More than a year after the technical end of the great recession, millions of Americans still have a hard time stretching their unemployment benefits to cover their mortgage payments, utility and grocery bills. One in 7 Americans live in poverty today, the highest level of poverty in nearly a half century! Americans who never dreamed of becoming poor are now asking for assistance. Many of the jobless get no benefits and many are not receiving the assistance they need.
The analysis of census data recently released for 2010, show that since 2000 the number of poor people in the suburbs jumped by 37.4% to 13.7 million. As of June 2010, 58% of Americans draw unemployment benefits. Suburbs are now the home of 1/3 of our nation’s poor. The majority are ineligible for government food stamp programs full payment of benefits, due to the income of unemployment insurance payments being counted as income during the application process. I found this out through my own personal experience. There’s no wonder so many Americans are having a hard time feeding their families.
Food banks nationwide are being stretched to the limits because of the rising unemployment rate. If you are unemployed, feeding your family can become a major problem. Here’s how you can make your family menu better while using the food bank products you receive. Learn how to improve your dinner table even on your tight budget!
If you are drawing your unemployment benefits, as so many millions of other Americans are today, one of the options you have for help in feeding your family is your local food bank. You are having a tough enough time paying the mortgage and the utility bills using unemployment benefits, and now you find yourself with little or nothing left to spend at the grocery store!
In most cases, you don’t get to choose the products you receive in most food banks across our country. You get what they give you, sometimes you don’t even know what you have until you get home and unpack the bags. Certain items you will receive each time you visit your food bank every month. Sometimes there may be something different, but you really never know what you will receive. After unpacking your groceries at home, make a list of the items you have, and what you can make out of them with few extra ingredients. Decide what you can do with what you have, and prepare a menu. Be a smart shopper and cut coupons, research sale papers for the cheapest ingredients on your list and buy in bulk whenever possible.
Study your cookbook or recipes you get from the Internet. Type in search toolbar the name of the ingredient you have on hand and then look at list of recipes that include your ingredient. You will discover several different ways to prepare it and also find many new options and ideas.
Here is a way for you to use all the extra cans of soups and vegetables you receive from the food bank to make a fantastic meal. For very little money, you can buy the boxes of Alfredo noodles, rice and pasta at big box stores. Usually found for under a dollar a box, try to stock up and buy as many as you can afford. To one of the boxes of flavored rice or pasta noodles you can add cans of tuna, salmon, small amounts of browned hamburger, pork or chicken. Use canned vegetables such as peas and carrots, mixed veggies or even certain soups that may complement your dish. Cook the box noodles on top of the stove in a pan according to directions, add your extra cans of veggies, add extra milk, mayo, or sour cream, and pour into a baking dish. Top with cracker crumbs and dot with butter. Bake on 350 about 30 minutes or until browned.
Another way to prepare this dish is to simply leave it in the pot on top of the stove, without adding too much extra liquid such as milk, add your canned ingredients and reheat. If it becomes too thin simply at a little mixture of flour and water to thicken back up. Grate the top with shredded cheese or sprinkle with parsley for a finishing touch, and serve with warm bread and butter, or garlic toast.
Anytime you are going to use rice in a dish, prepare a few cups more. Make rice pudding the next day. If you have a chicken carcass or any chicken meat leftover, chop an onion, celery, carrots, or any combination of these you happen to have and add to a pot of water with the rice and a few spices and you have chicken and rice soup.
Use the cans of vegetable soup, or beef stew cans as the secret ingredient in your meatloaf. Make up your meatloaf using all the ingredients you usually do. Then just pour the can into the mix for a delicious, healthy addition for your family’s meal.
Use the canned juice to make homemade jelly with. The directions are inside each box of pectin. This saves tons of money, especially if you have young children. The off-taste of the cans does not come through in the jelly. Another use for canned juice is to use it as the liquid measure in your recipes. This increases the amount of vitamins and minerals of your dish. Use it in oatmeal and other hot cereals for breakfast.
Make preserves or jam out of the canned fruit you receive so much of. For the cost of a few extra cups of sugar or a box of pectin you can prepare 4 pint jars of homemade jam or fruit syrup to be used on top of pancakes or biscuits.
Add a can of any type of fruit to the oatmeal for extra nutrition. Crush up the canned fruit in your blender and make smoothies, fruit butter, leathers or to add to other recipes for sweetness and to add more nutrients to your dish.
Use your crock pot to make an economical meal with your food bank canned products. Add the canned vegetables at the end of the cooking period, as further cooking of them deteriorates vitamin content and makes them become mushy. Add beans to any crock pot meal to increase protein and iron. Add any fresh vegetables you may receive at the beginning of the cooking time. Add a hand full of the cooked noodles or rice at the end of cooking time. This is a good place to use up the bland tasting beef stew cans you will receive.
Make homemade dog biscuits. Use a mixture of flour and wheat flour, cracked wheat, (I use ground flax seed) and cornmeal, one cup each plus 1/2 cup dry nonfat milk. Add a pint or so of chicken broth with 2 tsp added salt. Di solve one package of dry yeast into 1/2 cup water. Add this to the broth then incorporate dry ingredients into wet. Knead about 3 minutes until a stiff dough forms. Pancake mix will substitute for the flours. Roll out 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes. Bake in 200 – 250 degree oven or about 1-2 hrs, maybe more.
If you are lucky enough to receive fresh fish, after filleting, put the carcass into the pressure cooker to make homemade cat food. Place serving size portions into Ziploc bags and freeze. You can also boil the carcass to make yourself some homemade fish stock. This freezes well for whenever you want to make fish chowders.
If you receive an overabundance of one fresh vegetable item, try to prepare and freeze it for future use. Whenever you cook dried beans, chili or pasta sauce, always cook up as much as you can. One of the items you need to put on your shopping list is freezer bags. Look for the cheapest ones you can find at the big box stores. Remember double bagging with regular plastic bags works just as well as a freezer bag does. Cool down the food, and line several bowls with zippered bags. Place the bowls onto a large cookie sheet. Be sure it will fit inside your freezer. Pour beans or chili into the bowls. Set the cookie sheet into the freezer and freeze until good and firm. Secure the zippered bag tops and remove the bowls and cookie sheet. Your bags of food will be an instant success with your family as they pop them out of the freezer, into their bowls and then into the microwave for delicious fast meals!
Use the overabundance of bread you receive at the food bank by making homemade croutons, bread puddings, and homemade breadcrumbs to season and coat chicken and pork.
Undoubtedly you will receive extra peanut butter. If you don’t like peanut butter, try putting it into your chili pot to use as extra thickener. No matter how much you add, you cannot taste it at all! This adds a great amount of protein to your chili. Peanut butter and jelly crackers make great snacks for the little ones. Make peanut butter cookies for extra savings. It can also be added to your doggier biscuits for more protein for him as well.
Casseroles can be easily made out of most of the ingredients you receive at the food bank. Using minimal meat, add your pastas, rice and noodles here as your base. Homemade cream soups can be added if you don’t have them on hand. Add almost any vegetable and a little flour and butter to create a dish that will feed your family for at least 2 days. Many casseroles can be salvaged into the soup pot after the 3rd day.
Each product you receive at the food bank is an ingredient for something else. Look at what you already have in storage in your cupboard to see what else you could do with it. Get creative, don’t be afraid to experiment! Remember to freeze all your leftovers, as they can all be used to create another dish for your table!
Sources: 2010 Census Bureau Results