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The Poor Man’s Steak

How this humble recipe inspired a little girl’s faith


Steak recipe brings family together

I wasn’t thinking about passing on a spiritual lesson when I made supper that night. I decided on the main dish because it’s tasty and we hadn’t had it in a while, though it’s common fare in Pennsylvania Mennonite homes like ours.

“What’s that called?” my daughter Joyanna, asked, pointing to the meat patties I’d set on the dinner table. She was the youngest of our five children. My husband, Todd, and I had adopted Joyanna and her sister, Annajoy, from Liberia, West Africa, when they were babies. Now Joyanna was four, at that stage of asking a million questions.

“Poor Man’s Steak,” Todd answered. Ground beef patties covered in mushroom gravy, served over mashed potatoes. Like most popular Mennonite meals, it’s perfect for large families: inexpensive, easy to prepare and well-suited for sharing. Also, like a lot of Mennonite foods, it’s got a playful name. Like “Shoofly Pie,” a molasses dessert, or “Chow Chow,” a vegetable relish.

Joyanna’s eyes widened. “What…is it called?” she asked again.

“Poor Man’s Steak,” Todd repeated.

We bowed our heads for grace, then passed around the serving dishes and everyone dug in. Except Joyanna. She pushed the meat away from her potatoes. “Joyanna,” I said, “don’t fill up on potatoes. You need to eat your meat.”

Joyanna looked up at me, her chin quivering. “I don’t want to be poor!”

Oh, my! We’d recently read The Little Match Girl, a story about an impoverished child. Joyanna must have thought if we ate “Poor Man’s Steak” that meant we were poor too. Todd and I tried to explain it was only a name, but with every bite Joyanna forced down came a sob. She was so upset she had to leave the table.

After dinner I talked to her. “Joyanna, can you tell me what little girls need?”

She thought for a moment. “A family, a bedroom, clothes, food.”

“That’s right,” I said. “And you have all that, don’t you?”

She nodded, but I could tell she wasn’t comforted. Suddenly, I had an idea. I got my Bible and opened it to Philippians 4:19. “The Bible tells us, ‘My God shall supply all your need,’” I said. “We’ll never be poor, no matter what we eat, because God takes care of everything we need.”

Joyanna’s eyes lit up and she slowly repeated the verse after me. Now she loves Poor Man’s Steak as much as I do. What a delicious reminder of how richly we’ve been blessed!

Try the Poor Man’s Steak recipe!

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