a balanced plate with room for dessert

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SNAP Challenge 2014 Day 7 (+ a pasta recipe)

SNAP Challenge Day 7 |

It’s done. Mike and I have finished the SNAP Challenge. We both agreed that this year was harder than last. We couldn’t figure out why at first – we had plenty of food (leftovers, even), but everything just seemed more difficult. We think it was partially due to the fact that we had to complete most of the SNAP Challenge apart. I also didn’t plan for enough snack foods throughout the week.

There are definitely things I’m looking forward to now that the Challenge is over – farmers’ market produce, sparkling water, breakfast sandwiches, ice cream… I actually even miss rice. Mike told me he’s craving chocolate and plans to eat chocolate everything for a day. I can’t control what he eats from 2 hours away, so we’ll see what happens 🙂

Doing this Challenge will never equate to what those who live on SNAP experience day-to-day, but this Challenge is always a great reminder of how much I have to be thankful for in life, and why I am never ever “too busy” to take time to volunteer. It reminds me to not judge people and the food choices they make. As a dietitian, my heart crumbles a little every time patrons at the food pantry choose 6 Slim Jim sticks over 4 cans of tuna. As a human, I now understand why they would make that choice.

Today we ate:

Breakfast: oatmeal with egg (me), oatmeal with agave (Mike)
Snack: apples
Lunch: pasta with zucchini and tomatoes in lemon-yogurt sauce
Snack: celery and carrots with Greek yogurt dip
Dinner: pasta with zucchini and tomatoes in lemon-yogurt sauce (me); chicken taco soup, corn on the cob (Mike)
Snack: peanut butter toast with banana (Mike)
Drinks: peppermint tea, water with lemon

Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes in Lemon-Yogurt Sauce |

Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes in a Lemon-Yogurt Sauce

13.25 ounce package whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
olive oil spray
4 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced into half moons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Spray with olive oil. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until just wilted. Stir in tomatoes and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer zucchini mixture into large bowl of yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Add the drained pasta and gently toss until well combined. Add the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed, to thin the sauce. Serve immediately.

recipe slightly adapted from Ezra Pound Cake


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SNAP Challenge Day 6 (+ chicken taco soup)

SNAP Challenge Day 6 |

Mike and I were out running errands today and ended up at the mall around lunch time. We had been out all morning running from store to store looking at flooring. By the time we got to the mall to look at some clothes for Mike, we were hungry and tired. Mostly hungry. As we walked around, the smells from the food court, the samples from the pretzel shops and coffee shops tempted us.

It was so hard to walk past everything. I was speed walking as fast as I could manage to get away from whatever tempting food was lurking in the area. The chicken taco soup we had for lunch was so good after spending two hours in that Sbarro-Panda Express-Auntie Anne’s haze.

For the soup, I used farmers’ market sweet corn and just barely cooked it so that it still retained its delicious crunch. If you don’t have any fresh corn on hand, 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn will work just fine. But nothing will ever beat good ol’ Wisconsin sweet corn!

Today we ate:

Breakfast: oatmeal with egg (me), oatmeal with agave (Mike)
Lunch: chicken taco soup
Snack: peanut butter toast
Dinner: spaghetti with zucchini and tomatoes in a creamy lemon-yogurt sauce (check back Monday for the recipe!)
Snack: peanut butter toast with banana

Chicken Taco Soup |

Chicken Taco Soup

3 chicken breasts
olive oil spray
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 –  2 jalapenos, minced
2 bell peppers, chopped
8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 – 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 – 14.5 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
5 cups chicken broth
2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed
garnishes (optional): shredded cheddar, nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), cilantro, jalapeno slices, diced avocados, tortilla chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a baking pan with olive oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little bit of the mixture of the chicken breasts and set the rest of the spice mixture aside. Bake chicken in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until cooked through. Shred chicken with two forks.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large pot over medium heat and spray with olive oil. Add in onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining spice mixture and stir to evenly distribute. Stir in tomato sauce, bell pepper, diced tomatoes, and beans. Stir in chicken broth and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and corn and cook for an additional 2 minutes to heat chicken through.
  4. Serve soup hot with desired toppings.


recipe slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman

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SNAP Challenge 2014: Day 5

SNAP Challenge Day 5 |

Mike is loving the chicken taco soup. It’s his favorite meal of the week so far. I have to agree that it’s pretty darn tasty, but not even the soup is going to satisfy my intense cravings for salty snack foods. We’re all out of raisins (I can’t believe I ate so many raisins!!) and almost out of peanut butter… The stuff we have left isn’t very good for snacking. We have a bit of fruit, celery, carrots, spaghetti, oatmeal  and some random produce. Sorry, but there are only so many carrot and celery sticks I can chow down on in a day.

