Can’t Never Could…
Note: In one of life's many little ironies, a couple days after I wrote the following, my husband joined the ranks of the unemployed. We have five progeny still at home, one with multiple handicaps, and I just learned that the sleep machine my doctor says I need because I stop breathing 35 times an hour when I sleep- well, it's 1500 dollars out of pocket, so we won't be getting it. I have nothing to change in the post below, except I'd make it even more stringent.
In response to this post where I explained that it isn't necessary to live on over- processed frozen convenience foods just because one is on foodstamps, somebody left an interesting comment. The commenter explained that my advice was unrealistic. She said it was necessary to buy convenience foods on food stamps because:
1. She did not have room to store bargain meats, frozen vegetables and freezer meals in the freezer in the top of the freezer;
2. She did not have the time or experience to make any sort of freezer meals.
Addressing the 2nd point first, when I started out married life, I did not know how to do these things, either. I bet you know something now that you did not know this time last year, or five years ago, too. But I was willing to learn. No, I was desperate to learn. Within a few weeks of getting married we had no jobs, no savings, and a baby on the way. That was before the days of the internet so I had to hunt the information I needed down in time consuming, old fashioned ways. I used the library, I used old ladies at church, I used stacks and stacks of women's magazines I'd been given (cool story, but another time). Today's young householders have the internet- they could learn how in minutes. I did not do freezer meals then (I hadn't heard of them yet), but I did not buy convenience foods.
None of us are born knowing everything we need to know. All of us have to learn along the way. I'll address the time issue further down.
As for the first point, If you are buying prepackaged convenience goods for the freezer, you have enough room for freezer meals of your own. If you have a freezer above your fridge, with very, very rare exceptions, you have room for freezer meals.
How do I know this?
I haven't always had a stand alone freezer. When the first Once-A-Month Cookingcookbook came out, our living space was so tight that we used the master bath shower as a broom closet. My husband was military, and when he deployed, I packed up my then three, and soon five, kids and went to stay with friends who had three or four kids of their own. The only freezer they had was the freezer in the top of their fridge, yet, we could fit two weeks worth of meals, meals required to serve three adults and 6 kids, in the freezer in the top of the refrigerator, and the refrigerator was of only average size. If I could do it, most other people could, too.
How is this possible?
The stuff you already have in your freezer is just processed into a meal and returned to the freezer, so it doesn't take up any more space. In fact, it generally takes up less.
You can also package it in tidier packages- bake the chicken,debone it, and put the meat in a square plastic freezer container and the chicken that took up at least 8 square inches of freezer space now takes up 3. Use the bones and simmer a rich bone broth for soup in your crockpot all day the next day (or on the stove if you'll be home, start it in the evening if you are gone all day). Add onion peels, garlic peels, a bit of vinegar, simmer it down until it's really rich and then freeze it in ice cube trays, pop the ice out and store in a baggie- add a cube or two to your soups or skillet meals for extra nourishment and flavor.
What may be unrealistic is that a single mom won't have the time or energy for the full freezer meals. Even though my husband was not in the same country with us at the time I started freezer cooking, I wasn't by myself. I was with a friend and we cooked the meals together. That's not always possible, either.
But here is a cool tip that could be a big help for those who still think they don't have room and they don't have time- if you buy ground beef and cook it the same day you bring it home, or the next day if grocery shopping is too exhausting, you can store cooked ground beef in about 1/4 of the space that frozen raw meat takes, plus, later it defrosts quicker, too. You can store 4-6 pounds of cooked ground beef in the space you formerly took up for one pound raw.
You can cook up a mess of ground beef with some chopped onions and garlic (peppers if you have them), drain it (reserve the fat) and spoon it into labeled ziplock bags (the small, one quart size, and yes, we do reuse these) or other containers- sprinkle different spices in there (taco style spices in some bags, Italian in others, Asian in some others).
Store them flat in your freezer until they freeze, then you can store them upright in a long narrow box (as ramen noodles are packed in) picked up free at the grocery store. Put other things in other ziplock bags- grated cheese; cooked, diced poultry; cooked rice.
You can use these packages of ground beef for:
home-made pizza topping
stir fried rice
enchilada pie or burrito fillings
biscuits and gravy
Pakistani Kimi (An Indonesian dish)
15 minute chow mein (see our kitchen blog, which has lots of shortcut, frugal recipes),
one of the meals listed in the post above above.
If you have a crockpot, you can combine the raw ingredients for a crockpot meal in a single container (ziplock bag, whatever- I roamed thrift shops and yard sales looking for .25 cent freezer containers, and I saved old jars) and freeze it- on cooking day, I put the frozen meal in the crockpot on high and cook it all day. It doesn't take any more time than gathering the ingredients on the same day you cook, it just divides your labor in half.
Make huge pots of vegetable soup for dinner- it doesn't take any more time than spaghetti. Freeze leftovers in jars (leave an inch or so for expansion) and have them again the following week only add one of those ziplock bags of ground beef, barley, rice, or some pasta, or a fresh green veggie for variety.
It's also not true that you can only buy boxed, packaged meals on food stamps because the fresh stuff won't keep long enough. Apples, onions, turnips, potatoes, carrots, and cabbages last more than a day or two. Store them properly and they keep for two weeks or more. Slice the tops off of turnips and beets, put the tops in a pie pan of water, you'll grow a few more fresh greens which you can add to stir fries, salads, or green smoothies.
I realize that we all have different stories, different circumstances, different situations. We won't all be able to save money in precisely the same way- where I once made bread in a clean bucket and kneaded it by hand, now I have arthritis in those hands and I can't make bread that way anymore, for just one example. Everybody's story is their own. But it's not very helpful to tell yourself, "I can't do that because nobody taught me how." Instead think about what you can do instead. And here's a little saying I learned long ago from some little hill woman somewhere:
"'Can't' never could do nothin'"