Financial woes today are very real, I am feeling it too, but one thing I do know is that fear solves nothing and usually drives you to make really bad decisions. Instead of fear, (and I do know how much easier said, than done this is) we need to focus on learning and adapting if we are to survive this economy.

Life isn’t always a pretty picture

This is how my morning started out – I read the New York Times article on how the US Census has not correctly taken into consideration how many of us are only 50% or less above the poverty line, but due to lack of qualifying for relief (less or no unemployment, welfare, food stamps etc.) and growing taxes, health care and work expenses, it means we are not destitute, but considered “the new poor.” This means we are much closer, dangerously close for many, to that poverty line than previously calculated.

Then I received this email from a 3 month premium membership gift certificate give-away winner:

“I am so sorry. At the time of the sign-up for the giveaway, I was unaware what the future would hold for us.  I don’t anticipate being able to maximize the membership due to budget constraints.  I feel that it is the right thing to do to ask if you might draw again, if it is not too much trouble as I don’t want this really wonderful opportunity to go to waste.”

One month, three month, and one year gift certificates available to fit every budget

This is a very human, but fear driven reaction to something that has caused her financial situation to change for the worse. The decision she made to offer the premium membership back for re-drawing is not well thought through, or an informed one. She doesn’t realize the true value of what she is forfeiting.

For her, the premium membership would have been free, so what did she have to lose? Everyone has to eat. Making how you eat more efficient helps! That is exactly what the Personal Chef Approach™ (or PCA™) is all about. The deliberately low fee gives you the tools to better deal with increasingly limited disposable income. The premium membership  not only pays for itself, but SAVES you money if used correctly. I’ve even been working on plans to start a scholarship for people in need, because it can offer such relief to the “new poor”!

The Personal Chef Approach™ offers a more efficient way to feed your family

For less than $2.50 a week, you get the blueprint to do all this, along with the support in the forum to help you when you get stuck. You can save yourself 8-10 hours every week plus money! How you might ask?

a). You save a ton of time that can be spent finding a new or better source of income.

b). You no longer buy groceries haphazardly, many of which go to waste, because you have an organized grocery list and plan of action for that food in hand. Once you have finished your cook day, you freeze what will not be eaten in the first few days. NO food goes to waste this way.

c). Almost every weekly menu plan entree can be substituted with a less expensive cut of meat or seafood. You can even adapt them to a vegetarian diet which typically costs much less to maintain. You can utilize our supportive community in the cyber living room for advice on how to do this or ask your local grocery store butcher which substitutions will work best with the recipe. The same goes for side dishes – buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh, or if you must, canned goods.

d). With the PCA at your fingertips – you can  better take advantage of grocery store sales. Plan your menu around the sale flyer that comes out weekly for the store – see what is on sale, then choose recipes that use those ingredients. Batch cook them as well – double the recipe and freeze the extra meals for a later date.

The PCA™ makes more sense and cents of bulk and sale shopping

e). Many of my recipes call for a lot of ingredients. Most of you will already have them stocked in your pantry or firidge if you have been doing this for a while (so they do get used over and over), but if not you can economize here too. Buy dried herbs in place of fresh (unless you grow your own). You can omit what you do not have too – the recipe will just have a little less depth of flavor, but should still work and be delicious.

f). You no longer resort to “cheap” take-aways and fast food that really add up, often without realizing it. Not only that, but if money is tight, the last thing you can afford is bad health. Eating healthier is important for everyone, but crucial to those who can not afford health care or are in the “new poor”, because all it will take is one big hospital or doctors bill to send you plummeting below that poverty line.

So what is stopping your from joining? Now is definitely not the time to let fear cloud our thinking. Everyone has to eat, doesn’t it make sense to do so as efficiently as possible? Here is an example of a highly requested recipe of mine (by meat eaters as well as vegetarians), that costs very little to make. Most of the ingredients are usually in your pantry already, and the kind of things to stock up on when on sale.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

You will never miss the eggplant being pan fried with this crunchy panko crust, and you’re saving yourself quite a few calories as well as being healthier for you. I enjoy this recipe so much that I have it at least once a month!



1 large eggplant
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan, divided
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
olive oil spray


1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons of dry red wine, optional
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups mozzarella, shredded


1). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a sheet pan with olive oil spray

2). Mix bread crumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan, garlic powder, basil, oregano, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Mix eggs and milk in a small bowl.

