Like I’ve mentioned a bazillion and five times, I love cooking. If I lived in a bigger city, where cooking classes were readily available, I’d find a way to make the cost of attending fit into our budget. I’d learn how to make fancy, foreign dishes that are both a challenge to cook as well as pronounce. Then I’d wow the taste buds of anyone willing to try my exotic cooking because I know I’d be darn good at it.
But since I don’t have this option, nor the money to go out and buy the
rare expensive ingredients that are harder to find in good ol’ Montana, I’ve been teaching myself to cook more basic (though still delicious) foods from the cookbooks that have been gifted to me over the years, as well as randomness I find on Pinterest. Therefore, my cooking has been limited to the home-cookin’ you’ll find in Better Homes and Gardens: Bridal Edition or recipes found in a Pinterest search involving the words “healthy,” “easy” and/or “budget-friendly.”
Though my desire is to cook difficult and fancy foods, I’m still learning how to whip up some of the basics and am thoroughly enjoying that whole process. I only started cooking a couple of years ago, after I married Mr. FI. Up until then, I was a master of baking and cooking things that came out of cans and boxes. My stomach, needless to say, was made of steel at the time since none of that was very healthy. When I married Mr. FI, I was ready to continue those eating habits, but Mr. Fi’s stomach disagreed. So, I had to learn to make healthier food so that my husband didn’t die…pretty good motivation (I may be exaggerating a tad here…but a sick husband is no fun either).
This meant buying fresh. Looking at labels to determine sodium and fat content. Determining how much artificial crap and preservatives are in foods so we can avoid them, etc. Now, after watching various documentaries such as Ingredients and just feeling better as a whole, I can’t fathom going back. Or even the fact that I didn’t realize how bad everything I was eating really was (it’s like they say…ignorance is bliss and stomach aches). Today, eating something out of a box seems so unnatural, in both habit and cognitively.
On top of our bodies feeling better, our budget is also better off because of the switch. Who would have thought that it might actually be more expensive to eat foods that are bad for you? I certainly didn’t think that way. I’d always assumed that the healthier the foods you bought, the more you’d pay. But then again, I think my mind was associating the word “healthy” with the words “organic” and “gluten free.” While these often can go hand in hand, you don’t have to buy the organic carrots or the gluten free noodles if you’re not gluten intolerant. And that makes shopping “fresh” rather budget friendly.
For example, Mr. Fi and I often make tostadas (an absolutely delicious Mexican dish that basically resembles open-faced tacos) because they’re simple, easy and cheap. You basically toast/pan fry a corn/flour tortilla, then place whatever you want on top. Mr. Fi and I usually choose cooked refried beans or mashed black beans, followed by a meat, cheese, lettuce, avocado and tomato. Maybe some hot sauce or salsa to top it all off and Spanish rice on the side for filler.
Now let’s look at the cost for this based on our local grocery store’s ads:
Tortillas: $.33 (18 ct for $.99 – we eat about 3 each)
Avocados: $.75 each (we buy the 6-pack from Coscto, otherwise they’d be at least $.99 each – we use about 1/2-1 avocado per meal)
Black Beans/Refrieds: $.85/$.87 per can ( $6.79/$6.99 for 8 packs from Costco- one can covers the tostadas and leaves us with leftovers)
Lettuce: ~$.25 (I only get Romaine b/c I’m super picky like that and it’s $2 for a head of organic/$1 for regular)
Onions: ~$.22 ($.45 per onion – we use about 1/2 of an onion per meal)
Tomatoes: ~$.34 ($.99/lb- we usually get 4-5 at a time when they’re cluster tomatoes and use 1 tomato per meal)
Meat: ~$2.09 (1/2 of one ~1.5 lb pack of turkey meat that comes in 4-pack packages we get from Costco – prices and sizes vary)
*Cheese: ~$.80 ($7.99 for 2.5 lb block from Costco – we will use about 1/2 cup *if we want cheese – I try not to eat too much dairy)
*Rice: ~$.20 ($9.99 for a 25 lb bag from Costco – we make about 1 cup per meal *if we make rice and we often make just plain rice – Spanish rice is a treat)
Total: ~$5.85 (with leftovers)
Then there’s our usual “easy fix” meal that Mr. FI and I will break down and buy when we just can’t resist it anymore…pizza. Pizza is one of the only foods that comes out of a box that still makes me salivate just thinking about it. This is because pizza is bad for you in all the right ways. Cheese+Bread+Convenience = Weak-Consumer’s Worst Nightmare.
While we love the taste, we still don’t like the price. The best deal we’ve been able to find for a frozen pizza that doesn’t taste like cardboard is when the Circle pizza’s from Albertson’s are on sale for $3.99 a piece. This price only happens once every few weeks (if not months) and we could easily eat two of those pizzas because we love them and because we’re fat people trapped in skinny people’s bodies. It is not because they’re tiny pizzas – that would be completely against my frugal nature.
In an effort to make these pizzas go further, we often split one, in hopes to “rationalize” the purchase. This usually leaves us a little hungry, so we often opt to add a salad on top of the main dish to fill in the cracks. So let’s estimate the cost:
Pizza: $3.99 – $4.99 ($7.98 – $9.98 if we decide two pizzas should make us feel worse)
Salad: $.50-$1 (We usually eat half a head of lettuce if we’re having salad, and add toppings as well)
Total: ~$8.48 (and no leftovers)
The best bang for the buck is making something from scratch. In the fight of Tostadas v. Pizza, Tostadas win with roughly $2.63 in savings for each meal (if not more, given the leftovers) coming out to a savings of $81.53 if we could only choose to eat one or the other for the entirety of May. This stuff adds up! Not to mention the added benefit of improved health. Because of this, Mr. FI and I will continue to cook and eat fresh!
How about you? How do you stay healthy and in budget, simultaneously? Any go-to, healthy meals to recommend?