Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 4

This week's soup
Here we are at the last week of the SNAP challenge. Since I bought two weeks' worth of groceries last week, I don't have a shopping trip to report to you, but I'll fill you in on my meal plan.

This past weekend, I ate:
  • peanut butter toast for breakfast (I wasn't feeling super well last week and I didn't have much of an appetite in the mornings... does that make me sound pregnant? I assure you, I am not.)
  • lunch on Saturday was leftovers from Thursday night (I took two of my friends out to thank them for catsitting for me) and Sunday lunch was the last of the potato chowder
  • dinner on Saturday was baked potatoes topped with odds and ends from my fridge (green peppers, enchilada sauce, cheese, and sour cream) and I had dinner on Sunday at a friend's house
Additionally, I volunteered to make a dessert to bring to my friend's on Sunday. I had some leftover baking chocolate sitting in my pantry that I wanted to use up, so I started searching around for recipes. I came across a few good ones, but they would have required me to buy a few ingredients at the store. I almost resigned myself to going out to pick up eggs when I came across a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies that I had all of the ingredients for. Score! So, a quick tip for you: if you don't have eggs, search for a vegan version of what you want to make to see if you could make a few modifications to use what you have instead (I used butter for my cookies, so they weren't actually vegan).

My meal plan for this week:

Breakfasts: finish up the freezer breakfast burritos.

Lunches: tempeh tamale pie. There used to be a great vegetarian/vegan cooking blog called Peas and Thank You, but the writer decided to stop blogging. Luckily, some of her recipes wound up on other sites before she took her blog down, so I've been able to still cook some of them. This tamale pie is one such recipe. It's really filling and quick to make. I did a number of substitutions: I used my black beans instead of buying pinto beans, I used real cheese and sour cream instead of the vegan versions, and I used the agave syrup I already had instead of maple syrup. 

Dinners: tortellini soup with peas and spinach. Another super quick and easy recipe. I almost always have frozen peas, spinach, and vegetable broth (as was the case this time), so I only had to buy cheese tortellini. I usually don't make soup two weeks in a row, but I knew I would be cutting it close budget-wise because of the grocery delivery and was looking to use as much as I could that I already had on hand. Also, on a disappointing note, my parmesan went moldy, so I won't be able to sprinkle any parmesan cheese on this soup like I usually do :-(. 

There you have it folks: 4 weeks of SNAP budget recipes. Stay tuned for my wrap up post where I'll summarize my thoughts on the challenge as well as offer my tips and tricks for cooking for one on a budget.

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Monday, October 13, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 3

Delicious homemade pizza!
Week two of the SNAP challenge went smoothly. The burritos worked out beautifully (they were smaller than I expected though, so next time I'll be using larger burrito shells) and my pizzas were delicious (I wound up using leftover green pepper instead of broccoli like I originally planned). My quinoa was a little watery due to my impatience, so my dal wasn't as good as usual, but it was still perfectly edible.

So, remember how I mentioned that I didn't think I would need to get a grocery delivery while on this challenge? I stand corrected. One of my cats is having some health issues and my vet asked me to change up his diet. New diet means needing to purchase different food and since walking or riding my bike with a 10+ pound bag of dry cat food and a dozen cans of wet cat food doesn't work out so well, I had to resort to a grocery delivery. In addition to cat supplies and a few household items, I wound up getting two weeks' worth of food to make the delivery worthwhile and to make my life a little easier. Did I manage to stay under budget despite this wrench in my plans? Let's take a look.

Safeway grocery delivery (food items only): $55.46

I still needed two ingredients, so I stopped by Trader Joe's and picked up an onion and some tempeh. I wound up getting two packages of tempeh because the price was really good, it's harder for me to get to Trader Joe's, and tempeh lasts a really long time. 

Trader Joe's: $4.67
Total grocery spend for two weeks: $60.13

I came in under budget by $2.87. I'm really surprised I was able to stay within the SNAP budget. I needed to replenish a few things (almond milk, OJ, butter) and bought a good amount of dairy items, which can be a little on the pricey side. Also, I wasn't able to use quite as many coupons and loyalty card savings as when I do my shopping in store.

Before I dive into what I'll be making for week 3 of the challenge, let me go over what I ate over the weekend:
  • Breakfast consisted of eating the leftovers I had from the freezer breakfast burritos I made last week. I had some of the scrambled egg/vegetable mix, shredded cheese, and enchilada sauce left, so I made myself little breakfast burrito bowls.
  • Lunches and dinners were veggie burgers, a grilled cheese, and left over frozen veggie mix. I did have lunch out with friends Sunday afternoon at a street festival.

My plan for week three:

Breakfasts: Even though I have a week's worth of breakfast burritos in my freezer, I need to use up the half and half I bought last week, so I'm going to make scones this week and eat the rest of the burritos next week. I'll be using this scone recipe, but will be replacing the blueberries with dried cranberries. I'm not sure if I'll be making the glaze. If I do, I'll use orange juice instead of lemon juice.

