Learning at Dave’s Market, One Week’s Menu–Could be $25/wk or $33.89, depending

26 Oct

A one-week menu experiment--$25 to hand over to Dave

I completed a challenge some weeks back that forced me to come up with the best weekly menu (of things that I eat) I could that amounted to $25–but that menu was costed per meal and prorated. This time I’m challenged to do what many of us are faced with: go off to the grocery store WITH $25, and come up with a non-starvation menu for a week. One big caveat–I’m not counting things like spices, salt, oil or teabags, since those kind of staples don’t have to be bought on a weekly basis. I chose Dave’s Market in Ohio City, my go-to supermarket, for this challenge, but I’m going to try an identical one in future that relies on the West Side Market alone. A second caveat–I’m a very picky eater, and this is a busy working week. If I ate eggs, some delicious omelettes could be on the menu, or some tasty rice dishes if only I weren’t a pasta freak. If I had time, I could take some cheap cuts of meat/poultry and create more all-day, low-heat wonders. I also tried to keep this as nutritious as possible, fitting in fresh fruits and raw vegetables, ensuring protein levels weren’t too low (borderline anemia).

Constantino's of the Warehouse District--great if you don't cook!

Before delving into general observations and the menu itself, I want to thank Dave’s for being committed to the city. As I mentioned the other day, none of the nurse-practitioner clinics that CVS, Target and Walmart have are located in Cleveland proper, nor are any Kaiser facilities. Grocery stores have many similar attitudes. Yes, there is now a Giant Eagle (really TOO giant for quick shopping) on W 117th St, on the Lakewood border, and 117th’s Target, as well as that of Steelyard Commons and its neighboring Walmart do carry food, but more centralized options are slim pickings. A large and fairly new Asian grocery is Park to Shop at 1580 E. 30th, and the Warehouse District has Constantino’s Market at 1278 W. 9th, but these are specialized markets, as are the many small Arab groceries on the West Side. How is Constantino’s specialized, you say? Well, it caters to the young with no time, so it’s strong on prepared food and filler foods, weak on a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetable, certain staples. Marc‘s has some locations way out west on Lorain and on Puritas, but they aren’t easy for a non-driver to reach. Admittedly there are other pocket groceries–Sav-a-Lot, which I’ve never been in, Rico‘s on 45th & Lorain (limited size, but some fruits and veg), specialist Indian and other niche shops, but regular old standard groceries? Now that the Reserve Square grocery has closed, Dave’s on Bridge Ave by W 25th  in Ohio City, Dave’s in Chinatown at 2201 Payne, his Supermercado on Ridge Rd., and other locations on Shaker Square, in Slavic Village, at Harvard & Lee, and on E. 40th, as well as in the suburbs. That’s commitment to and investment in the city, and I for one am very grateful. Plus their fried, prepared chicken is incredibly good.

The well-stocked shelves of Dave's Market--the city dweller's savior!

Okay, some general thoughts about this project. Cooking for one on this kind of challenge is deadly boring–two people at $25 each would allow much more variety and some perks. With one person, there are no snacks except popcorn. NONE! This may be an excellent challenge for those trying to limit calories as well as expenditures. There’s a high degree of repetition in a one-week experiment, too. The good news is that there are leftovers–extra spaghetti sauce to freeze, some buns and hot dogs for the next week, cereal that carries over, and so on. Over a longer period of time, the frozen goods and partially used items introduce more variety, and hand cooked items deeply from scratch (bread!) would be fit in to times that weren’t so frantically crowded. That being said….

Menu Day One:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: hot dog and bun (hey, I split them and grill them all at once for a delicious smoky flavor–a minute in the microwave brings that all back). A third of the cuke, sliced thinly in vinegar and water with lemon pepper and salt
Dinner My recipe for spaghetti sauce with meat and angelhair pasta, generous portion

Menu Day Two:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: Bowl of chicken noodle soup and lots of Zesta saltines
Dinner: Hotdog and bun, big salad with lettuce, a little cucumber, part of the red pepper

A lot of habanero heat for less than 50 cents--you can put them right into the freezer, whole

Menu Day Three:

Breakfast: oh, the last banana and bowl of puffed rice–it works because the banana is very filling, and those little puffed rice grains have to be corralled onto the spoon, which gives you time to feel full.
Lunch: Peanut butter crackers galore!
Dinner: My “hot mess” with pasta. The hot mess is a quick meal–get out the cutting board and put water on to boil. More-or-less dice up the Roma tomatoes and much of the onion, chopped, along with (be careful with your fingertips!) one to one and a half habanero peppers. Put oil in the bottom of the pot–not deeply, but maybe an 1/8 of an inch or so. Heat the oil till its quite hot, throw your vegetables in and stir, adding salt and plenty of basil, a dash of dried ginger, and other herbs if you like. Turn the heat down; by the time you finish cooking the pasta, the hot mess is ready, delicious and spicy (not for the faint-hearted).

Menu Day Four:

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple cut up into slices on the puffed rice, sprinkled with a little cinnamon and brown sugar.
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Five

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice
Lunch: Chicken soup with crackers
Dinner: More hot mess with pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Six

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with peanut butter crackers (peanut butter sticks to your ribs!)
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Seven

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice; four peanut butter crackers to finish
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Last of the hot mess with pasta, large salad to finish off the fresh ingredients.

