Breaking down meals into price-per-serving
Tedious as it may sound, this is what I’ve been working on in my “spare” time this past week (I use that term extremely loosely).
As I mentioned last week in my post about working with rising grocery costs, I thought that it would be useful to start to take some of my usual meals and break them down into individual serving costs. Last week, I broke my budget down into what I thought would be an appropriate cost per breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then also into per person costs.This exercise has so far proved to be both very valuable and somewhat discouraging.
First, the discouraging part (I prefer to hear the bad news first, before the good news– I figure that way, it can’t possibly get any worse!)… I now see why I am struggling so hard to make ends meet with out grocery budget as it is. Although I think that my meals are quite frugal and cost efficient in general, they are still coming out to higher cost-per-serving calculations than I had hoped to see. So, either my meals need to change, or I need to figure out how to get my food for less. Sigh…
And now, the valuable (and encouraging part)… I’ve never broken down my costs like this before, and it is so good to see! First, I made a list of all my basic ingredients and their cost, then tried to break it down into a useful cost, such as price per cup of uncooked rice, or per 1/2 cup of butter, or per lb of ground beef, or per carrot, etc. Very revealing, I must say!
My current task has been taking my meals and breaking them down into their primary ingredients (leaving out the spices, baking powder, etc. because I made allowance for that in my earlier calculations), adding up the total cost of the meal, dividing it by the number of servings that it makes, and recording my final cost-per-serving amount.
This is so valuable to see, because it has opened my eyes to some meals that felt quite cheap to me are actually more costly than I imagined them to be. Sometimes you need to see it to believe it. Allow me to share with you a few of my calculations in regards to breakfast dishes (I’ve only begun lunch/dinner dishes, so I’ll share more of those next week):
1. Eggs with toast (including pb, jam, cheese, butter, etc.)= $1.46 per serving (homemade bread) or $1.67 (bought bread)
2. Yogurt with almonds and berries= $1.67
3. Smoothie (includes yogurt, fruit, sweetener, etc.)= $1.00
4. Oatmeal (including milk, honey, raisins)= $1.33
5. Muffins (blueberry or apple cinnamon, assuming 2 muffins is a serving)= $0.58
6. Omelet (milk, cheese, onion, pepper, butter)= $1.45
7. Baked Oatmeal (includes milk on top)= $1.51 (plain) or $1.55 (with apples or raisins in it)
8. Pancakes= $1.46 (with maple syrup/butter), $1.10 (with honey/butter), $1.39 (with whipped cream/fruit)
Guess what I’m making for breakfast tomorrow? You got it. Muffins!
Now, these are well above the price-per-serving that I had anticipated when I first broke down my budget, and that was where the discouragement set in. Although, I have begun to work out some dinner prices, and was encouraged that some of them are not quite as high as I though they might be. I’ve got me some work to do here, I think!
It comes down to two basic options (well, three, but I don’t think my family will consider eating less an option!)… either I figure out some more frugal meal options or ways to alter my meals to make them more cost efficient, or I find some ways to get our ingredients for cheaper than I currently am getting them. Most likely, it will take a combination of both.
I have more that I want to say, and a comment I want to answer, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Enjoy some more frugality talk over at Biblical Womanhood!
Wow Stephanie, great job! I just said to my husband not too long ago that I need to do this, as we are also struggling to stay within our grocery budget, particularly since we have switched to organic foods. You’ve inspired me to follow through and do this as well – although, I must ask, where DID you find that “spare” time? lol
I’m surprised oatmeal costs so much–is it because of the raw milk? I keep wanting to do this. I’m especially curious to know my cost comparison between different starches, because those are the most interchangeable parts of my menus: what’s the difference between doing potatoes, rice, biscuits, pasta, cornbread, etc.? One of these days I’ll actually sit down and figure it out.
Alissa, I don’t really know where the spare time came from- mostly I worked on this at the dining room table while I was eating breakfast or lunch over the last couple of days! I’d love to hear how your calculations go!
fullheart, it might help you to know that I live in Canada (where food is vastly more expensive than in the US), in a very expensive city, and that this is based on winter prices (in the summer, my produce is much cheaper). Also, things like raw milk are nearly double what I’d pay if I lived in most places in the states, so that type of thing adds up really fast. Hopes that makes it somewhat less discouraging to you!
hope, it really is surprising, isn’t it? I haven’t calculated my chili yet, but I do use dry beans that I buy in bulk, so I imagine my cost won’t be too, too bad.
Oh my! I can see why that was a bit discouraging.
It frustrates me that feeding our families healthy has to be expensive. It is no wonder that people resort to junk. I’m pretty sure a box of mac n cheese with a bit of butter and milk is quite cheap per serving. Of course, it isn’t exactly cheap when you consider the impact on your health.
I’m overwhelmed right now at making meals as healthful and cheap as possible. I’m going to make and freeze a bunch of meals this weekend. (If the kiddos cooperate.) Then, I hope to have breathing room to start working on the more natural part. I figure at least this way I’m cooking most things from scratch. It’s a start. It’s amazing how easy it is to slip back into the more typical American diet.
