Eating frugally does not have to be about sacrifice. Frugal cooks everywhere are getting the most for their money and saving a lot of money on their day to day eating. While using fewer ingredients (secret tip #2) and the secret powerhouse of rice (secret tip #1) might be on the table, there are even more ways to save cash on eating in.
Frugal Cooking Secret #3 – Use Substitutions
It’s so very tempting to pick up one of those prepackaged meals in the store. You want something now, and don’t want to have to wait for the meal itself to cook. Unfortunately, like those single serving coffees, they can become extremely cost prohibitive to the frugal cook.
Like many, I have been tempted with the frozen meals. They offer a single serving, and cost around $2.50 per meal. For two people eating these simple meals for each meal, you’re looking at around $15 for an entire day’s worth of eating (assuming no snacks).
Let’s look at the Glazed Chicken from Lean Cuisine. Here are the ingredients:
Cooked chicken tenderloins (chicken tenderloins, high fructose corn syrup, water, corn oil, modified cornstarch, lemon juice concentrate, sodium phosphates, salt, caramel color, potassium chloride, garlic, onion, paprika, spice), water, blanched enriched long grain parboiled rice (water, rice, iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate, folic acid), green beans, mushrooms, onions, 2% or less of blanched wild rice, modified cornstarch, sugar, salt, cultured whey, chicken fat, lemon juice concentrate, caramel color, dehydrated onions, spices, dehydrated garlic, paprika.
Nutritional Notes (per serving):
- 400 mg sodium per serving
- 29 grams of carbohydrates
- 330 mg potassium
Glazed chicken is essentially taking a chicken and covering it with a sweet sauce, putting it with rice, green beans, and mushrooms. The average cost of a Lean Cuisine Glazed Chicken meal is around $2.50.
For now, we’re going to avoid the conversation about what sort of nutritional value can really be received from high fructose corn syrup and sodium phosphates. Let’s take a look at the price that this meal can be made at home (without the preservatives).
Chicken Tenderloins – A pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts is $3.
Green Beans – A can of green beans costs $1 (that’s the good kind, not the generics)
Rice – Rice is around 50 cents a pound at the ethnic and bulk stores, $1 a pound at the grocery store.
Sweetener (for the glaze) – a pound of honey is around $5, a pound of sugar is about 75 cents.
Onion – One good-sized onion costs around 50 cents.
Mushrooms – One package of mushrooms costs around $2.
Spices – Estimating high, look at around 50 cents for all the mentioned spices from the cabinet.
So, purchasing all of these items for the single meal of glazed chicken (with the exception of the common cooking spices), you’re looking at about $13.75. Most of that cost is in the honey, and the honey is optional because there are other more cost effective sweeteners for the glaze available.
Since the portion sizes for each part are not readily identified on the package, we’re going to have to take some liberties with the measurements. Let’s assume that you get a serving of each item within the prepackaged meal, and that the onion and mushrooms are thrown in there for spicing.
1 chicken breast = $1
1/3 can green beans = $.33
1 serving rice = $.10
1/4 onion = $.13
1/4 mushrooms = $.50