Lunches: Lemon Ricotta Pasta. Another super simple, inexpensive recipe from Budget Bytes. All I needed to buy was the ricotta since I bought the rigatoni last week and already had frozen peas and lemon juice. I was getting really sick of bananas after two weeks, so I caved and bought greek yogurt for the next two weeks. I'll also be having my usual granola bars.

Dinners: It's getting a little cool here at night and I love to make soups to stay warm during the fall and winter. This Cheesy Potato Chowder will fit the bill nicely. I make and freeze my own vegetable broth and have a bag of frozen broccoli that's been begging to be used, so I only needed the potatoes and dairy items.

Stay tuned to see what I make during my last week of the SNAP challenge!

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 4

Monday, October 6, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 2

Groceries for week 2 of the SNAP challenge
Week one of the SNAP Challenge went as planned. I feel like I lucked out having pesto and tofu on hand to use so I didn't have to make very many sacrifices in order to come in a little under budget. Will I be so lucky during week two?

Let's see how I did at the grocery store:

Safeway: $22.65 (saved $6.57 by shopping sales and using coupons loaded to my loyalty card from Safeway's website)

Cash back from JingIt, Checkout51, and Snap apps: -$.90 (two were for bananas and one was for mozzarella)

Total grocery spend: $21.75

I came in under budget again this week, this time by $9.75! Even I was surprised by how well I did this week considering two things:
  • As you can see, I made up for my pasta shortage and bought two boxes of pasta this week. I'm not planning on using either one this week, but I was able to get them for $.64 a box and I couldn't pass up such a good price.
  • I'm going to be trying something new for breakfasts and I actually bought enough ingredients to last me for two weeks. I thought for sure this would push me to end of my budget, but that clearly wasn't the case.

Before I go over my meal plan for week two, let me tell you about what I ate over the weekend.

  • I finished up my muffins for breakfast on Saturday and ate egg in the hole on Sunday.
  • I finished up my broccoli rice casserole and had salad for lunch on Saturday. On Sunday, I finished up the salad and I wound up cutting a fake chicken patty in half to fit it onto the last hoagie roll I had left over from my tofu subs to make a fake chicken parm sub. Gotta make do with what you have, folks!:

  • For dinners, I finished up the last of the tofu for a tofu parm sub on Saturday and kept it simple with a grilled cheese and frozen veggie mix on Sunday.

So, what will I be eating during week two? So glad you asked:

Breakfasts: I've been wanting to make frozen breakfast burritos for quite awhile now and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try them out. I'm loosely using The Simple Dollar's guide, but on a smaller scale. I'll be making 10 burritos with 10 eggs, some shredded Mexican cheese blend, green bell pepper, onion, black beans, and enchilada sauce. The enchilada sauce has been sitting in my fridge for awhile, so I'll be glad to finally use that up. I've been getting into the habit of making a big batch of black beans from dry beans instead of buying cans of black beans and then freezing what I don't need right away. I've come to the end of my frozen reserves and so I'll need to make another batch for these burritos. Like I said before, these burritos will last me two weeks, so I better like them! :-)

Lunches: Dal Nirvana, granola bars, and bananas. This lentil recipe is one of my all time favorites. It's one of those great pantry cleaning recipes since I almost always have most of the ingredients on hand. In this case, I only needed to buy the cream (I chose half and half instead of heavy cream because it was cheaper). Because the recipe is based on staple ingredients, it is very inexpensive to make. I'm going to be making quinoa (that I already had) to go with it.

Dinners: Pizza! I still have lots of pasta sauce to use up, so I figured I would make some pizza dough (I'll be using Money Saving Mom's recipe), get some mozzarella, and top it with whatever I had on hand. So, broccoli and spinach pizza it is!

Snack: air popped popcorn with butter, salt, and nutritional yeast

I think the reason I was able to do so well budget-wise for week two is because I only needed one ingredient for my lunch dish. I'm afraid I'm finally running out of pantry staples and will need to get a little more creative to make it through two more weeks. I will almost certainly be making a pasta dish next week and I'll have breakfast covered, but I'll need to do some more brainstorming to come up with another good, cheap dish.

Check out how I did:
Week 1
Week 3
Week 4

Thursday, October 2, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Week 1

I went grocery shopping on Saturday for the ingredients I'd need to get me through the first week of the SNAP Challenge. Some things to keep in mind about my situation:

  • I typically walk or ride my bike to the grocery store once a week. I do get groceries and cat supplies delivered about once every two months or so from Safeway since I don't have a car and cat litter is heavy! In those cases, I usually get enough food to last me for two weeks. I think I'm pretty well set on the cat supply front, so I probably won't need to order a grocery delivery while on this challenge. 
  • I typically eat breakfast at home, pack a lunch to take to work, and eat dinner at home (which sounds pretty boring, but it definitely saves me money). 
  • I'm a pesco-vegetarian, but usually only cook vegetarian meals at home since seafood and fish can be a bit pricey. 
  • I've been in the habit of meal planning for quite a few years now, so the planning involved for this challenge is pretty old hat for me (but I can definitely see how it would be tricky for someone who isn't used to planning and paying close attention to how much they spend on groceries, how much food typically costs, sale prices, etc.). 
  • I almost never buy drinks besides orange juice and loose or bagged tea. I drink water with practically all of my meals and throughout the day.
  • If it wasn't obvious, I'm only shopping and cooking for me since I live by myself.

