Monday, November 18, 2013

Shopping without the stress

Good Foods Market & Cafe
One week after starting my challenge, I got to go back to the grocery store. No calculators, no intricate menu plans, no worrying, no stress. I carried out my regular routine of planning out a few dinner ideas and then making a shopping list on Sunday. That night, I had restocked our shelves with the food hidden away upstairs and incorporated the few items I had left from last week. Our shelves were looking much better, and I was looking forward to filling them even more.

Dinners this week are planned to include that chickpea, red lentil, and squash stew; refried bean tacos on corn tortillas with cheese, scallions, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, and cilantro; meat and bean chili; and our usual Friday night pizza.  I also wanted to make some granola, pumpkin muffins, cornbread, and chicken stock.

Normally as I said in my first post, I divide my shopping between Kroger and Good Foods.  I get the bulk of our food at Kroger and reserve the dairy, meat, some bulk items, and eggs for Good Foods.  I decided to see what would happen (how much money I would spend) if I only shopped at Good Foods.  Skip over the next part if you don't want the details:

.92lbs of ground beef  $5.51
Cured Smoked Bacon  $7.49
Organic sour cream  $1.49
JD Farms Skim Milk  $3.99
French Vanilla yogurt  $4.49
Banilla yogurt  $4.49
Tortilla chips  $4.49
Pepperoni 5oz  $3.99
Paul Newman Fig Newtons  $3.29
Mini wheat pita breads  $1.99
15oz organic pumpkin puree  $1.50
Corn tortillas $2.19
Salsa  $2.50
Ground nutmeg  $3.60
Ground cumin seed  $0.63
Chili powder  $0.77
Organic Thompson raisins  $2.55
Sweetened carob chips  $1.40
Pecan halves  $1.67
Sunflower seeds  $0.87
Pumpkin seeds  $2.64
Sweetened banana chips  $0.60
Organic red kidney beans  $1.72
Dry roasted almonds  $4.75
Cane sugar  $1.64
Roasted VA peanuts  $2.43
Jalapeno  $0.45
Organic broccoli  $11.37
Coffee  $8.90
Pepper Jack NutThins  $2.29
Annie's Cheddar Bunnies  $4.29
Raw unfiltered honey  $5.13
Carrots $2.50
Bartlett pears  $3.08
Local apples  $12.04
Super Green salad mix  $3.99
Organic celery  $0.79
Organic red grapes  $8.13
Organic cilantro  $2.49
Organic peppers  $5.81
Tomatoes  $2.91
Baby carrots $2.00
Button mushrooms  $0.66
Organic yellow onion  $1.04
Organic green onions $0.99
Organic cucumber  $2.67
Green beans  $0.79
Organic bananas  $2.91

Grand total:  $162.40

That is obviously more than the $139 I would have had to spend on SNAP.  I am grateful for those extra $23.40.  Do I think I could have cut out that much from the above bill?  Undoubtedly.  That $11.37 I spent on organic broccoli is totally unnecessary (kind of takes my breath away truthfully).  There were cheaper veggies to buy.  I also could have skipped the NutThins and the Annie's Cheddar Bunnies.  I could survive without that bacon.  The tortilla chips are a luxury and not really all that good for me.  That gets me pretty close to $23.40.

Am I glad though that I could spend that extra money without worrying too much about it?  Absolutely.   I am fortunate enough to have the time, energy, and resources to provide my family with the food I choose.  So much divides me from the true single mothers who struggle to provide for their families on SNAP benefits, but I think we share the desire to provide the best we can for our children.  I can only imagine the frustration and stress of not being able to.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 7: Food

We have made it to the last day. I am relieved.

For breakfast, James and Clare started out with some cereal and then also added on some warmed up pancakes from yesterday, which Nora and I were eating as well. Josh had some yogurt, a pancake, and a banana.

At church the kids had a doughnut each and some chocolate milk. The church provides doughnuts every Sunday. It bugs me personally that they do and that my children eat one each week. But I'm not about to make my kids be the one group of kids who do not get to eat them, and I'm also not about to attempt to take down the church's tradition. Unless of course a bunch of other people joined me?!

I came home and had a banana.  I'm sure Josh had something too, but I don't know what that was.  Probably an apple since he already had a banana.

