Dinner from the Dollar Store

Sometimes, in our efforts to fight for a better food system, the push to ban GMOs and go all organic, and the pleas to save the family farm, we forget about those who are too often already forgotten.  Nearly one in four American children goes hungry each day, and while they need nutritious food, they also just really need food.  What’s more is that many people don’t recognize the very real existence of food deserts in America.  Some people can’t even get to a grocery store, let alone their local [insertorganicgrocerystorenamehere].  For some, the corner convenience store or the dollar store is their grocery store.  I was reminded of this fact this past May at a conference I attended called Food and History: from Theory to Practice at North Carolina State University.  Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson at the University of Maryland College Park specifically gave a talk on the role of dollar stores in feeding those who might otherwise be located in a food desert.  You can watch her presentation from the conference here: “A Dollar Today, A Meal Tomorrow…”


In response, below is a meal I created from the local dollar store.  It is relatively healthy, and I thought it was pretty delicious.

What you need for Creamy Seafood Pasta with Roasted Broccoli:

1 box pasta salad mix (I used a creamy Parmesan variety – no bacon!)

1 tin of mackerel fillets packed in oil, drained

1 tin of white tuna, drained

Mayonnaise (see your particular pasta salad mix for the exact amount)

1 lb. bag of frozen broccoli

2 tbsp. sunflower oil/olive oil blend (my dollar store did not sell straight olive oil)

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Blanche your broccoli to thaw it by boiling it in a pot of water for about 5 minutes and then dropping into ice water.  Once the broccoli is no longer hot, drain and place on a shallow baking sheet.  Drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast until tender and the floret is just slightly crispy (about 25 minutes).  For the pasta, boil the pasta component of the salad mix according to the package directions.  Next, combine the seasoning packet and mayonnaise well and then stir in both tins of fish gently.  Drain and rinse the pasta once al dente and add to the bowl with the seasoning/fish mixture.  Chill or serve slightly warm.

If you already had the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, this meal cost you $5.  That’s $1.25 per person for a family of four – less than the cost of a school lunch.  And, it’s loaded with healthy fats from the fish, mayonnaise, and oil; Vitamin C from the broccoli; and calcium from the pasta.

Creamy seafood pasta leftovers for lunch!


Stick-to-your-ribs Mac’n’Cheese

I made this the other night and my husband didn’t even miss not having meat at dinner since this mac’n’cheese is so substantial.  It’s a great opportunity for a vegetarian dinner or you could even mix in some faux meat and still keep things kosher.  I mixed grilled bell peppers into ours and served it with crusty whole grain garlic bread.  (Clearly, this is not kosher for Pesach!)

What you need:

1lb. box of elbow macaroni (if you use whole grain, you will have to boil it slightly longer)

1/3 cup kosher unsalted butter (I like to control the salt in my food)

2tsp. black pepper

1 1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

1tsp. hot Hungarian paprika (optional – regular paprika also works well and gives a nice colour)

5 cups whole milk (just do it!)

1/4 cup flour

2tbsp. cream cheese

2 cups grated extra sharp white Cheddar cheese

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and follow the instructions for boiling your macaroni, except that you will want to pull it out and drain it a minute or two earlier than the package says (about 7-8 minutes at a good boil).  In the meantime, melt your butter in a large saucepan.  Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in the flour and mix well with the butter (this part is called “making a roux”).  Cook the mixture until it’s just a golden blonde colour (DO NOT WALK AWAY WHILE YOUR ROUX IS COOKING!!!!  People who say a roux is hard to make are people who walked away and burnt theirs.).  Add the milk and start whisking vigorously.  Keep on whisking until all of the roux is dissolved in the milk.  Whisk some more (but not quite as vigorously) until the mixture has thickened into a gravy-like texture (Mazel tov!  You’ve made a béchamel!).  Season with salt, pepper, and optional paprika.  Melt in the cream cheese.  Begin adding the white Cheddar about 1/4 cup at the time.  Make sure each time that the cheese you’ve added is melted before you add more or you’ll end up with a big stringy ball.  Next, add 1 cup of the regular Cheddar 1/4 cup at the time and then add the Parmesan.  Once all the cheese has melted into the sauce, combine your drained pasta, cheese sauce, and any mix-ins (veggies, fake meat, real meat, etc.) together in a large casserole dish.  Top with the remaining 1 cup of Cheddar cheese.  Bake until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly (about 20-25 minutes – longer if you have mix-ins that need to heat up, just cover it with foil to keep the cheese from burning).  Let cool slightly before serving because it will be like molten lava when it comes out of the oven.  Enjoy!

So yummy! (Yes, I know I need a food stylist.)


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