Feeding Your Family On The Cheap: Week Three

Monday 18th-dinner was chicken soup (stew, really as the kiddos do not like a lot of broth.) Chicken breast–cooked and diced $3.25, plus a whole box of penne noodles $0.89, and a can of chicken broth $o.69, plus 2 cooked carrots $0.12, one stalk celery $0.13 and canned biscuits $1.19 (although only 1/2 of them got eaten at dinner…so they were filler for the rest of the week.) Dinner $6.27….. and there were leftovers of soup and biscuits for later in the week.

Monday lunch…I made for myself a bean/corn salad–a can of black beans $0.59, can of corn $0.49, red peppers (0.10—-recipe calls for jalapeno peppers –and those are awesome…..but I do not have any, and I have the dried red pepper flakes….so….) 2 plum tomatoes $0.40, red onion $0.19,2 garlic cloves $0.10, 1/4 cup cilantro $1.00, one lime $0.30, 1 tablespoon olive oil $0.10,2 tsp.  southwest seasoning $0.09–so$3.36 and I ate half and saved half for my lunch Wednesday.

Tuesday–I needed something quick and easy…so frozen waffles ( 1.29) and frozen link sausage $1.98,  some leftover maple syrup (guessing the cost at $0.25) and a couple of oranges–peeled and sectioned ($0.88). Tuesday dinner–$4.40 and I ate the leftover waffles, with a little Nutella for breakfast the next day.

Wednesday–Lunch was the rest of the black bean salad and after 4:30pm I was on-call for work. I ate a bowel of cereal, an orange and a biscuit.

Thursday–Curried chickpea stew ($0.50 for half a bag of dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked, 2 Tbsp oil $0.20, medium yellow onion $0.19, 2 cloves garlic $0.10, 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes $0.99, 1 Tbsp curry $0.25, 1/4 cup cilantro $1.00) served over baked potatoes $0.48 and with steamed broccoli as a side $0.85. Dinner for $4.56 and enough chickpea stew left for 3 more servings.

Friday–just me so I ate a bowl of the chickpea stew over a potato $0.12.

Saturday–I worked all day and dinner was a box of spicy chicken wings from Aldi $2.99.

Sunday–I worked and ate more chickpea stew over a potato $0.12.

Mind What You Put in Your Mind


 Recently, my mom had a health concern–serious enough that I thought I should spend the night with her. (Not to worry, she’s fine now.) And we slept on the couches in the family room at her house. Mom leaves the TV on all night, set on a PBS channel, volume up, as her hearing is getting bad. Each time I woke in the night, I was treated to a documentary about some human tragedy: the Vietnamese boat people, the discrimination faced by the first African-American Marines in WW II, the 2007 tsunami. It did not make for a restful night.

Radio talk show host Michael Medved says the problem with TV is not low quality, but high quantity–“Americans spend an average of 29 hours a week watching television-which means in a typical life span we devote 13 uninterrupted years to our TV sets! The biggest problem with mass media isn’t low quality–it’s high quantity. Cutting down just an hour a day would provide extra years of life–for music and family, exercise and reading, conversation and coffee.”

But I think it’s not just the quantity of TV watched, but what we are feeding our minds. Humans have thought loops like habits. When we worry, we worry about all sorts of things that are not likely to occur. If we tend to think negative thoughts about ourselves and others, those thoughts form neural pathways in the brain that get stronger each time we have the thought. Then that is the first place our mind goes and we can make ourselves and those around us miserable with our thought patterns.

Any habit can be changed. Including the thinking ones.

The next time that you notice yourself having a thought you don’t want to have. Mentally say, “Stop!” Then consciously find a memory that you like. Or an affirmation you are fond of. Keep doing this, and you can stop the thoughts you do not want and replace them with ones that you do. Seek out books and TV shows that highlight positive human behavior or ways to create positive change.

We can make our thinking healthy by training our minds to focus on the ideas and thoughts that we want to encourage, in the same way that the body can be made stronger through eating well and exercise.

Meals and Menus 11/11 thru 11/17

Veteran’s day, the kids were with their dad, so I scrounged. I finished off all leftovers in the fridge and ate cereal for dinner, with an apple.

