Groceries, part two

Thanks for all your great comments on my grocery post. I wanted to talk just a bit more about getting past the challenges faced by working-class people living in true poverty.

Regarding choice in grocery shopping and lack of transportation, if I didn’t have a vehicle and had to only shop in my neighborhood, it would definitely limit my choice.   However, in recent visits to New York City, here’s what I saw:

fruit and veggie stands every few blocks, even in January.   I remember being concerned that their oranges would freeze.  Are these fruit stands also in the poorest neighborhoods?   I don’t know.

ethnic markets all over the place.   I have to drive 10 miles for my nearest Mexican grocery store, and 25 miles to get to the nearest Korean market.   In big cities they are much more common, and many of them even have reasonably priced produce.  I saw spices in NYC for cheaper than I can get them here.

–don’t forget about dollar stores.   We saw food very reasonably priced at a dollar store near our hotel in New York.   Again, I’m not sure what is available in poor neighborhoods, but to make the most of my grocery money, I’d probably take a bus and some big shopping bags to affordable stores once or twice a month.


Lack of time is definitely a barrier to people who aren’t used to cooking.  If I were working full time, and trying to feed people affordably, here’s what I’d do:

— make a huge pot of refried beans once a week and make sure I had tortillas around.  Freeze the refried beans in smaller containers and you can make burritos  in 5 minutes flat on any weeknight.  Grated cheese  and salsa on top is yummy but not essential.  Super easy for kids to do by themselves, if you have a microwave, that is.

— make a huge pot of soup on the weekend, enough for 3 meals.  Portions could be zapped in the microwave any time during the week.

–set up the rice cooker with oatmeal for an effortless breakfast.  You can cook a scrambled egg in the microwave or on a stove top in 5 minutes.   Super affordable protein.

— boil a couple dozen eggs on the weekend and stick them in the fridge for easy meals or snacks during the week.

– chop a bag full of carrots into sticks on the weekends for easy weeknight veggies.

–come home from work, start the rice cooker, and stir fry a couple pieces of chicken and a bag of Asian-style veggies.  Food can be so good and so very easy once you know how.  It is worth it to educate people.

— teach kids to make easy chicken noodle soup.   All my kids over the age of 8 can make this for themselves.

— keep peanut butter and bread available.  Doesn’t get easier.


A big challenge in my mind would be to help people WANT to change their diets.   People can get used to eating easy junk, so changing tastes is probably something that would have to be done gradually.   But even adding one easy meal to your normal rotation each week is a huge step towards healthy, affordable food.

I don’t mean to sound know-it-all here. I am sure that many people face issues I am not even imagining.  I am just brain-storming ways to save money on food.   What ideas do you have that would address the food challenges faced by busy working families?

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  1. What strikes me is how much time and energy you have to put into figuring out which food choices are frugal and healthy. If I had very limited time and energy (working single mom with few social supports, perhaps), I could see falling back on something simple from a box every night very easily. When my husband is working late or out of town, it’s not uncommon for me to fall back on mac n cheese and pizza for dinner- I usually am able to at least choose the organic option that is slightly more nutritionally well-rounded but it’s still a dump and stir sort of choice. It’s balanced out by the rest of our meals which are generally minimally processed, etc, but if my husband wasn’t in the picture… It could be a really great ministry opportunity for those so inclined- teaching how to shop the perimeter and save money without doing a great deal of flyer watching or coupon clipping, hosting cook and freeze nights at the church kitchen, etc.

  2. Our church had a nutritionist from the local college come and teach a 6 week series on nutrition. It was FREE! Well, it was paid for by the state, so I guess it wasn’t really “free”. But there was no charge for taking the class. :0) I took that class before my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes; it was helpful in fixing food that is good for us all.

    I’d say that freezer cooking is one of the best ways to make healthy food that can be prepared quickly. But there’s also crockpot cooking! What’s easier than dumping some ingredients in and coming home to cooked food? :0)

    One of my fall-back recipes: Crockpot Chicken Fajitas!

