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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:42 am 
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Joined: Sun Apr 15, 2007 11:00 am
Posts: 28
Location: Washington, DC
mallow wrote:
I don't have access to a bulk supermarket around here, but we do have a farmer's market twice a week. Can you guys list the things you buy over the course of a month? I want to figure out what you guys are eating for a month to see what I'm doing differently.


I think it would, as you say, probably require you to decrease the quality of your ingredients. I spend ~$125/mo. on food largely because my diet is fairly monotonous. My typical meal usually revolves around some sort of rice+veggies+cheap meat/beans in a crock pot.

My most common purchases:

Bulk steel-cut oats
Frozen vegetables
Frozen fruit
Brown rice
Dried lentils
Frozen chicken breasts
Italian sausage
Ground pork
Cheap beef cuts (stew meat, london broil, etc.)
Various canned tomato products (diced, crushed, tomato paste, etc.)
Pasta
Barley
Milk
Cheese
Yogurt
Onions, garlic, etc.
Snack crackers ("Wheat Thins" or similar)
Wheat flour, yeast (I make my own bread)


Last edited by UprightPolity on Fri Aug 31, 2007 10:11 am, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:58 am 

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:50 pm
Posts: 752
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Half a pound of salmon costs around $7-8. If you wait till it's on sale, you can do a bit better. However, half a pound is still 450 grams. A serving size of fish is 85 grams. Therefore, you should be able to get 5 servings from that salmon.

Your homemade pasta sauce sounds oddly expensive for four servings. I would estimate the cost of making that at $4 in summer.

For the soup, grow your own basil. It will even grow indoors. When I add up your ingredients, I can do it for $8, if I don't use store-bought stock. Consider throwing in some more beans to extend the soup and add protein. Dried beans are very cheap.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 10:07 am 
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Joined: Wed May 30, 2007 11:23 am
Posts: 861
Location: Portland, OR
mallow wrote:
For the veggie soup I use this recipe: http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives/000091vegetable_soup_with_sweet_basil.php , I guess the ingredients don't really add up to $30, more like $20 including two cartons of stock. If we take out the stock, it will be more like $10. EDIT: Nah.. it will still be around $15 I think.

Good tip on the saving veggies for stock, I heard it before but I keep forgetting to do it! You even save the onion and garlic skins? Interesting. Aren't ends of things usually dirty? Do you wash them thoroughly before you freeze them?

We used to have a growbed and grew our own herbs, but our new place doesn't have a yard so we can't grow anything :(
We will try growing basil in pots until winter though.


It sounds to me like the basil leaves are the most expensive part of that recipe so growing your own and freezing it is probably a good idea. The rest of it looks really cheap. One thing to do is, if you make this a lot, buy those veggies when they go on sale and prep then freeze them for use later. When i buy carrots in bulk or onions or anything, i chop them all up and freeze them, particularly if I'm going to be using them IN something since then the slight texture change won't bug me. Frozen veggies lose virtually none of the good stuff.

You also might try making that soup in bulk since bulk of everything listed is usually cheaper and then you can freeze it. That would lower your cost per meal.

Another thing would be to visit farmer's markets, particularly at the end of the day when the battered stuff is left and they just want to get rid of it.

For the stock, the onion and garlic skins give great flavor! I usually brush off the ends and sometimes rinse if they're really dirty but other than that I don't worry too much. there's dirt in everything. Just like I don't peel carrots or potatoes I just rinse them well. Stock is so easy to make I rarely use pre-made stuff.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 11:28 am 

Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 7:48 am
Posts: 286
consultantjournal wrote:
Half a pound of salmon costs around $7-8. If you wait till it's on sale, you can do a bit better. However, half a pound is still 450 grams. A serving size of fish is 85 grams. Therefore, you should be able to get 5 servings from that salmon.

Your homemade pasta sauce sounds oddly expensive for four servings. I would estimate the cost of making that at $4 in summer.

