes today. I planned rice pudding but the girls are still learning to like rice. Maybe with enough milk, cinnamon and sugar it will appeal?

Tomorrow I will share more recipes and ways you can help.

SNAP Challenge, Day Three #JFSnapChallenge

If you are paying close attention you noticed there was no post yesterday. We cheated. My husband's grandmother was moved to hospice care to live the last weeks of her life and we drove four hours to Des Moines to say our goodbyes. I did not think it was a good day to try to find food in a gas station or fast food restaurant to stay in our budget so we took the day off. 

Not really a valid challenge if you can just go back to your $10 (ok, it was really $14) impulse purchase of candy bars, ice cream sandwiches and beverages at a gas station to hold the four of us over for the four hour drive home. My husband asked as we pulled out of the parking lot how I was doing with the challenge today and I just gave him a snarky grin. He is not participating with us this week.

So let's talk about how the meals from day two went and share some recipes. Tomorrow I will lay out the entire shopping list and show where we made our purchases. I will also share some of the decisions we had to make and what we decided to sacrifice.


Audrey and Maurene both eat breakfast at home and then Audrey heads to school. A school-age child receiving food assistance would qualify for free lunch and, in the case of Lawrence Public Schools, have access to a free breakfast as well. Audrey eats lunch provided by school but Maurene eats at home with me before she goes for her half day of preschool. They both have a small snack at school before I pick them up but almost always want another snack before dinner. We almost always eat dinner together. This week my husband has been making other accommodations for himself for dinners.

Now for some recipes!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup oats, rolled or instant, we like rolled
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter, creamy is what we like
  • 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup water, boiling
  • 1-2 tsp sugar or honey, to taste
Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so to allow the oats to soften. It is even easier to mix all ingredients and place in a sealed container in the fridge overnight.

Tropical Oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup oats, rolled or instant
  • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple in juice
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice 
Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so to allow the oats to soften. We like to serve this version chilled. If we are not participating in a SNAP Challenge we add 1/4 cup shredded coconut for a more tropical taste.

Better Than a Jar Spaghetti Sauce
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 jar cheap pasta sauce
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
Chop onion, carrot, and celery. Saute in 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. If veggies dry out before they have softened, as is often the case with me, add water to the pan 1 tbsp at a time to continue water saute. After about 3-4 minutes add minced garlic and continue to saute for another 2 minutes. Add jar of sauce and seasoning and reduce heat to simmer. In the mean time cook pasta. Once pasta is finished toss with sauce. Add salt as desired for taste.

African Peanut Stew
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, if desired
Chop onion, carrot, celery and saute in 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add water as necessary. After 3-4 minutes add minced garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, peanut butter, and water. Reduce to simmer and heat 20 minutes. Add rice to last 10 minutes of cooking time if cold. Stir and serve with a little chopped peanuts.

Basic Muffin Recipe

  • 2 cups grains ( we used 1 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup rolled oats usually)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup liquid, soy milk this week
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or oil
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup additions
Stir together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add liquid, sugar, and oil and stir until just combined. This week we added about 3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin and 1 tbsp cinnamon. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into greased or lined 12 cup muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. This recipe works well with so many flavor combos. We are enjoying pumpkin, sweet potato and butternut squash these days. Use your imagination!

I will share a few more recipes tomorrow as well.

SNAP Challenge, Day Two #JFSnapChallenge

There is more than a little irony going on here. 

The girls and I shopped with many of our fellow SNAP Challengers at Checkers Foods last night. The local paper,  The Lawrence Journal World, had a couple of reporters and a photographer on hand to write about the story. One reporter asked to follow us during our shopping trip. He was nice and asked a lot of questions while the girls ran around and sometimes helped me shop for food. The photographer got a couple of shots of me sharing my menu and price book. It was a good event. There were City Commissioners, County Commissioners and more than a few prominent community members there to shop as well. We were in good company.

We purchased our groceries and said goodbye to the nice reporter, telling him we had to rush Audrey to her piano lessons. I got in my 2013 Mazda wearing my new Gap scarf and my nice Zappos shoes feeling more than a little silly. After dropping Audrey at piano lessons Mo and I went to Target to get her new snow boots and face scrub for me. I really started to feel like a hypocrite then. 

I spent a great deal of time planning our menu for the week, shopping for the best prices, and setting aside time to make from scratch what I could not afford to buy pre-made. I looked on Pinterest, hit a few websites for price comparisons and stopped by the library to check out more cookbooks.

Time may not be something a single working parent with small children has to get the most nutritious food for the limited funds available to them. And money is certainly something they do not have to throw around. They do not have the luxury of taking a five day challenge to see what it is like to be food insecure. At the end of our challenge we can go back to eating what ever I feel like purchasing. And my girls can have the expensive box of clementines they wanted at Checkers last night. I feel like a hypocrite.