Today we ate:

Breakfast: oatmeal with egg (me), yogurt (Mike)
Snack: raisins (me)
Lunch: chicken taco soup
Snack: peanut butter toast (both), apple (me), banana (Mike)
Dinner: spinach lasagna rolls with extra spinach (me), chicken taco soup (Mike)
Snack: celery with peanut butter (both)
Drink: peppermint tea, lemon water

Mike and I are trying to plan out our weekend. So far, we have a 7 mile run for Saturday, church on Sunday, and some floor shopping both days and that’s it. We wanted to watch the Badger game, but that would involve us having to go to a bar or restaurant. And we can’t. Soooo… looks like we’ll be keeping updated on the game online. A little frustrating, but I guess that just means I’ll have more time to research what type of floors we should install in the house.

Fingers crossed for a Badger win 🙂

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SNAP Challenge 2014: Day 4 ( + vegetarian lasagna rolls)

SNAP Challenge Day 4 |

We’re over halfway through the Challenge, folks. Honestly? Today was the best I’ve felt so far. Maybe it was because I got to see Mike. Maybe it’s because I realized that we probably have enough food for the week. Either way, I’m going to go to bed happy and a little less worried tonight.

Today I ate:
Breakfast: oatmeal with egg
Lunch: vegetarian lasagna rolls
Snack: tortilla chips
Dinner: chicken taco soup
Snack: peanut butter toast, raisins

Today Mike ate:
Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins
Lunch: vegetarian lasagna rolls
Snack: peanut butter toast
Dinner: chicken taco soup
Snack: peanut butter toast

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is for spinach tofu lasagna rolls. Yes, tofu. Keep reading. Mike had the lasagna rolls during Day 3 of the Challenge. I asked him what he thought of the tofu and he just stared blankly at me… “what tofu?”

Apparently he thought it was just (really bad) ricotta! Well, surprise – there is no ricotta in this, either! I subbed in low fat cottage cheese (easier on the wallet and on the waistline) and mixed in plenty of good-for-you spinach.

{vegetarian} Spinach Tofu Lasagna Rolls |

Spinach Tofu Lasagna Rolls

1 pound package lasagna noodles
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
19 ounces firm tofu, crumbled
3 cups chopped spinach
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce, divided

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, and set aside on a large baking sheet to dry out slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds. Add tofu and spinach and cook, stirring, until spinach wilts, about 2 – 3  minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in cottage cheese, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
  4. Spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a large baking dish. To make the lasagna rolls, place about 1/4 cup mixture on a noodle and spread across the entire noodle. Roll up and place the roll, seam-side down, in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and filling.
  5. Spoon remaining sauce over top of the lasagna rolls and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

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SNAP Challenge 2014: Day 3

Today I’d like to share with you an app that I’m in love with. It’s called Charity Miles. The concept is simple:

You choose a charity.

Charity Miles |

You run.

Charity Miles |

Your miles translate into something for the charity of your choice.

Charity Miles |


If you’re a runner/biker/walker and have a smart phone, download this app now! Ever since I started using Charity Miles, I’ve chosen Feeding America as my charity. I thought I would share the app with you all since it’s Hunger Action Month and all.

