Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eating on the Dole Doesn’t Have to Be a Royal Pain

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a fair princess named Ariel. She had a human resources job that kept her very busy. She worked hard and earned a good salary. Princess Ariel wasn't a spendthrift, but could spend money on whatever she wanted without worry. She never gave grocery shopping much thought. She planned her menus around what she wanted to eat. When shopping, Princess Ariel was never inconvenienced—she always frequented the closest store.

As Princess Ariel traipsed through the Fairy Land supermarket, she didn't have a care in the world.

I'll buy some organic fruits and veggies, she thought.

Ariel never considered how much she might need between grocery trips. She was interested in variety rather than whether the produce or meat would go bad before being eaten.

Portobello mushrooms, bagged pre-washed lettuce and cut-up fruit! Princess Ariel never washed or chopped anything that could be purchased prepared.

"I'll take some steak," she told the butcher "and some chicken breasts and shrimp, too." This princess never worried about meat prices.

She bought hummus, bruschetta and almond butter. Brand-name ice cream, yogurt and little pudding cups, too. Prepared sauces and some mixes rounded out her cart.

Princess Ariel never thought about whether these items tasted better than more mundane ones. She never considered making her own sauces or puddings from scratch or whether that might improve the taste. Princesses don't have to worry their pretty little heads over such things.

"Do you have any coupons?" the cashier politely asked.

"Uh, no. I don't do coupons," Princess Ariel replied. "They're kind of a pain."

And, through it all Princess Ariel never realized she was spending more than $400 per month on food for one person. She never had a clue that more than $500 in restaurant charges meant she was eating $1,000 per month.


What the heck was I thinking?

That was then. This is now.

Pantry: Empty.

Wallet: Likewise.

Hi, my name's Ariel, and I'm a recovering princess.

These days with more time than money, I work the supermarket ads, visit more than one store for the best deals, collect coupons, compare store-brand prices to couponed national brands and—most importantly—think, think, THINK while shopping. I buy whole foods and make recipes from scratch (ironically, it takes only minutes longer).

Food whims now match whatever is on sale. Well, I've at least learned to make them match.

No more packaged items in this princess-turned-Cinderella's cart. I'm eating high-quality food—fresh meats, fresh and frozen veggies and produce, dairy and eggs. If truth be told, I'm eating far better quality food than when I just pitched the easiest items into the cart.

With mere extra minutes of work, I wash and tear-up lettuce, cut up veggies and make pasta sauce and other items from scratch. My food tastes better and costs less.

Seriously, have you ever compared the taste of bagged lettuce to head lettuce? No comparison.

When I was a child, "treats" were reserved for rare occasions. Mom and I walked (yes, I said walked) to the local bakery for one strawberry cupcake—not a whole dozen. If I behaved while shopping (which didn't always happen), Mom bought us a small box of chocolate-covered peanuts to share. Ice cream, steak and sweets were only consumed on birthdays and national holidays. Soda was only available at Granny and Grandpa's house—and, even then in a tiny four-ounce glass. Eating out—a very rare treat.

Even while still working, I realized there were no special treats. I ate out almost daily. I bought any food (or anything else) that I wanted, whenever I wanted. Steak meant it was Wednesday, not Memorial Day. Ice cream meant it was 8 PM, not July Fourth. Soda meant I'm awake, not at Grandpa's house. Nothing was special in those days.

I've rediscovered the simple joy of The Treat again. Ice cream, nuts, portabella mushrooms and expensive cuts of meat are special (when on sale) again. There's one steak left in the freezer just waiting for a special occasion to make its long-awaited appearance.
Now that summer has arrived, this recovering-princess has a bit of dirt under my nails and sweat on my brow most days. I don't need store-bought lettuce or herbs anymore. And, soon I won't need those $2.99 per pound tomatoes either. I'm growing my own in containers on the patio.

Last night's dinner: Pizza and salad made from home-grown oregano and arugula.

Today's lunch: Chicken with homegrown rosemary and sage.

Both: Delicious!

I just made this season's first trip to the local farm's produce stand. I got two grocery bags full of produce for $10.

Last month's grocery bill: only $149.91. Eating out has become a rare treat—usually when Mom and Dad are buying.

Fruit tastes sweeter. Veggies are fresher. Food is healthier. I have even lost a few pounds.

This recovering princess has rediscovered the joy of The Treat.

Life on the dole may just be the best thing that ever happened to my wallet, waistline and maybe even my soul.

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Just for Fun: Enjoy Ariel's Easy Homemade Creamy Herbed Tomato Soup:

Creamy Herbed Tomato Soup
½ cup sliced onion
2T butter
Splenda to taste (I used a couple of Tablespoons. You could use sugar or other sweetener if you prefer but it would change the carb/calorie count.)
14 ½ oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 ½ cups of chicken broth
8 oz. can of tomato sauce
½ teaspoon dried basil (or try some fresh from your patio garden!)
¼ teaspoon dried thyme (or try some fresh from your patio garden!)
Dash pepper (I used fresh ground pepper)
¼ cup half-and-half
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

In large saucepan, cook onion in butter till tender but not brown. Add undrained canned tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, Splenda, basil, thyme and pepper. Place mixture in blender and puree till smooth. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover & simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Add half-and-half. Heat through. If desired, garnish with shredded cheddar cheese. Makes about 5 side-dish servings.

Approximate Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:
Calories:             186
Fat:                      11g
Saturated Fat:       7g
    Trans Fat:         0g
Cholesterol:        28mg
Sodium:            500mg
Carbohydrates:  17g
    Fiber:              3g
    Sugars:           7g
Protein:               8g

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For More Fun: Meet Kristina Simms, Photographic Contributor
The food photos from today's blog are courtesy of my friend, Kristina Simms. Ms. Simms is an author, photographer, retired educator, grandmother, community volunteer and, in general, an energetic and creative force of nature! Ms. Simms lives in Perry, Georgia.

She has published two nonfiction books: Macon: Georgia's Central City, An Illustrated History (Windsor Press, 1989) and A Year at the Lake (Xlibris, 2003). She is the author of a poetry book, A Second Spring (iUniverse, 2006) and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Her recent work, The Stradivarius in the Basement, is a collection of essays—some humorous, some serious—based on the author's 72 years of observing—and participating in—life on this wonderful but essentially puzzling planet.

More of Ms. Simms photography can be found her blog: and on her Flickr photostream at

Ms. Simms books can be purchased on or downloaded on Kindle through the links below: 




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Photo Credits:

Food Photos: Courtesy of Kristina Simms (

Renaissance Serving Girl: Courtesy of anoldent (



Tina said...

Thanks for plugging my books!! Glad the pix turned out to be useful. Those tomato blossoms are already turning into lil tomatoes.

Amanda said...

This was an awesome post!

I'm doing the same thing, making everything from scratch, and now at least half my backyard is veggie garden (and the rest isn't only because it's too shady). The main thing I'm worried about now with regards to food is what happens when I get a job and don't have so much time to work in the garden or cook all day anymore.

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