Eating on a Tight Budget: $35/Week Diary
Day One: I have a day out with Mama this week. It is her turn to buy dinner today. This is going to extend my challenge week considerably since John will already be working two days of this week. I expect to treat this as a seven day challenge and I'll just have a few more leftovers than I'd planned, but I'll only count those we'd actually have had left if I'd followed this to the letter every single day for 7 days. It seems my plans for challenge weeks and the plans made around me never gel up just so. Onward!
Roasted the chicken. Cooked just enough rice for this meal (1/2 cup dry brown rice makes up 1 cup cooked rice) and cooked the turnip greens which was an ample serving each. I can eat all the turnip greens I'd like, since they are low carb and because I don't cook any fat meat in them (as most Southerners do), they are also low fat.
I made chicken gravy from the pan juices. Can I just say that I'd forgotten how very delicious REAL chicken gravy tastes? Not that I buy packets of stuff or jars of pre-made gravy to use, but it's not uncommon for me to use a bouillon cube or base for gravy instead of pan drippings, which is a whole other thing than you can make with broth, too. Honestly, the quality of gravy made with real meat drippings was such that I was reminded of my discovery one long ago day that while instant potatoes are good for those days when there are no potatoes or very limited meal preparation time, real potatoes mashed and served with butter beat the pants off instant. Ditto for gravy made from scratch in the proper way with pan drippings.
The baked apples for this meal made it a very filling meal altogether. Truth told, we really could have managed to feed one more today with an extra apple thrown in, without feeling we were going lacking. It was a proper Sunday dinner sort of meal even if today is Monday.
Immediately after we ate, I divided the chicken into portions. This is something I used to do regularly back when we were living on a tight budget and feeding 7 plus guests routinely. I found it prevented over use of the meat and discouraged snacking if left out. I had containers all set up with names of dishes I planned to make written on the container. Legs and wings, sliced breast meat with gravy, more breast meat for sweet and sour, bits of light and dark meats for burritos, a portion I did not make plans for (one full thigh) and the carcass with pan drippings that remained were all put immediately into the fridge. Truly there is enough of the sliced meat with gravy to serve three and I could squeeze three servings from the leg/wing meal as well, if need be. I'd forgotten how ample the legs and wings were on these Aldi roaster chickens.
I took a picture of the chicken all divided up. I then deleted the photos in my attempt to download, sigh. I hauled it all out of the fridge and photographed it again. Yum. Congealed chicken.
I put the carcass into the freezer once the broth had congealed fully around the carcass. I also froze the one thigh portion that I had not planned to use this week. It's not much but it's still a slow building of a larder.
Day two: John called me from work on Sunday to say he'd set up an appointment for today and that he'd buy me lunch after. I tentatively planned our supper to be one of the entrée meals I'd have had at midday.
As I prepared breakfast this morning (eggs/toasted leftover buns), I realized that I had other options than just the eggs/toast or oatmeal breakfasts I'd planned. For instance, 1 egg, 1 cup of milk and 2 cups of flour equals pancakes! I might not have syrup but I could melt jelly or spread the pancakes with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
I'd mentioned that we used to eat biscuits with jelly as our dessert years ago when I was feeding a large family but I'd forgotten that I might toast biscuits, either buttered or with cheese for a breakfast meal as well. It was good to think of the other options.
Scones are another option (Egg, butter, flour, milk) and bannocks, which are a hearty oatmeal and flour pancake per one of my older cookbooks.
Muffins are a possibility, too. All are good, inexpensive options. My need to balance carbohydrates with proteins could easily be taken care of with a single cooked egg (boiled, fried, coddled, poached) or a 1 ounce portion of cheese. I shall keep these options in mind for my April challenge.
Well with one thing and another our 'appointment' ended up being over six hours away from home. It was meant to be 10am (which means leaving home around 9:15) but the tire place was behind and short of workers. They then discovered about two hours later when they got to our car that they'd ordered the wrong tires. They had only three of the correct size. John agreed to wait while they called for a delivery from another branch to provide the needed fourth tire. Someone failed to bring the delivery as expected, so another hour passed beyond the estimated time. We left there about 2:30. We went out to lunch at the local Dairy Queen where we could have a $5 lunch that included a drink, fries, sandwich and a small sundae. Not a bad meal deal at all and it was plenty of food.
My tentative plans for supper however, were completely useless. We arrived back home about 4pm. Neither of us were all that hungry. We had some fruit (apple) and soup a little later in the evening. It was good and enough.
Day Three: Sent John off to work with a packed lunch. He always wants peanut butter jelly sandwiches. Seriously. It used to be peanut butter sandwiches and a container of macaroni and cheese, but he's ended that phase and now just wants peanut butter jelly sandwiches. It works beautifully well with my challenge, lol.
We had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.
It is my day out with Mama and it happens to be her day to buy lunch, so this is truly a 'treat' day for me. I plan to have peanut butter toast, a glass of milk and half a sliced apple for my solo supper tonight because our lunch out is generally a substantial meal. I decided to move the sliced breast with gravy into the freezer. This joins the thigh and the carcass with pan juices I put in there on Monday.
I set black beans to soak. I am doubtful this will actually be enough for a meal for two. Good thing I've planned ahead and am making tortillas today. Read the bean package and it says 1/ 4 cup dry beans equals one serving. Ok...So technically we should get four servings from this one cup of beans. We'll see.
Tortilla making wasn't so terribly hard at all. I used this recipe. John has taken to eating whole wheat tortillas and we are buying two packs each pay period when I'm off challenge mode. The ones we can get have yeast in them, which is senseless to me. I wanted a tortilla recipe that would allow me to make whole wheat ones without yeast. That's why I wanted to learn to make tortillas. My take on them went off very well but I ended up using an extra cup of flour because I put in too much water. Next time I shall add the water in increments. Honestly the most tedious thing about it was standing there flipping them when they are cooking. They need to cook for about 1 minute per side says the recipe. It makes 16 tortillas. I suppose in total the whole process took me about 1 hour, including cooking time.
