Sunday, October 26, 2008

Living Within Your Means: 8 Days of Food Life

People are getting a lot more focused on living within their means these days.  One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to cook from scratch and eat in more.  So I thought I'd share a 8 days of food life in our home - what we eat and how much we spend from a Sunday to another Sunday.

So for 8 days,  I  kept careful track of what we ate and how we spent for it.  I spent money on food outside of the house twice - once on lunch with my sister ($48.92 - yes a lot, but we're both pregnant, which leads to thinking appetizers are necessary), and at Starbucks ($8.77).  All remaining meals were eaten from home.

This month's grocery bill has been higher than other months, because I allocated extra to stock up the pantry.  For the month of October, we've spent $498.43 on all food, paper goods, soaps, toiletries, and so on, aside from meals out.  Our pantry is full, and our chest freezer is beginning to be stocked.

$498.43 breaks down to $16.07 per day for 2 people for all food from home and non-food items.  That means that we spent $162.68 on food and non-food items for  the 8 day period.  Since about 40% of that can be attributed to non-food items, that means we spent $77.17 to feed us, or about $9.65 a day.  Because 23 of 24 meals in that 8 day period came from home, plus all snacks, that means we spent approximately $3.35 per meal to feed the two of us - and it's probably less, as there's still lots of food stocked up for future meals.

So what did we spend that $3.35 a meal on?

Day 1, Sunday: 
Breakfast - Cheerios with milk in the early morning for me, followed by coffee, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon and toast with Sander a few hours later (milk, sugar and splenda added to the coffee in varying quantities)
Lunch - leftovers from Saturday - keilbasa and veggies
Dinner - Chicken pot pie with mashed potato crust (not one of my greatest cooking feats), homemade bread

Day 2, Monday:
Breakfast - English muffins with low fat cream cheese and a banana for me, oatmeal for Sander, coffee for both of us
Snacks - Granola bars, crackers, apple
Lunch - Salads
Dinner - Homemade clam chowder and homemade bread, made on Sunday

Day 3, Tuesday:
Breakfast - Same as Monday
Snacks - Apples, yogurt, granola bars
Lunch - Salads
Dinner - Sander was at friends, I ate leftover clam chowder

Day 4, Wednesday: 
Breakfast -Toast with cream cheese, granola bar, oatmeal, coffee
Snacks - Apples, crackers, granola bars
Lunch - Leftover pot pie
Dinner - Pasta with parma rosa sauce

Day 5, Thursday: 
Breakfast - English muffins with cream cheese, bananas, oatmeal, coffee
Snacks - Yogurt, apples, crackers with the last of our hummus, granola bars
Lunch - Leftover pasta
Dinner - Catchall night, since I worked late.  Sander nibbled, I had the last of the clam chowder and some cereal for dessert

Day 6, Friday: 
Breakfast - Same as Thursday
Snacks -  Apples, oatmeal, granola bars
Lunch - Rice and beans with cheese (made on Thursday night)
Dinner - Breakfast for dinner - scrambled eggs, toast, corned beef hash

Day 7, Saturday: 
Breakfast- Cereal, toast, coffee
Snacks - Banana, beer (Sander, while he helped my brother in law roof their house)
Lunch - Pizza (Sander, provided by my sister and brother in law) and a burger, fries and a shared ceasar salad at The Cheesecake Factory with my sister for me
Dinner - Nothing really, I had some chips with homemade salsa, Sander had cold pizza 

Day 8, Sunday:
Breakfast - Cereal, bagels, coffee
Snacks - Bananas, whatever we could scrounge in the fridge
Lunch - Toasted cheese sandwich, chips and salsa, banana
Dinner - Autumn squash soup with ham and garlic croutons made from our homemade bread (soup recipe adapted from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert - it's a house favorite)

I also made another double batch of clam chowder that went directly into the freezer, since we've been inundated with leeks from our CSA, and the recipe I use conveniently calls for leeks.

Was our menu glamourous?  No, not really.  There are some really 'wow' recipes in there, such as the squash soup and clam chowder.  But there was also a lot of simple items and leftovers too.  We're both gone for long days during the week, so our more intricate meals fall to the weekends.  But we do eat well, and reasonably healthy.  

Just by packing lunches, we save probably about $10 a day, or about $50 in the 8 day period I chronicled.  Over the course of the 5-week month of October, that adds up to $250 worth of savings, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Eating at home doesn't have to be fancy.  Try it for a week - plan some meals, prep the coffee pot at night, pack your lunch.  You just might like it.

Autumn Squash Soup With Ham and Garlic Croutons (a somewhat cheaper adaptation of the original) - makes about 6-8 servings
1 medium butternut squash & 1 small acorn squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves or 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
32 oz (4 cups) chicken broth
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 cup 1% milk
3-4 slices of prosciutto or thin sliced ham, cut into thin ribbons
12-15 small cubes of bread, or slices of baguette
A sprinkle of chives, fresh or dried

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the squash, halve lengthwise, seed, and lay cut sides down on a lightly oiled pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until soft.  Turn the squash, turn off the oven, and let them brown and soften some more (about 10 min).  

Once the squash is cool, cut away the skin and place the squash in a dish, set aside. Note: bake your squash early in the day, and let cool for a few hours, then do the rest of the prep work just before dinner

Heat the remaining olive oil in a heavy stockpan over low to moderate heat.  Add the onion, potatoes, and 1/2 the garlic.  Slow cook the vegetables until soft, and golden, about 15 min.  Add the chicken broth and simmer for 30 min.

Scrape the squash into the pot if you have an immersion blender (these are great tools, I highly recommend the investment) or blend with a little soup broth in a food processor before adding to the soup mix.  Season the soup with salt, pepper and the nutmeg to taste.  Add the cream slowly and bring to a boil, stirring pretty regularly.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 min. 

In a skillet, melt the butter with the garlic.  Add the ham and bread cubes, and sprinkle with cayenne pepper - a little cayenne goes a long way.  Saute until everything is slightly crisp.

Serve the soup garnished with the bread, ham, and a sprinkle of chives.





CookinsForMe said...

$498.43 for a month seems pretty high to me but the cost of living where I am is lower so that's probably most of the difference. Your menus seem good to me and the autumn squash soup sounds lovely! I'll try that soon. Thanks for sharing it.

lgsm said...

I just made the squash soup recipe tonight for supper, since I had all the ingredients on hand. It was fantastic, definitely a keeper! Even my hubby, a non-squash lover, liked it!

Ms.Moneypenny said...

It's actually quite high for us - typically our costs for all food, soap, toiletries and paper products is $400 a month. But as I mentioned, I'm working on stocking our freezer and pantry up, so I had allocated some extra money.

In the end, I'm glad I did. It's nice to watch that freezer fill up!