For the soup, grow your own basil. It will even grow indoors. When I add up your ingredients, I can do it for $8, if I don't use store-bought stock. Consider throwing in some more beans to extend the soup and add protein. Dried beans are very cheap.


When we eat salmon, we eat little else. Maybe some veggies on the side and rice, so it makes up the bulk of the meal. Besides, we're Americans! Just kidding, our body mass indexes are in the ideal range.

I found the last receipt where we bought the soup ingredients!

.5lbs bulk carrots: .53
yellow zucchini: .54
green zucchini: .31
2lbs tomatoes: 2.83 (however, we used two of these tomatoes for sandwiches, so I guess it's more like 2.10)
.78lbs leeks: 1.55
yellow onions: .87
1.72lbs russet potatoes: 1.36
.46lbs green beans: .87
basil: 1.99
white beans (we added these to the recipe): .85
2 quarts chicken stock: 3.49x2 = 6.98

So I guess my estimate was not way off. Without stock: 12.70, with stock: 18.68

The soup is by far our most economical staple since it lasts for so many meals.

For the pasta, we can take the zucchini, 1lb of tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, add mushrooms and pasta, it comes out to around 5.50... so I guess I overestimated that as well.

Even if all this is true and I'm overspending a bit on things like basil and soup stock, I'm still spending about twice as much on groceries as most people. The rest of that receipt was sliced bread, cheese, cereal, two sangrias (only luxury), rolls (for soup), french bread (for snacks), and orange juice. The total (including soup ingredients) was 35.99. I think this month we did spend more than usual on groceries, in previous months I see that we spent 200-250.

Looking at UprightPolity, I can see that I just enjoy more luxuries than some.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 11:42 am 
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Joined: Wed May 30, 2007 11:23 am
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Location: Portland, OR
Try buying things in bulk. Smart shopping isn't about just buying what you need when you need it but also about planning ahead. For example, I use a lot of canned tomatoes in my cooking. They're MUCH cheaper than fresh and they last for ages. WHen they're cooked, who cares? So, when my store has a 5 for $1 sale I buy about 20 cans. Same with tuna or bread or meat or anything else I use on a regular basis. When it's on sale I stock up and freeze for later.

Same goes for veggies. The 2 lb bag is almost always cheaper than picking 5 carrots out of a bin...and you get more. The one I got last night was on sale for $.99. Just cut up and freeze the rest. a 5 lb bag of onions or potatoes is cheaper than the ones you pick and choose. Potatoes don't freeze well but onions do, particularly for soups and stews. Not if you want them crisp though...

Cooked with dried beans instead of canned. You get 2-3 times as much for the same price and it's better for you.

See if you can find a place with bulk items. The carton of wild rice at the store last night was $2.80/lb while the bulk wild rice was $.99/lb. Same with Cous Cous.

If you don't want to make your own stock, buy it when it's on sale and stock up. My store regularly has quart boxes on sale for $1 each.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 2:39 pm 
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Here's what it takes to feed our family of four living in Massachusetts:
    $380 to $480 /month in groceries (only food, not household supplies)
    $20 to $40 /month on meals out (primarily take out pizza).
Both children are girls (which makes a difference, if you've ever watched boys and girls of the same age eat together). The fluctuation results from stocking sale items. For example, this week Cheerios and Ramen were on super sale and we bought 6 boxes of Cheerios and 14 packs of Ramen. We do the same thing in March with corned beef (which always goes on steep sale the week of St. Patrick's Day), and so on.