  3. I agree with you and a lot of the comments on this subject. We are headed to El Salvador next month and I have been reading a lot about poverty. It’s right in our back yard too.

    I feel one the biggest obstacles is education. Not schooling kind(although this can effect it too), but from their parents and peers. People, often mothers, haven’t been taught how to feed their family with healthy foods. They also haven’t even been taught how to cook.
    Some in poverty have no way to cook the food, or just a microwave. They also may not have a way to store the food- fridge or freezer.
    They may only be able to shop day to day, as is the custom in many cultures. Deals are hard to come by that way.

    I think this would be a great ministry in churches. Classes on nutrition, meal planning, cooking. Even just teaching them about a simple menu, and also shopping smart and looking for sales. This is foreign to so many. Many people don’t have parents living nearby any more to help teach them these things, if they even knew it in the first place.
    WIC helps new moms with this, giving simple recipes that go along with the foods that are provided to them every month. Some can’t even read though.
    Great topic. You do such a great job Mary.

  4. I am a working mom. And on top of that I keep kosher in an area where there is little kosher food and it is very expensive, and one of my kids is a strict vegetarian.

    I do much of what you do, but you left out my favorite time saving tool–my crockpot.

    I also make my own pizza dough and freeze it. Sometimes I roll it out into individual size pizzas, and par-bake the crusts. When cool and stack them up with wax paper in between each crust, put them in a ziplock bag and put in freezer. It is very easy for me or one of my kids to grab one or more, put some spaghetti sauce and cheese on, sprinkle with italian seasonings and pop in the oven.

    To really save money–I started buying bread flour and yeast in bulk at Sam’s Club. I cannot believe how much money I save, even with using kosher cheese!

  5. Great ideas Mary. I’ve always cooked, my mother always cooked and so I am surprised at families who don’t. Now that my children are gone we eat out more than we ever have but still consider it a treat. Stir fry and skillet meals have always been our go-to meals. A little meat goes a long way and you can add most anything. Left-overs work great.

    Ground meat (or chicken), rice, black beans, corn and salsa is a favorite. Pasta with tomatoes and any kind of cheese. I add carrots, peppers and onions to tomatoes for spaghetti sauce to get some extra veggies. When we grill I often grill extra chicken breasts and aluminum foil packets of veggies (squash, peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, whatever I have) and then we eat those during the week. When I bake potatoes I bake extra and then use them during the week. (sliced they are delicious cooked with polish sausage) I know pot roast might be too expensive, but when you can have it a cheap cut like chuck roast works great in the crockpot. Turkey chili is a great do-ahead dish that will work for several meals. To stretch it – add rice to the bowl and then top with the turkey chili. Turkey breast cooked in the crockpot on the weekend lasts most of the week for salads, sandwiches and stir fry. I cook lots of soup – chicken noodle, chicken and rice, vegetable beef, turkey, bean soup, potato soup. Add a salad, or bread, or cheese and crackers and you have a meal.

  6. I’ve heard Dave Ramsey say something that goes something like this. “There’s a difference between people being poor and people being broke. People that are broke think it’s only a temporary thing that will pass and people that are poor believe they will always be poor.”

    I think that concept addresses many reasons why you see the whole “spend it all today because I have it today” mentality. Many people who are poor don’t plan for tomorrow because they don’t see tomorrow as potentially being any better than today is. Those of us who see ourselves as merely broke “for now” tend to plan better for the future. We purchase 25lbs of on-sale hamburger today because we recognize that in the long run it will save us money.

    After selling off practically everything we owned my husband and I moved our family of 7 across the country, I was 5mo pregnant at the time. MI downsizing cost hubby his job and there was no work to be found so we moved. We arrived in TX with a rented 8×12 ft enclosed trailer stuffed to the gills and 2 packed minivans. After a downpayment and one months rent on a home we had $400 left to our name, a practically empty home, no fridge and no jobs. It also became necessary shortly after for us to take in our young neice and nephew which brought us to nine. Four months later our youngest son was born and then there were 10 of us.

