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How To Feed Your Family When You Are Absolutely Broke

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Photo Credit: Ian D. Keating via Compfight cc

When you experience a sudden financial emergency such as a job loss or sudden unavoidable expense such as taking care of a flooded basement, it can leave you struggling to get by. You may feel like you are going to starve until you get back on your feet, but if you are resourceful, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you get by.

First of all, check your pantry. It may sound obvious that if you had food, you would be feeding yourself, but seriously, pull every food item you have out of the cupboard, look in your freezer and fridge. Make a list of everything you possibly have that is edible. Chances are, you can probably get at least a few meals out of the items you already have in the cupboard if you plan well. For example, even when I feel like I have “nothing to eat” in my house, I can scan the cupboards & fridge and find a handful of things to make a few meals. We usually have bread, tortillas, pasta noodles, eggs, potatoes, perhaps a can of chicken noodle soup for an unexpected sick day, sliced cheese, butter, frozen vegetables, ramen noodles, rice and usually a package or two of chicken or pork chops in the freezer that we had forgotten was there. From these items alone, I can think of these meals:

  • grilled cheese
  • scrambled eggs (for breakfast)
  • quesadillas (with cheese only or you could cook up the meat from the freezer and toss some in, or add scrambled eggs for a breakfast quesadilla)
  • egg sandwich (either just egg and bread, or add cheese for variety)
  • chicken noodle soup from the can
  • baked chicken with baked potatoes or homemade fries (if we have bbq sauce or Italian dressing, pour a little on the chicken before baking for flavor. Homemade fries – chop potatoes into strips, drizzle in oil, salt & pepper, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until done)
  • baked pork chops with rice or baked potatoes (again, if we have sauces in the fridge, add some for flavor & variety)
  • Spaghetti in a butter sauce with veggies on the side (I may have to add a few spices from the cupboard to make this more flavorful, but sprinkling in a little garlic seasoning and italian seasoning can make this more tasty. Also, if I have a jarred spaghetti sauce, I could use that instead)
  • Chicken fried rice (cook up the rice and the chicken, saute them in butter, add frozen veggies, some garlic seasoning, and soy sauce. You could even scramble some eggs up and add them in. Also, this recipe is good as a vegetarian meal, without the chicken or eggs)
  • Asian noodles (cook up the ramen noodles according to package, but don’t add the seasoning packet. Drain the noodles. Cook similar to chicken fried rice above)

So there you go, that is about a week’s worth of lunches and dinners if you can stretch these items into a handful of meals (you may need to repeat a few meals or eat leftovers at another mealtime). Now obviously, you don’t have the same things in your cupboards that I do, but odds are, you can scrounge around and create at least a few meals out of what you have in your cupboard. Also, if you have nearly everything for a specific recipe but a certain item, decide whether to make a quick trip to the store or only deal with the items you have. It is your budget, your pantry, and your family you are feeding, so you are best able to decide how to work with the items in your house.

After you have determined what meals you can already make, determine if you are able to make a trip to the grocery store. Do you have enough money or is your bank account already negative? If you are able to make a trip, try to be as frugal as possible. Consider shopping at a “bargain” store such as Aldi or Costco. I had thought that I was shopping cheaply by going to Walmart, but after I switched to Aldi, I realized that I was wrong. Search for items on sale, or items that are already cheap. Some items that are usually cheap are Ramen noodles, rice, beans, canned soups, and canned veggies.

If you are absolutely unable to make a trip to the store, consider ways you can make a few dollars quickly. There are ideas all over the internet, but here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Sell something – Nearly everyone has a few things that they don’t need right now that they could sell. Have your kids grown out of some of their clothes? Sell a small bundle of their old clothes. Do you have too many pairs of shoes? Sell a few. Did you buy a treadmill and never use it? Sell that darn thing! Your family needs to eat. Would you rather have an exercise machine you never use and 30 pairs of shoes, or cash in hand and 25 pairs of shoes? I promise you, your family needs food more than you needed those items. You could sell on craigslist, garage sale, or a facebook swap page, or even get ahold of some friends to see if they want to buy any of the items you have decided to sell.
  • Pick up a part-time job – This may not be feasible for everyone due to childcare costs, but if you are able to, get a job delivering pizzas or stocking shelves at the grocery store. Also, think of things you could do from your home, if childcare would be an issue with a part-time job. Babysit a friend’s kids for a few evenings, knit a scarf and sell it, etc. Think of things you can do to earn some money, even if all you do is babysit for one evening and earn $20,that is more money than you had before and, when used wisely, can feed your family for that much longer.
  • Reach Out – If your family is truly struggling, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Your friends may have no idea that you are unable to make ends meet, but I’m sure that someone you know would be more than willing to lend/give you even as little as $20 to help you out in a tough time. Your friends love you, and are there for the good times and the bad. Obviously, this can’t be a consistent means to feed your family, but it can help in a tough time. You may even find that your friends will either invite you over for dinner if you are struggling or make a freezer meal to give you. If you are involved in a church, talk to your pastor. Many churches have programs in place to temporarily help struggling families to get back on their feet.

Okay, so you have now scrounged around some money and have perhaps $20 or more in hand? Good. I’m not saying the $20 will perform miracles, but consider spending it on items that can stretch over multiple meals. Some ideas are bread, eggs, rice, pasta and beans. But you know what your family will eat, so search for cheaper items that you know your family will eat and that can stretch over more than one meal. Consider going to your local food pantry. If you don’t know why food pantries are there, they are for times such as this, when normal people have found themselves unable to get by and need a little help. Don’t be nervous about going there, all of us have struggled at one time or another and the food pantry is there to help. There is nothing to be ashamed of when making sure your family is taken care of. Also, shop at discount stores. They really are cheaper. I was spending nearly $5 on shredded cheese, but spent half that for the same amount at our local Aldi store.

