One of my pet peeves as a home chef and cost-cutting momma is when “they” (magazines, talk shows, grocery stores, etc.) assign cost-per-serving or cost-per-meal to recipes. This dollar amount is so very fluid, depending on where you live, how you shop and what your personal resources are. I hesitated to even do the $3 Meals spot for IndyStyle because of that simple truth. Reducing the cost of your meals is more about how you do what you do than it is about specific recipes.
For instance, we made pizza last night. The crust was basically flour, water and a little bit of olive oil and salt. Very cheap. Sauce can be easily made from the tomato puree I canned last summer. A little bit of onion, some leftover tomatoes, a mushroom or two and some leftover ham could all be toppings, covered with a two-dollar blanket of mozzarella cheese. This huge and incredibly tasty pizza is pretty close to a $3 meal.
I did something similar with Monday night’s supper. I made corn chowder with stock I made from last week’s Sticky Chicken. I used corn and bell pepper strips I had frozen from last summer’s garden. I threw in three or four diced potatoes, a couple of sliced carrots, a stalk of sliced celery, a chopped onion and a couple of cups of milk in addition to my seasonings. My daughter made some rolls to go with it, and we had a feast for less than $3.00 of actual financial investment.
Leftovers are free food for me. On our current budget of $200/month, that gives me about $7.00/day to feed my family. This is important for me to know so that I can plan accordingly. If I make Sticky Chicken from that $7.00/day, then use the leftover bones to make stock, that stock is essentially free food for me. I’ve already “paid” for it from my budget. The same goes for the ham I used in the pizza. I had already “paid” for that meat out of my budget. Using the leftovers is free food for me to use. That’s an important resource when it comes to sticking to my budget. Another important resource for me is last summer’s garden fare. I understand that not everyone has this abundance, but most of us have access to some kind of produce during the growing season. If we can “put up” that low-cost, healthy food in season, it becomes a welcome abundance for us later.
I think a lot of people are busy wanting more of something when they maybe aren’t using what they’ve already been given. As I mention in my book, Eat Cheap!, my grandma once said that waste is arrogance. It’s like us looking at what God has already given us and complaining that it isn’t what we had in mind. Seems kind of silly if we want to be good stewards of our resources and live with grateful hearts.
So, the concept of $3 meals varies from household to household, but the strategy of thinking about what we buy, planning ahead for low-cost, healthy meals and using self-control are integral to saving money both in and out of the grocery store.