Yesterday, we took a day off of Saxon math to calculate the cost of a few of our favorite meals. Don’t be fooled by the fact that our household is mostly small and female. We are hearty eaters (a mother of 4 teenage boys told me so), and most of the main dish numbers are for recipes that make 12-16 servings. A vegetarian dinner is a foreign concept to us. Sorry y’all. More confessions: we used canned cream of mushroom/cream of chicken soups, and canned spaghetti sauce and canned beans. I used to cook my own beans when we were city folk and it worked just fine. When we moved out here I tried cooking beans and after 3 days they were still rock hard. Strangely enough, our water is also rock hard. I feel sure there is a connection. Yes, I tried baking soda and didn’t add any acid or salt. So we buy canned beans. update: we now cook our own beans from scratch.
First, we wrote on the whiteboard a short list of some of our favorite and most frequent main dishes, lunches and breakfasts.
Then we worked together to figure the cost/unit for several common ingredients and pantry staples, and wrote those on the board as well:
- bread (whole wheat; we aspire to make our own but rarely do so) – $1.30
- eggs – $.16 each (just under $2/dozen)
- grated cheese (mozzarella or cheddar) – $.70/cup ($2.80/lb at Costco – savings on cheese alone more than pays for our annual membership!)
- ground beef – $1.60/lb (the cheap stuff at WalMart in the 5 or 10 lb. tube)
- sausage – $1.18/lb (we just switched from The Good Stuff to the cheap stuff. at twice the price, The Good Stuff simply wasn’t that good)
- milk – $.23/cup
- flour – $.09/cup
- sugar – $.20/cup
- butter – $.44/stick (this is from Costco too. I would hate to pay grocery store prices!)
- chicken (boneless skinless breasts on sale) – $2/lb
Next, the 4 oldest girls chose from the list of meals. They each picked 2 main dishes, a lunch, a breakfast and a dessert, and they got to work. Many of the main dishes require an added salad, veggie and/or bread. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the children and me. Hubby eats a separate breakfast early and usually takes leftovers for lunch.
Here is what they came up with:
- Burritos (beef, bean, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa) – $9.45 This one surprised me. I assumed burritos were cheap, but not when you make them meaty and cheesy and use fresh produce out of season. And canned beans.
- Lasagne (beef and 3 cheeses) – $8.89
- Quesadillas (bean & cheese, cooked with butter on the griddle. mmmm. even better w/leftover chili.) – $4.90
- Mexican casserole – $6.41
- Hamburger stroganoff (served over rice, though I’m sure potatoes or noodles would be comparable) – $7.81
- Pizza (5 large w/lots of leftover) – $16.35
- Spaghetti – $7.50 This surprised me too, since I thought spaghetti was a cheap meal, but we like to splurge on angel hair pasta and meat. We often use sausage which does help cut down the cost.
- Chicken pot pie – $7.98
LUNCHES: these sound spectacularly unhealthy, but the girls chose by favorites, not frequency. Honestly. We don’t eat like this every day. Really. Trust me.
- Maccaroni & cheese (3 boxes) – $2.43
- Ramen noodles – $.96
- Grilled cheese sandwiches – $3.59
- Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches – $2.59
- Pancakes – $2.97
- Eggs & toast – $3.70
- Biscuits & sausage gravy – $2.23
- Breakfast in a bowl (grits, eggs, cheese, sausage) – $2.66
- Low carb cheesecake (a single small cheesecake for mom & dad) – $4.36 (ouch!)
- Hot cocoa from scratch – $2.48
- Wacky cake – $1.19
- Brownies – $1.65
I learned a lot from this little lesson yesterday, and was pleased at the discussion that was generated. There are some more recipes that I would like to see numbers on, so I think we might be doing this again today. I am also feeling motivated to start a price book. I shop mainly at WalMart and Costco and used to know all the prices but they are changing so quickly these days that when I searched my memory I often found myself floundering for the current numbers.