Budget Beef Vegetable Lo Mein
By Sue Lau | Palatable Pastime
My recipe of the day is for Budget Beef Vegetable Lo Mein, a recipe that will allot a family of four with a complete dinner meal for $5.13.
It is all inclusive of ingredients, and needs just a working kitchen with pans, plates, a stove and water. Drag the bag of groceries into a working (albeit refrigerator is empty) kitchenette and have at it. I didn’t get you everything I desired for this meal, but it does have fresh vegetables, and protein and will fill you up.
My husband and I ate this for our dinner and would do this in a pinch, so for those of my friends in need of a real budget meal, this is it.
As for your part, please consider giving a small amount to the charities listed or your own local favorite, and list your ideas for cutting food expenses in the comments below, since people will be looking for those, unseen- but they will be here.
Let’s do our stuff like Jose Andres.
September is Hunger Action Month
September is Hunger Action Month – a time to bring attention to food insecurity. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure in 2017. That’s 40 million people – more than 12 million of which are children – with a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
The meals below were made with a budget of $5.50 – the average amount a family of four would have for a meal on a SNAP budget. We’re sharing these recipes today to show you how far these dollars go – or don’t go – and to encourage you to donate to organizations addressing hunger issues. Feeding America and local food banks are the boots on the group helping feed your neighbors daily.
What is SNAP?
SNAP is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or what most people refer to as food stamps).
In 2018 alone, SNAP helped more than 40 million Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet. For low-wage working families, low-income seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, finding ways to pay for the rising costs of food is a problem. And for families with children, which comprise 2/3 of those receiving assistance, it is vitally important to our future. The other third is made up of seniors on an inadequate fixed income, or those with disabilities which make it difficult if not impossible, to earn basic living expenses.
One might be bewildered and think it not possible that so many live in poverty. They might think it fake news, and that people are just mooching off the system, and using this money to buy things like candy bars, chips and booze.
It is a simple fact that while there is obviously going to be one person buying those things somewhere, that a shocking amount of people find it difficult to make ends meet and increasingly so each year. The awkward truth is that 40.6% of Americans live at the poverty level.
This may not be on your street, but imagine if it were. Imagine 4 out of every 10 houses of friends and neighbors nearby with not enough money to put food on the table. That they have to choose between rent or food. That they have to choose between electricity or food. That they have to choose between life saving medications and doctor care- or food.
Such difficult choices!
And while we all have difficulties with ever rising costs of living, most of us don’t have to make these choices or listen to others imply that we only want to take what we have no right to. We all have a right to a share of the resources this planet offers.
Food Bloggers Raising Awareness
As a group, we’re supporting Feeding America’s efforts to end hunger. We are collecting donations for Feeding America here:
As such, we have taken that SNAP allotment of $5.50 and gone to the market and found a way to make a meal for four.
This is harder Than You Think!
I can usually spin circles around most people coming up with a plan for what to cook and eat. And I pride myself on my knowledge of how to put together ingredients, chopped basket style, so that I might be able to make the best of unlooked-for deals and specials I might come across. I don’t go to the market with a plan.
In this case, I found the market spinning circles around me, or me in the market.
What “Plan” I Did Have…Failed
For this event, I did go shopping with ideas.
And *awkward giggle* found myself picking up one item after another only to be forced to put it back on the shelf because it blew the budget.
And I am blessed to be in a situation that with just two of us here, I can generally buy *anything* I want without blinking twice. I could feel the utter humiliation building in me as my ideas failed- the same humiliation others must be feeling when they live on the SNAP budget every day.
I do want to say that I approached this as if a friend had phoned me asking what to do- that they were a family with two kids in tow suddenly forced into an extended stay and after paying for the room, they had $5.50 in their pocket, hungry right then and there, no chance of further funds until the next day. So armed with that money only, and a room with no further pantry, no sneaking oil for 5 cents or salt and pepper, or anything else- just that room with the empty kitchenette.
