Tag Archives: food menu

Lesson 668 – Easy Baked Ziti for Rebecca and Jenny

One of the best comments I got last week during my food challenge was from a college student who said I inspired her.

I’m a college student  living in a one bedroom apartment with my best friend Jenny. I support myself and have very little money to budget with. Jenny and I make our food selections a priority without government assistance. You are an inspiration in showing that people need to prioritize food, get creative with their budgets, and stop making excuses for not doing so.”

Being the owner of two college students myself, you can’t possibly imagine how much this comment meant to me.

And so as a gift to Rebecca and Jenny, I give you my recipe for:

“Easy Baked Ziti – along with variations” (yeah, I know I need to work on the name a bit.)

My kids LOVE this dish and ask for it all the time – it definitely falls into the comfort food category. It’s easy enough for them to make it (which they do) and it makes enough for leftovers (and we all know that pasta tastes better the next day.) When I add a salad this recipe makes enough for all 8 of us (that comes down to about $1 and change  – a serving.) We had it last night and not only did all 6 (2 are away) of us have a full dinner but there was enough left over for late night snacks and someone gets a pasta lunch today.

Make it for yourself or make it for a group dinner (impressing the heck out of your friends), either way, you won’t leave the table hungry and you’ll be able to eat well for not a lot of money.

Easy Baked Ziti – along with variations

Easy Baked Ziti - wasn't fast enough to get a photo before the kids attacked it.

Easy Baked Ziti – wasn’t fast enough to get a photo before the kids attacked it.

  • 1 lb ground beef (apx $2.49) (brown in a fry pan on med-high, stir until meat is no longer pink)
  • 1 box ziti ($1.00)
  • 1 jar red sauce ($1.89)
  • 1 3-cup package of shredded mozzarella cheese ($2.49)
  • Ricotta ($1.89)

Total cost apx $9.76


Brown 1 pound of ground beef (unless there is a ton of grease don’t bother draining the meat as the pasta will soak it up.)

Boil up one box of ziti pasta

In a large bowl, mix the pasta, ground beef, one jar of red sauce and 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese.

In a large rectangular (9x 13) baking dish, place half of the pasta, meat, and cheese mixture.

Drop scant teaspoons of Ricotta cheese throughout (you’ll probably use about 1/3 of the container)

Layer the rest of the pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with remaining cup of shredded cheese.

Bake in a 350 oven until the cheese melts and dish is hot.


But wait a minute, what about the variations? Here you go:

  • Instead of ground beef try – ground sausage, cut up sausage links, cut up hotdogs, left over chicken, or even cut up burgers
  • Sauté some onions, mushrooms, or even carrots and add them in.
  • Try adding – chopped broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, olives or basically any leftover vegetables
  • Try a shredded cheddar cheese or a Mexican cheese, try putting a little Feta on top
  • Sauces – there are some unbelievably good flavored sauces (olive ones come to mind) that completely change the flavor of this dish, you could even use an Alfredo sauce
  • Try serving this *on top* of a salad or have it cold the next day as a pasta salad lunch, you can also freeze servings for later in the week.

This is what I’m talking about, get the basic easy recipe under your belt and then try variations with what you have on hand. You could make a different version of this meal for every week of the year and never repeat what you eat.

Eat this in good health Rebecca and Jenny and let me know how it works out.

Oh and Rebecca, when my son graduated from High School the one thing he really wanted from me was a cookbook with all of our favorite easy and thrifty family meal recipes. I put one together and called it “Zombies, Chicken, and Toast.” If I ever get it cleaned up and formatted (this gives me incentive doesn’t it? ) I’ll send you a copy.



Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, Recipes

Lesson 666 – UB SNAP Challenge – Final Thoughts

One last post on this SNAP Challenge and then it’s back to lessons learned from living with children and chickens in New Hampshire.

I’m going to start this one off with a story. When Trevor wanted some snowshoes a few years ago so that he could hike in our back woods in the winter I told him that it wasn’t in our budget but that he was a smart kid and he could probably figure out a way to get a pair.

Trevor thought about this and then he wrote a letter to our local newspaper swapping column and he explained who he was and why he wanted the snowshoes. He said that he didn’t have money to buy a pair but if someone had an extra pair not being used, he would write a book about how to identify and use ten local edible plants in exchange for the shoes.

Two people responded. Trevor wrote the book (complete with some medicinal uses) and he was able to not only get snowshoes for himself but for a friend to also go hiking with him.