    Our AGI for 2009 was a mere 33K with a third of it going towards rent. We struggled nearly every single day to make it and we pretty much furnished our entire home with Goodwill and garage sale purchases. Thankfully we qualified for food stamps which I can stretch like nobody’s business. We eat balanced meals and no one ever goes hungry in our home because I buy in bulk and only when items are on sale and I cook much of what we eat from scratch.

    It always amazes me to see someone in front of me pay for a grocery cart o’ crap with food stamps. Heaped over baskets full of fruit roll-ups, doritos, juice boxes, 45 containers of “healthy” yogurt, regular-priced baby back ribs and a 6pk of porterhouses. One week later they are out of food and out of food stamps. I personally know people who shop in that manner. I’m the lady behind those folks with 10 bags of brown rice, a case of canned tomatoes and 8 whole chickens because it’s all on sale. I’ve had cashiers look at my available food stamp balance (it shows up on the receipt) and say “How the heck did you get all that?” It’s because I’ve never once spent all of the monthly allowance given to our family so it rolls over, and trust me it’s not much that you get to begin with.

    I am happy to report that in the last year hubby quickly found a job, we were able to open a small business with the specialized skills he brought with him from MI and we should be off the government rolls within months. We are living proof that being poor is a mindset. It’s not any place we’ve wanted to stay for any length of time and our goal is to move up and beyond where we are now. Unfortunately that’s not the case for those who see themselves as poor and it’s reflected in almost all of the choices they make even down to the items they CHOOSE to eat.

    • Jabber Jaws says:

      Do you happen to be in the Dallas area? I don’t want to offend you or get in your business, but I have 4 kids and always have clothes to give away and sometimes furniture (I come from a big family too). If you have any needs like that, I would LOVE to get it to you. I hope you love Texas!!! God’s blessings on you and your family.

      • Totally off subject of food, but there is a yahoo group called Freecycle. You can sign up for your area and post things you no longer need or things you are in need of. It has really helped my family of 9. We too are on food stamps and would starve with out it. We also have our own plans to get off of assistance, My husband owns a business and it is growing. I cook most of our food from scratch and have recently started buying natural and organic foods. So I really have to be careful what I purchase because in my area organic is 2x as expensive and I usually have to drive at least 30 min one way to find some organic items I can purchase with FS (the health food store here does not take them).
        Here is one of my favorite meals lately – Beef Stew in crock pot: Cut up some potatoes and onion and put them and the roast in the crock pot with what ever spices you like, I even sometimes add a can of cream soup. Cook on high for 4-6 hours. When roast is done chop it up with a sturdy spatula and add several cans of vegetables. Mix and serve. Very economical if you get the meat on sale. It has been great reading all the posts and comments. Good luck to everyone.

  7. I think these posts are very interesting. I have to admit that I never learned how to cook from scratch until the last year or so. I grew up thinking that my goal should be to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.

    It’s not something my mom did, and so she didn’t pass it on to me. I have really been amazed at how easy cooking from scratch can be with some planning. It does take some time and effort, but that gets easier as you gain experience. I am also amazed at what I can do with such simple ingredients now. But I would definitely say that one of the best things I have learned is how herbs and spices make everything more exciting. Once you play with new combinations, then stuff out of a box never seems the same again.

  8. I have not watched the documentary, but I have read some on this subject, and it seems that most people are making a lot of assumptions about what people must have available to them. There may be no fridge. There may be no freezer. There may be no available storage without rodents or bugs, making bulk buying very difficult or even wasteful. There may be only one pot and one utensil, and a single plug-in burner on which to cook. Without the fridge, freezer, pantry, rice cooker, steamer, crock pot, stir-fry pan, microwave, small-serving containers, and other things most of us consider basic in the kitchen, this problem is so much more difficult to tackle. I don’t think we can make assumptions about people, or judge them for making what we think are poor choices, when we really know nothing about their lives and circumstances. I am glad that you are doing what you can though Mary, and sharing possible solutions that could really help a lot of people. Thank you for a thought-provoking discussion!

