World’s best budget tip: cook at home. I know you’re busy, but as Micahel Pollan says, shouldn’t the thing that nourishes our bodies and families be a bigger part of our day? According to a recent study by Share Our Strength, 8 out of 10 low income families cook at least five meals a week at home and aspire to do it healthfully.

Not only can you control all the ingredients, but you’ll be saving a ton of money over fast “food” and eating out. I also love that home cooking gives me leftovers for lunches. Fast food, by the way, is not available to people who use SNAP/CalFresh benefits from their EBT card. If you have seen “EBT Accepted” at a fast food place, that is for homeless or seniors only who may not have kitchens to prepare rice etc. That being said, let’s talk about budget cooking!

I am the recipe queen. I love to Google recipes based on stuff I have in the house and come up with and shop for a variety of meals for my household in a week. We eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and often have vegetarian meals, so cooking with budget beans is not new to me. On a CalFresh budget, variety in meals is pretty much out the window. You can count on using the same ingredients in, maybe a variety of ways if you are crafty, but it always depends on what you can afford and if you have the time to throw some ingredients together. The other challenge is that cooking from scratch takes planning (there’s that word again!). For example, my Challenge shopping list includes dry beans and brown rice. Both have long cook times. You can’t just come home from work hungry and have beans and rice in 20 minutes, so cooking ahead of time will be your friend and so will Gladware (they have lots of coupons on their Facebook page btw).

Here is a photo of my $20.64 haul from this Challenge shopping list. I’m pretty pleased with it for nutrition, although I’d like more veggies, but do you see any fancy recipes that can be made from this mix exclusively without buying a few extra ingredients?

Instead of coming up with recipes and then shopping like I would normally do, I made a list of affordable, filling ingredients I can use in different combinations. I am also going to use some of my basic oils and spices, because let’s face it, there’s often a few spices lying around like oregano, chili powder etc. I am also using canola oil  because that’s usually in most pantries even though I would prefer my extra virgin olive. If I were out of canola oil, that’d be $4 out of my budget for the week/month.

Here are some of my budget cooking ideas and tips mostly based from my shopping list (More tips to follow this week):

Many people will need dry-bean cooking instructions. Here is a good source for cooking beans from dried from 5 Dollar Dinners.

Rice and beans are a great budget protein. Here are some variations on the theme that you can play around with depending on what you have in house from No Meat Athlete.

I can also take my rice and beans dinner, toss it in my whole wheat tortilla with some of my cheese (that was a splurge) and lettuce for a budget burrito.

I may smash up the beans with some oil, lemon and seasoning to make a hummus-like wrap as well.

How about a grilled sweet potato and chickpea salad? I can make that work.

Fritata with red bell pepper and some herbs from the garden will be nice (oh if only I had goat cheese) and can also go into a tortilla for lunch. I am starting to think I will be sick of wraps…

I have peanut butter, but no jelly, so that will be interesting. I love it as a snack with my apples and baby carrots, so I am planning on it for fuel during the work day.

My thin pork slices cook up very quickly. I will use them as a protein addition to meals throughout the week.

I realize not everyone has the time, or kitchen tools for that matter, to cook from scratch as I am doing this week, and frankly I don’t think it’s sustainable for me to shop and cook this way either, but I still advocate scratch cooking whenever possible for budget and for health and the idea is that living on CalFresh is not easy!

If you would like to learn more about the Hunger Challenge and the issue of Hunger in America, please visit the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano website or stop by the Food Bank Facebook page to tell us your thoughts on the Challenge.