You’ve all seen me overanalyze the family grocery bill, now I’ll take it a little further and show you tricks to making your meals cheaper.
If you haven’t read the numbers behind the average family grocery bill, I encourage you to do so. This post is all about expanding on the idea of managing your food spending by the cost per serving of the recipes that you cook. In the post I took a favorite American meal, hamburgers and fries, and proved that while the total cost of $5.75 for all ingredients looks cheap, but per serving, the cost was nearly double the average.
Here are the numbers behind the menu we’ll work with:
- Hamburger – 1lb – $2.00
- Buns – 4- $1.00
- French Fries – $1.00
- Beans $1.00
- Carrots – $.50
- Condiments – $.25
Total Cost: $5.75
Cost per Serving: $1.83
It looks cheap, but isn’t. I’m going to show you how to make this meal for far cheaper using a few basic, frugal cooking principles.
Use Less of the Most Expensive Ingredients
By far, the largest cost to a hamburger cookout is the hamburger meat. You’ll notice that I was cooking up 1/3 pound hamburgers and thus, the hamburger cost $.66 per person. One of the easiest ways to lower a meal’s cost is to cut back on your largest food expenses. You can do this two ways: literally use less or add in more of something else that is cheaper.
I’m a big advocate of adding more of something else cheaper and healthier. If a stew recipes calls for 2 lbs of beef, I’ll use 1 lb and put in more vegetables. For hamburgers, I’ll use ¼ lb of meat and add onion to the meat mixture.
Substitute: But Don’t Sacrifice Quality or Health
You already know this, but a hamburger bun is just bread. In fact, it’s not that different than the ends of the loaf; you know the two pieces of bread that no one wants to eat. However, throw it in a hamburger bun package and suddenly the untouchable bread is coveted. The desire for a hamburger bun is all about marketing and that means paying extra.
Eight slices of white bread costs about 1/3 of the price of hamburger buns. You won’t be worse off health wise. If cold bread sounds too plain for your family, you should try some of your own marketing. Toast the bread or grill it before serving. For some reason, the extra effort makes the grain part of the burger more appealing.
You could also substitute some whole grain bread. You might not get as much savings, but this one area where you can opt for being healthy without adding cost.
Savings with 8slices of white bread: $.66
Switch Out Processed Food for Home Cooking
Yes, fries are next on the list. No, I’m not going down the food list intentionally.
Let me preface by saying that frozen french fries are not very expensive. However, in most cases, even the cheapest prepackaged foods come with added costs. There is packaging, preservatives and even food preparation to cover in the cost you pay at the register. If you want healthier, more frugal potatoes to eat for dinner, then go for a couple of bulk potatoes.
Potatoes are one of the cheapest starchy vegetables in the grocery store. As an added benefit, there are plenty of tasty ways to cook them that don’t involve all the added grease of the deep fryer. Cube three potatoes and add one tablespoon of oil, one minced garlic clove and some rosemary. Then roast the potatoes for a crispy alternative to french fries.
It’s going to mean more time and more effort, but it is also very delicious, far healthier and much cheaper.
Add a Low Cost Dish and Add a Serving
The original menu served 4 and cost only $5.75. It sounds pretty impressive, except when you realize that eating at that cost every meal for a month would add up to a grocery bill of $517 per month for a family of three. You need meals that cost about $1.10 per serving for a family of three to maintain a grocery bill of a mere $300.
This means that if we can add additional servings for a cost less than $1, we can bring the cost per serving of the whole meal down. The good news is that the human stomach does not fill up by type of food. It fills up by sheer volume you eat. Sometimes adding an additional serving is just a matter of adding another dish to the meal. I noticed that our dinner is missing some fruit, so let’s make 1 pound of fruit salad out of two parts banana, one part apple and one part cantaloupe. Our homemade salad would cost only about $.67 to make.
Adding It All Up
You might have noticed already, but I’d been preparing to add an extra serving throughout the post. My first tip split our hamburger meat from three patties to four. I also calculated 8 pieces of bread instead of 6. Subtract the savings and add in the cost of our fruit salad and our meal now costs $4.96 total. However, our cost per serving went from $1.91 down to $1.24. At this cost per meal for a month, your grocery bill would be $335 instead of $517. You’d save thousands each year!
It’s not hard to have a major impact on your grocery budget. However, it does take a big understanding of how to manipulate the small things that go into a meal so that you can have a big impact on your budget.
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