While the dough rested, I put together my single layer cake and popped it in the oven and then I cooked tortillas while it baked.
1 minute per side said the recipe. Well some did take just one minute and some didn't! Regulating the temperature was the hardest part because my stove is basic gas and has no real setting on the dial. There are settings. They are totally unrelated to flame height and heat. It's pretty much a bend and look at the flame sort of gas stove. Anyway, only one turned out crispy and I had that one as my peanut butter sandwich bread tonight. I did not mix up the biscuits tonight as planned.
Day four: Up early this morning, so I went ahead and mixed up biscuits for breakfast. I must say these biscuits made with yogurt and whey (and a little splash of milk) were the most tender I've made in ages. They were beautiful! So pretty I'm afraid we ate more than I'd meant for us to. So good with a bit of melted margarine and jelly!
Drained the black beans, put in fresh water and set them to cook. These beans were older ones...I know because it took a little longer for them to cook but even old beans can be cooked tender. And it made far more than I'd thought it would make. There was a full cup leftover after we had our meal today.
John was wowed by my homemade tortillas! This is wonderful because I can make them for Passover when we don't have yeast in the house.
I made the pico de gallo with a bit of the jalapeno, 1/2 cup tomatoes and raw onion, a bit of garlic powder. The jalapeno had no real heat but it did add a little flavor. I had a couple tablespoons of this pico de gallo leftover. I also have 1/2 can of tomatoes left.
I cooked all the rice. I figured if I'm having rice today, rice in the burritos and rice as a base to serve the stir fry on, then I might as well be prepared. I realized as I was putting away the leftover rice that I could also make fried rice or rice pudding with what I have on hand this challenge....And did you know that you can add cooked rice to waffles or muffins? There are lots of good uses for cooked rice and it will certainly help stretch any meal. I like to serve chili over rice. We used to do that when we were feeding seven, plus it helped tone down the spiciness so that it was suitable for Danny and baby Katie to eat.
I made the broiled icing with oatmeal for the cake. It was so good! I told John it was a recipe I used often a long time ago and one that I think I'll tab to use more often now. For a 13 X 9 cake you need 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 2 tablespoons milk. I just reached in my oatmeal canister and pulled out a handful of oatmeal to add in, but I'd suggest 1 cup I think if you were covering a larger cake. The recipe says you can add nuts or coconut, which is why I thought oatmeal might work though it wasn't suggested. I mixed up half the recipe and spread on my little 8 inch cake. Ran it under the broiler until it was just browned. It makes a nice crunchy, sweet top.
There's plenty of cake for the rest of the week. I cut too large a piece each for John and I today but we can easily get three or four more servings for the two of us from what's left. Typically my goal is to make ten wedges out of an 8 inch round.
All in all, today's main meal was a big success.
Tonight's supper was toasted cheese sandwiches and a serving of fruit each.
Day five: I love these challenges. My husband is a sport and goes along just so far with them. We had an omelet and toast this morning for breakfast. John bought lunch while we were out. I'll be putting another portion of food into the freezer. Tomorrow we'll be right back on track.
Day six: John decided a bagel and cereal was to be his meal this morning. I had yogurt for breakfast which I found to be very tasty. I've mentioned before that I melt a little jelly and then stir that into the cold yogurt to flavor it. The recipe I use for yogurt can be sweetened at time of making, using 1/2 cup sugar. I leave mine plain because I sometimes like to use this as a topping for a savory dish. Plain yogurt and a sprinkle of brown sugar is quite good as a fruit dip, by the way.
Dinner midday was back on menu: Chicken legs and wings, potatoes, green beans and a slice of cake. It was all quite good. There is a slice of cake left for each of us tomorrow. John's will go in his lunch bag. I'll likely have mine with hot tea mid afternoon.
I have two more portions of chicken in the fridge (breast meat for stir fry and a mix of meat for burritos). I have rice for both meals and I have black beans. I have homemade tortillas and cheese to shred. There's a bit of leftover tomato and a little pico de gallo . I'm thinking I'll get a few burritos and likely have some to put in the freezer.
I will try to make the burritos tomorrow (day seven) and I'll put the stir fry meat into the freezer to use in future. Here I have to admit foolishness. I priced broccoli. I looked at broccoli. I picked up and handled broccoli. I apparently did not buy broccoli. I won't subtract it from my menu total for the week. It was an oversight on my part.
Tomorrow we'll also have oatmeal for our breakfast. All in all, I have to say that I'm disappointed I didn't get to complete the week in full but every single meal we had was satisfying and filling. I truly believe that while we might miss certain seasonings and extras this was a very do-able menu. Of course, it did rely upon the leftovers from the previous two weeks of challenges. My challenge next month will be a little different.
My leftovers this round are
all but 1 cup of the brown sugar
7 cups AP flour
1 box baking soda
1 can baking powder
1# oatmeal (minus 1/3 cup for the frosting)
2 1/2 cups yogurt
3 packages of yeast
1/4 bunch of celery
1/4 pound of carrots
1 cup of peas
1/2 can tomatoes
1 8 oz tomato sauce
about 2 1/2 pounds sugar
root and top pieces of onion, carrot tips and celery leaves/root end. I always save these to use in cooking my chicken broth/carcass. Why throw it away when you can use it?!
1/2 gallon of milk
And that ends this month's tight budget challenge. In just three weeks time I've gone from no pantry or freezer items to enough leftovers to feed us at least two or three meals more than I'd planned for. I think this proves that were it necessary one might well eat on a tight budget with thoughtful plans.