The challenge ends today. I learned many things over the last 30 days.

I learned that rice and beans can take many forms.  

I had purchased a variety of beans and grains. We are also fortunate to have a huge variety of herbs and spices to choose from. I am also fortunate to have the skills necessary to create dishes that are varied enough that we didn’t get bored.  This is a skill that can be taught, or written down to be followed. I am feeling a recipe list or a cooking class is in the near future.

We made traditional rice and beans. I gave you the recipe in an earlier blog about how to make your beans from dry, to not only save money, but to have a much healthier option to buying canned beans.  Pintos, kidney, lentils, navy, chickpeas and black beans all have distinct flavors and uses. Adding something as simple as salt and pepper makes a huge difference. Throwing in a pork hock adds new dimension to s navy bean soup. Beans have become a staple with me. Even today, as the challenge ends, I have a crockpot filled with lentils and brown rice, old tomatoes that were on the edge of bad, seasoned with white pepper and 21 seasoning brewing.

Grains offer another interesting dimension. I LOVE sticky rice. Yes, I know it is white rice, but it is also satisfying and can take on the flavor of whatever you decide to add to it. I love it with just a dash of tamari and white pepper. A dab of butter is also amazing with a little Himalayan salt.  Rice can also be used as a breakfast cereal if you have some left over. Add in a bit of brown sugar and milk, maybe some raisins, and cook it into a hearty breakfast meal.

Quinoa is an amazing grain. It can be eaten alone with seasoning or mixed with vegetables or beans.

Brown rice is also very versatile. Beans and rice are a complete protein, so you can have a complete meal without meat!

Oats offer a variation for breakfast or treats that are filling. Mixed with raisins, nuts, nutmilks or other fruit, they make a complete breakfast.

Vegetables and leftover meats make awesome soups.

I learned that there are things I don’t want to live without for long periods of time.

I enjoy ice cream. I am not giving it up for any extended period of time. But, if I am going to eat it, I want it to be made with cream from humanely raised cows and organically grown fruit.  Spending $7 on a ½ gallon of ice cream is ok, as long as you do it infrequently. It can fit into a tight food budget just fine. Red wine and really good dark chocolate need to make my list every now and again too.  I did find myself drinking to much wine until this challenge, so that has been a good learning experience for me.

I learned that recipes are made to be modified.

If you don’t have an egg, use flax. If you don’t have milk, use sour cream, almond milk or half and half. Use what you have, don’t let it go to waste. This has always been a motto of mine, and I raised three kids by modifying recipes to what I had on hand.  One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to use up your pantry items. I have a couple of friends doing that challenge right now and enjoying the ride! You get to eat combinations you may never have thought of before, and find taste combinations that are amazing.

We had a box of Trader Joe’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese in our cupboard. This is usually reserved for when the grandbabies come over for dinner, but I had a craving for it one night. We made it into a grown up version by adding in some raw milk cheddar, sour cream, broccoli and carrots that we had in our fridge. It turned out to be a really good meal!

I learned that the best meals are the simple ones.

A pork chop with mashed potatoes and corn is an amazing and tasty meal that is good for you. Grass fed burgers with sweet potatoes and green beans is another cheap, good for you meal. A slice of uncured bacon with an egg scramble made with farm eggs, spinach, onion and spices with a side of either toast or a homemade whole wheat pancake will fill you up until well past noon for almost no cost.

Breakfast of oats with raisins, nuts and a bit of almond milk, or toast with almond butter and apples are filling and fresh. The toast is a travelling breakfast as well. Who needs a Pop Tart when you can have real food?

Simple salads made with whatever is in the fridge make a great lunch or dinner. Add a bit of protein in the form of beans, quinoa, boiled egg or meat and you have a full meal. Dressings made with a bit of oil and vinegar are light and healthy.

I did lots of what I call “clean out the fridge” smoothies in the last month. Any fruit or veggies I could find, I just threw into my NutriBullet with either water or almond milk. A few times I threw in some protein powder, but sometimes the lightness of just the fruit and veggies was what I needed that day. This is another “on the go” breakfast at little or no cost.

I learned that shopping the sales, seaons and clearance bins will save you tons of money.

Ok, I didn’t just learn this, but I want to share it with you. The day we got the 99 cent bags at Rochester Wholesale was like hitting the produce jackpot.  We had a great variety of fruits and vegetables that we used over the course of the week. For less than $5.00 for the entire week, we had smoothies, apples for our oatmeal, potatoes to go with our pork and beef and a variety of other things!

It is much more cost effective to shop with the seasons too. Right now is a bit bleak in our part of the country, but if you pay attention, you can get some really good stuff really cheap.

I learned that taking free stuff is ok.

Alright, another thing I didn’t just learn, but wanted to share with you! If someone offers you a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, take them. Eat what you can, freeze what you can’t and you will be using those tomatoes for quite some time.  Just yesterday, I was cooking up a small sirloin steak and I found some amazing yellow and orange peppers that we had frozen at the end of last summer. I sautéed them with a bit of oil and an onion. I put a bit of tamari and some Szechuan sauce on the steak and threw it over the top of some rice noodles. Lunch was awesome, cheap and fresh. I only needed about 3 ounces of beef ,since there was so much other good stuff in there.

Take what people offer you in the way of fresh stuff and then figure out how to preserve it!

I learned that YES, I can live on a very low food budget and eat well.

We ate a bit differently, but overall, I think it was much healthier! We ate lots of beans, soups, and whole grains. We also ate a whole lot of fresh vegetables, drank more water and ate out less. We made do with what we had. We ended up spending about $175 for the month, so we actually had a little left over, even with the ice cream splurge.

We plan to continue on a similar path now that we KNOW we can do it, and we KNOW we can be healthier for it!


Have a great rest of your week,