    • I agree with 2m – it is very difficult to get one’s mind around true poverty, i.e., what it means to have no working appliances, no basic cooking utensils, no roof over one’s head, perhaps only one set of clothes, etc. For those living in homeless shelters, most folks must be out of the shelter during the day, and can only return at night. There are many folks who live in places where there is a lot of violence, and are more concerned about staying alive than cooking low cost meals. There are folks who live in their vehicles. All that being said, Mary’s tips are terrific, and can and do help people, me included.

      It is not productive (or Christian) to judge others, particularly those whose circumstances we know nothing about, and even if we do know something about those circumstances, it is still not productive to judge. It is productive to offer one’s ear, one’s time, one’s help, and one’s tips (Thanks again, Mary!)

  9. Peanut butter sandwiches are pretty cheap and easy — no cooking, no refrig required. I think we could come up with a list of ideas that are healthy and cheap and easy. I just don’t see how junk food is cheaper than real food — I mean a loaf of bread & a jar of PB can be bought for the same price as a bag of doritos. I don’t have any knowledge or experience of extreme poverty and the issues around food there so I can’t comment on it — what I do see around me are middle-class people (many who have fallen on rough financial times) who view eating as entertainment (must like what they eat) rather than nutrition (must eat what is good for my body or what’s already made & ready in the fridge even though I’m bored with it) and an unwillingness to make wise choices or put any effort into cooking. When did we become such a nation of whiny, picky eaters (and I’m not just talking about the kids!).

  10. Jennifer says:

    This topic fascinates me and I’ve been thinking on it since your first post on the topic yesterday.

    Most of these comments are thought-provoking and so true: the comment about the difference between being broke and being poor. Wow!

    I thought I would chime in with my own first hand experience that is occurring right now:

    First, my family: we are a middle-to-low income family, 1 parent works. I coupon and stockpile. We currently have an unexpected expense that we have to pay, so my husband limited my grocery money for the next month. I did not panic, I just went to the pantry, took note of what I had, gathered my cookbooks and made a menu based on what I had. Yes, I’ve had to work a lot harder than I really want to right now with a six-week-old baby and a two-year-old, eight-year-old and nine-year-old, but I do what I have to do. I made a big pot of pinto beans and froze them in two cup baggies. Used them to make tostadas and to add to meat for tacos and enchiladas (a big bag of corn tortillas is fairly cheap). I made bread to go with our meal and used the leftovers the next morning for French Toast. Like Mary said, you buy things that are single ingredients and make meals from scratch. Also, you don’t waste. After your meal, look at what is left and figure out how you can reuse it instead of throwing it away.

    All of this is stuff that I’ve learned from reading frugal living books and blogs over the last ten years.

    Compare that to our friends who have always been on some type of government aid. The husband just lost his job. Yesterday we were talking and he mentions that he is going to go buy this special mesquite charcoal so that he can grill some chicken.

    I’m thinking to myself “you just lost your job! You can’t afford to buy special mesquite charcoal!”

    Later in the conversation I mentioned the beans that I had made up and how I add beans to my meat to stretch the meat in Mexican dishes. The wife says “oh, we don’t like beans.”

    I said “well, beans are cheap. You need to start liking them. Let me show you how to make them tasty.”

    Finally, she said something about ground beef and that all she knows how to do is make Hamburger Helper or tacos.

    I was really struck by the difference between how I approach food and how they approach food (and money). We are eating great because I’m working hard, seeking out new recipes and ways to remake the same foods without spending money.

    They aren’t.

    And, these are people who have access to all of the appliances, etc, so that is definitely not the issue here.

  11. I think anyone who seriously wants to learn to cook well and frugally need only visit the local library and request “The More with Less Cookbook” Its an old Mennonite cookbook that deals straight talk on simple cheap food. The prices (adjusted for inflation) still reflect a family that can eat for penny’s on the dollar. I’m so thankful to meet it before we left to work overseas. It taught me what to do with all the things I was seeing in the market and didn’t quite understand. 15 years later its still my go-to book at least twice a week.

