5 Dollar (or Less) Dinners

By: Kirsten Vala

I'm not sure exactly how much money I spend on groceries every week/month/year, but I do know I'd like to spend less. As I worked on our Good Food For Less feature, I focused on obviously "low cost" recipes – vegetarian, tuna casserole, leftover transformations – but I decided to try a few for myself, curious to see how the groceries would add up.

For me, under $10 per person would be a savings compared to eating out (the cost of a meal at my favorite burger and fries spot). But I decided a truly "budget" meal should ring in at no more than $5 per person. I crossed my fingers, made a grocery list and went shopping.

Chicken thighs - $4.95
Chicken drumsticks - $2.12
Orange - $0.50 / 2 = $0.25

Rosemary – on my window sill (although I used a lot less than the recipe suggests, because picking sprigs off my pet plant is somewhat painful)

Total spent = $7.32 / 4 servings = $1.83 per serving

Success!! I was amazed!! I made it a meal with a simple arugula salad and roasted spiced-up potatoes the first night. Then I decided to spruce up leftover night by making the simplest risotto recipe I could find (plus, adding some kale that was hiding in the back of my fridge). It was amazing.

I was hooked! I had to try another.

The Neelys' Sloppy Joes (recipe halved)
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef - $4.00
BBQ sauce - $2.49 / 4 = $0.62
Tomato sauce - $0.32
Tomato paste - $0.50 / 4 = $0.13
Green pepper - $1.37 / 2 = $0.69
Red pepper - $1.32 /2 = $0.66
Buns - $3.19 / 6 = $0.53 x 3 = $1.60
Total spent: $8.02 / 2 = $4.01 per serving

I was surprised that the sloppy joes cost more than twice as much as the chicken, but they were still within my $5 budget, and the halved recipe really made two huge servings (1/2 pound of meat per person!). As a low cost side dish, I cut up some sweet potatoes, tossed them in oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted them to make baked sweet potato fries.

Just adding up a few recipe receipts has made me much more cost-conscious at the grocery store. I think I'm going to keep working my way through this feature. Wish me luck with the slow cooker recipes and Rachael's tuna casserole!

- Kirsten, Web Editor
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