5 Dollar (or Less) Dinners

by in View All Posts, March 18th, 2009

I’m not sure exactly how much money I spend on groceries every week/month/year, but I do know I’d like to spend less. As I worked on our Good Food For Less feature, I focused on obviously “low cost” recipes – vegetarian, tuna casserole, leftover transformations – but I decided to try a few for myself, curious to see how the groceries would add up.

For me, under $10 per person would be a savings compared to eating out (the cost of a meal at my favorite burger and fries spot). But I decided a truly “budget” meal should ring in at no more than $5 per person. I crossed my fingers, made a grocery list and went shopping.

Aida’s Pan-Roasted Chicken with Oranges and Rosemary
Chicken thighs – $4.95
Chicken drumsticks – $2.12
Orange – $0.50 / 2 = $0.25
Rosemary – on my window sill (although I used a lot less than the recipe suggests, because picking sprigs off my pet plant is somewhat painful)

Total spent = $7.32 / 4 servings = $1.83 per serving

Success!! I was amazed!! I made it a meal with a simple arugula salad and roasted spiced-up potatoes the first night. Then I decided to spruce up leftover night by making the simplest risotto recipe I could find (plus, adding some kale that was hiding in the back of my fridge). It was amazing.

I was hooked! I had to try another.

The Neelys’ Sloppy Joes (recipe halved)
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef – $4.00
BBQ sauce – $2.49 / 4 = $0.62
Tomato sauce – $0.32
Tomato paste – $0.50 / 4 = $0.13
Green pepper – $1.37 / 2 = $0.69
Red pepper – $1.32 /2 = $0.66
Buns – $3.19 / 6 = $0.53 x 3 = $1.60

Total spent: $8.02 / 2 = $4.01 per serving

I was surprised that the sloppy joes cost more than twice as much as the chicken, but they were still within my $5 budget, and the halved recipe really made two huge servings (1/2 pound of meat per person!). As a low cost side dish, I cut up some sweet potatoes, tossed them in oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted them to make baked sweet potato fries.

Just adding up a few recipe receipts has made me much more cost-conscious at the grocery store. I think I’m going to keep working my way through this feature. Wish me luck with the slow cooker recipes and Rachael’s tuna casserole!

Kirsten, Web Editor

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Comments (5)

  1. Lana says:

    Kirsten, I guess I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ll bet I’m the only frequent commenter here who also teaches math at a university. You win the Fantastic Math Award for the week! lol.

    I watch my grocery spending rather closely, but have never calculated the per/person cost of any of my meals. I did, however, calculate the per/slice cost of a cake I made during the holidays – about $4.00 per slice (not including labor). I will never again complain about the price of $8.00 slices of cakes at fancy restaurants. (ugh)

  2. Katherine says:

    Saving time, money, and eating healthily are often thought of as things that JUST aren’t always possible at the same time. Thanks for disspelling this myth. Also, I’ve discovered that visiting the local farmer’s market is almost ALWAYS the far better bargain for fresh produce, and you’re supporting regional farmers in the process, so it’s a win-win! Even better yet..,gardening is a very cheap and theraputic hobby and planting a veggie garden is something I loved to participate in every spring with my parents as a kid. It also encouraged me to actually ENJOY veggies. I never had a problem eating veggies if I helped weed the beds and picked them when they were finally ripe enough.

  3. Kiersten says:

    I look at the recipes and can tell that they were calculated on the side of caution. I know that in Upstate New York the price of meat on sale is definately cheaper than what is estimated here. I can find chicken legs and thighs for 99 cents a pound and 90%lean hamburger for $1.99 a pound at a GOOD grocery store. I think that if you were to buy items on sale and couple them with coupons when possible that the savings would be greater.

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