The Heat and the Humiliation
It was hot the day I shopped. I imagined that if I had no A/C it would be a saving grace to wander aimlessly through the market trying to find options, at least staying cool while I searched for answers. I could hear someone’s child squawking in a cart down the aisle- I tried to imagine those hungry kids impatient for their supper, not understanding what was going on.
It pissed me off, actually, to think that the SNAP program itself is in danger of further cuts as we speak. That I cannot put together a meal for the life of me with what I have and WHAT? People will be asked to get by with LESS?
You KNOW What to Do
Will you forgo your morning coffee stop and donate $5 to help feed the needy instead? There are also many great local organizations fighting hunger too, including one locally to me in Cincinnati:
I have come up with a meal after all. I can’t say I would do it by choice.
The checkout clerk and I chatted about what it was I was doing- she remarking how the ramen wasn’t particularly healthy with all the sodium.
It’s exactly why I picked it- those salty seasoning packets with bouillon inside and salt and more salt- yeah. That’s the seasoning we would not otherwise have.
And I chose ground meat- not because it was low fat. But because it had the fat in it to keep the meat from sticking to the skillet.
Of course,you can drain off the extra fat and not use all the seasoning packets and I did just that.
But in itself it is not a cinch to do these things to keep the price down. I had to ask the butcher to give me only half a package of beef. How humiliating.
So while I have kept this under $5.50, and pocketed 37 cents in change, that change would go into my jar. We might be eating this way the first day, perhaps the second and third as well, but then we have an extra buck to put towards the pantry. To buy those things one can use on a budget- because I don’t know ANYWHERE you will buy 15 cents worth of soy sauce or 26 cents worth of flour.
Real emergencies have real logistics, and this is the meal for day one.
I am hoping to add more budget meals in the future, that perhaps will utilize my change jar, but still keep in the SNAP budget ballpark.
Because everyone in their life will undergo a rough patch or emergency and we need answers to solve these problems that work in the moment.
And as well, offer our philanthropy and charity to food groups and food banks to help our fellow neighbors- someone you might even know but would never say their need out loud to you. It might be you one day, and statistics say it will be.
Hunger Action Month Recipes
- Kielbasa and Vegetable Skillet from Kate’s Recipe Box
- Italian Sausage Alfredo Tortellini from Intelligent Domestications
- Budget Beef Vegetable Lo Mein from Palatable Pastime
- Veggie Burrito Bowls from Simple and Savory
- Cheesy Black Bean Frittatas from Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
- Creamy Spinach & Black Bean Flautas from Savory Moments
- Mindful Shopping, Cooking Frugally, and Helping Others from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Feed a Family of Four for One Day in under $16 from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Bean Pasta) from The Baking Fairy
- Sausage Green Bean Alfredo from Cookaholic Wife
- Sheet Pan Crustless Quiche from Frugal & Fit
- Kielbasa and Cabbage Skillet with Buttered Rice from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Chicken Caesar Pasta from Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
- Stove-Top Chicken Noodle Soup from Blogghetti
- Pepper Jack Quiche with a Potato Crust from Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice
- Broccoli Mac Kielbasa Casserole from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
Thanks to Kate of Kate’s Recipe Box for organizing this event!
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Also consider making a donation to the Disaster Relief Fund run by Chef Jose Andres, who provides hot meals for those in places such as one devastated by hurricanes like Dorian in the Bahamas.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for any little thing you can do. ~Sue
Budget Beef Vegetable Lo Mein
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef
- 4 packages Oriental flavor ramen noodle soup
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 bunch scallions
- 2 fresh white mushrooms
- Cook the ramen in hot water until tender and drain.
- Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain excess fat.
- Add vegetables to pan and cook until crisp tender, seasoning with three of the four seasoning packets from the ramen.
- Toss cooked noodles with the stir-fry mixture and serve.