Eat Better for Less

Don’t you always wish there was more money for food?  Do you feel like you just spent a fortune for food and go to make dinner and not have enough?  Do you like eating good food but think you have to eat cheap food just because it’s cheap?  Well think again.  Get out of the rut you are in, with a little planning and a little prep, you can be eating like a king on a pauper’s budget.

First thing you do…STOP BUYING PROCESSED FOODS.

  1. They are NOT economical.
  2. They will NOT save you that much time.
  3. They ARE  full of chemicals that are NOT good for you or your family.

Macaroni and Cheese is pretty easy to make from scratch and when you figure it out, it is a lot cheaper to make it from scratch, too.

Let’s use an example:

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (the kind with the packet of creamy cheese inside costs about $3.29 on average (sometimes you can get it on sale but we’re going to go with normal prices right now)

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

You will need

  • 1 pound of elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup (8 ounces or 1/2 pound) New York Cheddar Cheese shredded
  • 1 cup (8 ounces or 1/2 pound) Colby/Jack Cheese shredded
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt

Optional Ingredients

  • 1 sleeve of crackers (your choice) crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Because I buy many of these ingredients in bulk, I have them in stock at all times.  This recipe will fill a 13 x 9 inch baking dish to the brim, so you will get at least 10 servings (large) from it.  If served as a side dish, you will get more, but we’ll go with 10 servings to make the math easier.

I’m not going to break down the spices, as I buy them in bulk and it’s not worth doing the math, let’s just say on the high end, we are looking at 10 cents for the spices and flour (which is probably high).

Butter (I buy in bulk at SAMS Club 4 pounds for 9.98)  that means it is $2.49 a pound.  In this recipe we are using 1/2-3/4 of a pound (depending on if you add the cracker crumb crust which I don’t consider optional).  So let’s go with 3/4 of a pound and we’ll say the butter cost is 83 cents.

Macaroni (I also buy in bulk at SAMS 5 pounds is $5.76) so one pound would be 96 cents.

Milk (Also at SAMS $2.98 a gallon) so milk cost is 37 cents

Colby/Jack and Cheddar Cheese (Also at SAMS $6.87 for 3 lbs) so the cost for the cheese is $2.29 (1/2 pound each).

Ritz Crackers (which is what I use, in bulk at SAMS $6.58 for 4 (4 sleeve) packages) crackers cost is 41 cents

So break it down

  • Spices/Flour   $0.10
  • Macaroni          $0.96
  • Cheese                $2.29
  • Milk                     $0.37
  • Crackers            $0.41
  • Butter                 $0.83
  • Total                   $4.96

Serving Size on the Kraft Box is 1 cup so 1 cups equals 4 servings which makes the Kraft cost about $0.82 per serving.

My homemade is at least 10 servings which is $0.50 per serving.

That is a savings of 32 cents per serving.  But it gets better.  Have you read the labels on processed foods?  Here are the ingredients in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe.

Enriched Macaroni Product (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate (Iron], Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin P1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid); Cheese Sauce (Milk, Whey, Water, Canola Oil, Milk Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, contains less than 2% of Lactic Acid, Sodium Alginate, Sorbic Acid as a preservative, Oleoresin Paprika [Color], Annatto [Color], Natural Flavor, Cream, Enzymes, Cheese Culture).

The cheese sauce alone contains 900 mg of sodium per serving.  My homemade cheese sauce contains 220 mg of sodium.

One teaspoon of table salt contains approximately 2,400 mg of sodium.  One teaspoon of sea salt equals approximately 2,200 mg of sodium.  900 mg is the equivalent a little more than 1/3 teaspoon of salt per serving.  I love salt, but that is a lot of salt!

You should beware that sea salt typically does not contain iodine, so if you are not using iodized salt, you should seek an alternative way to get the proper amount of iodine in your diet.  I use iodized salt at the table and usually cook with sea salt.

Now I know you are thinking that you don’t have time to cook macaroni and cheese from scratch, but you are wrong.  In the time it takes to boil the water and cook the macaroni, you can have the sauce done and ready to pour on the macaroni and bake it up.  For my recipe and complete instructions, check out my recipe for Homemade Macaroni and Cheese.  The preparation typically takes 15-20 minutes, which is about how long it takes to cook a box of Kraft.  The difference is that you know everything that is going into it, there are no chemicals, no anti caking agents, no “natural” colors and flavorings.  It is simple, straight forward and easy to do.