    I’m sure you’re cookbook is lovely, Mary, but More with Less was first to my heart 15 years ago:). I am happy you’ve written your book though because I think you’ve made some of these older ideas more accessible for today’s audience.

    • The More With Less Cookbook was one of the inspirations for my own cookbook. I totally understand your loyalty to it– it is in my pantry at this very moment! 🙂 My mother’s old La Leche League cookbook is another book in my pantry that I still refer to and enjoy– lots of healthy affordable food there too!


  12. I completely understand what Mary is saying here. I grew up around women who cooked from scratch, grew or raised part of what we ate, and put up surplus to eat it later. It is easy though for people who know how to cook, who were taught how to cook, to completely overlook the mental block a lot of people have about cooking-from-scratch.

    The media has done an excellent job of conditioning and brainwashing people into believing, really truly believing, that cooking your own meals from simple tasty ingredients is Hard, that it takes Too Much Time (and that we deserve to have that time for ourselves), that it is expensive to cook fresh, it won’t really be nutritious because the pre-made food has added vitamins! and on it goes. Ads just peeve me right out!!

    People compromise the quality of their diet every day and don’t give it a moment’s thought. They lack the cooking education, and they lack the self-confidence that they can indeed do it well. (And they don’t want to go through the process of failing- take bread making. You do have to practice a few times before you get it right. And for those living on the edge, the thought of a food failure is terrifying. It means missing meals, and doing without, because they can’t afford to buy more ingredients until the next month.)

    Even if a person’s budget is such that the menu features ramen noodles more often than not, there are things they could do to make those meals more nutritious and tasty, but they don’t know how. They honestly wouldn’t ever think of buying one green pepper and an onion and a bottle of soy sauce, and just using a little bit of each in their noodles. If it’s a seasoning, a pepper or an onion can last a week!

    I think people who don’t know how to cook, who find the whole thing overwhelmingly intimidating, need to be given some intermediate simple steps that are pretty fail-proof. It doesn’t help to just tell them “put some green peppers in your ramen”, they probably truly need someone standing there with them showing them how to do it.

    That education that a lot of us got at Mom or Grandma’s knee.

    I haven’t seen any episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (is that what it’s called?) but I think he is/was trying to put in place some of those sorts of ‘teaching kitchens’ so communities can take back their kitchens and their health.

    Maybe something we could all do is make note of someone who doesn’t cook, and offer to teach them a few tasty dishes. Maybe present it as a barter situation so they don’t feel embarrassed or inadequate (ex. hey, I love your crochet, would you be willing to exchange some cooking lessons for crochet lessons?)

    I love your blog Mary, even though I seldom comment. 🙂

  13. I think culture is often a big part of it too. As in, some people don’t come from a family/neighborhood culture of people who think ahead, plan frugally, work, and cook dishes from scratch. Your children, of course, will never have the problem of buying cheap potato chips over healthy food because they have no model of how to do so.

    One thing I have learned from observing the birth parents of our foster children is how hard it is to create a strong, healthy family when you don’t come from a strong, healthy family. These parents may have all the best intentions, but it’s hard to make something you’ve never actually seen function.

    Also, I think many low-income families live on a money in-money out system. So they have a couple bucks and buy some chips. They don’t accumulate a large enough chunk to invest in a bag of flour and basic baking supplies. (Which also goes back to the modelling/example issue.)

    Thanks for all your good advice on living large and living cheap. Whenever I get frustrated about trying to raise a largish family on smallish money, I think of your example.

