When I first started food blogging it came from wanting to journal my family's food journey and it was originally hand-written in a small notebook. I wasn't chronicling beautiful food or recipes I wanted to try again to get just right; I was writing down what we had eaten each day because I had somehow pulled off 3 meals for everyone and needed to remember it for the next time I went shopping. We were not receiving SNAP benefits or WIC at that time, but we had many times before that. I knew all too well how quickly food disappeared, even when nobody was overeating, and I always feared there wouldn't be enough. So, in times of lean I made sure to write down what worked, just in case I needed to create magic again.
There was a period of time where we ate almost nothing but ramen noodles. At 5 for a dollar, it was sometimes all we could afford. I would set the table with ceremony, a napkin and full set of utensils at each place and if we were lucky a jug full of lemonade, though most often it was just water and ice cubes, but that small thing (ice cubes) somehow made what we were eating seem like more.
Some weeks a sweet elderly neighbor would silently set a paper sack filled with his homegrown tomatoes or cucumbers at the gate and I would cut them up and fan them out on a plate or even add vinegar and sugar to the cucumbers to make a quick salad. The table would always look fuller and the kids wouldn't really miss anything because I spent so much time "preparing" that it would feel like a more elaborate meal.
I knew we'd hit our limit one day when, as I sat a bowlful of noodles in front of my 3 year-old, she exclaimed, "No! No noodles again!" It was a sad moment to me as a mother, but I explained that it was all we had and the next day maybe we'd have something wonderful. Many nights, though, I cried myself to sleep worrying about what we would eat for breakfast the next day.
Ramen noodles were, sadly, a staple. As grateful as I was to have them and their versatility, they aren't very healthy at all. They're laden with fat and sodium and too much carbohydrate, but they're filling and very cheap, so I bought them.
There were nights I would have ground beef or chicken to augment the noodles, more often than not, though when I had WIC benefits I had eggs and cheese, and then ... we ate like kings. I would make something we came to call "Noodle Fritatta" - noodles and eggs topped with cheese. The nights we had canned vegetables or enough flour and fat to make biscuits were like holidays to us. Yes, canned vegetables because at that time 4 cans for $1 was also within our budget and the cost of frozen or fresh was unthinkable.
The times that we qualified for SNAP benefits were better, but only marginally. I recall with 7 of us getting less than $300 a month (that's less than $1.42 per person a day) and though the name says, "Supplemental", for us, as for many, it was our only source of income for food. Sometimes the embarrassment of using them was so hard. There were often ignorant people who always assumed you did nothing but sit at home all day and collect welfare. The truth was that both my then-husband and I worked and it was still never enough. Meaning, we were paying taxes, too, just like everyone else.
There were periods when we weren't able to pay bills on time and once lost gas to the house, which meant no hot water and no cooking source other than our microwave. Boy did I learn to make a good cake in that thing! Even though we received assistance through WIC, we often didn't have a vehicle and would have to walk to whatever store the benefits were for, which for us was 4 miles away. We didn't have money for the bus so we'd trek out with a stroller in the nicest weather we could wait for. This would take a very long time and often our energy level was not equal to the task.
We also visited the local food bank from time to time and getting boxes of food was like Christmas. The only problem was, there was often not enough fresh food to properly stretch what we were given in cans and boxes to make a full meal. I always felt that people without can openers or even a place to live that received the boxes were so much worse off. I at least had shelter and (most of the time) a place to cook.
Now, things are better, but my life is such that I still wonder some weeks if we'll make it or not. I work 60+ hours a week and as a single mother with no support it's so hard to know for sure if food will remain constant.
I'm lucky enough to have a culinary education and have developed budget recipes for some of the best companies out there (please visit my budget pages at Family.com and Spoonful.com), and several times over the years I've compiled budget-minded posts, but my personal struggle is still one that has gone from day-to-day to month-to-month.
Before I share my own recipe, I want to share some important things with you. Here's how you can help WIN the battle against hunger:
- WRITE to Congress. Follow this link and take 30 seconds to write a letter to Congress urging them to reconsider the cuts to SNAP benefits and other hunger programs that they are planning.
- WATCH A Place at the Table, a movie about the growing hunger epidemic in America. This link lists the many ways you can watch online and this link lists where you can view the movie at a theater.
- READ Facts About Hunger.
- TWEET Congress to end hunger. Instructions to help are here.
- FOLLOW The Giving Table and Share Our Strength - No Kid Hungry to keep up with the war on hunger.
Lastly ... REACH OUT. I would never have let anyone know we didn't have enough to eat. It was so humiliating to be in that position and many times we fell through the cracks and didn't receive any type of assistance that we may have qualified for. If you know someone who is hungry, if you know of children who aren't eating enough, simply ask if help is needed.
Now, here is the recipe I'm sharing. I can barely stand to cook it because of the negative memories I have of it. It's not bad, not good, I would say it's filling and that's about it. If you do like it and can afford it, add diced ham or peppers or fresh herbs, anything to flavor it.
At its most basic, the recipe costs a mere $1.26 for the entire thing - which boils down to 21 cents per plate if you're feeding 6. When you add cheese or meat, the cost goes up, but still falls below $5 for the whole pan. The recipe in the photo and provided below is with cheese added.
Ready In: 15 minutes
2 packages ramen noodles - any flavor
6 eggs - beaten well
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese (whichever you like or can afford)
1. Cook ramen according to package directions, adding flavor packets as usual, and drain completely.
2. Heat a 10-inch non-stick pan over medium-high heat and add noodles, rearranging so the bottom of the pan is covered in a single layer.
3. Pour eggs evenly over the top and scoot the noodles around gently so the egg will fall through to the bottom of the pan.
4. Lid tightly and cook until eggs are set, about 5 minutes. Check and if eggs are not set recover and cook until done, being sure not to burn the eggs or noodles. Adjust heat if necessary.
5. Sprinkle with cheese and cover. Remove from heat and let stand until cheese is melted. You can also set the pan under the broiler to brown the cheese if desired (see photo).