Cost Breakdown of My Favorite Recipes - Live Like a Mensch
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Cost Breakdown of My Favorite Recipes

I love to cook. (I do admit to having the local Chinese restaurant on speed dial, however). One of the big benefits of cooking at home is how much money you save over either convenience foods or said Chinese delivery.

While I've never calculated the cost-per-serving of any of my favorite recipes, I do know that several of the recipes that I most often put into my cooking rotation are fairly cost-effective. Here are two of my favorite cheap recipes, and a basic idea of how much each ingredient costs:

1. Chicken Tikka Masala

Image courtesy of kelly sue

This is a new favorite after our neighbors served us this tasty goodness for New Year's. 


  • 3 whole (to 4) Chicken Breasts

Currently $1.87 per pound at our local grocery. 3 whole breasts is about 1.5 pounds, so approximately $2.81

  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Coriander
  • Cumin, To Taste

I already have all three of these in my spice cabinet. So even though it's not free, I'm calling it that.

  • 1/2 cup Plain Yogurt

Our favorite yogurt is the Greek Gods variety, which is a pretty hefty $4 per 24 oz.

  • 6 Tablespoons Butter

I can generally find a pound of butter for approximately $2.00

  • 1 whole Large Onion

You can get a pound of onions for about $1.29

  • 4 cloves Garlic

This is generally about $1.60 per pound.

  • 1 piece (approximately 2 Inches) Chunk Fresh Ginger

About $2 per pound, if I can get it on special

  • Garam Masala

This is the expensive part. This spice concoction cost nearly $6

  • 1 can (28 Ounce) Diced Tomatoes


  • Sugar

I have this on hand, so we're calling it free.

  • 1-1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1 quart generally sets me back about $2

  • 2 cups Basmati Rice

About $4 for a five pound bag.

Total:  $26.70

Cost per serving (6 servings): $4.45

Okay, so the cost on this is not nearly as good as I thought it would be, but to be fair, once you've invested in the rice and the garam masala spice, it makes each subsequent cooking (of which our household has many) much cheaper.


2. Tortilla Soup (Found in the Fix-It and Forget It Lightly Cookbook)

Image courtesy of Collin Harvey

  • 2 uncooked boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

$1.87 per pound, and this would be about 1 pound of chicken

  • one 16-oz can fat-free refried beans

Generally, about $0.75


  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn

$1 for a bag of frozen corn

  • 3/4 cup chunky salsa

About $1.50 for a jar of salsa

  • 1/4 water
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

$2 for a 2-cup package

  • 1 bag tortilla chips

$2 for my favorite brand of cheapy chips

Total: $9.62

Cost per serving (7 servings): $1.37 (This is such a fan favorite in our house, it should probably be considered 4 servings, rather than 7. But even with gorging ourselves, it still comes out to $2.41 per serving)

If you're curious about how the recipe goes together, put everything but the cheese and the chips in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 or more hours. Add the cheese and stir to melt. Crush some chips in each bowl, and ladle the soup on top.

What are your favorite go-to recipes? Are they splurges or money savers?

Published Jan 31 2013, 02:28 PM by Emily Guy Birken
Filed under: ,



frugal_fun said:

Hmm..well, compared to the average dollar stretcher recipe, our per meal cost would not be pretty. :)  On the whole though we do okay considering our eating plan does not include grains. We come in per month between moderate and high end for a family of 4 per the USDA. I'm working on whittling it down to $900 per month (really!), but that's as low as it can go before I have to reintroduce stuff that will make the family sick.

Our biggest struggle by far is trying to not eat out. The most expensive meals at home hardly even touch the per person cost eating out. (This includes moderate sit down restaurants.) We need to be eating like T-Bone steak and lobster at home to come to the per plate cost of eating el cheapo meals at the Olive Garden.

True story: I haunted a financial website (that shall remain nameless) with a less then spectacular lifestyle/homemaker section. The person in charge of content allowed someone to start a column directly comparing the cost of different restaurant foods to homemade. After about 4 or 5 columns, I made a comment to the effect of: "You know, these comparisons are never a surprise. If you sit down to eat, there's already a 15% to 20% premium over homemade for tip *alone*. And you haven't paid the chef to cook, the dishwasher to clean etc. yet. Eating out is almost *always* more expensive than eating at home."

My comment appeared to have come as quite the shock. ;) The column stopped running soon after that. In fairness, the financial website was based in NYC, so maybe you just don't want to think about how much all that great food must be costing you.

February 1, 2013 12:58 PM

haverwench said:

Our favorite recipes include some of each, cheap and splurge--as well as some that can be either depending on the time of year.

Our cheapest recipe is probably rumbledethumps, a casserole of mashed potatoes, sauteed onion and shredded cabbage, topped with cheddar cheese. If you get everything on sale, this recipe feeds four people for under $1.50. If you pay full price for everything, it's more like $3.60, which is still under a dollar a serving.

Another cheap one is butter beans and cornbread, though it's a bit starch-heavy. The recipe calls for fresh beans, but we use canned or dry beans cooked in the pressure cooker. They're cooked in bacon drippings (or olive oil if you want it kosher/vegetarian) with onion, salt, papper, and garlic, and then you take a cup of the cooking liquid and make it into a sauce with scallions sauteed in butter and thickened with flour, seasoned with salt, papper, and paprika. I figure that's about $2.25 for the beans and another 75 cents or so for the corn bread, so $3 altogether for four small servings or three generous ones.

In summer, we love to make pasta a la caprese. This is super easy: chop up a pound of ripe tomatoes, half a ripe bell pepper, some fresh basil and a couple of cloves of garlic. Then add a half cup of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and (this is crucial) let it sit for at least an hour. Then cook and drain a pound of pasta and throw in the sauce, together with 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese, and toss it quickly so the cheese melts all over the hot pasta. It's *wonderful.* Made with fresh garden produce in the summer, it's very cheap indeed, maybe $3 for four generous servings. But if you have to buy the veggies in the middle of winter, it can be quite a bit more.

Another seasonal one is butternut squash lasagna. The lasagna noodles are layered with cooked. mashed butternut squash, white sauce, and mozzarella cheese, and about 20 minutes from the end of cooking you top it with more mozzarella, bread crumbs and parmesan. If the squash is in season, this one costs maybe 6 or 7 dollars and makes about 6 servings.

And then there's a pricier one: chicken pie. It's expensive because we'll only use free-range chicken, which costs a minimum of 2 bucks a pound (that's for legs or thighs with the skin and bone included). So that's about $3.50 for a package of 5 chicken legs. We usually roast the chicken by itself and have one drumstick each, then we save all the drippings and the meat stripped from the remaining 3 legs. We saute some potatoes, carrots, mushrooms (another splurge item), and a leek, and add the chicken and a gravy made from the drippings with flour and milk. And we also bake it in an all-butter pastry crust, so the butter also adds to the cost. So it probably costs about 6 bucks altogether. But I guess we do manage to get about 6 servings out of it, so that's not really as splurgey as I thought. It's just fattening. :-) And it takes time to prepare. But it's waaaaaay cheaper than the organic chicken pies they sell ready-made at the store for something like $20 each. And a non-organic version, with shortening in place of butter, would be cheaper still. (Not sure what to use in place of the milk when making the gravy, though, if you wanted to make it kosher. Maybe just some chicken stock?)

February 3, 2013 11:50 AM

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