As you can see from the photos day one went well. You can check out our original menu to see how close we were to our plan. Maurene refused to entertain the idea of tortilla, banana and peanut butter lunch and asked for cinnamon toast and ants on a log. I relented. I had the banana, tortilla, and peanut butter. I believe Maurene also ate a banana right before lunch. She is obsessed. I took that into consideration when planning our menu. Audrey likes cinnamon apples so that is why that was our only other fruit purchase. 

Day one dinner turned into spaghetti, red sauce, mashed cauliflower, and peas. It was easy and well received. The peas and cauliflower were frozen and cooked in the microwave. I dumped the cauliflower in the food processor with the water it cooked in and some soy butter to make "cloud fluff." The red sauce was mostly from a jar with the addition of the mirepoix, garlic and navy beans. If you do not see a beverage we drank water.

The girls also had another pumpkin muffin after dinner. That would have been the end of our day had their father not come home bringing a frozen chocolate treat on a stick. He knows this is our challenge week and felt the girls needed it anyway. There was nothing I could do, they had them in their hands before I knew what was happening.

Check back tomorrow to see how it continues.

SNAP Challenge Day One #JFSnapChallenge

There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes the last few weeks to get ready for our SNAP Challenge. Audrey, Maurene and I signed up to live on less than $4 a day each for five days. We planned our menu carefully and have completed most of our grocery shopping. Yesterday we started on a little prep work to make sure our week went as well as could be expected. 

Over the last weeks I have been talking to my girls about what we are doing and why but I still expect there to be a few bumps in the road. They are five- and four-years-old, a deeper understanding of social policies of our federal government are not within their grasp yet. I just hope we are able to follow our plan and finish our goal of five days.

I want to share a little of what we did to get ready for this challenge as well as our menu. It might enlighten you to the struggles of the food insecure.  And I also encourage you to read "Those People" on Scarymommy.com. It is a story that will change the way you think when it comes to the food insecure. 

Here is our planned menu. I warn you things almost always seem to fluctuate around our house and we never seem to really stick to a menu. That said, we have fewer groceries to work with this time and no eating out options. 

Monday
Breakfast - Pumpkin Muffins and hot cocoa
Lunch - Tortilla, banana, and peanut butter
Snacks - Pumpkin Bread
Dinner - Mushroom Alfredo and peas

Tuesday
Breakfast - Chocolate, Peanut Butter Oatmeal and orange juice
Lunch - Carrots, celery, apples, peanut butter and ABC Soup
Snacks - Chocolate Muffins
Dinner - African Peanut Stew and cornbread

Wednesday
Breakfast - Rice Pudding and hot cocoa
Lunch - PB&J and apples
Snacks - Black bean brownies
Dinner - Spaghetti, red sauce, mashed cauliflower and peas

Thursday 
Breakfast - Fruit, leftover cornbread and chocolate soymilk
Lunch - Pumpkin Bread, celery and peanut butter
Snacks - Rice Pudding
Dinner - Black Bean Soup, rice and corn

Friday
Breakfast - Pancakes, applesauce and orange juice
Lunch - Rice, beans, and rot-tel
Snacks - Black Bean Brownies
Dinner - Chili, cornbread and peas

A few things you might notice about our menu include the lack of coffee and  animal products. I reduced both several months back. I still keep a little coffee and tea in the house but do not need it to wake up. The meat product reduction was a decision I made a few months back after learning I was pre-diabetic. Normal weeks I will purchase a few expensive animal product alternatives to placate those in the house who do not care for my eating style but this week we did not have it in our budget. I also will typically get a half-gallon of cow milk for the girls to drink as they are not as fond of soy milk. This week I decided to utilize our purchase of  cocoa powder to make the soy milk more palatable. I will report the results.

Be sure to follow with us the rest of the week as I share the previous day's actual menu and any struggles we have had on the way.

Tomato Egg Noodle Pasta

Audrey has been playing around in the kitchen for weeks. This is a recipe she wanted to share. It is a play on the one pot meals we have been eating a lot of recently. This is her debut solo show.

  • 1/2 lb of egg noodles, we like whole wheat
  • 2 cups of water
  • 14 oz chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasonings
  • 2 cloves garlic or 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 onion, chopped or 1 tbsp dried
Place all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for the amount of time listed on pasta container to get to al dente.

Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. This also taste really good with a package of frozen peas cooked right in the pot.

See if you can get your young helper to make dinner tonight and Audrey will be back with more tips soon.

Tri Colored Pasta

Audrey has been in the kitchen since before she was two years old. That is over four years ago. In the years between the time when Audrey was simply placing salad ingredients in a bowl and today she has learned so much.

