Many people will suggest that meatless meals are a frugal choice. While I agree that this can sometimes be true, I would not assume that all meatless meals will be more economical. Most of our meatless recipes call for cheese. In our town, Walmart brand cheese at Walmart is about $4 per pound. Other brands – and even the store brands at the regular grocery store – can cost up to $7 per pound. I can buy chicken breasts for $1.99 per pound, beef roasts for under $3 per pound, and sometimes various pork cuts for under $2 per pound. Whole chickens and other cuts are even cheaper. A $3 chicken, some rice and some frozen beans may cost less than some meatless alternatives. And you can boil up the carcass for soup the next day!
When shredded cheese is on sale (Aldi had it for about $2.60 per pound last month), it’s a good idea to stock up on it. It freezes well. Block cheese for slicing is better unfrozen, and theoretically it will last a while in the refrigerator, but in our house it will be immediately eaten. Meat, at least, seldom disappears as a “snack.”
Add up the cost of all the ingredients in your meal. Some ingredients add significantly to the total cost: fresh herbs, special oils or vinegars, out-of-season fresh produce (red bell peppers, for example – OUCH!), cheese, or anything for which you have to run out at the last minute.
Some meals cost more at home than they do in a restaurant or from the grocery store. Homemade pizza is a good example. By they time you have made or bought a crust, made or purchased the sauce, collected meat and vegetables and mushrooms and mozzeralla cheese, you have spent as much as a Domino’s pizza or a couple frozen pizzas. The advantages to making it at home are the control you have over the ingredients and the fun of creating it (especially as a family or group of friends.) Depending on what you like to put in granola, that can be cheaper to buy than to make, too. I thought I could save money on tortillas by making them at home, but it wasn’t true. They take a lot of flour (and they are a pain to make, too!) Again, you are taking control of the ingredients and processing.
Processed foods can make us nervous, in this age of e coli and other food hazards, so we have to make our own choices. Don’t make them exclusively based on cost or convenience or safety. Consider all the factors and make sensible decisions about your own food choices. Menu planning is very helpful in this matter. By mapping out your meals in advance, you can reasonably balance nutrition, convenience and other factors.