Doing good…Making a difference…Lending a helping hand…
Case in Point: My daughter’s lifelong friend is really going through it right now. Six month old baby, two young kids in elementary school and her partner just died so tragically. So, this poor girl really is going through a lot. But she’s resilient, she’s tough, she’s a survivor. Still, helping out is what I try to do so I decided to make her a bunch of freezer meals. She’s a decent enough cook but with an infant and so many tragic issues to deal with, she has no time or inclination to cook. On the other hand, I work full time and have very little free time on my hands. Plus, I am frugal at my very core and I don’t waste money on expensive pre-packaged meals so how to manage it?
First, the minute I found out what was going on, I high-tailed it to the dollar store and spent around $20 on various kinds of pasta, noodles, rice, flavoring mixes, multiple cans of pasta sauce, beans and various kinds of vegetables along with a few other items. I also ended up buying a large pack of chicken thighs ($5.40) and two cans of pumpkin puree at another store later in the process. When we returned home from a three-day holiday weekend, I spent just over an hour in the kitchen on my free (Monday) night making the following five meals:
Penne pasta bake with tomato sauce (dollar store pasta, canned tomato sauce well seasoned from my pantry and parmesan cheese as topping)
Alfredo penne (same batch of dollar store penne pasta but this time mixed with canned alfredo sauce that I seasoned to make more flavorful)
Sweet and sour rice (dollar store rice mixed with a packet of sweet and sour sauce I found at the dollar store that tasted surprisingly good)
Chili with pork (dollar store canned beans, corn and vegetables along with freezer pork cut into chunks and spices. Tortillas were frozen separately)
Pork and rice casserole (same batch of dollar store rice, more cubed pork, dollar store canned veggies and dollar store cans of cream of chicken and seasonings from my pantry).
We had a bunch of chopped up pork from a roast that was not being used and therefore taking up space in the freezer so I made good use of that protein along with some leftover veggies that I highjacked from my vegetable crisper. Otherwise, those five meals came straight out of the dollar store. Granted, I elevated everything with pantry spices and herbs but that was about it. I put everything in freezer-sturdy containers, labeled everything and froze.
Tuesday night, as dinner was heating up in the oven, I realized I had an overabundance of homemade chicken stock I could use so I set a good amount of that on the stove to simmer, added a diced onion and chopped up some carrots that had seen better days but were still perfect for a stew or soup. I threw in two meaty chicken thighs to poach in the soup and seasoned my special herbs and spices. I then found a stray potato and a bag of frozen butternut squash. After shredding the cooked chicken and putting it back in the soup, the soup was done. Once cooled, I poured it into a large plastic container and froze the soup. Six meals down — and bonus — my partner asked that I make the same soup for him this weekend.
Wednesday, I designated baking night. I made my daughter’s friend her favorite pumpkin breads, with the help of baking pantry ingredients that I always have on hand and two $0.78 cans of pumpkin puree. Easy. I found some frozen bananas in the freezer and mixed up a quick bake banana cake as well. Her kids love my deserts so I wanted to throw something sweet into the mix.
Thursday, I made my specialty mac and cheese by scavenging my cheese bin and dividing the huge bag of cooked macaroni shells into two bowls; one for mac and cheese and one for cheeseburger mac casserole. I was making burgers for my partner and used up some additional ground beef in the process. I also threw some chicken breasts over more cooked dollar store rice and whisked up a quick sauce from fridge items to cover.
Friday night I finished up the effort with a couple of odds and ends including a vegetarian layered enchilada casserole that used up the last ok the dollar store stash: large can of refried beans, some red sauce and some toppings rounded up from my fridge. I found a couple of boxed mixes of biscuits and other baking goods that my partner must have purchased so I threw them together and baked in the oven. This brought the total of meals, deserts and sides not included, to ten. I honestly would have done more but I ran out of time as I was seeing her on that next day, Saturday.
Total, I figure I spent around $50, if that. This sum includes the new but very reasonably priced ($13.99!) cooler that I bought to store and transport all the meals. I will be asking my daughter’s friend to return the cooler so I can fill it up next time and the time after that, for as long as she needs a helping hand.
What I love about this good deed is that one, it costs less than $50 to achieve; two, the effort is spread out over multiple days and accomplished while already cooking and three, it is priceless in terms of showing love and support. With three hungry kids to feed and no time to do it, this gift represented both my understanding of her situation, knowledge of raising endlessly hungry children and my love of feeding her brood.
So, the moral of this blog entry is when doing a good deed, you should think outside the box. No not automatically throw money at something when your love and hard work will serve so much better.