Lastly, if you are not currently completely broke, but have been reading this blog for the helpful tips, consider planning ahead. You never know when you may run into a tough time, so follow these tips and you will be better prepared if you ran into tough times:

  • Put money away – If you are not currently in the throes of a crisis, make a point of putting money away for emergencies. A goal to aim for would be having 3-6 months worth of expenses in a savings account. But, every little bit helps, so even if you can only put away $5 a week, start doing it now, and you will be that much more prepared if something happens.
  • Stock up on sale items – Is there a sale on chicken? Buy more than you were planning on and freeze the rest for another day. Is there another item you frequently buy on sale? Buy extra and freeze or store it for another day. If an emergency happens before “another day”, then you already have a few things to help get you by.
  • Make freezer meals – This is on the same lines as buying extra and freezing. Are you making a family favorite for dinner tonight? Buy enough to make double, but put the second batch into the freezer. You will then have a meal for another day, or be prepared if an emergency happened because you would have that meal(s) in the freezer.
  • Begin frugal habits – If you are already shopping frugally, it will be easier to put money into savings, as well as continue to shop frugally during an emergency. Some ideas are to buy a whole chicken, rather than breasts. It is cheaper per pound, and when you are done, you can make broth from the bones that you can use for various recipes and soups. Always shop sale items. One thing that our family started doing recently was to participate in Bountiful Baskets. You spend $15 plus $5.50 in handling fees and you receive two laundry baskets full of produce. I started doing this in an effort to help our family eat healthy without breaking our budget.
  • Don’t let your groceries go bad – We have all done it, you buy meat or produce at the store, and before you know it, you are throwing it away because it went bad before you had a chance to use it. Try not to let this happen. If you planned on making a roast for dinner, but you just haven’t gotten to it yet, put it in the freezer before it goes bad. Then you can thaw it on the specific day that you want to use it. If you struggle to realize exactly when your items will go bad, put all your meats into the freezer when you get home and thaw them on the morning that you plan to cook them. Also, if your produce is about to go bad, chop it up and freeze it. Frozen veggies are good for soups, stews or casseroles, and frozen fruits are good for smoothies or desserts. Also, consider putting your meats and veggies together into a freezer meal as discussed above. You can usually find recipes online that fit the specific items you have on hand. If my Bountiful Basket produce is looking less than fresh, I try to find a way to get it used or into the freezer before it goes bad.

There you have it. Just a few ideas of how to stretch that grocery budget when it seems impossible. What about you, have you tried any of these tips? Do you have other tips? What works for you in this situation? I’d love to here from you! Feel free to comment below.

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Santa Fe Chicken Enchilada Bake from Kraft Recipes

Each week, I get an email from Kraft with a bunch of recipes. You can sign up for these recipes too at Kraft. Anyway a few weeks ago they had a recipe for their Santa Fe Enchilada Bake. It didn’t seem like it had a ton of complicated expensive ingredients, so I thought I’d try it out. For the full recipe, follow the link to their website.

The ingredients that it called for were:

1 lb Chicken breast

1 onion ($0.69)

1 pepper ($0.99)

1 16 oz jar of salsa ($2)

10 oz frozen corn ($1.99)

12 – 6 inch corn tortillas ($1.59)

1 cup sour cream ($1.19)

1.5 cups shredded cheese ($2)

Ingredients for Santa Fe Enchilada Bake

Ingredients for Santa Fe Enchilada Bake

So the ingredients I got were a bit different. There were only two chicken breasts left in the package since I had used it for other recipes. I got 2 cups of cheese instead of 1 and 1/2 cups (and used it all), the corn was a few ounces more than recommended, and I got flour tortillas instead of corn. I just don’t like corn tortillas, even in casseroles. The total spent for this meal was $10.45 not including the chicken (I had purchased that on a previous shopping trip). If I guess the cost of the whole bag of chicken at around $5, and that I only used 2 breasts out of the bag, it probably costs between $1.50 and $2 for the amount of chicken I used. So the cost of the mail was $12.45, which figures out to $1.55 per serving. The recipe says it makes 8 servings. Even if each person took two servings, that is $3.10 per person. I’d say this meal is definitely a budget meal.

Anyway, first, I chopped the veggies and chicken breast:

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Then, cook the chicken and veggies in a skillet for about 10 minutes while the oven preheats:

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Once the chicken is cooked through, mix in the corn and salsa:

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Then, line the bottom of your pan with tortilla’s and layer the veggie mix, sour cream, and cheese in, then another layer of tortillas, then veggie mix, sour cream and top with cheese. The recipe says to put six tortillas on the bottom, but to cover the baking dish, I only needed three or four.

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Here is the final product before I added tinfoil and put it in the oven:

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And here it is fresh out of the oven:

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The little white blobs are the sour cream underneath the layer of cheese. It spread out more on the middle layer. Overall, the recipe was pretty good. My hubby said it could have had less corn, but I didn’t mind it. I thought it could have used more zing, so maybe I’ll try a spicier salsa next time or add some green chiles or sprinkle green onions on top. But I think for $1.55 a serving, it was great! It definitely CAN serve up 8 servings, because I took a small corner and with both layers of stuff, it was VERY filling! I will be able to take the leftovers to work for lunch the next few days, so this meal will definitely live up to the value.

What are some budget friendly meals you’ve tried? How do you cut corners in your grocery budget? Do you make extra and have leftovers for lunch?

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