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Making It Work During Trying Times

I received an amazing letter from a reader. Her story is so much like my own when I was a single mom making ends meet. Paying bills, especially mortgage payments came first, before food, before gas and definitely before fun. And sudden set-backs happen like job loss which for me once in a while included taking a job that payed less than the previous one. I was on my own. I managed and we came out just fine. But during those times, it was worrying. That was when I learned to stock my freezer and pantry when I could, then if I needed to pay a bill or pay off something, I could just go to the store for a few items – spending as little as $15 a week for about a month. Paying off a bill is good thing –  a great feeling, as a matter of fact. Sacrificing and learning to be resourceful made it all work out. My work lunches were peanut butter & jelly sandwiches or rice and beans – a great, healthy filling lunch.

Many people today turn to food pantry’s to supplement their very low food budgets. Sometimes, you’re not sure what to do with what you get, because it’s something you wouldn’t buy. Familiarity is what we turn to when we have a limited budget – there’s no risk of trying something your family may not eat. But, many are faced with the challenge of getting something they’re not familiar with and cooking it so that their family will eat it.

Here are my responses to one readers challenges:

Sweet potatoes can be used in recipes calling for pumpkin, as in breads and muffins. Slice breads and freeze individually for breakfast – easy to pop in the microwave to defrost! Or, cook them, I usually bake them, and take the skin off and freeze them for use later in breads or soups.

Blueberries galore! Wow, that makes me kind of envious! Blueberries are easy to freeze if you lay them on a cookie sheet, then transfer to bags or containers. Frozen blueberries can be added to smoothies, which kids LOVE and pancakes, yogurt or muffins. Also, if you feel up to it, you can make a quick freezer jam with a couple of cups of blueberries and a cup of sugar. Cook the berries and sugar until it coats the back of a spoon. Cool and transfer to a jar or plastic container and freeze.

Cucumbers and lettuce, usually need to be eaten up right away. Refrigerator pickles are quick and easy, if you like that sort of thing. I made some refrigerator bread and butter pickles a couple of weeks ago, and can get you the recipe if you’re interested. Lettuce is something I have in abundance right now, since I grew some and was given some at the food co-op. Salads are great this time of year, but, another way to use lettuce that sort of conceals it, is to chop it and add it to a stir fry or a soup.

Collard greens! Wow, I love greens – so good for you! The thing about collards is that they are tough and do need to be cooked for a long time. The cooking time ranges from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Flavoring with a smoky ham hock makes them especially delicious, but, you can cook in plain water and toss with some fried bacon and onions after you’ve cooked and drained the greens. Even toss with some of the bacon drippings for added flavor. Another thing is that the water they cooked in is especially nutritious – any vegetable water is very good for you, potato water, too! If you can save it for a broth later, add it to chicken stock for a nutrient rich soup or cook rice or beans/lentils with it. Consider freezing it for use later. Also, the ribs of the greens can be chopped and cooked similar to broccoli stems for soups in the winter – don’t throw them away! Also, chopping them very small helps to make them more palatable for children – and sort of unrecognizable 🙂

The thing about food pantry’s is that they are given food items, either by people donating as they leave the store with cash or extra groceries. Food stores donate their produce items that are just past the ‘Sell By’ date. Many canned items and even dairy will last well after the Sell By and even the Use By date. It’s good to hear you like to get the staple items – much better for you! But, sometimes you have no choice but to accept what they give you. In this case, cereals and canned foods can be added to something healthy. Canned fruit with cottage cheese. Sugary cereal could be a ‘dessert cereal’ or a topping on yogurt. Canned soups can be added to ground beef or chicken to make a casserole. Ramen noodles can be made somewhat healthier by adding some steamed vegetables or some leftover meat; my son used to eat them a lot and so did I, but the amount of sodium is so not good for you – if you can try using part of the packet just for flavor it would be better for you. Also, adding meat or tuna to a box of macaroni and cheese(you may get a lot of these) with a side of vegetables is a fast and easy, kid-friendly meal.

Yes, it’s a challenging situation to be in. Yes, you may need help from a food pantry and receive items you’re not familiar with – but you can become resourceful and learn to cook different things than you’re used to and create healthy, satisfying meals you and your family will enjoy. Making it work may seem daunting at first, but take the opportunity to learn, and learn well – and take your new found resourcefulness with you for the rest of your life.

Your stories and questions are welcomed with open arms. I will always do what I can to help.

~Julie

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