The Giving Table: Feeding a Family of Four for $16.00

Today is a very special day here at Kitchenpants! Today is the day that food bloggers everywhere unite for Food Bloggers Against Hunger! On this day, we are here to raise awareness of hunger in the United States and call out to you, our readers, to help us take action.

1 out of every 4 children in the United States doesn’t know where his or her next meal will come from. And before you go thinking that this is about kids “out there” or “down there” or “up there”…let me tell you, these kids and their families are here. They live where I live, and they live where you live as well.

A while back, a group of women and I did a volunteer shift at our local food bank. Our job? To sort incoming donations and perform quality control to make sure food wasn’t expired or damaged in any way. I was shocked at what I found when I reached into our bins: expired food, broken boxes, and half-used containers riddled the lot. Outrageous. Why would anyone clean out a pantry of expired food and donate it to another human being? If the donor couldn’t eat it, why would anyone else? I tossed this around as I worked and came to the conclusion that there must be a huge divide in perception: somewhere out there someone – meaning well – thought that people would be so desperate to eat that they would gladly accept years-expired goods. That well-meaning donor – lots of them actually – had clearly put many degrees of separation between themselves and those to whom they were donating.

Food insecurity is closer than you think.

On our way out of the food bank, we took a tour. Along that tour, our guide stopped at a bank of backpacks. He showed us that each backpack contained kid-sized portions of food and explained that the backpacks were for the weekend. Kids who rely on school programs, he said, often don’t have enough of the right food on the weekend. The backpacks were for them to be able to eat and most importantly, to not worry about eating on the weekend. These kids live right in my backyard. It was then, and is now heartbreaking.

The SNAP program provides assistance for families in the United States. Each participant is allocated $4.00 per day to survive. And really, what does $4.00 a day buy in terms of quantity to even keep a person full much less nourished? Not much. The cheapest food is the most unhealthy and healthy food is expensive.

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that I prefer natural, fresh, and whole ingredients and my grocery bill is bloated to prove it. I decided to take a $16.00 challenge. There are 4 people in my household and I wondered how we would fare with $16.00 a day to feed ourselves (that’s $4.00 per person).

My experiment began at Aldi:

Aldo

If you’ve never been to Aldi, it’s a low-priced value supermarket with no frills: you put a quarter deposit on your grocery cart and there are no grocery bags. The produce section is tiny as are most of the “fresh” sections. Pre-packaged boxes of food and snacks abound.

From my trip, I hauled this cart:

Cart

I got: 12 Eggs, 10 lbs. Potatoes, 8 Chicken Thighs, 4 Broccoli Crowns, 6 Roma Tomatoes, 4 Poblano Peppers, 1 Can of Black Beans, 1 Container of Chicken Broth, 2 Avocados, 1 Jalapeno.

My total was $15.97 and it took me forever to get everything that I needed to fit into my budget. I think I spent an hour picking things up, doing math, and putting things away.

My plan: Start with dinner and then use leftovers and unused ingredients to make breakfast and lunch the next day.

These recipes assume that the following is available in the pantry:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Rice
  • Butter
  • Oil

First Up:

Dinner: Roasted Jalapeno Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Broccoli

(Adapted from a recipe that I found a while back on Food.com.)

The Ingredients:

  • 8 Chicken Thighs
  • 2 Tbs Butter or Margarine
  • 1 Jalapeno Pepper
  • 6 Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Tbs Oil
  • 2-3 cups Chicken Broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Broccoli – 4 large crowns
  • 1 Avocado

The Tools:

  • Oven and Large Roasting Pan – either 2 9×13 or one large enough to fit the chicken and potatoes together
  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • Bowl
  • Measuring Cup – Liquid Measure
  • Large Saucepan and Colander

The Action:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Trim the skin from the chicken thighs until just a bit remains on top. You will want to prepare the things with the skin on, but remove it before eating them.
  • In a small bowl, soften the butter by leaving it out or microwaving it.
  • Chop up the jalapeno pepper and discard the seeds.
  • Mix the butter and pepper together to create a spread.
  • Lay each thigh in the roasting pan and spread a bit of jalapeno butter over the meat of the thigh. Season each piece with salt and pepper. Cover with the skin:

Buttered Cx Chicken After

  • Wash the potatoes and cut each one into eight wedges.
  • Place the potatoes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oil and toss to coat each wedge. I prefer not to peel potatoes, but you can if you want.
  • Place the coated potatoes in the roasting pan with the chicken:

Raw Potatoes

  • Pour the chicken broth over the side of the pan. Use about 2-2.5 cups but keep extra on hand to add to the pan as the chicken cooks if the liquid gets low.
  • Bake for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done. With 8 thighs, it will likely take a bit longer.
  • While the chicken is cooking, steam some broccoli: place trimmed broccoli in a colander over a the mouth of a saucepan filled with 2 inches or so of water. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pan to steam. Remove the colander to stop the cooking process. This takes about 4-6 minutes. This will make more than 4 servings. Store the remaining broccoli for breakfast.
  • When the chicken is done, remove it fromt the oven and take a look. If you want the chicken or potatoes to brown more, remove them from the roasting pan and place them under the broiler for a bit.
  • Slice up the avocado and place it on top of the chicken. If greens are available, add these to the dish:

Finished Chicken Broco

Breakfast the Next Day: Veggie Omelet and Roasted Breakfast Potatoes

Note: If there are leftover potatoes from the previous recipe, turn these into breakfast potatoes by dicing them up and sauteing briefly in a pan to brown them with onions and peppers. If not, you can make roasted potatoes easily in the oven:

The Ingredients: Roasted Potatoes

  • 6 Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Onion
  • 1/2 Cup Poblano Peppers – Optional – To obtain this, slice the top of one of the poblano peppers lengthwise. See below for an illustration.
  • 2 Tbs Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

The Tools:

  • Oven
  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • 9×13 Roasting Pan

The Action:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Wash the potatoes. Chop into 1-inch pieces.
  • Chop the onion and poblano.
  • Place the potatoes, onion, and poblano into the roasting pan:

Roasted Potatoes

  • Season with salt and pepper. If there are other seasonings available in the pantry, feel free to season with these as well to taste.
  • Place the pan in the oven and cook until golden brown – about 45-60 minutes.

The Ingredients: Oven-Baked Veggie Omelet

  • 10 Eggs Total: 4 Yolks and 10 whites. (This is optional to taste.)
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes
  • Leftover Broccoli
  • 1 Tsp Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

The Tools:

  • Oven
  • Non-Stick Oven-Safe Skillet
  • Mixing Bowl and Fork
  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • Spatula

The Action:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Break the eggs and mix together in the mixing bowl with a fork.
  • Chop the onion and tomatoes.
  • Heat the oil in the non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Sautee the onions first for 2-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and any other available seasonings to taste.
  • Add the tomatoes and continue to saute until the tomatoes breakdown slightly.
  • Add the broccoli and heat through:

Veggies for Frit

  • Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir lightly until small bits of cooked egg appear:

Cooking Eggs

  • Remove the pan from the stove and place into the oven. Continue to heat 10-12 minutes or until the eggs are cooked through. Serve with potatoes:

Finished Egg

Lunch: Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Note: If there is leftover chicken from the dinner recipe, you can use it in these peppers. If not, the peppers are vegetarian. If there is cheese available, you can add this as well.

The Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Cooked Rice
  • 1 Can of Black Beans
  • 4 Roma Tomatoes – Divided
  • 4 Poblano Peppers
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Tbs Oil
  • 1 Avocado

The Tools:

  • Oven
  • Baking Sheet
  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • Skillet
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Mixing Bowl

The Action:

  • Turn on the broiler in the oven.
  • Prepare the rice according to package directions. When finished, set aside in mixing bowl.
  • Cut the stem off each poblano. Slice off the top of each poblano lengthwise and discard the seeds:

Poblano

  • Lay each poblano skin side up on the baking sheet. Place the sheet under the broiler and broil for 5 minutes.
  • When the peppers are broiled, remove the peppers and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • In the skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and saute until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and any other available seasonings.

Onions and Tomatoes for Rice

  • Drain the black beans and add the beans to the mixing bowl of cooked rice.
  • Add the onion and tomatoe mixture to the beans and rice.
  • Add chicken or cheese if available and mix to combine:

Rice

  • Stuff each poblano with the rice mixture until full.
  • Place the peppers skin side down on the baking sheet.
  • Add cheese over the top if available.
  • Place the peppers in the oven and bake until heated through – about 25-30 minutes.
  • Slice up tomato and avocado as a small salad and serve:

Poblanos

What I Learned:

This was really hard! If you’ll notice, there is absolutely no fruit (save the tomato) here at all. There’s no dairy, either, unless one happens to have cheese in the pantry (this might be ok for many of you who don’t eat dairy, but calcium and vitamin D do need to be present for kids and this menu really lacks in this department). In short, $16.00 dollars a day for a family of 4 to eat healthfully is a tight stretch.

You can help families get the food that they need to live healthfully by answering this call to action to help protect the funding of programs that families near you need! Also, check out The Giving Table! This is a powerful documentary that will inform and inspire.

Finally, get involved locally. Find a food bank or similar organization around you and volunteer. Take $20.00, go to the grocery store, and buy food specifically to donate to a food bank or pantry or better yet, give the cash directly to the organization. Do your part!

Ali Wechman

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