Now on to Day 3 of the SNAP Challenge! It was a strange day. I forgot to eat a “real” breakfast. I had a couple bites of cottage cheese at 5:30 before I left for work, but never got my oatmeal. I didn’t realize until after 10. It was so close to lunch that I just ate a snack to tide me over. Here’s what I ended up eating:

Breakfast: bites of cottage cheese
Snack: banana with peanut butter
Lunch: peanut noodles with chicken and veggies
Snack: raisins
Snack: apple, whole wheat bread
Dinner: spinach tofu lasagna rolls
Snack: tortilla chips
To drink: peppermint tea, water with lemon

Here’s what Mike had:
Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: spinach tofu lasagna rolls
Dinner: spinach tofu lasagna rolls
Snack: peanut butter toast
Snack: tortilla chips
To drink: peppermint tea, water with lemon

So far, the thing I find myself missing the most is carbonated water. I drink so much of the stuff. Mike and I actually bought a SodaStream a few months ago because I was going through a frightening amount of 12 packs. It was seriously one of the best purchases we’ve made recently.



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SNAP Challenge 2014: Day 2 (+ a recipe!)

SNAP Challenge Day 2 |


Day two is done. For me, it was just as weird as the first day. I wasn’t feeling 100% like myself due to the obnoxious cold I get hit with. Here’s what I ended up eating:


Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins
Lunch: peanut noodles with shredded chicken and veggies
Snack: cottage cheese
Dinner: peanut noodles with shredded chicken and veggies
Snack: apple
To drink: crazy amounts of peppermint tea sweetened with a bit of agave, water with lemon


So let’s move on to what I’ve been eating the past few days: peanut butter noodles with chicken and veggies!


This dish was crazy easy and it’s super customizable. I used bell pepper and carrots as my veg in this dish, but just about anything you have on hand will work. Feel free add more soy sauce, if desired. I only used 2 teaspoons because I ran out and didn’t budget for it in my SNAP Challenge budget. The most time-consuming part was cutting all the dang carrots up. I didn’t have my mandoline or grater  with me, but I highly suggest you use one to make prep a little easier. Alternately, just chop the carrots up. A little less pretty, but just as tasty.


Another bonus? The noodles taste stellar hot or cold. I opted to eat mine mostly hot since it made my throat feel better, but you just follow your heart (stomach? taste buds?) and do as you wish!


Peanut Noodles with Chicken and Veggies |

Peanut Noodles with Shredded Chicken and Vegetables

1 – 13.25 ounce package of whole grain spaghetti
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
3 carrots, julienned
2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sriracha, more or less to taste
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  1. Place chicken in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until no longer pink in the middle and internal temperature reaches 165°F, about 12 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, shred with two forks.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 2/3 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  3. While pasta is cooking, whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, garlic, and ginger. Whisk in 2/3 cup of hot pasta water to thin sauce. Taste, and add more soy sauce and sriracha if desired.
  4. Toss pasta, bell peppers, and carrots with peanut sauce. Garnish with cilantro and serve.


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SNAP Challenge 2014: Day 1

SNAP Challenge Day 1 |

The week is off to a rough start for me. I spent the weekend feeling a little off, but I attributed it to my allergies acting up. I woke up Monday feeling like I had been hit by a truck. All I wanted to do was drink tea, eat soup, and stay in bed all day. Instead, I dragged myself to work and ate the food I had already purchased.

I ended up caving and went to the store after work to get some of my favorite peppermint tea: Full Circle + Project 7’s organic peppermint tea. This tea has been on my staples list ever since I discovered it about a year ago. Not only is it fairly cheap ($2.59 for a box!), it also donates a portion of the proceeds to fight hunger. Their website states that every two boxes purchased equals a meal for someone in need. How fitting for Hunger Action Month 🙂

Unfortunately, the purchase of this tea means I only have a measly $0.06 left in my budget. The $2.65 I had left over was my buffer just in case we ran out of food – $2.65 meant I could buy another pack of pasta and some sauce if we needed something for our last couple meals. I have my fingers crossed that I have enough food for us.

Today, I ate:
Breakfast: oatmeal with raisins
Lunch: peanut noodles with chicken and veggies
Snack: banana with peanut butter
Dinner: cottage cheese with pepper
Drank: water with lemon, water, peppermint tea

As far as I know, Mike ate:
Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: peanut noodles with chicken and veggies
Dinner: peanut noodles with chicken and veggies
Drank: water with lemon

I didn’t really feel hungry at all today. I ate mostly out of habit. Dinner didn’t sound good to me at all, so I opted to just eat a small bit of cottage cheese. Stay tuned tomorrow for my Day 2 summary and the recipe for the peanut noodles!

