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Week 1 - Monday - Mother Hubbard

Tex Mex Chili and Corn Muffin My cupboard is bare. We have just returned from a week and a half away from home and there is very little here in the way of fresh produce. Surprisingly, some salad mix has survived our trip (but it will need to be sorted). There is a worn-out green pepper in the crisper (an indulgence this time of year, I know, but I was craving chili). A bunch of cilantro that somehow survived our absence better than almost anything else we left behind. No fruit. Lots of carrots.

I am lucky in one thing: my husband, today, is at a conference, where they will feed him lunch. I'm not concerned about the cost: I'll double the cost of my own meal and count that into our food cost for the day. But when I pack his lunch, I generally rely on leftovers, and there are no leftovers today to send.

One thing is clear: on this budget, I will have to make his lunch every day.

Breakfast is easy, and takes almost no time to make: a cup of oatmeal with a little brown sugar and milk, and coffee.

Lunch is my old standby, lentils and rice. I started eating this meal back when I really didn't have much money, and I still love it. 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1/4 cup of lentils, a little salt, and 1 1/2 cups of water for a huge meal. Bring it all to a boil (5-10 minutes), turn the heat to low, and set a timer for 30 minutes. When it's ready, I add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (something else I found in my refrigerator). Often, I use a little extra water when I make this to produce a risotto-like dish. It's simple, filling, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand, so I have this whenever I need lunch and don't know what to make. I'll call it 10 minutes of active cooking time.

In the middle of the afternoon, I find myself feeling a little hungry, but instead of automatically reaching for a snack, as I usually do, I decide that I'm really not that hungry, and do without.

It's not the cost of the food. It's the cost of writing it down.

You know those diets where you are supposed to write down everything you eat, or those spending plans where to track every penny? I think half the reason they work is because that teeny-tiny obstacle is enough, at least for someone as lazy as I am, to just forgo the expenditure.

Dinner is the chili I never got round to making before we left, with corn muffins and a shredded carrot salad. The chili is a vegetarian version made with lentils and kidney beans. Because I cooked the beans before we left, the preparation time will be minimal. Not that beans are hard to make, but they do take time to cook.

I love beans. They're cheap, nutritious, and delicious, and in my days of struggling to make ends meet, I relied on beans and rice for almost all my meals. Today, I still rely heavily on them, now because they are low in fat, filling, and infinitely variable.

When tallied up, my food costs for the day come to a shocking $13.47, which panics me until I realize that this number includes the full cost of a carton of milk (1.99), one and a half heads of garlic (1.05), a stick of butter (1.00) and a bottle of wine ($1.99), all of which I know I'll use up by the end of the week. Oh, and that darned green pepper, which cost me 1.02.

Wait, a bottle of wine, you are saying? Well, yes. One of my conceits in doing this project is that each of us should be able to have one alcoholic drink with dinner every night. In my case, that will be about 1/2 a glass of Trader Joe's Charles Shaw wine (my usual table wine in the usual amount), and in my husband's case, a beer. This will add about $2 and $7, respectively, to our food budget every week, but I'm going to try. Food stamps wouldn't pay for this, of course, but it seems to me that, ideally, this one small pleasure should be within our reach.

Meanwhile, I have an absurd nursery rhyme mashup in my head and I can't make it stop:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to her cupboard,
Eating some curds and pie,
Along came a spider,
And sat down beside her,
And said "What a good boy am I!"

Monday total: $15.07. Remaining weekly allowance: $46.43.

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Made your lentils and rice standby for dinner last night - it was great!

I often do a similar dish with 2 parts brown rice to 1 part wild rice, a dash of olive oil, and whatever green leafy veg are on hand. It takes forever to chew, though.

The lentils added a better, smoother texture, and are definitely cheaper than wild rice.

Both dishes are a great way to use up chicken stock, which I always have in abundance because I can't stand to throw out any bones before simmering them to pieces.

For a different flair, I sometimes do this with red lentils seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Mmm. I guess it's sort of quick and easy dal at that point. My toddler loves it!

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about this project

» How did it begin?
» Week 1: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $3.20
» Week 2: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $13.34
» Week 3: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $7.15
» Week 4: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photos | Summary: Under budget - $6.41
» Week 5: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Photos

other food challenges

» Above Average Jane
» The Eat Local Challenge
» The April 2007 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge
» Half-Changed World
» Slow Food for Low and Moderate Income People
» Tinotopia's Food Stamp Diet

other food projects

Food is a Munition of War: living for one month on UK WWII rations

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