By Alexandra Kazimir
You’re hungry, pressed for time, and working within the confines of a strict budget. “What will I make for dinner tonight?,” you think, as you roam the isles of you local grocery store, in a daze of lethargy accompanied by a rumbling stomach. Perhaps mac and cheese, you consider - quick, easy, and cheap.
In today’s world, it is easy, perhaps too easy, to grab that blue box and get on with your night. Now, I’m not opposed to a quick ’n dirty cheesy dinner now and then. Sometimes, it is a necessity. What I am opposed to, however, is the notion that this is the only option. They do not need to be the only option for dinner, even on a small budget.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA, and a recipient of SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), I can use the Cash Crop program, which matches the amount of SNAP benefits (up to $10) spent with coupons for use on produce at the market. This makes it a lot easier to afford fresh, local produce; which benefits my health, my taste buds, and my local community.
As someone who has always endeavored to eat healthfully, eating the nutritious foods I want to eat on my budget has taught me several strategies for eating well on a budget.
- Make a list: I am certainly guilty of purchasing things I don’t need, but find enticing or exciting. I find approaching grocery shopping with a list keeps me on track and on budget, not to mention expedites the process.
- Shop for staples: Try to purchase staples, such as brown rice, oats, dried beans and lentils, that can be used in a variety of ways. The bulk section at the Rutland Food Co-op or your local grocery store has a fantastic bulk foods section that has a great selection of dried staple items.
- Add in Fresh Items: With a base of staples from which to work, add in fresh items like vegetables, eggs and dairy, as you need them. We are fortunate to have a weekly farmers' market as well as Farm Fresh Connect, making access convenient!
- SPICE up your staples: Literally, spice ‘em up! The Co-op also has a great bulk spices section, where you can purchase just the amount you need (budget friendly!). A simple meal of black beans and rice can be transformed from basic to brilliant by the addition of cumin and chili powder.
- Make you own: Granola, soup, vegetable stock are simple to make at home and much more cost effective. I keep a container of all my vegetable scraps and turn it into vegetable stock when it is full. Put in a pot, cover with water and simmer until reduced and deep in color. You can season now or season later.
- Use your freezer: Perfect for storing leftover soup, cooked beans and even fresh bread. Stock up on freezer safe containers and label, so they don’t get lost!
Simple Oat Patties
- 1 c. rolled oats
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- Butter (for frying)
- Combine the oats with salt, pepper, and cumin. Mix well.
- Crack eggs in a separate bowl and beat lightly. Add to oat mixture and combine until well coated.
- Heat a pat of butter over medium heat in a skillet, and pan fry the patties until golden (a few minutes each side).
- Serve with a slice of your favorite cheese (I suggest smoked cheddar) and eat while warm.
- Play around with the spices! These could be savory, or sweet (think cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little maple syrup or jam).
Alexandra is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working at Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). With a degree in Public Health from the University of Rochester, she is interested in reaching community members to improve their health, while supporting the local food economy. She is passionate about cooking, enjoys hiking, camping, and rock climbing in her free time, as well as teaching yoga at a local cooperative.
Originally publishsed in the Rutland Herald on April 12th, 2016.