  14. I grew up in poverty, there are challenges but they can be overcome if you actually want to bad enough. If I can’t get fresh green beans, I can get frozen, if I can’t get frozen I can get canned. The canned may not be as good but they are available. They are no harder to cook than a box of mac and cheese and can be eaten straight as they are. But you have to have the desire to get the vegetables and not buy junk food. I know a family that gets 1 1/2 times in food stamps what I spend for a month on my family’s groceries and my family is bigger. They also get wic. Yet they complain that they don’t have enough to eat, there isn’t enough food stamps to last the month. The parents are home not working, they have appliances, electricity etc…just no desire to put the effort in. If they insist on buying chips, soda, and oreos the food stamps aren’t going to last. I also know elderly disabled people who get a lousy $10 a month in food stamps yet they don’t complain. Attitude is everything.

  15. My experience is that for those relying solely on gov’t assistance for generations (as opposed to those using it for what its intended, temporary assistance to get you through tough times), its often a lack motivation to change that contributes to their poor food choices…they often ignore or refuse to participate in educational opportunities that would help them to stretch their food dollars further & feed their families in a healthier way. But for the working poor, I think time (including time to get educated) is a big part of the picture, but perhaps an even bigger barrier is cultural influences/habits. Chips, candy, soda, & high fructose punch drinks are unfortunately very common elements of many Hispanic diets…even when I’ve traveled to very rural & poor areas of Mexico & El Salvador, I’ve seen plenty of kids with a baggie & straw filled with soda in one hand and chips or candy in the other. In a predominately Hispanic community, drive by a school or church service (when they are letting out) and you’ll see vendors w/their little carts selling fried chips, ice cream, corn on the cob slathered in butter AND mayonaise, etc. When you are raised eating these junk foods on a daily basis rather than as an occasional treat, it can be difficult to wean yourself off them, change mindsets towards them, and raise your kids any other way than the way you were raised…no surpise that diabetes and other diseases continue to rise in this community. I will say that a huge majority of the Hispanic families I know/am related to do at least some of what you suggest…rarely have I entered a Hispanic household where there wasn’t always a pot of homemade beans (usually topped with cheese & cream) & corn tortillas & homemade salsa around, but unfortunately the junk food & drink listed above are typically found in those same households as regular components of their diets. My father-in-law is a field worker here in CA, so my in-laws tend to have a lot of fresh produce that he brings home & often a pot of soup that includes some of that fresh produce, but again the junk food are still always present and many of the traditional meals include generous amounts of higher fat cuts of pork or beef (I’m the mean mom in the family that doesn’t allow her kids to be served the soda & punch that their cousins are all drinking constantly, sadly sometimes even in their bottles/sippy cups…when our 13 year old nephew spent two weeks with us, he told his mom he’d never eaten so many veggies or drank so much water in his life).

  16. We watched Food, Inc a few months ago and loved it. I was appalled at how they showed that family in the grocery store. The amount of food they bought at the fast food place for the family was at least $10. For $10 you can get food for 3 meals at least of real food. We just finished watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and it was wonderful. It did show how people just don’t know. Cooking is becoming a lost art. FAst food and convenience foods are too easy and tempting. How you teach people to cook from scratch I don’t know, they certainly can’t afford cooking school (I am talking about the poor here). It is frustrating.

  17. Mary you are absolutely right about alot of this, but I think you underestimate the amount of time, effort, and insight it takes for people who don’t know how to cook to come up with such ideas. You could say the same thing about parenting. Easiest thing in the world, except when you don’t know what you are doing and don’t have the time or smarts to figure it out. Or losing weight, calories in less than calories out and shazam! weight is lost. But changing attitudes and behavior takes time, energy, and insight, not something that uneducated people who live from paycheck to paycheck often have an abundance of. For one thing, being poor makes life alot more stressful, and what do you crave when you’re stressed? Junk food is one of the more innocent things you might reach for.
    So maybe you have a new calling here, afte the kids have grown up maybe we’ll see Mary Ostyn, public health advocate, swing into action…

  18. Mary,

    I just wanted to thank you for the kick in the pants that I needed. Several weeks ago our church was looking for someone to help teach healthy cooking classes to mothers at the local women’s shelter our church has a relationship with. I vaguely thought about it, but then never did anything more. After reading your posts about this topic on Saturday, I thought I’d email the person in charge and see if they were still looking for someone as I hadn’t seen the notice recently. It turns out the need was still there and I’ll be working on this in May. Thanks for indirectly encouraging me to do something I knew God wanted me to do a month ago!