BTW, here's a secret I wish I'd known in college:

    1-2 packs of Ramen
    1 cup of chopped, cooked meat (left over pork chop / steak / chicken / corned beef / whatever)
    1 cup of frozen broccoli

    Cook the Ramen 2 minutes with the flavor pack, then add the meat and broccoli. Stir and cook another 1 1/2 minutes. It's like you just went out to a noodle shop, but the whole thing costs about $2 and feeds 2-4 (depending on how many packs of Ramen you use). We often eat this for weekend lunches, and its a great way to use up leftover meat.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 2:52 pm 
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Posts: 861
Location: Portland, OR
Daiko wrote:
    1-2 packs of Ramen
    1 cup of chopped, cooked meat (left over pork chop / steak / chicken / corned beef / whatever)
    1 cup of frozen broccoli

    Cook the Ramen 2 minutes with the flavor pack, then add the meat and broccoli. Stir and cook another 1 1/2 minutes. It's like you just went out to a noodle shop, but the whole thing costs about $2 and feeds 2-4 (depending on how many packs of Ramen you use). We often eat this for weekend lunches, and its a great way to use up leftover meat.


Careful with the ramen. that stuff will kill you...


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 3:00 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:50 pm
Posts: 752
Location: Vancouver, Canada
>> When we eat salmon, we eat little else. Maybe some veggies on the side and rice, so it makes up the bulk of the meal.

Okay, but now you see that you're eating super-sized portions.

> I found the last receipt where we bought the soup ingredients

That list exceeds the requirements of the recipe. For example, it only called for one potato and you've bought 1.72 lbs. And when I add up the ingredients, I get a little under $11 (except for stock). Also, although the recipe says it serves 6, this seems low to me. It includes 2 quarts of liquid, not to mention many veggies. You should be able to get at least 8 servings out of that.

I made soup today, just for fun. I used 1/2 ham steak ($2.50), 3L water, 4 carrots (.50), 4 stalks of celery (.50), some garlic, a 1-quart can of tomatoes ($1.85), an entire package of soaked white beans ($1.90), and an onion (.40). That comes to under $8. Normally, I'd use half that amount of ham steak, if any. Anyway, it's been cooking all day and my dutch oven is still about an inch from the top. This will cover at least four meals and probably a lunch for three people.

> For the pasta, we can take the zucchini, 1lb of tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, add mushrooms and pasta

That sounds like it should cover more than one meal.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 3:18 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 7:48 am
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consultantjournal wrote:
> I found the last receipt where we bought the soup ingredients

That list exceeds the requirements of the recipe. For example, it only called for one potato and you've bought 1.72 lbs. And when I add up the ingredients, I get a little under $11 (except for stock). Also, although the recipe says it serves 6, this seems low to me. It includes 2 quarts of liquid, not to mention many veggies. You should be able to get at least 8 servings out of that.

I made soup today, just for fun. I used 1/2 ham steak ($2.50), 3L water, 4 carrots (.50), 4 stalks of celery (.50), some garlic, a 1-quart can of tomatoes ($1.85), an entire package of soaked white beans ($1.90), and an onion (.40). That comes to under $8. Normally, I'd use half that amount of ham steak, if any. Anyway, it's been cooking all day and my dutch oven is still about an inch from the top. This will cover at least four meals and probably a lunch for three people.

> For the pasta, we can take the zucchini, 1lb of tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, add mushrooms and pasta

That sounds like it should cover more than one meal.


For the soup, we did get an extra potato and added white beans to the recipe, well worth the money I think. I talked to my girlfriend and she says we had 9 servings with it, I didn't know she took some for lunch.

We do usually have one serving of pasta leftover, but usually not two. We do use a lot of sauce to pasta since the pasta is just starch and the sauce is all good veggies.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 3:28 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:50 pm
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Location: Vancouver, Canada
So you could do 9 servings for $11. That's around $2.50 a meal.

For your pasta, add some beans and use whole grain noodles. This will give you a complete protein. Add a salad and cut down on the pasta serving. Thus you have another meal for under $3.