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SNAP Challenge 2014: Menu Planning & Grocery Shopping

In honor of Hunger Action Month, I am once again taking on the SNAP Challenge from September 15 – 21. With cuts to the SNAP funding last November, we were left with even less to work with this year. The goal was to work with $4.25 per person for each day, giving us $59.50 to work with. This is $3.50 less than what we had last year when we completed the Challenge. It doesn’t seem like much, but $3.50 could have gotten us quite a bit more food.

The $59.50 must cover everything we eat or drink in the next week – this means no going out; no free food from family, friends, or coworkers; and no running to the store mid-afternoon for a snack. Any food that you currently have in the house is out-of-bounds, with the exception of spices and condiments.

SNAP Challenge Prep |

Planning for this year’s SNAP Challenge was way more stressful that last year. On top of a more limited budget, I had to figure out how to feed both of us while we’re living in two cities, meaning I had to come up with meals that I could prep ahead of time and leave behind for Mike. I’ve also become a lot less aware of how much I was spending on groceries these past few months and I’ve fallen out of the habit of menu planning. I did my best and ended with the following menu plan:

Spinach & tofu lasagna rolls
Chicken taco soup
Peanut butter noodles with chicken and veggies
Pasta with zucchini in a lemon-yogurt sauce

All lunches, as usual, would be dinner leftovers. Some dinners would be leftovers as well. This plan follows pretty closely what I do on a weekly basis – make a few dinners that we eat for several meals.

Oatmeal with raisins
Greek yogurt with agave
Regular fruit yogurt
Peanut butter toast

Celery/carrots with peanut butter
Toast with peanut butter

Groceries for SNAP Challenge 2014 |

We did most of our shopping at Aldi, as I’ve found that it’s the most economical option out there. I ended up getting two things from the Asian grocery store near our house, since Aldi doesn’t carry ginger or tofu. Here’s the breakdown of what we bought:


  • Cilantro: 0.69
  • Onions: 1.79
  • Celery: 0.49
  • Avocados (2): 0.49 each
  • 3 pack of garlic: 0.79
  • Baby spinach: 1.79
  • Granny smith apples: 3.29
  • Lemons: 2.29
  • Bananas: 1.20
  • Carrots: 0.99
  • Ginger: free (from the Asian grocery store -this always happens when I get the 1″ nubs of ginger)
  • Corn (3): 1.00 (from farmers’ market)


  • Extra sharp cheddar: 1.99
  • Individual yogurt cups (4): 0.39 each
  • Parmesan: 1.99
  • Low fat cottage cheese: 2.29
  • Plain nonfat Greek yogurt tub: 3.89


  • Eggs: 1.15
  • Chicken breasts: 5.99
  • Firm tofu: 1.79 (from Asian grocery store)


  • Natural creamy peanut butter: 1.49
  • Diced tomatoes (2): 0.59 each
  • Black beans (2): 0.59 each
  • Tomato sauce: 0.25
  • Tortilla chips: 1.69
  • Spaghetti sauce: 0.99
  • Agave: 2.49
  • Old fashioned oats: 2.29
  • Whole grain spaghetti (2): 0.89 each
  • Lasagna noodles: 1.49
  • Lemon juice: 1.89
  • Raisins: 2.89
  • Whole wheat bread: 1.29

Total: $56.85 ($2.65 left)

What we picked from the garden: the few tomatoes we had left, two small bell peppers, hot peppers, and zucchini.

I think I did OK, but I won’t really be able to tell until the week is over. I will admit that I had a minor meltdown while we were shopping because I realized that I hadn’t planned for enough meals. I had to figure out another meal last-minute and hack off a bunch of “extras” we had on our list like coffee (Mike willingly gave this up!), almonds, peanuts, and more fruit and vegetables.


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Hunger Action Month

This year, I share my birthday with Hunger Action Day, the kick-off to Hunger Action Month. Just like last year, the kick-off starts with Turn Orange for Hunger Relief. So, today I’m donning orange (okay, orangish-pink – I don’t own anything that’s orange), bringing in orange-themed birthday treats, and spending my afternoon volunteering at a food bank.

