Feb 172013

As I mentioned in my last post, for a project in my community nutrition class I was challenged to eat for a week as if I were on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (you might think of it as “food stamps”).  The maximum amount an adult can receive is $200 a month, which is about $46 a week or about $6.50 a day.  The assignment was truly eye opening and I was surprised how challenging it was.  Not only was it almost impossible to stay within the budget, it was especially hard to maintain a healthy diet while doing so.  It took a ton of planning, time in the kitchen, and lots of meals alone, but in the end I was able to (just barely) stay within my budget.

The main thing I learned throughout this project is that staying on a tight budget can get very boring.  This week I had a lot less variety in my diet than I usually would because I stuck to the same few meals that I knew were inexpensive and easy to prepare.  The photo above shows a few of my go to meals and how much they cost.  Top left was my usual breakfast…peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread with coffee.  No greek yogurt or Starbuck’s for me this week.

I also made a very inexpensive batch of turkey chili and to make it last even longer with smaller portions, I made chili and cheese stuffed sweet potatos (top right).  It definitely doesn’t look that appetizing above, but it was actually awesome and I would even eat it when I’m not on a serious budget. On the bottom left is a “pizza” made on a whole wheat tortilla with marinara sauce, a few mushrooms and onions, and shredded mozzarella.  Bottom right also a delicious creation…a hash of sweet potato, onion, and a few sliced brussel sprouts topped with a fried egg.  (Sadly, when you’re on food stamps and you break the yolk of your egg when you crack it into the pan, you just deal with it). Probably my favorite meal of all was this one–brown rice fried rice with frozen mixed vegetables, egg, and green onions.  

Nutritional highlights:  It really is tough to be healthy on a budget, but it can be done with planning and strategic shopping (thank you Trader Joe’s for your amazing prices and not letting me go hungry this week).  Healthy grains like quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread are all very affordable.  If you can’t afford fresh veggies, frozen vegetables are a great alternative.  Other great foods that are super healthy and inexpensive are sweet potatoes, eggs, edamame, bananas, and beans.  Other than the turkey chili that I ate almost every day (which was really more beans than turkey), I didn’t eat meat because it was just too expensive.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it forced me to explore other less expensive protein options like quinoa, edamame, beans, peanut butter, and eggs.  I don’t think that my week on food stamps was anywhere near as healthy as a usual week (#carbo-loading), but with a little creativity I think I did OK and I challenge you all to try to think of creative was to tighten you budget a bit.  

General recipes for the meals I made this week:

Brown Rice Fried Rice on a budget: 
What you need for 1 serving: 2/3 cups cooked brown rice, 2/3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (i used a mix that had peas, carrots, corn, and green beans), 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 egg, 2 green onions, sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce (minced ginger would be great too but OK to skip on a budget).
How to make it:  Heat 1 tspn sesame oil in a very hot wok.  Add vegetables, ginger (if using) and garlic (powder or fresh are both fine), and saute until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.  Push to one side and add another half tsp of sesame oil.  Add the egg and break up yolk and stir into vegetables until it’s cooked.  Add brown rice and soy sauce and saute another few minutes.  Top with a few green onions and enjoy.

Chili and Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes on a budget:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 baked sweet potato, 2/3 cup turkey or vegetable chili (store bought or homemade are both fine), 1/4 cup shredded cheese
How to make it:  Cut into the baked sweet potato (but not all the way through) to create an opening.  Fill with the turkey chili (it’s ok if it spills over).  Top with the shredded cheese and pop into the microwave for about 2 minutes.  

Tortilla Pizzas on a budget:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 whole wheat wrap, 1/4-1/2 cup marinara sauce, vegetables you have left over (I used mushrooms and onions), 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, garlic powder/chili flakes (optional)
How to make it:  Preheat oven to 425.  Place wrap on a baking sheet and top with marinara sauce.  Spread vegetables over crust and top with shredded cheese.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and brown and crust is crispy.  Top with a little garlic powder and red pepper flakes for a little flava.