3). Cut eggplant into 1/4 inch thick slices across. Dip each slice into egg mixture, then bread crumb mixture to coat evenly all over. Place on sprayed pan, and repeat until all pieces are coated, and placed in a single layer on the pan (you might need to use two pans). Spray top side of eggplant with olive oil spray and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown, turning once.

4). While eggplant is baking, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, then minced garlic, and cook 30 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes and wine, simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in fresh herbs. Season to taste.

5). Spray a casserole dish with olive oil spray, then add one layer of eggplant, 1/4 cup Parmesan and 1 cup of mozzarella sprinkled on top, and spoon half of the sauce over. Then repeat with a second layer of eggplant, pour the rest of the sauce over, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and mozzarella.

6). May be cooled, covered, and refrigerated or frozen at this point. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake casserole for 25-30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly, and cheese begins to brown.


Serve with spaghetti (or low carb option of spaghetti squash), and a green vegetable of your choice.

Jodi’s jewel for Jewels pendant benefitting Save the Children in the Horn of Africa

PS. If you are lucky enough to have some disposable income, and need to buy gifts for the holidays anyway – please consider helping those less fortunate than you by either purchasing a gift certificate we can donate to a family in need, or the beautiful Jodi’s Jewel for Jewels with 100% of the proceeds going to aide the children in drought-stricken East Africa.

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  • November 19, 2011
    12:45 pm

    Beautifully written and deeply touching.

    There are quiet struggles going on even as one is not jarred completely from a lifestyle.

    This is the best thing to do … and divinely delicious too.


  • November 19, 2011
    12:55 pm

    Guess who led me to the N.Y.Times article my beloved, wise friend? Thank you. xo

  • November 19, 2011
    1:46 pm

    I enjoyed this entry but I also understand where this woman is coming from. I bring home approximately $290-350 every 2 weeks. My rent is $475, my electric is about $90, my water/trash is about $35, my insurance is $133 and I drive my own vehicle for my job so that’s about $40-$50/wk in gas. Please do the math. I don’t have the room for some things I may want to do…like become a premium member. I can’t afford it. If you have any suggestions on how I can make your ideas work under such tight financial constraints, please tell me. I enjoy your site and visit often. Thank you.

  • November 19, 2011
    2:16 pm

    I think you are missing my point entirely. According to your budget you do not eat, so how are you surviving?

    What I’m saying is most people waste more than $10.00 a month in food without realizing it. Grabbing that quick dinner in a restaurant (even a fast food chain), and this is one of many examples of how we waste food – how many times do you eat every single grocery item purchased? How often have you left food to spoil by mistake? Why not spend that $10.00 more wisely?

    What if you spent the same $10.00 on membership, plus the cost of groceries (but in an organized, cost effective manner instead of haphazardly) and make a month’s worth of home-cooked, delicious meals that stretch your dollar FURTHER, and keeps you healthier instead.

    One Domino’s pizza or the tools to make a month’s worth of healthy meals? Clearly that later is a better investment towards living within your means.

    • November 19, 2011
      4:44 pm

      I would love to, Jewels…truly. And I don’t order out for Dominos but I get the point. I just don’t have the extra $10 to spare.

      It’s wrong, I know, especially with my health issues, but I get by on usually 2 meals a day and the first being a bowl of cereal in the morning. I work a double 2 days a week (10 hours total) at a TRUE Italian restaurant so I am able to charge a meal at 50% to my check. At least then I definately have a good meal.

      I am tired of not eating properly and want to change that. But I don’t see how I can. Everything I get goes to others. But I’ll see what I can arrange.

      Thank you…..

  • November 19, 2011
    4:47 pm

    I just received your correspondence and will talk to you further that way…

  • November 19, 2011
    4:49 pm

    Where there is a will, there is a way. Try to stay positive.

    • November 20, 2011
      10:09 am

      All right, it turns out that April eats twice a week at the Italian restaurant she works at. Even at 50% off, there is no way she gets those two meals for less than $2.50 (the cost of membership per week), so there is the money she claims she does not have to afford membership. What’s more, instead of just those two meals to look forward to, she could be making FOUR delicious and healthy meals for the price of each one she pays for!

      It’s up to you, and I’m not going to lie – it is hard work on the few days you cook per month, but even that gets much easier and faster with practice. It’s all a matter of priorities.

