Wednesday, August 11, 2010

21-Dollars-A-Week-Challenge: Are We Surviving?

As you may remember from Sunday's Blog Post (or not, I don't expect people to remember everything I post, seriously!) I am taking part in fellow vegan blogger "Vegan Hope"'s 21-Dollars-A-Week Vegan Blogger Challenge.

Since I didn't post a full menu on Sunday, and because I'd shopped but not actually 'started' the week, I thought I'd check back here, mid-week, to let you know how it's going.

First of all, as I mentioned on Sunday, living on 21-dollars-per-person-a-week is already slightly more than my actual 'real-life' budget allows. So as expected, this week is going about the same as any other week. I got home early, so I have the batter made for tonight's zucchini-garbanzo fritters, and the peach cobbler in the oven. I even made a vegan-cashew ranch for dipping (made from garden dill, and a few leftovers from last week which I realize skews the total weekly numbers a bit).

The only thing we've changed about the menu so far is that we opted for Biscuits and Gravy yesterday instead of Thursday. That's pretty typical, my "menu" is just a guideline for HOW to use the food we have on hand, not specifically "when".

Here's the plan for Saturday, which, when added to the previous list I made on Sunday, completes the week.

Carrot-Potato Latkes (Nava Atlas's recipe with shredded carrot/potato/onion - I use cornmeal instead of matzoh meal),
applesauce, fresh blackberries!
Peanut-butter and Jam* sandwiches, leftover cashew ranch dip with zucchini sticks and cherry tomatoes
Curried lentils (lentils, curry powder, ginger, onions, garlic, salt), rice, homemade roti (Indian bread) and spicy (Indian spices/curry) tomato-zucchini-and-carrots.

*jam = from the dollar store = 1.00


I haven't added it up exactly, but I'm pretty confident we came in well under 21-Dollars-Per-Person, because I still have a few dollars in my pocket.

(Another budget-helper. Take your grocery money out, in CASH at the first of the week. That is all you have to spend. Cash only. It works wonders!)

I've appreciated all the great comments and questions this subject has generated. Feel free to add or ask anything else!!

A couple things:

1.) Yes, as many have commented, my prices may be really low, but I don't think this is because I live in a "cheaper" part of the country, we're actually rated as "upper-middle" according to the Census, cost-of-living-wise and however they measure that thing
But keep in mind WHERE I shop. I bought all of the week's produce at the Asian and Latino markets at substantial savings, and was able to pick out exactly the amount I needed, nothing was pre-packaged or wrapped in per-selected bundles. I bought tiny portions of spices from the bulk aisle at Winco, some of them only pennies per tablespoon.

2.) Yes, my kids do snack some... We don't buy any "snack" foods but there is almost always bread, hummus, PB, Jam, carrots and apples. Also, there are usually leftovers, this week I've had leftover hummus, veggies, tortillas and refried beans. Not a LOT of any of those items, but a snack is just that, a snack. I'm not a fan anyway. I haven't yet found any compelling, truly scientific evidence that convinces me we need to snack all day anyway. Maybe after school, but that's usually it.

3.) Beverages. Water! We don't drink soymilk or other plant milk as a beverage, or any type of juice. Both of these items are expensive and just don't fit into the budget. And juice isn't necessary for anyone anyway! We don't do a lot of "smoothie" type drinks unless I have a lot of odds and ends to use up. When my children were toddlers we did more high-protein drinks and smoothies so I could pack in the nutrients. I DO have iced herb tea in the fridge almost all the time and when we want something other than water it fills the craving.

4.) Nutrition. Are my kids getting adequate nutrition? Yes. Even though my current budget can't be modified at the moment, I won't sacrifice my children's health. If I needed to change something - vegan or not, I would do it, their nutrition and health come first.
We do take B12 and D suppliments, just because I want to be extra careful. When my kids were toddlers we did do a lot more smoothies and even eggs once in a while (because I still think free-range chickens are the best pest controllers a garden can have, but this isn't the forum for that whole "egg" discussion, please). There are certainly plenty of vegan options for raising healthy toddlers if you don't have chickens laying eggs on your front steps.

Nowdays my kids are older, they eat more variety and are getting more than adequate nutrition with the meals we have. I realize we scrape the bare minimum number of fruit-and-vegetable servings some days, I wish I could afford to add more to our meals but overall, it seems to even out. Their health history, weight, blood tests and yearly physicals indicate they're healthier than the "typical" teen out there for sure. Every few weeks, just to be sure, I track their meals (using teenage-female statistics) on or similar sites just because I'm a paranoid Mom that way.

5.) Time. I work, two jobs during the school-year. My kids are in school and work as well. We have as busy a life as the next person. All told, most meals don't take more than 1/2 hour to put on the table. Lunch usually significantly less, and it's packed the night before during the school-year. If you can't give your family an hour to an hour-and-a-half every day towards their health and nutrition, you probably need to re-evaluate something in your schedule. Sorry, not trying to be harsh, just my 2 cents. I make copious use of time-saving utensils: the crock-pot, time-bake on the oven, timed rice-cooker, pressure-cooker and meals in the freezer. (And microwave, if that's your thing, I don't use it) And I try to sit down at the table most evenings for supper. Yes, even with teenagers.