So, how did I do during my first shopping trip?

Groceries for week 1 of the SNAP Challenge

Safeway: $25.86 (I saved about $14 by shopping sales and using coupons loaded to my loyalty card from Safeway's website)
Farmers' market: $2.60 (zucchini, tomatoes, onion)
Wholefoods: $.70 (Probably the lowest Wholefoods bill you've ever seen! I needed ground flaxseed and eyeballed a 1/2 cup out of the bulk food bins. A whole package of ground flaxseed would have been at least $7- no thanks!)
Cash back from Checkout51 and JingIt apps: -$.50 (One was for bananas and one was for bread)
Total grocery spend: $28.66

Not too shabby! I came in $2.84 under budget. I should point out that I will not be further calculating the cost per day or per meal because I don't have the amounts of all of my ingredients to go off of. I feel as though the food I already have on hand and the food I buy and don't finish in one week (in this case: bread, veggie burgers, mayo, eggs) pretty much cancel either other out it terms of cost and that's why I'm continuing to use what I have already (not to mention how wasteful it would be not to use what I have). As long as my grocery bill every week is $31.50 or less, I'll consider it a job well done.

I'm planning to write a post dedicated to my tips and tricks for cooking for one on a budget, but I'll give you a rough idea of my approach here. Every Sunday, I make my food for the week. I make one big dish for lunches and one big dish for dinners. I typically pick meals that are casseroles or lend themselves nicely to being eaten over the course of a week. I know not everyone can do this because they get sick of eating the same thing everyday, but I'm usually not bothered by it, especially when I cook something I really like.

I'm usually a bit more lax about planning meals on the weekends because there are usually enough odds and ends left over from the week before for me to throw something together and also because plans with friends can cause me not to eat at home as often. The meals I made over the weekend:
  • Egg in the hole (I make these almost every weekend for myself since I typically have more time to make and enjoy breakfast than during the week)
  • Veggie burgers with toppings
  • Broccoli Rice Casserole: I'm kind of proud of my resourcefulness with this one. Usually, I have some pasta on hand to make spaghetti or something similar when all else fails, but for some reason, I was out of pasta and all I had to make a meal with (outside of the ingredients already accounted for by the meals I was going to make for the week) was frozen veggie burgers... or so I thought. I took a harder look at what I had on hand and realized I had both frozen broccoli and rice. I did some searching and found the above recipe for broccoli rice casserole. I didn't have a can of cream of chicken (or any cream of anything), but I remembered seeing awhile back a recipe for making your own cream soup base. I Googled it and used this one, but there are many that you can use. I also didn't have any cheddar, but I did have some mozzarella for my tofu subs, so I grated just a little bit onto the casserole. Voila! Dinner.

The meals I made for this week:

Breakfasts: Zucchini, Banana, and Flaxseed Muffins. This was a new recipe for me. I usually eat cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, but every once in awhile, I like to mix it up. These muffins taste pretty good and are very moist. I had a handful of pecan pieces sitting in my pantry, so I threw those in too and I'm glad I did. The crunch from the occasional nut gave the muffins a nice change in texture. I'm not sure if I'll make this recipe again.

Lunches: Pesto Chickpea Salad on lettuce with tomatoes and flatbread for dipping. I'm too lazy/pressed for time in the mornings to assemble much of anything, so I went with the deconstructed sandwich idea here. Also, I picked flatbread instead of pita because it was on sale and cheaper. I almost always pack a granola bar and a banana or greek yogurt with my lunch entree. I went with bananas this time because I needed a banana for the muffins anyway and bananas are almost always cheaper than greek yogurt. The granola bars I got this week were less than a dollar a piece thanks to coupons on my loyalty card. I already had one can of chickpeas, lemon juice, and pesto (leftover from a shower I threw last week- not something I normally have on hand) and used dried parsley instead of fresh.

Dinners: Tofu Parmesan Subs. I had a package of tofu in my fridge from a few weeks back, frozen spinach, and lots of jarred pasta sauce on hand. I used the sauce I had instead of making the sauce in the recipe. Usually, when a recipe calls for breadcrumbs, I take a few of the bread ends I freeze from the loaves of bread I buy, toast them, and throw them in my food processor to make my own breadcrumbs, but I had an opened container of panko breadcrumbs in my pantry I decided to use instead. Also, I didn't bother dipping my tofu in egg before covering the pieces in breadcrumbs since the tofu is already moist and the egg never made the breadcrumbs stick any better on the previous occasions I've made this meal.

Snacks: crackers and peanut butter; air popped popcorn with butter, salt, and nutritional yeast

I'm already starting to think about what to make next week and I'm curious to see how I do. I have a feeling that as I go along, I'll have less on hand to use since this budget doesn't allow much room for me to throw in extras to stock up with. My guess is that I will probably have to resort to more basic recipes with less costly ingredients. We shall see!

Check out how I did:
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4