For lunch, the children made themselves this odd mix of foods they called "trail mix".  It had cereal, cheese chunks, and peanuts.  They thought it was so fun.  They also had grapes and apples.  I had the last bit of hoppin' john with Sriracha, a thick slice of cheese, and a thick slice of bread.  Josh had bread, cheese, and olives.

Josh headed back up to MI about 1pm and back to the land of eating whatever you want.

For snack, the kids had more apples and more bananas.  I had the last of the cottage cheese and celery.  I made some yeast rolls to go with tomorrow night's dinner.  There was a bit of dough leftover that wouldn't fit on the cookie sheet.  I divided it up into 3 parts and cooked it in the toaster oven.  So they also had miniature rolls for snack.

For dinner, we actually headed back to church for pizza served following an advent wreath making event.  Since we were missing the last meal of our challenge, I prepared what we would have eaten to show you what we had left for our final meal should we had eaten at home.  It's a chickpea, red lentil, and squash stew, and there are those yeast rolls to go with them.  We'll eat it tomorrow night instead.

And here is what we have left for this week (and items I would presumably not have to buy next week):

  • one egg
  • 5 clementines
  • 1/2 of a 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 1/2 jar of peanut buter
  • 3 - 4 cups of dried oats
  • 1/2 package of dried milk
  • 1/2 bag of popcorn
  • 2 bananas
  • 1/2 jar of honey
  • 3 granola bars
  • 3 - 4 tortillas
  • 1/2 bag of white flour
  • 1/2 bag of wheat flour
  • 2 cups of black eyed peas

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Day 6: Food

Saturday!  My favorite day of the week especially when we have very little planned to do.

For breakfast, I made the kids oatmeal pancakes with cinnamon.  These are incredibly delicious, and there is always enough batter left over to make some pancake muffins for the girls' lunchboxes during the week. 

Josh made the grown-ups an omelet with cheddar cheese, cilantro, yellow pepper, and onion.  We had thick slices of bread as toast.  It was delicious.

As a mid-morning snack, the kids each pilfered one of the pancake mini muffins, and Clare and James had an apple each.

It is at this point that we allowed the kids to deviate from the rules of the challenge.  James's school, Fayette Co-operating Preschool, was having its Fall Fling.  This is one of the school's major fundraisers, and it's lots of fun.  Since this is our last year in Co-op, no one wanted to miss out.  So we went and let the kids get all kinds of junk food:  pizza, juice boxes, cupcakes, cookies, and popcorn.  They were quite pleased.  The grown-ups passed up the sushi bar to honor the challenge and instead went home to eat leftovers of pizza, hoppin' john, enchilada casserole, and mac n' cheese.  I also had a bunch of carrots and celery and an apple afterward.  I do not doubt that the sushi would have been much tastier.

We then went to Whole Foods to get supplies for our grown-up Saturday night dinner.  We spent $13.99 on bread, olives, Brussels sprouts, apples, and bananas.  We pulled out a frozen whole chicken leftover from our CSA bounty of the summer.  A comparable bird cost about $13 at Whole Food, so all told we spent another $26.99 on top of the $106 we had already spent.  I think that puts us at about $133 for the entire week leaving us a few dollars under my SNAP goal of $139.50.

The kids had some banilla yogurt for a snack.  I'm guessing that Josh snacked throughout the day as well (he's always hungry), but I did not monitor his intake that carefully.

For dinner, the kids had cheese quesadillas with a refried-bean-like concoction I made out of the leftover black-eyed peas and onions.  They didn't seem to mind it.  I also cut up a whole yellow pepper for them as a side.  Between dinner and bed, Clare stole some of our bread and handed out a granola bar to each child.  James also had a banana.

Before dinner, Josh and I munched on olives and bread that had a side of olive oil for dipping. Our actual dinner was incredibly delicious.  Josh roasted the chicken and served it with an onion and parsley sauce.  He also steamed some Brussels sprouts and then crisped them up in some olive oil in a frying pan.  I roasted the butternut squash that we never used and drizzled balsamic vinegar over it.  All the flavors together were excellent!

When we were watching a movie later, Josh made a huge batch of popcorn on the stove in canola oil.  We ate every last kernel.  Yum.

Now on to the last day...

The fallacy of my challenge

A large percentage of households on SNAP benefits are led by single mothers.  Because of my family's peculiar circumstances this semester (my husband is working in MI while the kids and I live down in KY), I have been doing this challenge pretending to be a single mother.  Right there a problem unfolds:  pretending to be a single mother has very little to do with being a real single mother. 

Here are some of the realities a single mother mother might face:
  • Managing a single income without someone at home to complete the daily chores.  Always being the go-to-person.
  • Lack of time and energy.  I can dedicate my afternoons to cooking bread or pizza dough, preparing fresh meals, and carefully planning grocery lists because I am not the primary bread winner; my husband is.  A single mom is going to be working all day (if she's lucky) and then have to figure out a way to feed her children every night.  When is she going to fix those meals?  I guess she could wake up at about 5am to do that.  Would you want to?
  • Shopping with all of her children.  I sometimes take all 3 of my children, but usually I have at most 1 in tow.  That's James.  I get him a package of trail mix and a drink box of chocolate milk from Starbucks in Kroger.  He happily sits in the cart, slurping and munching away.  At times he asks me for food he sees, and I have the energy to say "No".  Mothers working all day, desperate to get home and keep the kids reasonable. might just give in to whatever the kids ask for including sugary cereal, junk food, soda, and whatever else is purposefully put at children's eye sight.  
  • A relentless reality.  Everyday is just about getting by.  Trying to make sure the kids make it to school and make it home.  Making sure they get their homework done and their reading logs filled out.  Making sure dinner is on the table and no one goes to bed hungry.  The number of fruits and vegetables they eat might seem irrelevant.  The ingredients in their food might seem irrelevant as long as they have food. 
  • Dealing with a child who has to stay at home because s/he is sick.  Taking a pay cut because the single mother has to stay at home to take care of a sick child, resulting in a loss of grocery money.
  • Constant feelings of stress when confronting the reality of her situation.  Feelings of entrapment.
  • Loneliness.  No one with whom to share the joys and sorrows of parenting.
  • Constant lack of cash flow.  Guilty feelings of not being able to provide for your kids what other kids have.
  • Hard choices.  Food or medicine.  Food or bills.  Doing what you can to make life better for everyone, but everyday is hard.
  • Guilt.  You know all the other kids in your child's class are sent in with snack but you have nothing to give your child each morning.
  • Unpredictability.  Maybe a single mom's job has hours that change schedule to schedule, making it impossible to schedule regular daycare.  Or maybe a single mom has a job that makes it necessary to work on holidays when it's hard to find childcare.  
I won't be able to come up with all the realities a single mom faces because they are too real and too serious.  I can't just imagine them.  All I can do is say that I hope my challenge does not seem presumptuous.  I hope it does not seem like I'm making light of a real single mother's situation.  I'm doing what I can.  And I, as can everyone, can always do more.

Day 5: Food

We're all 5 under one roof for the weekend, so Josh gets to join in on the SNAP Challenge fun.  He is overall supportive and willing to join in as long as he can have his normal weekend booze. Fair enough. 

For breakfast, the kids had cereal or oatmeal.  Josh hadn't quite plugged into our cupboard situation when he asked James what kind of cereal he wanted for breakfast.  I suppose I could have bought two kinds of non-organic cereal for the one box of the organic cereal I did buy, but in general around here, there aren't too many choices.  Josh had oatmeal, and I had toast with peanut butter and honey.  I took a chance and had a banana too.  I'm fairly certain we'll be able to buy some more to get us through the weekend with the money we have left. 

Funny moment when Josh tasted the coffee:  He made a face and exclaimed, "What is wrong with this coffee?".  Someone has obviously not been reading the blog carefully.

Clare took a banana for her working snack.  Nora had a field trip to the Lexington Children's Theater and needed to bring a snack and lunch to school.  I made her some popcorn for snack and her lunch consisted of a peanut butter and honey sandwich, an apple cut up into slices, and yellow pepper. 

James ate on and off the entire morning.  He's not generally a snacker, so I'm not sure what was going on.  He had popcorn, an apple, and a banana.

For lunch, James and I went up to Picadome to dine with Clare.  Clare had pepperoni pizza, corn, mixed salad with ranch, canned peaches, a cookie, and chocolate milk.  I spent $1.00 on getting James some food too.  He chose chocolate milk, applesauce, and a cookie.  Quite a lunch!!  Josh and I ate at home.  He had a mixture of the three leftovers in the frig:  hoppin' john, enchilada casserole, and mac n' cheese.  I had hoppin' john doused with Sriracha sauce again followed up by a few carrots to cut the heat in my mouth.

