It can be surprising what are truly “frugal” choices when eating healthy. (Read the rest of this series here). There are some meals that are surprisingly expensive to make when you actually sort through the cost of each ingredient, while others (that you’d been avoiding making often because of concern over the cost) really aren’t that expensive once you figure out the true cost of the meal.
Are my vegetarian meals always cheaper?
For example, a general “rule” that is often paraded about is that a meat-free meal will save you money. A meat-free meal can be very frugal (and we like many vegetarian meals ourselves), but it certainly isn’t as clear-cut as that. And, wow, if I bought regular grocery store meat, I could really make some inexpensive meals!
I used to serve at least one vegetarian meal a week “to save money” for dinner. However, one week when grocery shopping (using my cash only system with a calculator on hand), I realized that the organic beans and nuts that my “vegetarian” dinner called for were actually more expensive then the grass-fed ground beef in my freezer and even the very high-quality ground beef found at the meat counter. I changed my meal plan. I can make some mean vegetarian meals, but they, to my surprise, aren’t always my cheapest meals.
Now, beans can make a wonderful, frugal protein-filled meal (if you handle them okay). We are real fans of lentils…and black beans…and chickpeas. To keep things truly frugal, I buy the non-specialty lentils (like red lentils or brown), rather then the fairly expensive French ones, and avoid other specialty beans, most of the time.
Is my oatmeal breakfast really cheaper than other options?
A friend mentioned that when she actually figured out which breakfasts were cheaper for her to make at home, she found that her oatmeal breakfast (with pure maple syrup, a dab of pastured butter, and raw milk, Nourishing Traditions-style) was actually more expensive then her homemade whole grain soaked muffins. She had assumed that her muffins were more expensive since they seemed more decadent, but in reality her oatmeal was one of the most expensive things on her breakfast menu plan!
Cost of Kerrygold butter compared to coconut oil
Another example is the cost of pantry/refrigerator items. I have always assumed that my pastured, Kerrygold butter was one of the more expensive fat or oil items in my pantry, so would choose to melt coconut oil rather than butter for muffins, pancakes, and other projects. However, that’s not always true!
Here is some of the cost per ounce of the fats/oils I like to use:
- Kerrygold from Costco at $2.33 for 8 oz.: $.29 an ounce (best price I’ve ever found)
- From Trader Jo’s at $2.99 for 8 oz.: $.37 an ounce
- Organic Olive Oil: I try to buy from US olive oil farms and I feel like I am getting a STEAL when I get it for less than $.40 an ounce. I see many brands of olive oil for over $1.00 an ounce.
- Nutiva Coconut oil from my Costco (the very best price I’ve found): $ .28 an ounce
- Nutiva coconut oil from Amazon.com: When bought at the current price for the 54-ounce container, $ .49 an ounce
- Tropical Traditions Organic Gold Label Coconut oil bought at current price in gallon size: $.58 an ounce
As you can see, my Kerrygold butter and coconut oil are very similar in price when bought at my Costco (here is my current Costco Price List, prices and availability vary), but other choices, like the Tropical Traditions coconut oil, can make a significant different in cost, making even my Trader Jo butter much cheaper in cost.
What is the leftover potential of that meal?
One more point that could be valuable when considering the true cost of a meal is this: What is the leftover potential of a meal? One night I might make rice, a vegetable, and a slab of wild salmon. That salmon was expensive, pushing this meal into the more expensive category. However, when I can make a second dinner using leftover rice, flaked leftover salmon, bacon bits, green onions and peas, I am cutting the cost of the meal almost in half, because I don’t have to buy much for dinner the next day. Organic/free-range chickens are expensive, but the extra meat can be stretched into other meals, and the carcass made into nourishing broth, making more meals possible. Using leftovers effectively is something that deserves its own post, but the point is this, the true cost of a meal also takes into account leftover potential of a meal.
Of course, frugality isn’t the only thing we are considering when meal planning. There are many lovely reasons to consider having coconut oil a part of your diet, even if pastured butter can be just as cheap, if not cheaper. But when considering how to cut corners between equally nourishing meals, taking the time to really figure out the true cost of a meal can make a big difference in your budget in the end.
It can take a little time to figure out the cost of each of your ingredients (but if you keep a master list of them, it will be fast in the end to figure out the cost of a recipe), so I’d suggest figuring out some of your basic, most frequently used ingredients, and then your favorite, weekly used recipes. You might find some surprises in what is truly frugal on your menu!
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