• Save By Calculating Meal Costs

Five Ways to Save...

By Learning the Cost of a Meal

 Stephanie Nelson, CouponMom.com


1. Calculate prices. Although ingredient prices change over time, start with the prices you’ve paid recently to begin to estimate what your meals cost. Include the cost of condiments or seasonings, within reason. Don’t worry about a pinch of salt but you want to know that a casserole topping like fried onions costs $3. It is helpful to start a page of standard ingredients. Break the list into categories that include the item cost, number of units, and cost per unit. This reference guide will save you time. Next, calculate and classify meals as “Ultra-budget”, “Moderate”, and “Upscale” options.


2. Standby meal. A simple spaghetti supper is a perfect standby meal. Use Strategic Shopping principles and purchase staple items on sale or with a coupon. You can dine on the standby meal for about 1/3 of the cost of what you would have to pay for a last-minute-trip to the store. Ground beef can be purchased on sale and stocked in the freezer. Use coupons for pasta and sauce and store in your pantry. Chop your own lettuce for the salad and substitute flour tortillas broiled with cheese and cut into wedges instead of more the expensive bakery French bread.


3. Swap in substitutions. When I first started tackling my family’s grocery budget I began cutting unimportant ingredients or swapping them with less costly options to bring the cost down. As long as I used good recipes my family did not realize that some of their favorite meals were in the “Ultra-Budget” category. Some examples include: saving over 50% on substitutions such as bouillon cubes instead of a can of chicken broth; and reconstituted lemon or lime juice instead of juice from the fruit itself. Crush your own cornflakes; make your own breadcrumbs or croutons. Use the 5 minute “do-it-yourself” rule. If prep time is less than 5 minutes, the savings potential is significant.


4. List your family’s favorites. I work foods that offer the greatest nutrition at the lowest price into my family’s regular diet. I hope you will use this list as inspiration to start creating your family’s list of cheap, nutritious “Greatest Hits.” We like green cabbage, romaine lettuce, carrots, spinach, green peppers, fresh or frozen broccoli, bananas, 1% milk, beans, lentils, fresh chicken and turkey, eggs, canned tuna, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta. Apply strategic shopping and you can get some of these items free or close to it by using coupons.


5. Incorporate cheap Superfoods. For an item to make my Cheap Superfoods list, it needs to be both cost effective and healthy. Chicken breast - at 60 cents per 4 ounce serving with 2 cents per gram of protein- is at the top of my list. Of course we do enjoy steak on occasion, but we eat chicken or other healthy bargain options far more frequently.


Stephanie Nelson is the Coupon Mom. Her web site, www.CouponMom.com , has 6 million members, and she is established as the nation’s top expert in couponing across the country. Stephanie has been on every major national television talk show and taught millions how to save money for the past 11 years. She has been called ‘”the rock star of the recession” by the Washington Post and her book, The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half, is a New York Times best seller.


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