She routinely plays a majority role in our dinner preparation. This meal is no different. Audrey likes to watch and wait for the water to boil. That is not a task I enjoy so I have passed it down to the next generation. She loves to gather items to cook or for the table. I am always trying to best focus her efforts so we do not end up with china plates and silver at every meal.She settled for a candle with this dish.

Tri Colored Pasta

  • 2 cups dried Barilla Tri-Color Penne
  • 1 cup pasta sauce, canned or homemade
  • shredded cheese or nutritional yeast for topping
Heat water in a medium pot to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 7-10 minutes until desired bite. Heat sauce in a separate pot or in a bowl in the microwave. Plate pasta and top with sauce. Finish with shredded cheese or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. Stir and serve.

Tasks for Audrey:
  1. Watch for water to boil
  2. Add pasta and stir
  3. Reduce heat on stove
  4. Stir pasta
  5. Gather and microwave side vegetables
  6. Set the table
  7. Get a candle for ambiance 
Tasks for Mom:
  1. Place water in pot and heat on stove
  2. Drain pasta when done
  3. Toss pasta with sauce and heat in microwave

Organic Girl Green Smoothie

In these holiday months that start with Halloween and carry on until New Years I am constantly thinking about fun ways to get more nutrients into my beautiful children. One fun way to work with good food is making smoothies.

Recently we were given Organic Girl greens to try. They make organic greens in a number of different varieties. We got Baby Kale and Baby Spinach. I love kale and made a few salads and wilted greens to enjoy with a big plate of pasta. We saved the spinach for special smoothies.

Spinach freezes well. We grab 1/2 cup at a time to make a quick breakfast or yummy snack.

Berry Green Smoothie
  • 1/2 cup greens (we like spinach)
  • 1 cup liquid (we like almond milk)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup berries (frozen this time of year)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (honey is good, so is maple syrup)
Throw all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. Taste and adjust for flavor or consistency. If needed add a little water to thin or some ice cubes to thicken. The color can be a little odd if using darker berries. Strawberries give the smoothie a fun taste and keep the color lighter.
We love our blender and wanted to share because it is so easy to use and very affordable. The blender container is glass which makes it easy to clean. 

Pancakes and Fruit on a Stick

You know you have done well teaching your child to cook when she comes to you with a cookbook begging to make a recipe. This happened to me recently. I can't blame her, it is a recipe for mini pancakes on sticks with fruit. So yummy!

Audrey has gotten into paging through the cookbooks a lot lately and since I keep the kid ones on a lower shelf it is easy for her to pick out fun recipes. Many times she comes to me wanting to make an item requiring ingredients we do not have for a meal in one hour. This time she picked an easy to make recipe.

I mixed up the pancake batter making a few easy substitutions to make it healthier and plant-based, while she prepped the fruit. The kiwi was a challenge for her so I helped. One the pancakes were cooked and the fruit ready I helped her set up so she could make our breakfast for dinner meal.

Fruit and Pancake Sticks

  • pancake mix or ingredients for mix
  • assorted fruit
  • sticks
Mix pancake batter and cook small pancakes. Allow pancakes to cool slightly. Cut up fruit. Skewer pancakes and fruit. Pour a small bowl of syrup or applesauce for dipping.

We got the idea for our fun meal from the fabulous Bean Appetit Cookbook. In it you will find fun ways to get your little ones interested in cooking.

Leftover Halloween Candy Muffins

If you got as much candy as we did last night you might be considering how to get your children to eat anything healthy for the next several weeks. We have one small idea to let the little ones enjoy a little candy while you get some good food into their bellies.

My girls woke up and immediately wanted to eat candy for breakfast. I convinced them to help me make muffins instead by saying we could put the candy in the muffins. It worked. Now they think they are getting candy for breakfast and I know they are getting more whole grains and healthy ingredients than they would normally. Win win.

Leftover Halloween Candy Muffins
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup liquid (we like unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 1 egg or egg replacement (we use chia seed: 1 tbsp chia to 3 tbsp water)
  • 1/2 cup sweetener (white sugar, brown sugar, reduce liquid by 1/4 cup if using liquid sweetener)
  • 1/4 cup or less of oil (can replace with 1/2 mashed banana or 1/4 cup applesauce)
  • 1/2 cup broken up Halloween chocolate or candy pieces
Mix flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. If using chia seed egg replacer mix with water and set aside for 5 minutes then, in a medium bowl mix with liquid, sweetener and oil. If using egg simply beat all remaining ingredients but chocolate together in a medium bowl. Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate pieces. Pour into 12 greased or lined muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Allow muffins to cool and enjoy!

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