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Frugal, Tasty Recipes for Families on Public Assistance

Anyone who has tried to feed a family on the allotment from SNAP (what we used to call Food Stamps) knows how very difficult it is to maintain a healthy diet and cook appealing meals while on a pittance of a fixed income.

I use a lot of grains and legumes; I try to use Kale, Chard and other leafy greens, I try to use meat as a condiment rather than a main ingredient; all of this helps, but I would love to get some suggestions for some perhaps more inventive frugal, healthy, appetizing meals.

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  1. You may get some ideas from this thread. I have not read all of it so not sure how many ideas. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/897303

    1. You are doing all the right things.

      If you can raise backyard female chickens you will have a supply of eggs daily, and meat every 10 weeks. A 50 lb. bag of feed is $10-$15., and they will eat all scraps, as they are omnivorous.

      A 40 lb bag of wheat, white or whole grain, is $13 at Costco, and 2.5 lb of yeast is $4.
      So batches of bread should be a regimen.

      20 lb bags of rice and beans at the large Asian stores are always on my list.

      I would add sorrel to your list of leafy greens, and grow it in pots. Also a variety of lettuce in pots.

      You probably know all about canned tomatoes and sauces. They regularly go on special for $1. Just read the the label to make sure they give up some Vitamins.

      For recipes, I would google tagines, cassoulet, French Provincial, Cioppino, Mediterranean diet, Okinawa diet, etc., but that's just me.

      6 Replies
      1. re: jayt90

        Thanks. I used to raise chickens, but oddly in this small town surrounded by farms it is illegal to keep any fowl. However it is great advice, and I am hoping this thread is of service to many others.

        Also, you should know that for most people on public assistance one of the cruelties is that there is never enough money to buy in bulk, so one is forced to pay more in order to get less.

        "Tagines, cassoulet, French Provincial, Cioppino..." Mmmm.

        1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

          I'm remembering about $80 (per week? per two weeks?), and that was a while ago. Should be easy enough for you to pick up a 5lb bag of cheese from costco (mozarella, nothing fancy) and the wheat and yeast. Buy some canned tomato paste ($5), costco's is excellent, and you can make pizzas for two weeks.

          (no, i'm not telling you to do what i don't do! pizzas for two weeks is fun! 30 minute meals if the dough's let to rise in the fridge)

          1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

            That's true about the bulk purchases--it takes money to save money. Perhaps you could pair up with a similarly-situated friend and swap?

            I lived on very little money while in graduate school, so I know what you're dealing with. Homemade soups are great, as are lentils, chickpeas, quinoa. If you have a freezer, it's easy to make large quantities of chicken stock and vegetable stock from leftovers and scraps. (I still do this.)

            The good thing is that, if you know how to cook, you can have a very healthy diet, since a SNAP budget doesn't allow for pricy, processed foods.

          2. re: jayt90

            Many Costcos don't take SNAP. In most if not all states, food assistance is now on EBT cards rather than paper coupons. You run the card the same way as you'd run a debit or credit card. All eligible items are coded in the computer. That, plus the fact that there are no more paper coupons, has led to much less fraud. When Costco opened in I believe NYC, there was a big to-do about whether they'd accept SNAP EBT, as they had not done so up until that point.

          3. How about some soup made with some frozen vegetables and you could use some cream or evaporated milk to make a cream of vegetable soup? Ground beef is great to make all kinds of meals as long as it is a meat you like to eat. As well if you like to make bread some of the slow rising breads are inexpensive to make and are delicious.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Ruthie789

              Soup is a great idea. I don't think buying already-ground meat is a very good idea, unless you know the butcher and watch your meat being ground. It's done at huge bulk stations with beef and parts shipped in from anywhere and everywhere, and is not necessarily handled properly.

              I love to bake. Bread is a lovely idea, and I am out of the habit.

              1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                I do understand about your concern about the beef, but I still buy ground beef but am particular about where I buy it. The bread is really easy to make and if strawberries are in season can make some freezer jam to top it.