Tuesday: We had the usual things for breakfast, and the boys had their usual lunches, but there was nothing for me to pack to work, so I bought a chicken sandwich off the $1 menu at a fast food place. That, plus free coffee and a piece of cake someone had brought in kept me going until dinner: Red beans, rice and turkey sausage. It was served with about 1/4 of a baguette $.50. Ingredient cost: Smoked Turkey Kielbasa $2.29, can red beans $.59, can chicken broth $.69, one onion $ .19  , one green pepper $.33, and 2 stalks celery $.26, pepper $.05, cup rice $ .25. Cost of dinner $4.65. And I got three more meals out of it. Desserts this week were Halloween candy bought at 40% of retail and some snacks that middle son came home with from cross-country state meet.

Wednesday: The usual things for breakfast: boys have sugary cereal with almond milk. The average cost of a box of cereal is $1.79, which I am going to estimate is about 3 servings–remember, we are talking about teenage boys here. The almond milk is about $.36 per serving. So about $1/per day per boy for breakfast. I had coffee with cream which I am estimating at $.30 per day, a banana .14, oatmeal .10 and a range free boiled egg .42. So, about a dollar/day for me for breakfast. For lunch and dinner today, I ate the leftover Sausage/beans/rice dish.

Thursday: Vegetarian Shepard’s’ Pie and cranberry relish. Fresh cranberries 1.69, navel orange $.44 and cup sugar $.19 Shepard’s pie ingredients: 1 cup pink lentils $1.98, carrot $.06, celery stalk $.13, three tablespoons flour $.10, three tablespoons soy sauce $ .20, a teaspoon each of basil, oregano and rosemary (I’ll guess those as $ .10 each) and a little pepper $ .05. That is covered with 3 cups mashed potatoes–potatoes$ .72, butter $ .22 and milk $ .31. We only ate half of the Shepard’s pie and half the cranberry relish–so cost of dinner $3.20.

Friday: Meatball sandwiches and cranberry relish. Meatballs $2.15, one half jar spaghetti sauce $ .50, 3/4 of the baguette $1.50 and half a chopped green pepper $ .17. $4.32 +  No leftovers.

Saturday: Chicken pizza $4.34.  After dinner there were two slices left, that I planned to eat for breakfast. But when I awoke, they had been eaten in the night.

Sunday: Tilapia, mashed potatoes and steamed green beans. Tilapia $3.15, 1/2  spice packet $ .30. Mashed potatoes $1.25 and green beans $ .75 with a pat of butter $ .05. Dinner-$5.50. Plus I made date/nut rolls for dessert. 8 oz dried dates $1.99, one cup shredded coconut  $ .26 and one half cup peanut butter $ .40 Total $2.65 and we will eat those for several days.

Moving Stuff Around

For a minimalist, it sure seems like I spend an inordinate amount of my time just moving stuff around.

There are the clothes which have the weekly move from my closet to my body to the laundry basket, then the washer and dryer and back to my closet. But the clothes also have a seasonal migration from the store to my house to out-of-season storage or Goodwill.

And the boy’s clothing has a similar movement pattern.

Then there is the food, which I haul home and put in the cabinets and fridge. Later, I get it out and turn it into something resembling a meal and the scraps get composted. Mentioning food makes me think of dishes, which do a two or three times a day shuffle from the hutch to the table to the sink and back to the hutch.

I’m glad I don’t have any more stuff than I do. I don’t think I would have time to move it around.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-SNAP

In honor of the government decreasing the allotment for food for families on assistance this month, I am going to do a series of posts on how we will spend less than the maximum benefit for a family our size, compete with menus and recipes. For a family of three, through October 2013 the maximum benefit was $526 per month. Now it is $497.

Nov.1 We had meatballs (1/2 of bag-cost $2.30) with penne pasta (1/2 of box 0.45) and marinara sauce (0.99) served with garlic toast (1/2 baguette $0.99 +butter 0.25 + garlic 0.10) Dinner was $5.08 and there was some leftover for lunch the next day. This carb heavy meal was a special request of my cross-country runner for the night before Sectionals. (The team came in second, by the way.)

Nov. 2 Seven layer Mexican Dip ( 1 can refried beans 0.79, 1 Tbsp taco seasoning 0.17, 1 cup Greek yogurt 0.85, 1 cup salsa 0.85, 1 cup shredded lettuce 0.50, 1 cup shredded cheese 0.75, chopped green onions 0.50) which we ate with blue corn chips $1.69. Dinner total $6.10 and there was leftovers for lunch.

