A meal fit for a Coupon Queen

Paula in 9th grade

My friend Paula is the Coupon Queen. She regularly updates all of her friends on Facebook of her latest coupon conquests, and the results are impressive. On one trip to Publix, she saved $74.46 off her total bill, paying just $37.15 for milk, lunch meat, cereal, bread, trail mix, cookies, nuts, spaghetti sauce and other bits and pieces. As a busy mom with a family of five, Paula began her coupon fetish in an effort to curb hefty grocery bills; at the same time, she’s trying to figure out how to counter a lifetime of poor eating habits which has added 150 pounds to her once-tiny frame.

I’ve known Paula since I was 14 — we each probably weighed just over 100

That's me. Ah, the eighties...

pounds at the time. She was a pretty dark-haired horse fanatic, I was a mousy-brown-haired (on my way to blonde) beach girl. We worked on the school literary magazine together, Paula married her high school sweetheart, and I left the beach behind for greener pastures. Growing into womanhood, I added about 25 pounds to my girlish figure, which was well within a healthy range for my height. Paula, on the other hand, began struggling with her weight as she got older, beginning a lifetime of yo-yo dieting that brought her to where she is now — 250 pounds and totally frustrated when new friends think this must be how she always looked. Those of us who grew up with Paula know better.

I originally got the idea for this blog because Paula would ask me for advice about how to make her favorite foods healthier. As she told me, her own mom would actually add sugar to the kids’ Frosted Flakes at breakfast, so Paula did not have the advantage that I had, of having a great cook in the kitchen while growing up. Now Paula has started her own blog about her quest for lap band surgery, which is possibly covered under her insurance and that she thinks may be the key to getting her body back under control. You can read it here:

http://my1000milejourney.wordpress.com/

I do use coupons somewhat, but I am definitely not a Coupon Queen like Paula. My kitchen is regularly stocked with organically-grown (or at least pesticide-free) ingredients, and, inevitably, people always tell me that they “absolutely can’t” afford organic foods because it’s too expensive. This is an excuse that I just don’t buy. Anybody can purchase reasonably-priced,  good quality food that is not doused in unnecessary chemicals or loaded with hormones if they just shop smart. However, I think that shopping smart also requires people to think outside the box — something that Paula is working through right now. If you are accustomed to buying Hamburger Helper, then you probably have no idea how to make a comforting but healthful “Cheeseburger Macaroni” from scratch that your kids will love.

No coupons in this batch of groceries, but some smart buys nonetheless!

Last night, however, I made a different pasta dish which was decidedly low-cost and incredibly low-fat — perfect for a Coupon Queen who wants to lose 100 pounds. I purchased my ingredients at Trader Joe’s, and although I know that Paula doesn’t have a TJ’s in her area, she can still find all the same ingredients for the same low cost. My ingredients included a pound of spaghetti (99¢), a 16-ounce bag of fresh mixed Southern Greens ($2.99), olive oil (at 24¢ per ounce, then less than $1 worth), one lemon (40¢), two cloves of garlic (about 25¢), and a 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (less than $1). I added a protein-rich side dish of Great Northern beans (14-ounce can = 99¢) mixed with one chopped tomato (45¢) and a handful of chopped green olives (at 29¢ per ounce, probably less than 50¢), drizzled with a bit of vinegar and salt and pepper. Total cost for dinner for 5: $8.52 , or $1.70 per person.

For Paula’s kids, it may take time to get used to food that has a lower sodium and fat content, but now is the time to make the change, while they are younger and less set in their ways. For Paula, it’s all about getting out of that box — and clipping coupons for foods that will help her find that thinner person that she knows is still inside of her, just yearning to be free.

Fresh, uncomplicated, and beautiful — a perfect recipe for life!

Spring Spaghetti with Greens

One pound spaghetti, cooked until al dente, then drained and rinsed with cold water

16-ounce bag fresh chopped greens (mustard, turnip, collard)

Juice and zest of one lemon

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat (or, if you’re like me and you don’t like to do dishes, then just re-use the spaghetti pot) . Add 3 TB olive oil and then add chopped greens, stirring quickly to coat with oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of salt and lemon juice and stir once more. Cover for two minutes, then stir and cover again. Repeat for about five minutes until the greens are wilted and the stems are slightly tender. Add garlic, lemon zest and spaghetti and toss thoroughly with another 2 TB olive oil until heated through (you can also add the crushed chili pepper if you wish). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately, with grated parmesan on the side.

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