Today, I’m one of many food bloggers participating in a special awareness event — Food Bloggers Against Hunger. This is a topic that is personally very important issue to me. Did you know that someone on government food assistance (SNAP) will typical receive only $3-$4 a day to purchase food for themselves? Could you imagine spending only $1 for each of your meals? I recently watched the new documentary, A Place at the Table, and it left me wondering if I could buy food to make a healthy family meal for 4 on just $4. I went shopping to find out if it was possible with one of my most frugal meals, Meatless Sloppy Joes.
I created my shopping list and headed out to see how I would do. You’ll notice that I I listed two items on my list with question marks. See, when I was doing the math on this meal, I felt like I might be cutting it way too close. I wanted to get the sweet potatoes for homemade sweet potato fries, but I was unsure if they would fit in the $4 budget. The same thing with garlic. I figured it would be about .50 cents a head, but I also know it can be skipped in this meal if necessary.
One of the first stops was produce. I needed 1/2 of an onion and I found them for .58 cents/lb. I found the smallest one and ended up paying .30 cents for it, which will have me spending just .15 cents for the portion I will use in this meal. As I suspected, the garlic was close to .50 cents each. Not a bad deal, but I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it, so I’m going to skip it.
My plan is to make sweet potato fries for a side dish, but my dilemma came in when I saw both sweet potatoes and red garnet yams. I really don’t know the difference, but I do see the difference in price: $1.18/lb for sweet potatoes and .78 cents/lb for yams. It seems crazy to think that I have to worry about .40 cents, but having only $4 to spend on dinner does that to you. In the end, I decided to go with the red garnet yams and I bought 1 3/4 lbs for a total of $1.37.
The carrots were a good deal. I picked up a bag of carrots for .88 cents for a 2 lb bag. I only need 2/3 cup grated carrots, which will be about 2 1/2 ounces. This puts my carrot cost at about 8 cents for this meal. The rest of the carrots will be great for other meals or for snacking.
Canned kidney beans are a main part of the meatless sloppy joes. I will need two cans and, at first, I grabbed the ones that were .68 cents per can. This was for a name brand and was the same price as the store brand. However, as I turned to put them in the cart, I saw that there was another brand for .65 cents per can. I debated…does .03 cents per can really make a difference? I decided that every penny counted, so I put back the .68 cents ones and bought the .65 cents kidney beans.
For the crushed tomatoes, I had intended to buy the store brand for $1.02, but it was out of stock. The only other variety available was $1.88. I decided to buy that, but I knew that this would now impact my budget quite a bit.
Sandwich buns were my next challenge. The least expensive option was white hamburger buns for .98 cents. I wanted to buy 100% whole wheat buns, but this would mean paying $1.65. It’s a good price, but more than the white buns. In the end, I decided to take the whole wheat buns, but I was frustrated because I knew that the healthier option was going to have me going over budget.
Here was my totals:
Kidney Beans: .65 cents/per can x 2 = $1.30
Crushed Tomatoes: $1.88/can (will have 1 1/4 cups leftover from 28 oz can that can be used on another meal)
Carrots: .08 cents for 2/3 cup grated
Onion: .15 cents for 1/2 of onion
Sandwich Buns: .83 cents for 4 buns (half of 8 ct package — remainder can be used for another meal)
Sweet Potatoes (Yams): $1.37
Not included: spices and seasonings (chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper) and oil
There is no doubt that’s a cheap meal, but it’s still over the $4 budget. And, all this is going on the hope that the person has the spices and oil on hand, but if they didn’t, the total would have been a bit more. If the store had the store brand crushed tomatoes in stock ($1.02) AND if I had chosen the the white hamburger buns (.49 cents for 1/2 pkg), the total would have been $4.41 — still over the budget.
Here is the complete recipe — ready for printing or to save to ZipList:
- 2 cans dark red kidney beans (15.5 oz - rinsed, drained, divided)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ small or medium sized onion, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ⅔ cup grated carrot
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 4 sandwich rolls or hamburger buns
- In a food processor, pulse half of the kidney beans until all mashed up.
- In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper to pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.
- Add the grated carrots, chili powder, sugar, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the onion mixture. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for 10 minutes or until thickened.
- Stir the mashed beans and the remaining whole beans into the tomato mixture.
- Heat thoroughly and serve mixture on the sandwich rolls.
--If necessary, substitute white granulated sugar for the brown sugar if you don't have brown sugar on hand.
--If you wish, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic with the onion
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, May 2010
I’m a frugal shopper, this meal was inexpensive, and I shopped at one of the stores in Vegas with the lowest prices. I couldn’t make this meal — that didn’t even include meat or cheese — for $4 or less. How likely is it that anyone can do it? It’s no wonder why there are Americans going hungry — the help they are getting isn’t enough. It’s 2013, and 1 in 4 U.S. kids still don’t know where their next meal will come from. It’s just not acceptable to me.
I believe that the only way for hunger to be eliminated in America is by a change in policy. Current government assistance, and the additions of food banks and soup kitchens, are not enough. I urge you to join me in making your voice heard. Please considering taking 30 seconds to fill out this form and send a letter to congress asking them to support anti-hunger legislation.
I also encourage you to watch the documentary, A Place at the Table. I rented it instantly through Amazon and watched it on my computer, but you could also see it in theaters if it’s playing in your city (check here for locations) or on demand through iTunes.
I’m just one of many Food Bloggers Against Hunger — to see how other food bloggers shared this message, check out The Giving Table.