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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Finances and Food

I live alone, and when I get home from work, the last thing I want to do is take the time to cook a meal for myself, especially knowing that I'll have to clean up from all of the cooking. I solve this in one of three ways:
  • Eat a quick fix meal, such as pasta, a sandwich, or when I'm really lazy, a bowl of cereal
  • Eat a frozen meal, such as a Lean Cuisine
  • Cook on the weekends and then freeze and reheat the leftovers.
In recent months, I've been doing the first and the second significantly more than the third. I've decided to do my best to change that. Every weekend, I want to try to cook something and then store the leftovers in the freezer, to be eaten later. The hope is that after a few weeks, I'll end up with a decent selection so I'm not eating the same thing day after day.

One of my sticking points lately has been that I'm trying to reduce my food costs, and when I'm planning to make a big meal, I always feel like I spend so much money. I'm still stocking my kitchen after moving a few months ago, so I always have to buy so many food items that a number of people have already stocked in their pantries.

So today, I decided to experiment. I wanted to make a chicken and veggie stew that I love, and I knew that I didn't have any of the ingredients at all. So off to the store I went. I spent approximately $25 on ingredients. The stew makes 5 generous servings (and healthy too - it's a Weight Watchers recipe). So that's $5 per meal. $5? I can get a Lean Cuisine for cheaper than that, especially when they're on sale for 4 for $10.

But wait. I didn't actually use everything I bought. I bought pre-packaged chicken breasts and maybe used a third of the package. I had to buy spices (I still can't find a good local place to buy them in bulk) and I've got a lot of those left. I used two tablespoons of the container of corn meal. Tons of that left. And I've got garlic left too. So doing some rough estimating, I probably paid less than $2.50 per meal. Just less than what I pay for a Lean Cuisine, and only then if I manage to buy it on sale. And it's a recipe that I absolutely love. Plus, if I want to make the recipe again, because I do have so many of the ingredients left over, I would have to spend around $4.

Clearly, the end result of this experiment is that it is absolutely worth it to cook more often. It's cheaper, it's healthier, and I have to admit, I have some pretty delicious recipes that freeze incredibly well. And if I can't bring myself to cook during the week, I'll just have to set aside time on the weekends or my days off. I'm tempted to cook something else tomorrow so that I have both lunches AND dinners for the week!

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