That’s kind of the way we roll in our family. You figure out a way to make the best of things with what you have. Clearly my kids have internalized this very valuable lesson and way of life.

Not everyone was happy with how I approached the SNAP challenge. Apparently there was a clear political agenda where you were *not* supposed to succeed. The challenge was ultimately intended to show that SNAP benefits are not enough and if you succeeded that meant you hate poor people and that you are a conservative Republican (“who wouldn’t listen anyway.”)

I’m pretty confident in saying that that does not describe me.  I took this challenge as an opportunity to share in the hopes that it might, in the end, help teach some people how to stretch their money (whether on food stamps or not) just a bit more. That was my sole agenda.

Here are a collection of some of the comments I got around the web on my attempt along with my responses:


Saw your menus…I applaud you…I do the same for myself (for health reasons) but I’ll bet my next paycheck that deep down your kids feel somewhat deprived….to youngsters and teens those meals look like prisoners rations…sorry…


That was one menu for one person on a budget of $30.

I just completed our menu and shopping for the 6 of us at home for next week. Breakfast is toast, English muffins, Hot breakfast sandwiches, or oatmeal. Lunch (they bring it to School) Deli meat sandwiches with cheese or Peanut butter and jelly, granola bar, piece of fruit. Dinners, Breaded pork cutlets, salad, green beans with bacon/Sloppy Joes with chips and carrots/Baked ziti with Salad/Chicken vegetable curry on rice/Spaghetti with bacon, diced tomatoes and greens/Roasted chicken with potatoes, carrots and salad/Shells with vegetables and leftover chicken from the night before. Total cost for those groceries was $117 (we used a few supplies we already had on hand.)

None of my kids are complaining about what we eat.


It took so long for you to prepare the shopping list and to make all your meals. Busy people don’t have that kind of time.

It did take a little bit of time (maybe one hour total) to design the menu and do the comparison shopping BUT now that I’ve done it once, I could use the basic menu and do variations on it.

Instead of pasta with bacon, diced tomatoes, and greens – I could do pasta with olives, basil, and broccoli. I could switch it up with some flavored meat (hot dogs would even work) or add a tiny amount of flavorful cheese (you don’t need much feta to make it better.)

I could vary the vegetables, add a new flavor, use a different spice, add roasted squash, use a little canned pumpkin with cream to make an incredible sauce (if you haven’t tried that one on pasta you should.)

When I had the basics down, I could start improvising. All very thrifty, all very doable.

Once I had these under my belt (wish I could have thrown a curry in there, that’s one of our favorite meals to make with whatever is lying around) I could start expanding my menu based on what’s on sale. Turkey’s on sale? (which it is this week) I could start with a roasted turkey dinner, have a turkey and beans dinner, heck we just had a turkey soup with potatoes (the last of our Thanksgiving dinner) that when crusty bread with butter was added, was eaten and enjoyed by everyone.

I know that people are busy (we work FT and have 6 kids) BUT if you plan your food menu, then there is actually less work during the week because you know exactly what you are going to have. None of the menus I suggested take more than a few minutes to prepare (with the exception of the chicken baking but once you put it in the oven you can go do things until it’s ready.) Get to know your crockpot again.

Going back to the kitchen is not going backward for women.

I’m not sure that it’s because people don’t have time that they don’t do this, I think it’s more that they don’t have the skills to do it. We have become a society that frowns on cooking and instead of cooking food from scratch we want our food instantly. In my daughter’s home ec class they were taught how to make a ham and cheese sandwich in the microwave.

At home she’s been taught how to make Baked Ziti and on the weeks that we have that (it’s up for next week’s menu) she is the one who will be making it (and she is the one who will get the compliments when we all sit down to eat.)

What I did last week took a lot of time both to prepare and to document. I know. But I did it because I was hoping that some people might have found it useful and might start thinking a little differently about how they treat food. I’ve already heard from a few people who have tried some of these “SNAP” recipes (and really, these are just budget recipes) and are now preparing and cooking food for themselves.

My intent with all of this work was not to cast judgment on anyone or any program. My intent was to teach so that perhaps others can learn.  It’s my suggestion as a way to make a tough situation just a little bit better.

Congratulations! You’re an outlier!

You say that like it’s a bad thing. 🙂 Outliers can be beneficial, if everyone always did things the way they’ve always been done, then they’ll always be done that way.


