It poured here yesterday. The rain was cause for celebration as we were mighty dry although I hesitate to complain given what so many other places are dealing with. Anyway, I found myself rocking the baby while the rain came down and idly turned on the television. I was flipping through channels looking for something to watch when I came upon a tv show called extreme couponing. I had heard of this and always anxious to find a way to pinch a dollar, decided to watch. What a disappointment.
The two woman profiled did save astounding amounts of money but they did it with a combination of selfishness (why should I leave any for anyone else?) and poor eating habits. In one case, every item purchased was for a non-food item. The “star” got 100+ tubes of Mentos and 100 boxes of artificial sweetener. She got a cart full of sports drinks and paper towels. She “saved” $600.00 which she was using to repair her roof but I don’t get how you can call it savings when she still doesn’t have the cash for the roof. It isn’t as though she would have purchased all that candy anyway.
The second woman gave a class on couponing which was probably valuable and then took three of the participants shopping. Each spent less than $50.00 and got more than $150.00 worth of food. The problem was that none of it was really food. There were pizza bites and iced tea in jugs. I did see some fruit cups but they are mostly plastic and sugar with nearly no actual fruit to speak of. I saw one package of chicken and a box of cereal that is primarily chocolate flavored cardboard. If there was any sort of vegetable or real fruit or whole grain I missed it.
I pondered just what I would suggest to a very low-income family trying to feed themselves a balanced diet on a budget of $50.00 a week. I won’t pretend it would be easy. It would be hard as heck although it would get easier as time went on and you developed a stockpile of staples. It also wouldn’t be doable unless you had the time, inclination and ability to cook. I will post a sample menu that presumes there are some things like baking soda and baking powder, salt and sugar in the pantry.
First. There is no room in this diet for coffee, soda or junk food of any kind. That would be hard for a lot of people and I put myself in that category as I do love a good cup of coffee. I do leave room for iced tea made from tea bags and lightly sweetened.
Breakfast: Oatmeal is cheap and filling. Adding raisins and cinnamon and brown sugar helps a lot. I would be making 4 loaves of bread for the week and toast with peanut butter might be another day. An omlete with chopped veges and maybe a few slivers of cheese could also be on the menu. Juice would be too expensive but you could add some fruit when it was in season. I just made a double batch of blueberry muffins. I have no idea about the price per muffin but they’re pretty hearty and the blueberries are the only expensive ingredient. I pick them in the wild but that’s not an option for everybody. Home-made granola can be expensive if you add a lot of expensive ingredients but if you leave out the coconut and expensive nuts it becomes a lot cheaper and yogurt is very cheap if you make it from powdered milk.
Dinners: You are going to have to have a couple of vegetarian meals a week. Omelets may show up again as they stretch the vegetables. I would cook one big chicken and have it with potatoes and yellow squash on the first night. The next night it would be stretched with a white sauce and served over rice or potatoes. The third night it would be soup with lots of veges and noodles. I know pasta with tomato sauce would be on the menu as would some kind of rice and beans. Potato soup with home-made bread is another option. Fruits and vegetable would have to be what was in season and cheap which would mean less variety than you might like. Salmon patties can use up canned salmon.
Lunch would be leftovers if you have them. Sandwiches are too expensive if you use lunch meat but tuna, egg salad and peanut butter would work. Soup and bread would show up a lot.
I would plan to make a big batch of oatmeal cookies for snacking and some biscuits too. The diet isn’t perfect. It would be heavy on potatoes and bread and every vegetable would have to pack a nutritional punch. It might take several weeks to build up a pantry of staples and you would still probably need to use a food pantry to fill in around the edges. That one big bird would be the only meat. At some point you would want to grow at least some herbs on the window sill to add some flavor. I’m not certain but I think teaming up with another family might help as you could pool some food resources too get better deals on large packages.
I’ve been pretty poor in my life. I fed three kids and a husband well because we had chickens and a garden and a cow in the freezer. There is no way to compare poor in the city with poor in the country. It’s not possible to harvest wild berries and tree fruit or barter for a dozen eggs when you live in a high-rise. The apocalypse may never happen but for sure financial times are not likely to get better any time soon and figuring out how to feed ourselves is going to get harder. I read Greg Jeffers blog (americanenergycrisis.blogspot.com). We don’t see eye to eye on many social issues but there is no getting around the fact that he’s a very bright guy and he’s getting this food growing stuff worked out. He recently posted about the effect of the drought on his crops. Climate change is going to put this kind of information front and center. More than ever I am going to be writing about how to prepare for a food challenged world. We can always stay home and put on a heavy sweatshirt should heating oil get more expensive but we can’t reduce our need for a decent diet. Forget about occupying Wall Street. If you want to make life better for your family, occupy your kitchen and your garden. Occupy a canner and a dehydrator.