meal-planning: a simple step to savings

I’m not sure how anal other people are about their budgets, but since our firstborn arrived right around the time the Great Recession began (meaning all of our family growth has coincided with raise freezes and rising costs), I’ve had to examine every area of our spending pretty carefully to trim any excess.  Earlier, I waxed eloquent about ways to save at the grocery store.  Here, in honor of my last post about my lackluster cooking, I offer a cost breakdown of numerous complete meals as a resource for recognizing how your meal planning can have a significant effect on your grocery budget.  (Note that unlike many of my dinnertime offerings, most of these meals DO have two sides, however un-creative they might be.)

As you can see, the per-serving cost of meals can vary quite a bit.  Using only the choices below, a family of four could spend anywhere from $2.00 to $8.08 on just a single meal.  If you tend to prepare more expensive meals on a regular basis (think meat and cheese ingredients or prepared items like chips), this difference can quickly add up.  Multiplied out, this six-dollar-a-day difference could mean an $1,800 or more difference in your annual grocery budget—and that’s just one daily meal!

I’m not saying you should eat baked potatoes or plain rice for every meal (though they sure are cheap options!), but it DOES help to be aware of how your meal choices affect your budget.  Calculate how much you spend on your favorite meals—you may be surprised to learn how much you spend and to discover which options are the most economical.

Armed with this information, I typically choose to make one expensive meal every-other week (we can still make one prepared dish last us for two mealtimes), at least one super-cheap meal each week, and the remainder I choose from the moderate-priced options.  If our grocery budget is running tight (say, because our infant suddenly develops allergies that require us to purchase special $30-per-can formula), then viola! I have a ready-made money-saving solution: lots of baked potatoes, burritos, soup, and spaghetti can help us stay under budget.

Meal Main dish Side Dishes Total Cost
Chicken Stuff Chicken = $3.50

(3 lg. or 4 med breasts, halved)

Monterrey Jack cheese = $2.00

(one 8 oz. block on moderate sale)

Cream of chicken soup = $.75

(one can generic, regular price)

Stuffing = $1.50

(one box on sale)

Butter = $.33

(one-third cup on sale)

Total cost = $8.08

6 adult servings = $1.35 each

Broccoli = $1.50

(1 lb. fresh, steamed)

Buns = $2.50

(bag of one dozen)

Total cost = $4.00

6 adult servings = $.67

$2.02 per adult serving
Chicken Parmesan Frozen chicken breasts = $3.50

(3 lg. or 4 med breasts, halved)

Parmesan cheese + bread crumbs = est. $.50

(for enough to cover the chicken)

Total cost = $4.00

6 adult servings = $.67 each

Noodles  = $1.00

(one box on sale)

Sauce = $1.00

(half a jar on sale)

Green beans = $.75

(one frozen bag on sale)

Total cost = $2.75

6 adult servings = $.46 each

$1.13 per adult serving
Hot Dogs Hot dogs = $1.50

(12 purchased in bulk on sale)

Hot dog buns = $2.00

(2 packages of 8 buns on sale)

Condiments = est. $.75

(small amounts of various)

Total cost = $4.25

6 adult servings = $.71 each

French fries = $1.00

(one frozen bag on sale)

Frozen corn = $.75

( a bag on sale)

Total cost = $1.75

6 adult servings = $.29 each

 

$1.00 per adult serving
Soup & Crackers Soup mix = $2.50

(one just-add-water mix on sale)

Crackers = $1.00

(two tubes saltine crackers on sale)

Total cost = $3.50

8 adult servings (!) = $.44 each

Mixed veggies or fresh broccoli to make soup heartier and healthier = approx. $.75

Total cost = $.75

8 adult servings = $.09

$.53 per adult serving
Grilled pork chops Pork chops = $6.00

(6-8 moderate size chops)

BBQ sauce = $.50

(half of a 16 oz. bottle on sale)

Total cost = $6.50

6 adult servings = $1.08 each

Green beans = $.75

(one frozen bag on sale)

Potatoes = $1.25

(high estimate for six small taters)

Butter = $.25

(half a stick on sale)

Total cost = $2.25

6 adult servings = $.38 each

$1.46 per adult serving
Basic Tacos Ground beef = $3.00

(1 lb. on sale)

Taco mix = $.75

(1 package reg. price)

Tortillas = $.75

(dozen flour)

Cheese = $.75

(one cup on sale)

Total cost = $5.25

6 adult servings = $.88 each

Black or refried beans = $.75

(one can on sale)

Rice = $.25

(high estimate for .5 cup dry)

Total cost = $1.00

6 adult servings = $.17 each

 

$1.05 per adult serving
Tater Tot Casserole Tater tots = $1.25

(half a 32 oz. package on sale)

Ground beef = $3.00

(1 lb. on sale)

Cream of chicken soup = $.75

(generic, regular price)

Total cost = $5.00

6 adult servings = $.83 each

Broccoli = $1.75

(1 lb. fresh, steamed)

Total cost = $1.75

6 adult servings = $.29 each

$1.12 per adult serving
Stir Fry Chicken = $1.50

(one large or two small breasts, cubed)

Bell pepper = $1.50

(one red and one green, sliced)

Onion = $.25

(one, chopped)

Teriyaki or other sauce = $2.00

(half a tasty bottle)

Total cost = $5.25

6 adult servings = $.88 each

Rice = $.50

(ridiculously high estimate for one cup dry rice)

Total cost = $.50

6 adult servings = $.08

$.96 per adult serving
Spaghetti Noodles = $1.00

(one 16 oz box on sale)

Sauce = $2.00

(one 32 oz. jar on sale)

Parmesan = $.50

(generous allowance for six servings)

Total cost = $3.50

6 adult servings = $.58 each

French bread = $1.00

(one loaf, regular price)

Butter, garlic powder = $.50

(high estimate for enough to cover the bread)

Total cost = $1.50

6 adult servings = $.25 each

$.83 per adult serving
Baked Potato Potatoes = $1.50

(high estimate for six medium taters)

Shredded cheddar = $1.00

(high estimate for generous coverage)

Season salt = $.25

(another high estimate)

Total cost = $2.25

6 adult servings = $.37 each

Green beans = $.75

(one frozen bag on sale)

Total cost = $.75

6 adult servings = $.13

$.50 per adult serving
Basic Bean Burrito Flour tortillas = $1.00

(one dozen medium-sized)

Refried beans = $.75

(one 16 oz. can, regular price)

Shredded cheddar = $1.00

(high estimate for adequate flavor)

Rice = $.25

(high estimate for .5 cup dry)

Total cost = $3.00

6 adult servings = $.50 each

Southwest-style corn = $.75

(one 16 oz. can on sale)

Total cost = $.75

6 adult servings = $.13

$.63 per adult serving
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