As customary, I brought in birthday treats to share with the team – pumpkin cookies, baby carrots, orange bell peppers, and cheese crackers and sent an email out to the team announcing that I had brought in orange treats for my birthday (in support of Hunger Action Month) and asked them all to join me in participating in this year’s SNAP Challenge.

I participated in the SNAP Challenge last year and I’m set to do it again this year from September 15 – 21, 2014. For those of you who missed it, you can catch my blog posts about it here. The Challenge last year was to live off of $4.50 a day. Since last year, SNAP benefits have been cut by about 5.5%. So, this year’s challenge is even harder – live off of $4.25 a day.

The $4.25 includes everything you eat or drink. This means morning runs to your favorite coffee shop are out of the question. In fact, it might mean that coffee is out of the question. I don’t drink it, but last year Mike had to give it up for the week so we could stick to our budget. A reduction of $0.25 might seem insignificant, but losing that money means something will probably have to drop off my grocery list.

Eating on a limited budget for one week in no way encompasses the struggles that low-income families face on a daily basis, but it gives you a glimpse into what life can be like for millions of low-income families. Participating in the Challenge and sharing your experiences will help raise awareness. I ask you to try living on $1.50 a meal for a week (or even for a day!) to  gain a better understanding of what low-income families face on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis.

If you aren’t up to take the SNAP Challenge, I ask that you take one night this month to go and volunteer at a local food bank. Or donate some food or money. Every little bit helps.

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SNAP Challenge: Day 1

Today’s prompt from Feeding America: “What have you cut out of your routine to stay on budget (e.g. COFFEE)?”

On paper, I thought that little had changed in our routine. After a half day, I knew things were different.

I didn’t have snacks to munch on when I got hungry or a little bored. I’m used to being able to whip up a batch of kettle corn if I craved something crunchy. This week, I can’t do that.  Mike’s used to having his morning (and afternoon and evening) coffee. This week, he gave it up and got tea instead since it’s a lot cheaper. My lactose intolerance was already hard for me to deal with since it’s so new. This week, I couldn’t fit almond milk or lactose-free cheese into the budget.

Our first day of the SNAP Challenge was already… well, a challenge. We did all our grocery shopping on Friday and planned to start the SNAP Challenge on Saturday. I didn’t sleep well that night. I had dreams about not having enough food for the week.

Breakfast for me was some oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar and raisins and Mike had some whole wheat toast with peanut butter. We both had some tea and water with our meal.

Mike’s dad came in to town to visit and we went off to the farmer’s market with him. I always love going to the market, but this visit was a little less enjoyable – I couldn’t buy any of the fruits or veggies that looked good. I couldn’t give in to the freshly-baked breads. I instantly regretted spending all my money already, but I knew it was a smart move – buying food from the farmer’s market is way more expensive than buying it at Aldi.

By the time Mike and I got home, we were hungry. We didn’t have anything to snack on,  so Mike drank tea while I threw together lunch (and dinner) as quickly as possible.

I had decided that chili would be a great meal to make during this week. I stretched the turkey by adding in lots of beans and I used simple ingredients to cut down on cost. I’m used to eating “chili seven ways” aka chili with elbow mac, cheese, olives, onions, sour cream, hot sauce, and Fritos. I obviously couldn’t afford to buy Fritos and olives to use as a garnish for one meal , so those were nixed. My main attraction to this chili was that I knew it would reheat wonderfully for lunch during the week (if it lasts that long…)

The chili was hearty and delicious. We ate it with elbow mac for lunch and then had it over a baked potato for dinner to switch it up a little.

Three Bean Turkey Chili |

Three Bean Turkey Chili

1 pound turkey
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 ounce can black beans, drained
15 ounce can kidney beans, drained
30 ounce can pinto beans, drained
2 quarts tomatoes, diced
2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprkia
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni

garnishes – 
light sour cream
2 green onions, thinly sliced
extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

  1. Heat a large non-stick pot over medium-high heat. Place turkey in pot and cook until browned. Drain off excess fat. Stir in onion and garlic and cook until onions are tender.
  2. Pour in beans, tomatoes, chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer chili for 30 minutes.
  3. While chili is cooking, cook elbow macaroni according to package directions.
  4. Place a serving of macaroni in a bowl and top with a scoop of chili,. Garnish with sour cream, green onions, and cheddar cheese.