  19. These various reasons are exactly why i want to do vacational not-for-profit training in communities. I think many would like to stretch their money/benefits farther if they thought there was a way to do so. Too many of us, myself included, get out into the real world without the tools we need to succeed and thrive. Some of us luck out and pick it up. Some of it is mentality, but some of it is simply using the tools we have.

  20. Another interesting perspective on frugal cooking:

  21. my youngest went to a required food class when she got assistance when her unemployment ran out.The instructor talked about buying frozen dinners, rotissary chicken and deli pizza.Ki( who takes after her mother LOL) raised her hand and stated better solutions,cheaper, healthier,quick and more servings. She pointed out that the state program( which I still call food stamps) is set to feed a family for 2 wks only.reality is this could feed the entire family for a month and give food to the local soup kitchen.

    the instructor was in her 50s and my daughter is 25.the instructor admitted she didn’t cook and had never really cooked but she has the degree required for the job,regrettfully my daughter does not.

    as this result my daughter is now sharing with others that struggle with this as her “missionary” work.

  22. How long do the carrots last? I’m trying to figure out stuff I can do on the weekends that we can then eat during the week. (I work FT, my husband is going to school. And the weeks are just crazy and no one feels like doing much of anything. So we cook big pots of food on the weekend, trying to make them last during the week)

    I am also trying to learn how to make homemade oatmeal because my Son LOVES oatmeal. So far we are using up the microwave packets we can buy. But I have quick oats to make on the stove and just need to figure out how to flavor it.

    • If you peel whole fresh carrots (not baby carrots) they will last at least 4-5 days, esp if you put them in a plastic container with a bit of water.

    • You can make oatmeal on the stove or in the microwave. My favorite flavor is brown sugar and maple. I add brown sugar, salt and a little maple syrup to cooked oatmeal. If you don’t have or cannot afford maple you can use regular syrup. You can add a little milk if you want also. All 7 of my kids love it. I might make some for breakfast.

  23. Those ubiquitous fruit stands outside bodegas in NYC are generally NOT in really poor neighborhoods – in the South Bronx, for example, there may be an overpriced, filthy C-Town (chain supermarket found ONLY in disadvantaged neighborhoods) and corner bodegas that may stick some onions, plantains and wrinkled apples amidst the drink coolers and candy, and then lots of McDonalds, Kennedy Fried Chicken, and cheap Chinese joints. Lots of food available, but not much fresh

  24. Michele says:

    I haven’t read every reply but the assumption that its just a choice is really not fair. People do not know HOW to cook. I have grown women friends who are my age, 40, who can not for the life of them understand how to cook rice without Minute Rice. They just were never taught. Their mother never taught them. Gravy is bought in a jar. Spaghetti sauce is bought in a jar. Pizza’s are bought in a box. That is COOKING to them. And to most of this country. It isn’t about just not wanting to make a choice, or knowing what is a better food for them, its about HOW to cook it.
    And for the comment of peanut butter sandwiches. Take a look at the ingredients of peanut butter these days. Unless your buying an all natural peanut butter, then it is no different than a sandwich from McDonald’s. There is very little peanuts in that peanut butter, mostly high fructose corn syrup.
    You know what would be a revolutionary cook book? One that taught people HOW to cook instead of WHAT to cook.