                1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                  This isn't always true. I've been working as a butcher in a natural foods store for most of the last year and several of my colleagues have worked in large chain supermarkets (and even managed them). It sounds like most stores grind yesterday's stew meat for their ground beef, because it oxidizes and turns brown after the pieces have been touching each other in the package for a few hours. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this meat -- beef isn't bad until it's green and smelly (and the green smelly part can even be cut off, and would be cut off before anything is ground, because it makes for ugly, smelly grinds). I wouldn't buy ground meat in a pre-packaged chub, but anything ground in-house shouldn't be too bad as long as you cook it all the way through.

                  Also, mishandling can happen anywhere. Anywhere. With anything. There actually seem to be way more scares with vegetables than with meat.

                  1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                    I buy my ground beef from one or two specific local (kosher) stores who have very high turnover. The meat is always fresh.

                    1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                      Thanks for the reassurance. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the scare stories from genuine warnings.

                      1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                        There has been so much bad publicity about ground beef. I continue to buy it and I make meatloaf for my son. I am more confident buying it at some grocers than others however. I always cook it well done.

                      2. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                        If you love to bake, look up recipes for Irish soda bread--the tradional kind, which is just a basic, savory brown bread made with nothing but flour, baking soda, buttermilk, sald and sometimes a touch of sugar (though not enough to make it actually taste sweet). It's a quick bread, which is great if you are busy caring for a family, it's hearty and delicious, and it's healthy because it's generally made with mostly whole wheat flour. You can start a batch at 6 o'clock and have fresh bread ready to eat at 7 (most of which is baking time, so you can do other things in the mean time.) It's wonderful with soups and stews.

                        Cornbread is another favorite of mine that is quick to make and doesn't require planning ahead. And it can be pretty healthy too, if you use whole grain (generally stone ground) cornmeal. Food co-ops and health food stores will often sell it in bulk bins for very little. That's where I get mine. Great accompaniment to those healthy greens!

                    2. when mom has a single mom I know she would use powdered milk when a recipe called for milk in small quanity like 1/4 cup it seems like a little thing but with two growing girls it made a big difference... She also use of chicken legs and thighs..Short ribs were a favourite( But they have become popular and are no longe inexpensive) Annnd Skirt steak...oh the things she could do with skirt steak! Eggs are not just for breakfast.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: girloftheworld

                        Powdered milk is expensive in comparison to way back when.

                        1. re: Ruthie789

                          I remember our powdered milk days. Not for cooking, but for drinking and for breakfast cereal. Blech.

                          During our tough times, at least once a week we had liver and onions because it was so cheap. Reportedly, my dad made the best liver and onions ever. Family of six--I was the only one who hated it. My siblings loved it.

                          I am a big fan of beans, and now that I'm eating meat again, I find beans are a great vehicle for stretching the taste of the meat. Beans and greens is a treat, and even a tiny bit of meat can infuse a pot. Bean patties of all sorts can be great.

                          As many have pointed out, eggs, eggs, eggs.

                          I think sweet potatoes can be great side dishes. Still fairly inexpensive, a ton of nutrition, versatile.

                          1. re: debbiel

                            We went through some powdered milk years, too. She tried putting it in the empty gallon jugs, thinking that she could trick us.... ugh.

                            1. re: Kontxesi

                              I don't care what container it was in, it still had that hint of blue to it. And that after taste.

                            2. re: debbiel

                              +1 for beans. Whether dried or canned, they're inexpensive, filling and loaded with good-for-us stuff. The sheer variety helps to stave off boredom with the same-old, same-old, and as debbiel pointed out, there are many, many excellent ways to prepare them.

                              Dried beans have long been one of my favorite go-to items when I want to stretch grocery dollars.

                              1. re: debbiel

                                As well as bean patties, potato patties (I use leftover mashed) with fried onions and ketchup are delicious and cheap. A big pot of vegetable soup with some ground beef or chicken thrown in goes a long way, as does a pot of spaghetti sauce.

                          2. Microwaved/baked potatoes with various toppings.

                            If you volunteer in your community, look for a SHARE site - allows you to purchase food in quantity each month at reduced prices, based on your level of volunteer activity. Boxes also include fresh produce that will add variety to your meals.

                            This discussion from 2010 is showing on my screen as a "related discussion" - not sure how CH magic decides what to show each of us, so thought I'd highlight it for you.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/735189

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