  • November 20, 2011
    10:33 am

    My membership is a gift from a dear friend and I could never thank her enough. Having said that, my family is going paycheque to paycheque and at this moment we have no money until Friday for anything. Thankfully, everything we NEED has been purchased for the week of pushed back. We were wasting SO much money in food previous to this… it wasn’t funny. I’d do my best to economize but it wasn’t happening. Throwing away parts of packs of meat or veggies or whatever because they were not getting used or stored properly. By following the menu to a T… sometimes switching it up for ‘club packs’ of items on sale or cuts of meat that are on sale, we are now wasting close to zero … perhaps a bite or two the kids don’t eat IF that. It has made lunches easier for my child and I know we are all eating properly. As for eating out, we didn’t even go out for our anniversary. In fact. I can’t remember the last time we went out as a family to a restaurant and that’s fine. I’d rather have spent my $2.50 a week on this than getting a chai tea latte for $5.30

  • November 20, 2011
    10:31 am

    Loving the eggplant parm. my granny had the best recipe. Gonna try this one for the kiddos and hubby this week. Also need to buy one of the neclaces, my mom has a scar on her throat from surgery yrs ago (thought she may have cancer, thankfully it wan’t).

    • November 20, 2011
      11:54 am

      Thank God, she didn’t Carly. I know my scar was hard to accept at first, but now I wear it like a badge of honor for all I’ve survived. The necklace feels so good to wear, because it helps me celebrate that, and it reminds me that heart was saved to care about others.

  • November 20, 2011
    12:04 pm

    Rachel you “get it” and you rock the PCA™! I’m so grateful for all the support you have given everyone in the forum.

    We could also all learn a great deal from you – one of the most generous, kind hearted people I know IN SPITE of living pay check to pay check. You refuse to let fear get in the way of finding solutions, are always moving forward, and taking others with you along the way.

    In fact all the members I have gotten to know in the forum share those attributes with you, and I am so honored to know you all. We do have a great support system thanks to members like you.

    • November 20, 2011
      12:35 pm

      I’m a little nervous but I listened with an open mind and realized that you were right, Jewels. I’ve read other posts and if it works for others living paycheck to paycheck, it can work for me. Thank you, Jewels and everyone else. I’m ready!

      • November 20, 2011
        1:37 pm

        April, you’ll be fine! I love cooking and was desperate to find an alternative to cooking 2-3 meals per night (I don’t eat meat and the picky husband and kids do). It’s work to get it all done but fun work. The forum and blog posts from Julie Anne and other members is always supportive and in all honestly, saved my sanity on some days. To some it may sound weird but the death of Amy Winehouse this past July shook me to the core. I was heartbroken over the loss of someone I had never met. I had been at a toy store with my two little girls when my husband texted me to tell me the news and had to leave because I was so upset. Got home and checked the net for news when up popped a new blog from Julie Anne. It had nothing to do with the loss of that day but it was calming to read. After thanking Julie Anne for the blog post she gave the excellent advice to not shield my children from my own sorrow and that even though I had never MET Amy, it was still OK to feel that way. The ladies on the members board have cheered me on, cheered me up and had me laughing. It’s worth every penny. Add to that I can come home after picking my daughter up from her bus and do homework with her, play and take them to their lessons without having to worry about what’s for dinner. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So lots of people are having a tough time right now… it’s not going to last forever. We’re much more fortunate than a lot of people right now who have less than nothing. If I can spend $2.50 a week and receive SO much back, why not? If you have ANY questions, just ask… there are a load of wonderful ladies and gentlemen (although they hide LOL) here for you. I look forward to ‘talking’ to you on the board!

  • November 20, 2011
    1:18 pm

    I just sent you another email April – don’t be nervous. Start out as basic as possible and ease into it. Practice really does make a difference, and you will feel confident in no time. Once you join, the community will give you any guidance or answer any questions you encounter along the way. We are all here for each other.

  • November 20, 2011
    1:48 pm

    Money is tight these days for all of us. But, using the PCApproach does make you think ahead of your weekly shopping. Going out for coffee two or three times a week adds up to more than the cost of membership. I’ll have coffee at home and cook healthy meals from the menus. I’m the first one to search for sales, good prices and every way to save some funds. Cooking in bulk, substituting when you find a good sale on one meat over another, stocking up on sale items – these are all ways to help stay on budget. I keep a pantry of items I use all the time like canned tomatoes, almond milk, tomato paste, pasta – this way I can shop in my pantry before heading out to do a real grocery run. I’m spending less on groceries and eating better meals. And, since I found eggplant at a reasonable price and bought two, I’ll be making the eggplant parmesean tomorrow and freezing most of it. You’re a life saver Jewels! Cyber hugs!