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 665 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 7

SNAP Challenge Day Seven

So here it is Day Seven of my SNAP Challenge. I have eaten well this entire week and in all honesty, I can tell you that I wasn’t hungry once the entire time I was on this challenge. I continued to work and I even drove up and back to Vermont (5 hours total) one day.

Here are the final numbers: In New Hampshire, the median benefit amount is $30/person/week which is what I was challenged to work with.

For this entire week I ended up spending $28.16 (if you need to see the receipts contact me and I’ll send a scan) which means that I would now have $1.84 credit on my “benefits card.”

If I bought for the *exact* same menu for next week (and there’s really no need not to as I was never bored with any of my meals) there are a few items I would not need to buy because of food that is leftover:

  • Tea – 1.00
  • Pasta – .88
  • Oatmeal – 1.68
  • Butter – 2.28
  • Raisins – 1.48
  • Total $7.32 saved for 2 weeks

If I bought the same groceries for 4 weeks, I could potentially create a surplus of (1.84 x 4) + (7.32 x 2) = $22 (and even this number is on the low side because one box of tea would last the entire month at 3 cups/day.)

My point is that I have now created a buffer from which I could draw to start buying staples (a bag of potatoes is much cheaper than buying them singly) or items that have gone on sale or foods for a celebration (like a cake mix for a birthday.)

Remember that we have 8 people in our family. If all of us saved $22 for this 4 week period this means that my family could potentially create a SNAP surplus of $176.00 for the month. Do you know what I could do with an extra $176.00 at the grocery store? I could start buying a little more cheese, a little more meat, and some more fruit. I could start building up a reserve, a pantry.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I could start fishing for myself.

I realize that this is all hypothetical, prices vary, the bread I got might not be on sale next week, etc, but even though it’s hypothetical, don’t discount it entirely because it *is* possible.

It takes planning, education, a shift in priority back to in-home food preparation, access to food, and it takes people who are willing to teach what they know.

By the way, the extra $1.84 from this week went into the holiday Red Kettle. Granted it’s not much, but just like this challenge was, it’s a start.

Breakfast –


  •  Oatmeal with bananas
  • Tea

Used: Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 664 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 6

SNAP Challenge Day Six

A few thoughts as I go forward with this challenge.  I had made a few videos with some reflections on my experiences this week. A movie star I am not, but I did it to help the folks at the University of Bridgeport who are running this effort (Hi Jennifer).

In one of my videos, I’m wearing a green Under Armour jacket.

“It must be fun to pretend to be poor, nice jacket.” Was a comment I received.

I want to make it very clear here (again) that we are not poor. We are not poor in any sense of the word, however, like many others in America, we have been affected by the economy. I used to have a full time job, heck, I used to own an Instructional Design Training Business. When the economy tanked, my business disappeared. I now grab any and all writing gigs I can find. Sometimes they are one time jobs, sometimes I get repeat requests. I do what I can.

We are very fortunate that my husband has kept his job through this meltdown, but you can be sure, we hold our breaths every time they announce a layoff. It takes money to raise 6 kids.

But we are definitely not poor.

However, because our priorities are our kids, money is very, very tight right now. We have 2 kids in college and a 3rd who will be going off to college next fall.

I would rather starve than have to take them out of school.

We have 4 kids with chronic illness, one with whom we are probably looking at adaptive technology and orthopedic braces at some point. We have insurance but the co-pays are hitting us very hard, over and over.

If it means we can get my son the equipment he needs to live independently, I’m okay telling the kids “The dishwasher is broken? Not a problem, God gave you two good dish washers apiece. ”

We make sure our kids are involved in sports, on teams, and we save so they can go on school trips (the FIRST team is going to compete in D.C. this year.)

I’m okay with wearing a heavy coat and gloves when I drive in the winter because the heater in the car only blows heat on the windshield if it means my kids will learn how to be contributing members.

No, we are not poor.

We don’t go on vacation, we don’t go on shopping sprees, and we watch every penny so that our kids get what they need to succeed. We have made choices and we live to promote those choices. We do what we can with what we have. Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 663 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 5

SNAP Challenge Day Five

This is the day where I planned poorly. I have a part-time contract and I went on-site thinking it would be a short visit. I’ll eat when I get home, I thought, so I didn’t even have breakfast. Turns out it was a long visit, and because I couldn’t buy lunch, I ended up getting home at around 4:30 not having eaten anything for the entire day. My mistake, but it happens – sometimes you are not near your food.