If you averaged $5/meal for dinners, that's $150 a month. You should be able to do lunch for under $2 and breakfast for under $1. In total, that's $240 a month. You might want some snacks and other things, but that's not the same as $700/mo.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 4:25 pm 
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Location: Portland, OR
mallow wrote:
We do usually have one serving of pasta leftover, but usually not two. We do use a lot of sauce to pasta since the pasta is just starch and the sauce is all good veggies.


how much pasta are you making? If you do actual serving sizes a 1 lb box (standard size) should make at least 4 servings. And it's really only in the US that we smother our pasta with sauce. In italy, the pasta is the star of the meal and the sauce merely a compliment to it. I find people in the US use WAY too much sauce. When I cook spaghetti I find that I use about 2/3 c. of sauce or a 1 lb box of pasta. Just enough to get it wet and add some flavor.

But then again, in italy pasta isn't the meal it's the starter with usually a meat course after.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 4:44 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:50 pm
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Location: Vancouver, Canada
A serving size of pasta is half a cup.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:47 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 12, 2007 6:40 pm
Posts: 32
Location: Milwaukee, WI
I spend $300-450 per month on groceries, liquor, and toiletries, just for myself. The figure is at the low end of the range during the school season, when I don't have as much time to cook; higher during the summer, when I have more free time and travel. Like someone else said, cooking for me is entertainment and something of a hobby, so I'm okay with spending more than most people would. In the fall/winter months I tend to cook less, diet more, and save more money, but after a while it does get boring if I can't make risottos, moles, and curries. And though I drink less when classes are in session, I don't feel like a good, home-cooked meal is complete unless there is some quality wine to go with it. Life is too short!


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2007 3:34 pm 

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hm... I guess I spend about $150 or so a month, and I buy quality stuff, a little at that expensive yuppie barn Wild Oats store and the rest at Costco, Trader Joes and the local grocery.

what I don't buy is anything prepared, canned, or frozen (except veg). sometimes I get Classico pasta sauce and that's as prepared-food as I tend to get (the one time I made my own sauce ended up being a huge pain and a giant mess and totally not worth it. and I still haven't gotten over the trauma of the great baba ganoush explosion of 1999).

anyway at Costco I get thing like big packs of chicken and oh skirt steak looks good this week, frozen veg, 1-2 big buckets of salad greens a week (I keep one at work) and maybe some wine. I cook enough chicken/beef/whatever to last a few days and take leftovers to work to have with a big ol salad.

it's kinda boring but it's all pretty healthy and I only have to cook 2-3x a week. tonight I'm cooking a small tri-tip roast that should last a long time.

it helps that I don't have to feed anyone else besides the cat and he's not in a position to complain (but he does anyway).


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2007 9:03 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 7:48 am
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Yes, $250 if we don't eat out at all and stick to frugal meals, but tack on eating out once a week and I think you can easily hit $300. I think having these conversations has shed some light on where my food money is going and I'm going to try to be more efficient with our home cooked meals. Last night we made some pasta sauce/pasta, we made enough for 4 servings, maybe 5, for 11 dollars. This included buying the $2 bunch of basil.

pf101 wrote:
how much pasta are you making? If you do actual serving sizes a 1 lb box (standard size) should make at least 4 servings. And it's really only in the US that we smother our pasta with sauce. In italy, the pasta is the star of the meal and the sauce merely a compliment to it. I find people in the US use WAY too much sauce. When I cook spaghetti I find that I use about 2/3 c. of sauce or a 1 lb box of pasta. Just enough to get it wet and add some flavor.

But then again, in italy pasta isn't the meal it's the starter with usually a meat course after.


We do get 4 servings out of a 1lb box. I understand that we eat pasta like Americans (main meal), which is why we use a lot of veggies/sauce with our pasta for nutrition. I'll try adding some beans or meat to it next time for some protein. Oh, I forgot to mention that we added about a cup of organic tomato basil marinara sauce from Trader Joes that we had lying around for months... we figured we'd use it to thicken/bolster our sauce since we had it.

Thanks for all the analysis, everyone!


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