You are a lucky individual. Before you start listing reasons to the contrary, let’s just focus on the facts. You are currently residing in America. Better, still – You find yourself in Omaha. We are a city rich in culture, connection, and cuisine.
How, then, are so many of our citizens struggling to feed their families? We visited topics like Food Waste and Hunger Battling Programs in recent months, but when we get down to it, food is still costly. The average family receiving SNAP benefits is budgeted about $10 per meal for a family of 6. In other words, a nutritious dinner for the price of a Venti mocha Frappuccino with an extra shot of espresso and a slice of banana bread. Many people who don’t qualify for SNAP are budgeting even less for a meal, and their families are feeling the pinch.
This dilemma has many families resorting to chemical-laden hot dogs and a side of something-aroni. Ramen has been getting some bad press lately for, ya know – possibly causing cancer. The more affordable and convenient a meal is, the less likely it’s fit for human consumption. I’ve seen a meme going around that states “instead of asking why healthy food is so expensive, ask why unhealthy food is so cheap”, but even unhealthy food is a big setback. Order a pizza for delivery and you’re out $25. Unnamed drive-through taco place will cost a family upward of $20 for a nutritionally bankrupt pile of mystery meat on gmo corn shells with “cheese product” topping.
So how does a family find a healthy balance?
The Reader sat down with a few local chefs to get their take on a healthy family meal on a budget. Each meal feeds 6, and the ingredients can be purchased for less than $10.
Polenta with crispy chicken thighs & caramelized onion gravy.
Chef: Tim Maides
How You Know Him: Sous Chef at Omaha Country Club; Benson Soap Mill
His Money-Saving Tip: Prep ahead. Cook a double batch of anything you’re making. Rice, Quinoa, Polenta, and Salad can all be prepared in large batches and used to fill nutritional gaps in meals through the week.
Tim Maides has already had a storied career in the Omaha food scene. He has served as Chef at Twisted Cork Bistro, Le Quartier, and Over Easy. He is also the brains behind Tacos Rule Everything Around Me, which popped up a few times in 2016, You should keep your eyes open for what’s in store this coming season!
6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 small yellow onion
1 cup of Polenta (I like Bob’s Red Mill)
2 cups of chicken stock
¼ cup of cheese of choice, I prefer gruyere
5 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste
1 TBSP corn starch (optional)
Add thinly sliced yellow onion to a small pot and cook on low for about 20 minutes with 2 teaspoons of cooking oil. Allow the onions to brown without frying.
Generously season chicken thighs with salt and black pepper. Sear chicken in a very hot pan with a bit of cooking oil. When chicken is golden brown on both sides, roast in the oven at 350F for 20minutes.
While that’s going, bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Salt the water with a large pinch of salt. Have 1 cup of Bob’s Red Mill Polenta ready to add when boiling. When boiling, whisk in the ground corn and lower heat to medium-low. Stir every few minutes so it doesn’t scorch.
When the onions are brown & soft add 2 cups of chicken stock and start to reduce. If you want a thicker gravy-like consistency, add 1 Tablespoon corn starch mixed with 3/4 cup water into a slurry.
When the polenta is soft to the bite and has thickened to your liking (about 20min) you can mix in 1/4 cup of whatever cheese you like. I prefer Gruyere.
When everything is ready, about 30 min total, you can plate a couple spoonfuls of polenta per plate, then a sliced/shredded/or whole chicken thigh, followed by the onion gravy. Top with freshly sliced chives and eat while still hot. Extra polenta can be used endless ways for breakfast or dinner the following day.
Chef: Michael Kult
How You Know Him: Owner of Tomato Tomato, the indoor year-round Farmer’s Market
His Money-Saving tip: Get closer to the source. While mass-producing cuts costs in the short term, you lose nutrients, value, and soon, your farmer. Factory farms are killing the family farm, and driving up prices to do so. Get to know your local growers, join a CSA, and save!
Kult is passionate about sustainability. Tomato Tomato offers CSA shares for half price to SNAP participants in an effort to provide locally sourced, nutritious food to struggling families.
4 diced russet potatoes
1/2 Head Cauliflower – roughly chopped
1 Tbsp butter or oil
1 lb ground beef or 1 can kidney beans
2 Carrots – chopped
1 Onion – chopped
2 Celery Stalks – chopped
(other optional vegetables include corn, peas, zucchini)
1 can Diced Tomato
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan Cheese (if available)
Dried Oregano, Thyme (if available)
Heat oven to 400F. Boil potatoes and cauliflower until soft, drain (reserve 1 cup of water from pot) and mash. Add reserved water as needed. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat oven-proof skillet to medium high, add butter or oil and cook carrots, onion, celery until softened (give the carrots a couple minute head start). Add ground beef and cook until browned. If using beans add instead of beef and continue to next step. Pour in canned diced tomatoes and simmer. Add water if necessary, you don’t want the mixture to dry out. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs if available.
Top with mashed potatoes and cauliflower (add cheese if available) and bake for 30 minutes.
If serving later everything can be prepped ahead of time, allowed to cool, and put in the refrigerator. Increase cooking time to 50-60 minutes.
Chef: Michael Anderson
How You Know Him: Mastermind behind Normandie Nights
His Money-Saving Tip: Build a Pantry. Every time you see a sale, BUY! Stock up on essentials like beans, canned tomatoes, and frozen vegetables to save time and money. Never go to the store for one meal’s worth of food. The more often you visit, the more you’ll spend each week.
Chef Anderson brings artistry and a deep love of creating food stories to his monthly supper club. Respect for his ingredients and his guests are apparent with every bite.
14 oz smoked sausage (store will have many options- kielbasa works well)
4 large russet potatoes, thinly sliced
1 sliced yellow onion
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp cooking oil
Heat skillet over medium/high heat. Add cooking oil and potatoes, but do not crowd your pan. If you need two skillets, use them! It’s very important that your potatoes have enough room to caramelize. Add onion, salt and pepper, and cook until slightly brown. Slice your sausage on a bias and add to the pan. Cook until sausage is hot and serve topped with chopped green onion. This is a quick, convenient dish that can be prepared ahead of time and baked just before serving.
Mom/Chef: Sara Locke
How you know her: Your Friendly Reader Writer and @TheReaderOmahaDish Instagrammer
Money Saving Tip: Beans. I come from a family of 11 and spent years cooking for families I nannied for. Beans bulk up just about any meal from soup to casseroles, add flavor, fiber, and protein, and taste fantastic with the right spice profile.
1lb ground beef
1 can of black beans
1 small yellow onion
1 bell pepper
4 cloves garlic
1 tspn thyme
salt and pepper
4 Russet potatoes
Throw black beans, carrot, bell pepper, onion, and garlic into your food processor until it becomes an ugly chunky paste. Add the paste, egg, thyme, salt and pepper to ground beef and mix thoroughly with your hands. Form into a loaf. Peel and quarter potatoes and add to your baking dish and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.