You can freeze leftovers for a ready made side dish or to use as an ingredient for another meal, like my Easy Cheesy Taco Bake.  Which leads me to another frugal point, planning your meals.  When you buy in bulk, you will easily cook in bulk.  If you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the freezer and LABEL THEM.  Part of becoming frugal means not wasting the products you have saved money creating. If you are not going to eat your leftovers the next day, FREEZE THEM.   If you don’t they will end up as a science experiment growing in the back of your refrigerator.  I store my leftovers in single serving and double serving size containers for a quick lunch or dinner.  Simply heat up in the microwave and you have a home cooked meal in a matter of minutes.

A few pointers on meal planning and utilizing leftovers

If I make White Pizza, I simply cook double the amount of chicken and garlic and a few nights later I make Chicken and Garlic Alfredo.

If I make macaroni and cheese, I will use the leftovers to make Easy Cheesy Taco Bake a few days later.

If we have tacos one night, I will use the leftover taco meat to make Loaded Nachos a few nights later.

When I make roast beef, I slice some really thin and put in the deli drawer for roast beef sandwiches for lunch or open faced roast beef sandwiches.

If I cook a whole turkey or chicken, I will use the carcass to make a stock and make homemade chicken or turkey soup.  Depending on how much meat comes off the bones, I might also add some leftover chicken/turkey to the soup.  Also, I use the leftover turkey or chicken again for sandwiches and open faced sandwiches smothered in gravy.

Here is an example of what we might eat and how I save time by cooking a little extra of something and using it on another night for another meal.

Monday  Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with Hamburger Patties

Tuesday Roast Beef with Loaded Baked Potatoes

Wednesday  Baked Chicken and Twice Baked Potatoes (I baked extra potatoes yesterday to make these)

Thursday Easy Cheesy Taco Bake (using leftover Mac and Cheese from Monday)

Friday  White Pizza

Saturday  Hot Open Faced Roast Beef Sandwiches and French Fries (I used left over roast beef from Tuesday for this)

Sunday Chicken and Garlic Alfredo (I cooked extra chicken and garlic on Friday and have 3/4 of a jar of Alfredo sauce left from the white pizza for this)

By doing a few extra things one day, you will save yourself a bunch of time on another day.  If you are making baked potatoes for dinner one night cook a few extra and make twice baked potatoes on another day.  You already have the oven hot and it doesn’t take any more time to cook 4 potatoes than to cook 2.

If I am chopping an onion I’ll probably just chop two and put one in a container in the refrigerator.  It will save me prep time when I cook again and need some chopped onion.

You can also freeze celery for cooking.  Simply chop and freeze in airtight containers.  I freeze them in 1/2 cup portions so when I need some celery for a dish, I simply take it out and add it to the dish.  It will not stay crispy in the freezer, but will retain the flavor for cooking.

How about another processed food that we can compare to home made?

Au Grautin Potatoes, Betty Crocker typical cost is $2.99

serving Size 1/2 cup – Servings per box 5 – cost per serving $0.60

Homemade Au Gratin Potatoes (click for recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • Milk
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Colby/Jack Cheese
  • Flour
  • Butter
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Cooking Spray

Again, buying in bulk saves a bunch and every ingredient listed I buy in bulk.  Again because of the small amounts used, I’m going to estimate the flour and spices (and cooking spray) to be about 10 cents.

  • Flour/Spices/Cooking Spray $0.10
  • Butter $0.31
  • Potatoes $1.16
  • Cheese $2.33
  • Milk $0.37
  • Total $4.27
  • Servings 10 1/2 cup servings
  • Cost per serving (10)  $0.42

That is a savings of 18 cents per serving.  Once cooked this can also be frozen, so you can have a ready made side dish anytime.

Now this I will grant you, this dish will take longer to prepare than using the Betty Crocker, but again you will not be eating chemicals, you will be saving money and in the long run, you will be saving time because you will have leftovers to freeze, which gives you instant side dishes that require no prep, only thawing and reheating.  In the end, you will save more money and more time by making it from scratch.  Not to mention you will save your health, because you will not be ingesting all those chemicals and all that sodium.

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