  • November 20, 2011
    2:56 pm

    Ruthee – you never cease to amaze me with how adept you are at personalizing the Personal Chef Approach™ to your own specific needs. I love your single gal mastery of it!

  • November 21, 2011
    2:46 am

    I havent purchased a membership yet, I’m still researching some of your recipes, we have 2 boys ages 7 and 15 who don’t quite appreciate some of the ingredients in the recipes. I’m still researching ways to sub items. and also where I live we don’t have much of a selection when it comes to getting some of those items. we live in a rural area about 1 hr away from the nearest Whole Foods. but I can say I started (after reading your advise) doubling my recipes on things that can be frozen and heated up at a later date, we have always been so so at staying with an organized list but lately we have been very strict with it and our grocery bill went from $600 for a 2 week period to less than $200 for 4 people. we have begun to bake from scratch more often and in the process we are also paying more attention to labels and ingredients on processed foods. instead of soda we have water with lemon or other fruits added for flavor and the boys love it. if we had not made these changes we would not be able to afford to buy groceries. I would like to see more kid friendly meals? I do think they would love the eggplat parm recipe above so I think I will grab some egglplants and make a couple of batches next cooking day. one to serve and one to freeze for later of course. 🙂

    • November 21, 2011
      9:43 am

      First let me say, many people are surprised by how their families will actually start to widen their culinary horizons with these recipes, remember they are multi client approved (clients with children). However, most households do have that picky individual, or simply have different preferences. The PCA™ saves you the trouble of cooking different dinners for everyone in the house every night, because you have already cooked a variety in advance, just do tradeouts! Joe has the short ribs twice this week while you have his serving of risotto, plus yours. Once you have been doing this for a while, you will have a stash of meals he loves stored to pull out on the nights you crave something more sophisticated. Or, say your making Cashew Crusted Halibut, and your youngest will only eat plain foods. You can still broil a plain piece of halibut at the same time for him. There are also often meat or vegetarian suggestions to adapt the menu plan recipes themselves as well. There are so many ways to make the menu plan work for your household – you just have to think outside the box a little, but even that gets easier with practice.

      • November 21, 2011
        10:33 am

        PS. Unless you are a member you are a premium member, you are searching less than half the recipes available.

  • November 21, 2011
    11:22 am

    Hi April,

    Being a mom of 4, I can completely appreciate your concerns about money. There are several things that make Julie Anne’s menu plans worh it:

    1. All of the meal planning for the weeks is done for you already. Time saver for you to relax.
    2. The recipes are soooo versatile. If a certain cut of meat is out of budget for you (as it is for me), you can easily substitute it for a different cut.

    It saves time, you’re shopping much more efficiently, and also, FAR healthier than we normally would.

    I hope this helps….

  • November 21, 2011
    1:17 pm

    Hi Everyone! I wanted to give you an example of how you can improvise when you are on an extreme budget. Last night I made Jewels cottage pie. I did not have some of the ingredients and could not afford to go to the store. So for instance, I used chicken broth instead of beef broth, I used instant potatoes b/I didnt have anymore real ones and I used gluten free flour b/I have to watch my gluten intake. I also had no carrots or celery so I used frozen green beans and onion. I had the beef, cheddar cheese and spices & butter. Let me just say it still tasted fabulous, my daughter literally licked her plate and had 2 huge helpings!! Of course I would prefer to follow Jewels recipes to the letter but when I cant, I do the best I can. Besides it allows you to be a little creative haha. Also we are a small family of 2 so cutting the recipes in half can help if your on a budget otherwise you get two meals out of one recipe. Or in the case of when I made the banana muffins I got two extra muffins (recipe said it made 12 I had 14!). I do not eat out and I have my own coffee/latte machine (hand-me down from Dad 🙂 Sometimes I have to get dry goods/food from my church but guess what? I can still figure out how to make Jewels recipes. Maybe I cannot cook all of them but since every dish is like 2 nights of meals its ok!

  • November 21, 2011
    1:23 pm

    Thanks for helping to explain, and demonstrating how flexible both menu plans and recipes can be with a little imagination and initiative. Both can be used as basic guidelines rather than to the letter. There are as many ways to adapt the PCA to fit your specific needs as there are people using it.

  • November 21, 2011
    9:56 pm

    It’s such a difficult time for so many people at the moment isn’t it. I really hope that everyone is ok. We all do have to eat and I agree that cooking at home is an excellent way to save money and ensure that one is eating healthily too.