Purchases:

  • Zesta saltines (only item not bought at Dave’s–Dave’s may still sell them, but Saltine brands are grouped with their manufacturers’ cookies (an odd conceit) rather than banding together, so I couldn’t find them. Package was bought out-of-town at $1.79 on sale.
  • Dave’s brand hot dog buns, 8 to a package $1.29.
  • Ball Park all-beef hot dogs, 8 to a package $3.99 (on sale from their usual $4.99)
  • 3/4 pound ground round 85/15 @3,89/lb.  (normally I would buy ground sirloin for a higher price; ground beef at 80/20 was $2.99/lb, and at 72/27 was $2.88/lb) for $2.92.
  • 3 bananas @54 cents/lb. for .74 I can’t stand them after they’re ripe and get spots, so have to stick to a small number
  • Honeycrisp apples (they restored my faith in apples after scientists tinkered with and ruined the Red Delicious of my childhood) @ $1.99/lb for $3.40–pricey, but worth it, since it’s Fall! Not available all year round, which makes them special.
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce (I don’t care what you say, I still like it better than other lettuces because it crunches!) for $1.69
  • 1 English cucumber (wash it well and you needn’t peel it–good nutrition in its dark green exterior, and sliced thin not noticeable) $1.99
  • 1 package Lipton Ring O’Noodle chicken soup (2 packets inside; each has 4 servings for a total of 8) for $1.59
  • 1 bag of substitute Puffed Rice for $1.79 (the Food Club brand had 6 oz; the Quaker was 6.4 oz., but $3.39, and the difference is infinitesimal)
  • 5 Roma tomatoes @ $1.99 (unusually low price for Dave’s this week) for $2.33
  • Jif’s natural peanut butter, 18 oz. for $3.19
  • 1 small can Contadina tomato paste for 79 cents
  • 1 large can Valutime stewed tomatoes $1.58
  • 1 red onion @$1.49/lb for 77 cents
  • 5 habanero peppers @$3.99/lb for 40 cents
  • 1 big red sweet pepper @$2.49/lb for $1.27
  • Special on Gia Russa brand angelhair pasta–a 2 lb. box for $2.29

Oh, Honeycrisp, my flavorful love! Must I sacrifice you on the altar of frugality?

“Wait!” you say. “That doesn’t add up to $25–in fact, it’s $33.89!” And you would be correct–but…this is how I looked at it. You have considerable leftovers: Three hot dogs to go–and their buns, spaghetti sauce with meat left for FIVE servings (freeze it or have a friend or two over), lots of puffed rice left, plenty of peanut butter, likewise crackers, no pasta left–I looooove pasta (hot mess and spaghetti sauce taste fine with rice, if you prefer it–how do pasta and rice prices compare these days?), chicken noodle soup, still had some habaneros. Those leftovers certainly are worth the $8.89 difference, aren’t they? If not, what do you cut and what does that do to your nutritional value? There are much cheaper hot dogs out there (Dave’s weekly flyer for Ohio City this week has five packages of one brand for $5–MUCH cheaper) but they may not be all beef or as tasty as Ball Park. There are cheaper peanut butters. Maybe you don’t need a big red sweet pepper (sniff!) in your salad, since you’re getting plenty of vitamins from all the tomatoes. You could up your fat intake but slightly reduce your costs with cheaper ground beef. You could forget apples and go with bananas all week. What would that bring things down to? I’ve got it to $27.50 now, still with leftover hotdogs and buns (or sometimes during the week you could eat two at a time), leftover peanut butter, crackers, spaghetti sauce, habaneros, puffed rice, and chicken noodle soup. But I’m still $2.50 over! This is where many families have to cut the fruit and vegetables, or go for canned rather than fresh–applesauce, anyone? With that adaptation, you can get to $25 and still have some leftover foods, but you’ve given up the tastiness and texture of fresh, as well as some vitamins.

You can't eat like a self-indulgent rabbit when you're on a budget. You must be selective.

Food prices are rising, and in some arenas much higher than others. Snacks? Forget those delicious potato chips or crunchy other things–at Lays 2 for $7 (WHAT! Boycott with me!), Dave’s makes them unreachable on a budget and outrageous for anyone. I say Dave’s, because you can get them for less elsewhere, but most of the responsibility lays with the Frito Lay company. Fresh fruits and vegetables are desirable, but a free hand with them makes budgeting difficult. While this budget works for a picky eater like me who loves her pasta, it’s hardly variety-packed, and it’s more suited to a dieting female than a male. Sigh. No perfection anywhere. But as the winter closes in, I’m not only going to see what the same amount of money can bring me at the West Side Market, I’m going to look at a variety of possibilities for breadmaking, batch making, looking at other world cuisines for hints about stretching a budget yet filling up. So, let’s keep learning something our immigrant great-grandmothers were all too familiar with.

As a footnote, there are some great specials, if you can get to Dave’s this week: 2 boxes of Bigelow tea for $5; two Pillsbury flaky Grand biscuits (in the cardboard rolls it’s so much fun to flack open, even though they warn against it) for $2.39 (half-price); Crystal Farms mozzarella slice were 50 cents off at $3.49; in-store bakery-made Kaiser rolls were two packages of 6 for a total of $2.79 (half-price); package of 7 Steak-Umms (don’t judge me!) for $4.69, a dollar off their usual price; and, best of all, Klondike bars on sale–two for $7. Even three Kellogg’s cereals for $10.

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