It occurred to me over the course of the last couple of weeks, that many budget cookbooks focus on “dishes” that cost under a dollar per serving to make. I did a little looking around the internet, and by a little looking I mean I did a serious walkabout on Google and many food websites.
There are a lot of recipes out there that are supposed to be about a dollar a serving.
The problems with them is that is all they are. One was for chicken tenders. While that’s nice, and somewhat nutritious and a bit low fat, what else are you going to eat with that? Are you going to make some vegetables and a baked potato? Now you’re over the $1.40 per meal, and you still can’t have anything else with it, like condiments.
Why not just use the same “breading” and bake chicken thighs instead, which you can get for 49 cents per pound on sale, or even 99 cents per pound usually, instead of boneless skinless chicken breast which on a GOOD sale is $1.99 per pound? Now you can have more vegetables with your dinner and maybe even a bit of sauce if you like!
I remember seeing commercials when I was a kid for a brand of soup that “eats like a meal.” Today I think, “Seriously? Chili is the only soup I know that eats like a meal, and I still want cornbread and a salad with mine!”
It’s not enough to create “dishes” that one can make for under $1.50. One needs to create a balanced meal for that same price tag. Also, it needs to be scalable. The problem with many recipes is that they take advantage of the economy of scale. (If you don’t know what that means, it’s basically why a pound of flour in a 50 lb. bag is cheaper than a pound of the same brand of flour in a 5 lb. bag. the more you purchase, and the less packaging involved, the lower the price per unit will be.) Most recipes are written to feed 4 to 6, sometimes 8 to 10 people. There aren’t a lot of recipes for cooking for two, or cooking for one. You will more likely end up eating a dish several times instead of being able to eat different things.
If you are truly food insecure, you are ok with this. You are just happy to be eating, so what if it’s the same chili you’ve been eating for three days now.
So, the guidelines I will be working with have been altered a bit.
All meals must be under $1.40 per serving, complete. That’s an entrée, a vegetable side or two, maybe a starch side, and a beverage.
The total calories for the meals for the day can not be under 1200 total. That’s the magic number. Most of the research I’ve done shows this to be a number of calories considered to be sustainable for adequate nutrition.
Fats are not the enemy.
Processed sugar is not your friend.
Most meals will be scalable to two people. Most folks who are single and trying to save money don’t usually mind taking what they made for dinner last night to work as their lunch the next day. There are going to be some things that will not scale down to two servings, because it’s hard to use half an egg.
Canned and frozen vegetables aren’t BAD for you. They may not taste as yummy as fresh vegetables, but they are more nutritious than NO vegetables at all.
Whole fruit is better than fruit juice, because you get more fiber and nutrients in whole fruits.
No artificial ingredients if I can possibly help it. I don’t use margarine or artificial sweeteners, and I don’t use non-dairy creamer.
Even with these guidelines, I’ve been finding some recipes that work out pretty well. One dish meals are absolutely fine (Migas, Eggs poached over butternut squash hash or creamed spinach) and will help stretch the budget, as well as having less dishes and pans to wash.