Aisle Figure It Out in a SNAP

February 7, 2010

I have spent the past few days cobbling together menu ideas and culling recipes from varied sources to make the the SNAP Challenge meals as interesting, tasty and healthy as possible. I knew from years of experience that many of the foods we gravitate towards in our daily lives would be out of the picture from the start; “kiss the chips goodbye and so long to the salsas…lead me to the frozen vegs, but i can’t forget that we need some fun, no more hot buns!” (sung to the tune of “What I did for Love” from A Chorus Line).  So no goodies; no ginger ice cream or pasilla chile salsa or bottles of seltzer.

There was no way on earth i could survive a week without my beloved nectar of the gods, that oily blackness that fuels my engine; coffee. I could afford  just one can of Cafe Bustello (2.99) and instead of my 8 cups of inspiration I’d have to depend on my stove top espresso pot, using  less and still pack the appropriate wallop of caffeinated goodness. So there was my 1 big luxury item…coffee.

I also knew i would have to make do without much meat. As I’d posted earlier, cooking for a family of 3 or more allows the person budgeting more leeway to make their way from supermarket aisle to dinner table.  I decided to start the SNAP menu with dinner, a way for us all to ease into the (perhaps) very different manner of eating then we are usually accustomed.  Roast Chicken and Vegetables with Rice.   The almost 5# chicken I plopped into my shopping cart was the most expensive item I purchased but also was going to become the through-line for many of the weeks meals. (Don’t worry, i promise not to make chicken casserole and chicken quesadillas and chicken & Bisquick and chicken a la king.) Once i had my big ticket item i had to round out the basket, balancing heavy starch (rice, potatoes) with protein (chick peas and various beans, eggs) and as much produce  as possible.  In New York City, many of the bodegas and vegetable stands take EBT cards and fresh inexpensive vegetables are easily available but here in Torrington I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the items available.  Wan looking broccoli and expensive pre-bagged spinach seemed to be the extent of my options. Luckily I found a special on carrots, long and firm, 5# for less than $3! A bag of onions cost a mere $1.29  and it too was a nice 5# bag.

The framework for the menu in place I began to hunt for small items that would enhance what I’d tossed into the cart which, while not full seemed to have more in it than I had imagined possible. A  container of instant oatmeal was a good at $1.99 but next to it was a bigger one for unprocessed oats for $ .20 less…ah ha! The cooking time is 5 minutes compared to pour-and-stir  instant but far better bargain in terms of price. I need more greens and settled on a  1.5 # bag of frozen green beans (vitamins A and C) to stretch things out a bit. A bag of cranberries, a tin of anchovies, a packet of taco seasoning, a few cans of tomatoes and a hefty bunch of bananas. All totaled my purchases came in just shy of my allotment, $44.10!

I can see how hard this is going to be for some people. It was hard for me and I don’t buy candy or soda but I couldn’t afford cheese or pastries.  In the interested of disclosure I generally steer clear of most frozen food items because of their sodium and high-fructose corn syrup anyway and my rationale for some of the more labor intensive dishes I am preparing is that if you are a single person you have time to cook for yourself. The more one sees how the food they eat comes together the less likely one is to eat poorly.  Face it, when you look at the listed ingredients on most prepared foods would you want to have those chemicals and additives in your spice rack or pantry? Probably not.  So why buy food that contains that stuff?  Bear in mind when taking this challenge- the  most expensive items  on the supermarket shelves  cost that much for a reason and usually it’s because of chemicals and advertising. ( I am not saying give it all up an buy organic because frankly had that option been available at the market it would be budget-busting and that just makes me angry and is a whole other column all together!)

I’ll be using items from my cupboard that I’ll justify by saying I purchased them on my last visit to the supermarket ( such as oils, flour, sugar and butter) or some fancy things you may or may not have on hand (tahini, chilies, and spices) but will identify them and try and offer alternatives where possible.  So the next step is waving my wand, rolling up my sleeves and turning this  menu out! Now the fun part begins…

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