Nov.3 Homemade chicken pizza (yeast 0.27, flour 0.20, oil 0.05, sugar 0.05, salt 0.05, tomato sauce 0.27, italian spices 0.50, shredded cooked chicken breast 1.63, shredded mozzarella 0.99, chopped green pepper 0.33) Dinner was $4.34 and yes, there were leftovers for my lunch.

Nov.4 Pork loin (5.62) mashed potatoes (potatoes 0.50, milk  0.30, butter 0.11, salt and pepper 0.05) and steamed broccoli (0.90) Dinner $7.48. Usually, I eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, but middle son took the pork loin leftovers in his lunch.

Nov. 5 Cheese ravioli (2.29) in marinara sauce (0.99) lettuce and tomato salad (0.66 + 0.30) with balsamic dressing (0.15) Dinner $4.39. No leftovers.

Nov. 6 Kids at their dad’s, I ate one Fit & Active turkey and broccoli pocket (0.95) and some cabbage (0.38) that was left over from something that I made last week .

Nov. 7 Tilapia (fish 2.10 and spices 0.20) mashed potatoes (0.96) and steamed green beans (0.75) Dinner $4.01

Nov. 8-10, the kids were gone and I was working. I packed meals from home, including some fit and active breakfast muffins, turkey and broccoli pockets, apples, yogurt, water, coffee. I also ate some fried chicken at the office that was leftover from a party.

The kids usually drink a reconstituted orange juice container per day (1.29) and eat sugary cereals for breakfast (1.69-2.19 per box.) Middle son takes his lunch each day, peanut butter sandwich, yogurt, protein bar or fruit snack and an apple.

My breakfast is often oatmeal, Greek yogurt, a banana and coffee with cream. Snacks after school and on the weekends include: spoonfuls of peanut butter or the Aldi equivalent of Nutella, granola bars, homemade cookies.

Desserts this week (they usually last a couple nights) include apple crisp made with some apples given us for free, leftover graham crackers, butter, sugar and cinnamon. This was served with ice cream. Other nights boxed cookies were served.

Total spent on groceries between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10 is $75.09.

“Poverty of Monks”


In a recent article, writer Thomas Moore, recalls his days as a Catholic monk and how the monks took a vow of poverty. They owned very little individually, but held many things “in common.” So while the individuals might just own a couple of robes, toothbrush and a book or two, the order owned pots and pans and libraries and buildings and land.

I see that something similar happens in families. There is my stuff that I count, and the kids each have their own stuff and then there is the stuff that we share like the couches and the lawnmower and the dishes and towels.

This makes sense to me, there is an efficiency in it. There are many, many ways of sharing things we do not need to have possession of at all times: libraries, art museums, tool rental shops, Netflix.

We humans tend to group ourselves in living arrangements that make use of these efficiencies. Families, religious orders, college dorms are all ways of sharing resources that improve the common good.

It is not a way of thinking that our culture celebrates, we tend to put our media attention on celebrity excess. But it makes sense for the planet for us to share, and it makes sense for our individual mental health to occasionally evaluate the objects in our possession and let go of the ones that we no longer use. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like poverty at all to give to others out of your abundance. It feels pretty rich.

We Are Not Poor, We Have Choices

I took youngest son shoe shopping after he blew a sole out of the pair I bought at the start of school. He had been flapping around on them for a week or more before I noticed.

This is the same kid that carried a duct-taped binder for all of eighth grade, despite the fact that we had spares in the closet.

“Why didn’t you tell me that your shoe was broken?” I asked.

“I just got them, I didn’t want you to have to get me another pair.”


SIGH. I talk to the kids about money all the time. I point out the choices that we  make–music lessons vs. eating out or Abercrombie. I tell them that we are not poor, we are middle class. Being poor, means not having choices.

Clearly, it was time for another money lesson.

“Honey, we have money for new shoes.”

“I know. I thought the broken ones were kinda cool.”

Oh. That is altogether different.

Happy Halloween


The horse-headed man greeted trick or treaters at our house last night. He was dressed for the occasion with his duck-tape bow-tie.

We live in a neighborhood that gets hundreds of trick or treaters. They come from all over the city, which I attribute to our family-friendly reputation and small lot size.

We had over 300 last night. Too cool!