Right now, I’m reading the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy for future review. It’s a very solid book on frugality, but one concept from the book (only mentioned on a couple pages) really stood out at me: institute a soup and bread night.
Basically, McCoy’s argument is this: if you have one supper per week that’s intentionally as cheap as you can possibly make it, you’ll save a lot of money over the long run. And, since it’s only one meal a week, one can easily just focus on the cheap and not worry that much about taste.
McCoy focuses in on eating soup and bread for this meal. I know from experience that a loaf of homemade bread is very cheap, quite easy, and delicious, and it is definitely true that you can make a very inexpensive meal out of just bread and soup, but let’s look at other options for “cheap supper night.”
What Does It Really Save?
I looked into this question for my own family recently when calculating our estimated food costs for a month. Over the period of a month – and this includes the prorated costs of bulk food purchased earlier – I estimated our food costs for our family of four to be around $770. That comes out to be an average of $2.07 worth of food consumed on average per family member per meal.
In order for a meal to be truly cheap, I’d estimate that the meal must cost $0.50 or less per person for the meal. Doing that means that one cheap dinner a week saves us $6 per week – more than $300 a year.
This assumes, of course, that I’m replacing a truly average meal with a cheap meal. If I choose to replace a meal eaten out with an ultra-cheap meal, the savings are far, far greater.
The Best Method
The single best method I’ve found for creating a cheap supper night is to check the grocery store flyer before I go to the grocery store. Almost every grocery store has an exceptional produce deal or two for the week that you can use to center your meal around. At our local grocery, there’s usually some form of fresh vegetable on sale for as low as $0.29 a pound and usually a fruit near that level as well. A pound of a particular vegetable forms the backbone of a very healthy meal.
Even at standard prices, your fresh produce can be dirt cheap. According to Ohio State University’s data, you can get “cabbage at 4 cents per serving; potatoes at 6 cents; broccoli florets at 7 cents; and whole carrots at 10 cents per serving.”
Finding Cheap Recipes
Once you have your cheap item, how do you know what to do with it on the cheap? When in a pinch like this, I use two tactics.
First, I go through the cupboards and see what I have that might be an interesting complement to it. Hey, look, a box of forgotten pasta! We have plenty of flour! Here’s some garbanzo beans I’d forgotten about! Where did this barbecue sauce come from? I also dig through the spices and see if I find any that complement what’s on sale – for example, if I’m going to get broccoli, I know that thyme, marjoram, and basil all complement it, so if I happen to have one of these on hand, we’re good to go.
Next, I use a recipe search engine to find something appropriate. There are a number of these that have popped up over the last year or so – I’m currently partial to FoodieView. Just enter a list of the ingredients you have on hand and the ingredient you’re going to get – for example, I searched for basil, broccoli, thyme, and garbanzo beans and stumbled upon a Three Bean Cassoulet. Nine servings is way more than I need, so I just trim that recipe in half and find that all I need is a single carrot, a very small onion, a can of tomatoes, and the broccoli and I can make a one-bean version of it. If I have some other beans on hand, I can nail the recipe. Those ingredients I need to buy add up to less than $2, so we’re good to go!
I can also supplement it by making something else very cheap on the side, like a loaf of homemade bread, which I have all the stuff on hand for and which is incredibly cheap per loaf (especially when I can use the bread over multiple meals and save the crumbs for use in some recipes).
This is actually pretty typical of recipe searches for a cheap dinner. Incorporating this into your routine can make for a very delicious (and often unusual) ultra-cheap supper one night a week, which can end up saving you significant money over the course of a year.