Okay, that was a long comment.
I, too, am surprised at the cost of oatmeal. Are you using plain ol’ old fashioned oats? Are you using the store brand, organic, Quaker, etc? When I fix oatmeal I am sure it is cheaper than muffins because I don’t use any eggs, butter, oil, honey, which are all expensive.
I have been making a lot of muffins lately, so it’s great to find out how frugal of a choice they are. 🙂 But I am surprised that your oatmeal cost more to make per serving………why is that? I think that oatmeal is much cheaper for me to make than muffins where I buy my things.
I will occasionally break figure out the cost of a meal and I have also been surprised at the cost of certain dishes. For example, chili is very expensive. Even when I get the ground beef for 1.69/lb., the cost of the canned beans and tomatoes really add up.
Love it! Will you be doing dinner?
I learn so much from your blog
This is great! Thanks! 🙂
I had just done a post on smoothies and muffins, so I put a link to your blog.
I have brown rice soaking right now for dinner. Thanks for all the inspiration and education!
While I havent broken it down, one of the most frugal meals my family eats right now is a very yummy Rustic Cabbage Soup- home made broth, mixed beans, a potato, cabbage, and a few cloves of garlic. That’s it. Because the only “spice” is garlic (and salt to taste), the flavor of the broth really shines through. It is very cheap and can go a long way.
Thanks for going to all this work! It’s really given me the motivation to try to knock down my grocery prices a little bit. You share your weekly menu, but I know that I would certainly benefit from you sharing your weekly grocery list. I know that my menu has to look a little different than yours because of dietary needs, etc. but I would like to compare the amount of things I buy to yours, etc. to see if there is any wastefulness I can cut down on. Thanks!
I’ve been wanting to do this for a LONG time. I recently got the cookbook “miserly meals” which has all the recipes broken into costs per serving, and I got the idea there…and now you are doing it! (I do find that the costs in the book aren’t what my costs are though, since I try to buy natural/organic and also its a US book and I live in an isolated area, but you get the idea of what is cheaper, and the recipes are pretty good).
I have to get started doing this soon. Its soooo hard sometimes to balance everything. Sometimes I feel like I am going crazy trying to get stuff for cheaper, more healthy, etc. it takes SO much more time than just going to the store and grabbing whatever is there. Worth it, I know, but much more difficult to track down sources, analyze, etc.
Maybe a post idea would be a collection of most frugal meals? Of course it varies what it would cost others but like the book I mentioned it still gives an idea.
This is very interesting, especially seeing it done by someone who is using whole foods, organic foods, pastured meats, etc. I find it very difficult to keep a low food budget eating healthy whole foods which is why I’ve bought my own grinder, and am having a large garden this summer. My husband is even going to build me garden boxes so I can keep spinach and other cold friendly greens growing all winter! I’m anxiously anticipating how having a garden, my own chickens, and raising some of our own meat will help with the grocery expenses. My goal is to reduce my grocery expenses to primarily grains and grow or raise everything myself. We have figured that even the expense of feed for the winter for the animals still makes it cheaper for us than buying the eggs, meat, and milk from organic sources.
My question for you is, do you have to buy all your meats, milk, and produce or do you have th ability to raise or grow your own? Do you purchase from co-op’s or just whole food stores and regular grocery stores? Also, where do you live? I think where we are located also effects what fresh organic choices we have and how expensive they are.
Thanks again for all your helpful inspiring posts!! I’m trying my first recipes soaking my freshly ground grains tonight. Banana Bread (for lunch tomorrow)& pancakes (for Breakfast)from the Nourishing Traditions Cook book!
Mom of 6
I’ve never done anything like that(even though I have estimated the total cost of groceries),it appears Canada cost less for groceries!
Stephanie, what muffin recipe do you use? I just tried the Nourishing Traditions recipes for Banana bread & muffins and they both turned out aweful!! I enjoy baking and have even been able to master gluten free baking for my autistic son. But today I failed horribly trying to bake the Nourishing Traditions way! The banana bread was BLACK and I did use stoneware as recommended and the muffins sank and were starting to turn black after just 30 minutes. These were my first two tries with soaking grains before baking them. I followed her recipes exactly, right down to freshly grinding my grain before soaking it. Do you have any suggestions for this Nourishing Traditions Baker Wanna be??
How do you budget for your co-op order?? I find this hard to do because it’s hard for me to save a little each week for it like I want to. Do you take it our of your regular grocery money?
The USDA food stamp recipe search allows you to search by recipe price. I’d bet your prices are higher, because of the raw milk etc., but it may give yoou some new inexpensive ideas: http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/index.php
I’m not sure how their numbers would match up with yours, but the Food Stamp Recipe Search lets you narrow down recipes by price. It might give you some new, inexpensive ideas.
Thanks for this post! It is encouraging. I need to try to do the same thing sometime soon!