Breakfast –


  • Poached egg on toast
  • Cup of tea

Used: Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 662 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 4

SNAP Challenge Day Four

I’ve been saving the eggs for later in the week because unlike the meat or open beans, they are not going to quickly go bad. 2 eggs is plenty for an adult’s breakfast and when you add some sautéed onions, you not only get extra flavor but also extra texture.

One note, my son had used the toaster and turned up the setting a bit. I ended up getting toast that was a little darker than what I like, but not to worry, just like my mother did, I scraped off the burnt stuff and ate the rest.

Breakfast –

Burnt toast is just bread that needs a little help.

Burnt toast is just bread that needs a little help.

  • Scrambled Eggs with toast

(Sautee Diced up slice of onion in butter, when translucent fold in 2 beaten eggs and cook until firm, season with pepper)

  • Cup of tea

Used: Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 661 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 3

SNAP Challenge Day Three

Busy day today, had a meeting at the library that lasted 3 hours this morning and then I had to take my daughter to a fair. Didn’t have time to make breakfast and so my first meal of the day was a portable lunch that I made when I stopped home between events.

I’ll fit and eat breakfast later in the day so that the day will reflect 3 meals.

Breakfast –

Yup, that's a whole delicious box of raisins swimming in butter.

Yup, that’s a whole delicious box of raisins swimming in butter.

Can I just say that this breakfast felt like I was eating a buttery oatmeal cookie. No complaints from me on this one.

  • Oatmeal with raisins and butter (sprinkle of cinnamon)
  • Tea

Used: Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 660 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 2

SNAP Challenge Day Two

Second day of the challenge. Am thinking a lot about food, not because I’m hungry but because I’m not completely sure things are going to work out the way I planned. The easiest thing for me would be to do things like have oatmeal every morning, or Ramen noodles for lunches, but I want to eat food that is not only good but varied, healthy, and tasty.

If I keep to my plan, I should be okay.

Breakfast –



I could seriously eat this every morning.

Hey remember that ½ of an apple we used yesterday in the breakfast sandwich? Well today we use the other half to make a breakfast that tastes like warm apple pie.

  •  Apple oatmeal

(Dice up ½ apple and put the chunks in with the oatmeal when it cooks, you might have to reduce the water a tad due to the water in the apples, but the end result is well worth it.)

  • Cup of tea

Used: Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 659 – UB SNAP Challenge – Day 1

NOTE: I actually started this challenge a few days ago to give me enough time to write up the descriptions and get the photos done.

SNAP Challenge Day One

Day One, here we go. Started the day off with a quick and easy breakfast muffin that rivals anything you can get at a fast food restaurant. Total time to make it was about 2 minutes (and most of that time was spent waiting for the English muffins to toast.)

But here’s the thing. I didn’t just grab it and eat it on the go. I sat down at our dining room table, practiced a bit of mindful eating and truly enjoyed my breakfast with a cup of tea (the cheese was surprisingly good and I could really taste that apple slice.)

A big part of enjoying your food is enjoying your food.

For the record, I’m a black coffee drinker and my breakfast usually consists 3 cups of black coffee (I know, I know) but for this week, I’ll drink tea without milk or sugar (which is fine with me) to get my caffeine fix.

Breakfast –


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Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

Lesson 658 – UB SNAP Challenge – Here is my grocery list

For the next week I will be taking the UB SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge You might be hearing about this in the news because Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey challenged someone on Twitter and others to live on just $35 dollars a week. Here are the guidelines for the challenge.

As I routinely spend $200/week for 8 people (that comes down to $25/per) I thought that $35 was a gift. “I’ll do it,” I loudly volunteer.

Then I found out you couldn’t use anything that you already have except for spices and condiments. Although I’ve checked several sources, Olive oil is not considered a condiment. But, because I plan on cooking a lot of food myself, I’ll need an oil source.

The cheapest source that I could find was butter – however, I couldn’t find a place that would sell me only one stick of butter so for the week, I had to buy a whole pound.


Then I was contacted by a TV producer who will be following my progress. “Wait, a minute,” she said. “People in New Hampshire only get $30/week and not $35. Would you be willing to do this on the New Hampshire amount?”

“Sure,” I said. Apparently us Granite Staters rock in the frugality department.

But still, ouch.

The “rules” of this challenge say that while shopping I am allowed to use coupons. I can also take advantage of a local food bank (as long as I make a donation afterward to compensate the bank.)

So this is what I did. I sat down and created a week’s menu of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks. From that menu, I created a shopping list. I then took my 2 daughters with me and we priced everything I wanted to get at a local grocery store. Continue reading


Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP