Friday, July 19, 2013


I've never liked bologna. Hot dogs either, for that matter, though I've learned to put up with them from time to time. But cheap it is, so I bought some the other day, to see if my kids will eat it. (And I'm sure when they do, I'll think of all the pop culture associations: it has a first name, Cinderella Man gives his piece up for his hungry kid, etc.)

That's really tangential, though, to my real thrust this week in terms of teasing out cheap food. I sat down with a notebook and calculator to try to rough out the exact spending range for our most common or favorite meals, and there were a few surprises.

One of our very priciest? Our beloved Sunday pancakes. Made from scratch, and with a package of bacon and the whole jar of applesauce we typically go through, it runs us about $8.75. And when I bit my lip and checked out the add-water, warehouse-sized mix to see what it ran, I was shocked to discover that it was about half the unit price of my homemade batch. That seemed morally wrong somehow!

Another favorite, Cuban black beans, also ran us a surprising $8 per meal. I keep thinking dry beans are the cheapest food out there, but adding all the fantastic toppings must counteract that.

The most cost-effective meals, however, won't raise any eyebrows: ramen noodles and boxed mac n' cheese don't have their reputations for nothin'! Even adding in a package of frozen vegetables to round out the food groups, such a meal would feed six of us for about $3. (Leaving the miso out of that ramen calculation, though.)

So...should we start eating ramen on Sundays instead of bacon? Should I cave to the anti-oatmeal majority and grab that mongo bag of Krusteaz mix to cook up for breakfast? Food and finances at odds...moral fabric

Luckily, I think we can still have it both ways. Cutting out bacon (steeped in nitrates as it is) will probably bring us budget and conscience relief, and I think I can make peace with occasional pancakes-from-a-mix. I don't look forward to ramen, but the kids all would, and that's not a bad compromise in exchange for putting up with some other simplified meals they might not have picked.

Next on the chopping block: snack foods. Ooh, boy, there's a budget black hole if ever there was one...

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