Budget-friendly Sweet Potato and Brussel Sprout Hash with Fried Egg:
What you need for 1 serving: 1 egg, 1/2 sweet potato (chopped), 1/8th onion (chopped), 6 brussel sprouts (sliced), olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili flakes.
How to make it: Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high and add all the vegetables.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes until vegetables are soft and browned.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chili flakes.  Transfer to a plate or bowl.  In the same skillet, heat another tspn of oil and fry one egg to your preference.  Serve over the hash and enjoy.

Feb 102013

If I had to sustain on one food all winter long, without any doubt, it would be chili.  I love every variety out there- veggie, chicken, turkey, beef, you name it.  It’s spicy, hearty, filling, warming, and can actually be super healthy.  I decided to make a vegetarian version using lentils, which I decided would mirror the texture of ground meat.  And to add a little extra pizazz, a whole bottle of beer went into this recipe…so you can have your beer and eat it too (or something like that).  It’s a perfect meal to stay warm during a blizzard named after a cute animated fish, for example.  

Another reason I love chili so much is because it’s really quick and easy to make–an hour in the kitchen will leave you with at least 6 meals that you can eat immediately or freeze for a rainy (or snowy) day you want a quick meal.  Another huge benefit–it’s very budget friendly.   This is especially great, because I’m starting a school project that involves eating for a week on the budget of someone on SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program…formerly known as food stamps).  Stay tuned for a post next week to see how it went and if I stayed within my $46 budget for the week!

Nutritional Highlights:  This recipe proves that you don’t have to eat meat to get plenty of protein and iron.  The lentils and two types of beans in this recipe give you all that and more–and the more part is tons of fiber.  This recipe also has other healthy vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes, corn.  With a little low fat cheese, avocado, and cilantro on top, it’s an amazing well balanced vegetarian meal that will keep you full for hours.  It’s also gluten free, and can be vegan if you leave off the cheesy topping (but that’s not something I’m willing to do right now).  

Vegetarian Lentil and Bean Chili (with beer!)

1 cups dried lentils (or 2 cups already cooked lentils)
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tablespoons chipotle hot sauce (can substitute chopped chipotle in adobo)
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 orange or red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 cans of beans- I used black and kidney but any are fine!
1 cup frozen corn
1 bottle of beer

option toppings:
shredded cheese 
avocado, sliced 
tortilla chips
scallions, chopped
cilantro, chopped
lime wedges

If using dried lentils, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.  If using already steamed lentils (my favorite shortcut) skip to the next part.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and satue for 3 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and jalapeno and sauté until the peppers are tender, about 3 more minutes. Stir in the spices (chili powder, cumin, salt, and chipotle hot sauce) and cook for 3 minutes.  Pour in the beer, crushed tomatoes, cooked lentils, beans and corn. Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Eat chili immediately or refrigerate and eat the next day–I think it’s even better on day 2 because the flavors have more time to intensify.  

Serve with any of your favorite toppings and enjoy!

Feb 052013

If you know me at all, I walk the fine line between having it all together and being a total mess.  I’m a diagnosed procrastinator, and have been known to write entire papers not the night before they’re due, but the morning that they’re due.  That’s why it’s not surprising that I’m posting a super bowl recipe the day after the game.  Obviously, I was not organized enough to make this in advance and post it earlier, but I was pretty excited about the idea so I wanted to share it anyway.  Hey, there’s always next year, right?

This is a traditional mexican 7 layer dip with a few healthier swaps:  fat free refried black beans, then low fat sour cream (or you could even use greek yogurt) mixed with taco seasoning, then chopped black olives and green onions, then low fat shredded cheese, then salsa, and finally guacamole with football field lines.  Pretty cute, huh? It also takes about 10 minutes to make (a few more if you make your own guac which I did an highly recommend) and is super impressive for your guests.  

Also, did you hear that there was a football game during the Beyonce concert last night?