Son -"Mom, what's for dinner?"
Me -"We don't have much here... I can make Tuna Helper."
Son -"It's better than nothing."
Food Pantry Fixin's were very slim this week. Between the two pantries I go to I received five boxes of Tuna Helper but no cans of tuna! I had one can left of my own that I could use. Added to that we had the one can of vegetables I received from this week's pantry visits - a can of cut green beans. Again, between both pantries, I only received one can of vegetables! We had toast with our meal - a nice loaf of wheat whole grain bread, which along with a loaf of raisin bread were the best items I took home from the pantries.
It is funny, but this is one of the exact meals I'd make anyway, regardless of our living under financial distress - Tuna Helper, beans (although usually frozen) and toast. I've been making it for years.
Anyway, the point of this post is that food pantries serve a short-term purpose, to get a family or individual through a month or two of crisis. They're not set up to provide for people who can't find work and need to rely on them for months at a time.
For one thing, the food provided is not nutritious, fresh or enough of a variety. It is the same limited selection of food each visit - rice, pasta, mac n' cheese, soup (tomato and chicken noodle), a small can of spaghetti sauce, pancake mix and peanut butter and jelly. You can only eat so much of those items without never ever wanting to look at another box of mac n' cheese!
The only way I continue to be able to come up with halfway decent meals is relying on the ethnic grocery store that I found sells big assorted packages of slightly bruised fruit for either 99 cents or $1.29. But it is hit or miss going in there. I wanted bananas yesterday, which they didn't have. But they did have a great package of smaller and fresh apples that I snapped up, perfect for the boys' lunches.
Sadly, they got a new butcher at the other grocery store I go to for 99 cent meat specials and he has cut down on the offerings there. I am still able to find a few once in awhile but not to the extent that I used to. He will give me a discount if I find a package of meat that is up for code that day, but again it is a hit or miss process. Some days I'm lucky and strike some deals, most other days I'm not.
Last night, I made a big pot of vegetarian chili soup from two dry mixes from ALDI. I served it over spaghetti AND rice topped with cheddar cheese (from a prior pantry visit). There is a ton left for this weekend! Filling and tasty. The same ethnic grocery store also sells special bakery items for $1.29 a package and I've been able to get some donuts and cookies for the boys, which is a nice treat. The donuts I got with the apples had Halloween sprinkles on them, and my younger son is very fond of that type. Nice to get something seasonal and fun.
I just continue to find that so much of my focus revolves around food and my fantasy wish is to be able to go into ALDI and spend $100.00 without having to count up all the items in my head. The way I shop now is to go in more frequently to try and find deals - it takes up extra time and energy to have to hunt down milk deals or to scope around in the sale bins.
I have to keep telling myself that we do have food and with my resourcefulness, probably eating better than others. But it is a daily challenge and worrisome. And I don't like that my thoughts are so consumed and focused on food all the time. I do start to crave things and obsess about meals and that can't be good. There are other things I'd rather be concentrating on.