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

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