That afternoon, I made pizza dough for that night's dinner and another loaf of bread.

After school, Nora ended up having a friend walk home with us.  I was slightly apprehensive to have another mouth to feed mostly because I had so little to offer, but it seemed worth the trouble.  They had, you'll never guess, popcorn as a snack.  I made Clare a hard boiled egg with a big piece of bread to get her ready for her 3 hour gymnastics practice.  She then took a granola bar and a whole apple cut up for her mid-practice snack.  James also had a granola bar at some point in the afternoon.  I had almost thought we were going to make it through the week without having to open up that box, but not quite.  I was a little disappointed about that because I don't really think of them as the best snack.  They're Quaker Chewy 90 Calorie Low Fat Chocolate Chunk Granola Bars.  They have a lot of ingredients:


My rule is generally that the fewer ingredients the better, and I need to be able to pronounce them.  I'm just now noticing that there is artificial flavoring.  On the front of the box, it clearly says "FLAVOR WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS".  No mention of artificial flavoring, which usually they admit to on the front of the box, although maybe that is what the first "FLAVOR" refers to.  I try to stay away from artificial flavoring, although I recently made the mistake of looking into natural flavoring.  Not much better really.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  You might also check out the Food Labeling Chaos report released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest unless you'd really rather just not.

I had Nora's leftover apple slices for my afternoon snack.  As I mentioned on Facebook, apparently one is not above that when trying to survive on SNAP benefits.

For dinner, we had pizza.  "Ninjun Turtle" boy helped me:

The dough was from the breadmaker (water, salt, oil, whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour, and yeast).  I used the left over tomato sauce from the enchilada casserole.  It wasn't quite as flavorful as a true pizza sauce, but it did the job.  One pizza was just mozzarella, and the other had mozzarella and pepperoni.  That pepperoni has absolutely nothing to do with local, natural meats.  I checked the ingredient list and was sorry I did.  But it only cost $1 as opposed to the $4 all natural pepperoni sold at Whole Foods.  Those $3 might matter.
Final products:
We ate all but 2 pieces between the 6 of us (the friend stayed for dinner).  I don't know about anyone else, but I woke up starving at about 2am.  Just had to rollover and go back to sleep.

Josh and I also had some beer and wine with dinner and afterward.  It was the first money I had spent all week.  I meant to get through all 7 days, but I'm feeling OK about my 4 1/2.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day 4: Food

Things got pretty wild and crazy around here at breakfast time. The girls took a stand on the oatmeal and instead went for toast with peanut butter, honey, and banana.  That is one of my all time favorite breakfasts.  Clare loves it so much that she took a big hunk out of the bread before I could even take the picture (see piece on left).  James stuck with cereal, and you'll never guess what I had.  Oatmeal.  No banana.  No fruit at all in fact.  Very unusual for me.

I sent Clare off to school with a cup of grapes for her mid-morning snack, and James says he was offered hard boiled eggs, pretzels, and cheese at Co-op.  Usually there is a fruit or a vegetable, but he was adamant that only those 3 choices were offered.  He only ate the pretzels.  Strange child has a thing about eggs.  I keep offering them hoping he'll change his mind.  He hasn't.

It was the Thanksgiving Feast today at Picadome.  I was able to have lunch with Nora (but did not take a picture today).  She had turkey with gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, chocolate milk, and some colored ice cream.  I think it said it was "Fall Festival Ice Cream".  She ate about 2/3 of the stuffing square and all of the sweet potatoes and ice cream.  She put in a good effort on the turkey, but she said it had too many fatty parts.  I thought there were parts that were a suspect color.  Clare was hoping to have the ham option, but they had run out by the time she ate.  She had turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, apples, ice cream, and chocolate milk.  She thought it was all delicious, the gravy in particular.

James had peanut butter balls and carrots.  I had a peanut butter sandwich.  

For snack, Nora ate a granola bar at school provided by her running group.  James and Clare had popcorn and banilla yogurt (that would be a vanilla and banana flavored yogurt).  While I normally do Mark Bittman's Vegan Before 6 program on weekdays, today I just couldn't bring myself to eat more popcorn.  So instead I had some cottage cheese leftover from the macaroni supplies with celery.  It hit the spot.

