Cost Per Serving versus Pound
by Ellen Lawson Ferlazzo
Going Beyond Cheap Recipes
My Story: Secrets of a Grocery Clerk
Reduce Your Food Budget
When you are exploring different ways to cut costs in your grocery bill, one of the things you start paying attention to is the cost per pound of various cuts of meat. You probably see some things that are selling for less per pound than you are used to paying but perhaps the cut of meat is unfamiliar and you are not sure whether something is a good deal or not. How do you compare two different cuts of meat? You want to look at the cost per serving rather than the cost per pound. If something is cheap, but you throw away a lot of bone and fat, then you're paying more per serving than you might realize.
If you know how many servings you can expect from various cuts of meat, you can cut down on the amount you are spending by calculating your cost per serving. For example, whole chickens frequently go on sale around here for 99 cents per pound. Don't forget to include the broth you can get out of one, which is not included in that calculation. In my area, chicken breasts sometimes go on sale at $1.99 per pound. Now, if you only eat chicken breasts, would never use the cooked chicken in casseroles, and would never make broth, then maybe it makes more sense to buy the breasts only. But if you want to be more frugal, learn how to cut up a chicken into the pieces you like and simmer the pieces you don't like with some onion, carrots, and celery. Remove the cooked chicken from the bone and freeze it in two-cup portions, which is a common portion size for various casseroles. Or you can make chicken salad sandwiches. Strain the rest for broth and freeze it in two-cup portions. Suddenly, you've stretched your grocery money quite a bit. A store-brand can of chicken broth around here sells for around a dollar. You'll get three or four cans worth out of one whole chicken, which just paid for your chicken if you're used to buying broth!
For calculating the cost of meats, I have an online calculator you can use to compare various cuts of meat at different prices. It is at cheapcooking.com/costperserving.htm.
Vegetables, grains, and other dishes are typically easier to calculate, but make sure you are comparing similar items. Serving sizes and servings per container are listed on packaged goods so it's pretty easy to divide your cost by the total number of servings in the package. But if you are comparing something like a box of cereal to eggs and toast, make sure your "serving size" for the cereal is accurate. If someone in your family typically eats two bowls of cereal, then using the manufacturer's serving size isn't going to give you an accurate comparison.
Once you start figuring out the price per serving of various items, you can start setting some goals for yourself. Figure out how much it costs to feed your family a dinner you all like and calculate the cost per serving. Compare some of your favorite meals and figure out what you can do to lower that cost and still enjoy your meal times together. Using the chicken as an example, if you only like to eat the breasts, as many do, then using the rest of the chicken for broth and chicken salad sandwiches helps you lower the cost per serving of several meals.
I do think it is important that you continue to enjoy your meals. The frugal meal that gets thrown away because no one will eat it is not a good deal! For me, it becomes something of a game to find frugal meals we all enjoy and save those expensive meals for special occasions. I've experimented with different cuts of meat. Now and then, we find we don't really like one so I stop buying it. But we have found several that we all loved that I had never cooked before and only tried because the cost per serving was so low. Use the Internet to search for recipes for those unfamiliar cuts and be willing to experiment a few times. Or join some recipe mailing lists where you can ask others how they prepare unfamiliar cuts. Just make sure you have a couple of tried-and-true side dishes to fill up on just in case you produce a bomb!
Ellen is a freelance writer in Pleasanton, CA. As a single mother, stretching those dollars allows her to spend more time with her children and pass on her love of cooking. You can see some of her favorite recipes at cheapcooking.com. She also has a cooking blog at cheapcooking.com/blog/ where she writes about cooking.
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