6.) Cooking ahead. I don't do a lot of meals-made-ahead but I DO spend a lot of time in the summer, as I said before, preserving for winter. Making use of EVERY bit of produce I can get my hands on, from my garden, my friends extras, my Mom's over-abundant corn patch, etc. I'll use ANYTHING! I make tomato sauces, salsa, apple sauce, apple butter, jams, frozen beans, greens, squash and cooked, mashed pumpkin. I also make seitan (vegetarian wheat-gluten-meat-type product) in BIG batches and different products (sausages, cutlets, crumbles) and freeze for future use. Again, very cheap to make your own... I have a huge freezer and a pantry full of canning jars I got off Craig's-List and they've paid for themselves many, many times over.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I would love to hear how your zucchini-garbanzo fritters turn out and if the garbanzo beans work for the sounds really good and I would love to try it if it works!


Tofu Hunter said...

Regarding the nutrition and your kids: I've been a vegetarian (tho not vegan) since I was a little girl, and am currently a healthy, athletic 5'10". Got to chuckle a little when people ask whether a vegetarian kid could get enough nutrients to grow up right! Of course I'm sure it helped that my sweet mom, much like you, provided me a heck of a lot of homemade smoothies and I was made aware, even as a kid, that I needed to be a little bit more conscious about what I ate.

Mama said...

You make me miss Winco so much! It really does depend on what you have access to. Great job.

Catherine Weber said...

Amen, sistah! I think we have a real problem in our culture, feeling like we can't invest an hour and a half per day in our own health, let alone the health of our families/loved ones! Sheesh!

Off to cook dinner!

Karyn said...

I remember when I was getting divorced and had 3 hungry teens of my own, plus an extra teen (long story)that was living with us...My kids became veg*n by necessity as we couldn't afford meat,cheese, milk, etc.

I did a lot of my shopping at the local Asian & Latino markets and the "day old bread store" and without them I do not know how we would have survived. I miss them where I live now.

Snacks, yes, my kids ate snacks, but the snack food was for the most part the leftovers from the meals. My sons still swear by leftover spaghetti in a tortilla. LOL

When they wanted a dessert, they would take leftover rice and mix it with cinnamon & sugar and sometimes fruit and they loved it.

We all stayed healthy and my kids learned a lot about nutrition, cooking and budgeting.

It was a hard time, but it was a good time.

I am in with you 100% on this challenge. Thanks for sharing with us all and for bringing back so many memories for me. Big hugs.

Sonia said...

this is a wonderful post!!
I too am doing the challenge :) I'm on day 3 now, and so far it's going really well!
Thanks so much for all of your advice, I really appreciate it.

Jess of Midwest Vegan said...

I'm doing this $21-a-week challenge as well this month since I saw it posted on your blog. I think it is an excellent idea. Oh, and I love your blog, I've been a phantom-reader for like, a year now. Lol. :)

sara said...

i'm impressed by your budgeting, i don't know if i could do it! i miss having an asian market nearby, you really do find the best bargains (and so many different kinds of produce). totally agree with you about spending 90 min. a day cooking for your family -- it's so worth it!

Karyn said...

Tonight at a car show, I was given a gift of a HUGE bag of red, yellow & orange bell peppers. This is going to help stretch my weekly budget a lot and I'm going to slice and freeze a bunch for future weeks. This was all because I gave someone else two loaves of home made bread.

So, tomorrow there is another car event and a very nice woman told me she is bringing me a bag of corn from her garden, because she has too much. I am going to give her a basil plant and a rosemary plant.

So we are all stretching our budgets and helping each other at the same time.

What a great idea you shared with us. Thank you! <3

Michael @ said...

Impressive level of commitment to this challenge! Nice to see how well it is possible to eat for so little cash.

Tofu Mom (AKA Tofu-n-Sprouts) said...

Michael, thanks so much, your compliment means a LOT to me!!
Actually everyone's do! This isn't just a one week challenge for me - it's the way my budget works EVERY week.
My commitment is to making sure my kids eat healthful (and tasty and interesting) foods AND managing to get through this recent-divorce-refinance-stuck with my ex's bills-catching up-cutback at work without losing my house, my car or my sanity! Thanks SO MUCH for the positive feedback, the ideas, the questions and the comments on this difficult subject!!

two vegan boys said...

As always, your blog is great. The food sounds delicious.

Susan said...

I do love reading this--I have thought for a while reading through the lines on your blog that you eat very well for what must be a small budget, and now that I see your actual budget, I was right! I do cook for my family most nights, and often for lunch when we are home, but I am just not big on cooking in the morning. We are still trying to get good routines there. I have been thinking about doing some frozen breakfast burritoes, though, which could help. It is helpful to see the menu written out like this for ideas, so thank you for sharing.