After Nora's running group, we headed to the library to get the kids away from the house.  I decided that would help alleviate anyone asking for food.  You see, under normal circumstances, my middle daughter eats non-stop from 3 until bedtime if she can.  She has one snack after another after another after another until you think she can't possibly eat anymore and then she has even more.  My sister says she must need it or she would gain weight, but because you can distract her from eating, I'm not so sure.  She hasn't been asking as much this week, but still, activity is good.

Dinner was a depressing affair.  We pulled out all 3 leftovers:  baked mac n' cheese, hoppin' john, and the enchilada casserole.  James had the hoppin' john, Clare had some man n' cheese and enchilada, Nora had some enchilada, and I had a big serving of the mac n' cheese.  I can't speak for the other dishes, but I can say that the mac n' cheese did not keep well.  I do not shy from leftovers;  in fact, I am all about a dish being better the next day with a little time to meld all those flavors together.  This just brought out the frozen spinach taste.  I had to pull out the Sriracha and douse the bowl.  Then my mouth was on fire, and I couldn't taste anything.  The kids ate their servings of the other foods, but obviously no one was excited.

That led to many after dinner snacks.  We all shared about 2 cups of grapes.  Clare and James had a clementine.  Nora had some yogurt with peanuts.  Then Clare and Nora both had a slice of cheese, and James had a banana (leaving us with 6).  James finished the night off with his cup of milk at bedtime.

Josh comes home tonight.  We head into the weekend tomorrow.  I'm feeling like we're in a good spot.  We have plenty of breakfast, lunch, and dinner food.  There's coffee, albeit disgusting coffee (is no coffee better than disgusting coffee?).  We should have enough fruits and veggies for most of us, and I'm remembering that we have about $30 left to spend.  Whatever we lack, we just might be able to buy.  Speaking of which, besides the money I spent on groceries (and the money I paid my babysitters, which I'm not counting), I have made it 4 days without spending any money. 

Clarification on my comment about meat

I made a comment on the previous post about not being happy that the girls were eating ground meat at school.  I thought I should comment about that.  It doesn't necessarily have to do with SNAP benefits, although it certainly would be more difficult for an individual on benefits to buy anything but the cheapest meat, but I'll dedicate a few words to it nonetheless.
Several years ago, I watched the documentary Food, Inc.  This documentary addresses the "highly mechanized underbelly" of the US's food industry, which is controlled by a handful of corporations they argue are more concerned with profit than health.   The first part of the film covers the meat industry, while the second part examines the industrial production of grains and vegetables by corporations such as Monsanto.  Both segments are compelling, but the meat part should make anyone think, particularly a parent.  
It tells the story of a mother on a crusade to improve food safety after her 2-year-old son dies from E. coli poisoning from a hamburger.  Her family had gone camping and eaten hamburger patties.  Within days, the son was hospitalized and deathly ill.  He died after his kidneys failed.  Watching her tell her story and then seeing the images of the slaughter houses, of chickens too large to walk, of cows eating feed pumped with toxic chemicals, and of the environmental devastation of waste run-off from factory farms was a sobering experience.  Those images popped into my head every time I picked up a package of regular ground beef or chicken at the grocery store, and eventually I made the change to only buying local meat raised under humane conditions from our food co-op.
Can a single mom with three children on SNAP benefits afford natural meats from animals grown on local farms without any antibiotics, steroid, or hormones?  I don't know what the typical price difference is, but I would guess that it would be enough to make choosing the natural meats hard to justify.  Already a greater percentage of her income is being dedicated to food when compared to people of more average income, and anyway, there is no guarantee that the place where she shops carries natural meats.  They are becoming more common, although I'm not sure Walmart sells them (I did not see evidence on their website and despite being from NW Arkansas, I avoid Walmart like the plague).  Schools also cannot in general afford anything but the cheapest meats as well.  I applaud all the efforts that the National School Lunch Program has made towards improving the quality of the food served, but there is still a cash flow problem.  It is not a profitable business, and those food service managers have to do the best they can with very little.  If more kids (including my own children I should add) bought school lunch, there would be more money for the managers to spend.  As is, there is not.
It's obviously a complicated issue where health is definitely sacrificed to profit.  Watch the movie, but be warned, it may change you.