  25. Crystal Clark says:

    I LOVE your book! I was very burned out on home cooking and had plum ran out of ideas on how to cut my costs even more. I love that your ideas, menue planning and encouragement is all in the book. I am deeply blessed by your teaching in this book. You really laid things out in a way that got me to understand it was the pennys in my life that had taken over my finace troubles. It was the $4-10 here and there and the $1-$2 extra on easy items that were adding up to hundreds of $$ a month and thousands a year.
    I requested that my local library buy your book and I bought it at a discount book store.
    I have only just began the slow process of thinking smart and implementing changes but I am ready and have taken the first few steps already. I have one freezer shelp full of yummy meat and have organised my kitchen to use things up.
    I am deeply blessed! Thank you. :0)

  26. I just saw a news story the other evening and thought of this post/series. The reporter was investigating the “food desert” in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. In those low-income neighborhoods, where many if not most families are led by single women, there are no grocery stores in fairly close distance – only convenience stores with no fresh foods, or fast food restaurants. It is virtually impossible to shop sensibly if you don’t have a vehicle to drive to the nearest supermarket or even ethnic neighborhood market. The chain supermarkets don’t want to build there because they see no profit in it. So people buy junk food and boxed food and stuff high in fat and salt, and the result is poor health. Even if people were educated in healthier eating and preaparing food, it would be very difficult for them to actually obtain the fresh meat, produce and dairy that they would need (as well as beans, canned tomatoes, etc). Ironically, the convenience stores that accept food coupons do not follow the federal regulations of carrying fresh food that makes them eligible to accept the coupons!
    There are a couple of programs in Chicago that actually drive big vans of fresh food to low-income neighborhoods for the residents to take advantage of. But these great programs are just a drop in the bucket…

  27. Mary,
    I came across your cookbook in the library and absolutely love it. I have a thing for cookbooks anyway, but yours has been very helpful. I made the Chicken Enchilada Casserole last night and all 4 of my kids ate it up. My husband is taking leftovers to work today and tomorrow for lunch. Plus, I have a whole other one in my freezer. We recently moved to some acreage and planted a large garden so I am looking forward to canning my own tomato sauce. I already told my husband I just have to have this book so I can return this copy to the library!

    Anyway, I think our society as a whole is turning to processed, fast foods. Not just people with low-incomes. It saddens me to go to friends’ houses and see their gorgeous decked-out kitchens and then hear they don’t cook in them. I am all for convenience, but there is just something so satisfying in feeding your family something that you made…not just opened a box. I have 4 very active kids (soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, school clubs, school sports, etc.) and I am still trying to find the time to plan and cook meals. It doesn’t always work, but this system of making double when I do get a chance to cook is a life-saver. I have always wanted to be organized and cook “ahead” but I wasn’t sure how.

    I think we are seeing a return to basics in this tight economy. When fast food and convenience food started showing up America kind of became spoiled. My Dad says the introduction of Coca-Cola changed us forever. It is pure sugar, no nutrition and the whole nation is addicted to it. It’s a shame that cooking is becoming a lost art. My Grandmother is a wonderful cook and everything she always made us was from scratch. My Mom cooked quite a bit too.

    I agree with everything you have said. Thank you so much for writing this blog and cookbook. I look forward to learning so much more from you!

  28. I just wanted to add that it is not just people that come from low income families that grow up never learning how to cook. I grew up in an upper middle class family and ate nothing but junk food throughout childhood. My mom never cooked a family meal besides the occasionaly Hamburger Helper, we mostly fended for ourselves (popcorn for dinner). I am well educated (lawyer) and have enough money to buy and access to the freshest, healthiest foods. However, I never learned to cook until much later in life. And where did I learn to cook? Not from my mom or grandma, but from the Food Network! I didn’t know the most basic things, such as how to chop an onion. I have learned more and more over the past few years, all self teaching, and now consider myself a good cook. But it took years of watching Food Network to even get the confidence to try some of the dishes. So I can completely understand that people whose family did not have meals made from scratch don’t have the skills or motivation to buy the healthier ingredients. Combine that with limited access to fresh produce and limited access to education, it is easy to see why people get stuck in their ways. I wish there was a way to educate people how to cook the fresh foods. Showing them a recipe won’t cut it – many people don’t know how to chop an onion.

  29. I got what you mean , thankyou for putting up.Woh I am delighted to find this website through google.


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