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

J and I have a wonderful group of friends here in Lafayette who took turns bringing us dinner for a month after BB was born. (And as we were enjoying some of the delicious recipes provided by our friends, I remarked to J that maybe we should have a baby more often. He didn't laugh until he was sure I was joking.)

For a month, we dined off of the generosity of our friends, and then off of the contents of our freezer (thanks to family who cooked while visiting, our overabundance of bagels, and a trip to Trader Joe's). We have now gotten back to the point where I need to be doing my usual meal planning.

As I mentioned several weeks ago, cooking post-baby can be a bit of a chore, even for someone who normally loves to cook. Not only is it difficult to cook one-handed while juggling a baby, I also tend to lose my caffeinated momentum by about 5:00 in the afternoon, making it very difficult to face the task of cooking. Unfortunately, easy-to-prepare convenience foods tend to be both expensive and less-than-healthy.

However, I have two go-to fast recipes that can be put on the table quickly, have (mostly) non-perishable ingredients that I try to keep on-hand, and are inexpensive. I know if ever I'm having a particularly tiring day that I can throw one of these two meals together in under 15 minutes:

1. Meatball subs

I only added this recipe to my repertoire recently, when J woke up one day with a sudden jonesing for a meatball sub. We happened to have frozen turkey meatballs, marinara sauce, and mozzerella in the house, as well as the tail end of a baguette, and our new favorite quick meal was born.


  • Pre-cooked frozen turkey meatballs

A bag of about 30 of these cost me $7.50 last time I purchased them. We keep them on-hand to send for LO's school lunches, and we put 6 meatballs (aka one serving) in each sub.

  • Marinara sauce
I can always find a jar for about $1 whenever I go grocery shopping as long as I am not brand loyal.
  • Mozzerella cheese

This is the only ingredient that we can't keep indefinitely in the house, although we almost always have it available since we are a fairly cheese-intensive household. I can get an 8 oz package of shredded mozzerella for $2.50, and we generally put about 2 oz on each sub--meaning it does not look like the sub in the above picture.

  • Hoagie rolls
I can generally get these on sale from the store bakery for $2.50 for six. I freeze them in bags of two as soon as I buy them so they keep for when a meatball sub day strikes.
  • Frozen vegetables

This is not actually an ingredient for the subs, but I like to serve the subs with a side of something green so we don't get rickets. I like the steam-in-bag variety, which are usually $1.25 per bag.

Total Time:

15 minutes. I toast the hoagie rolls under the broiler while I heat up the meatballs in the marinara sauce, either on the stovetop or in the microwave. I then throw the meatball mixture on the hoagies, top them with cheese, and throw them back under the broiler to melt the cheese. During all this, I'm microwaving the frozen veggies. As long as I have remembered to defrost the hoagie rolls at least an hour ahead of time, I can have dinner ready in literally under 15 minutes.

Total Cost: $14.75

Cost per serving (six): $2.46

Since we generally only get two to three servings from a bag of frozen veggies, the cost-per-seving is actually slightly higher, but this is still a very quick and inexpensive meal.

2. Black beans and rice

This happens to be one of J's favorite meals, which means I can pull off the "I'm such a loving wife that I made your favorite dinner" ploy, when in actuality it's more like "I'm so tired that I need to throw something together quickly or else just accept that we'll be eating fruit roll-ups for dinner."

The nice thing about beans and rice is that it doesn't require a specific recipe. You really can just throw things together, provided you have beans, canned tomatoes, and rice, and it will turn out. For the sake of this exercise, though, I'll use this Cuban-style Black Beans and Rice recipe.


  • 2 cups brown rice

I actually just use whatever rice we happen to have on hand. We can generally get rice for $4 for a five pound bag. There are about two cups per pound, so the rice for this recipe would come to $0.80.

  • 1 TB olive oil

We always have olive oil on hand, and I generally can buy a 25 ounce bottle for $7.00. With two tablespoons per ounce, each TB costs $0.14. (Frankly, having done this calculation makes me feel like I should be stingier with my olive oil usage...)

  • 1 large onion, chopped
You can get a pound of onions for about $1.29
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
These tend to be $1.89 each, unless I can find a killer sale, or we can improve our pepper patch in the garden.
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
This is generally about $1.60 per pound.
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
I already have this in my spice cabinet. So even though it's not free, I'm calling it that.
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with their liquid
I can usually find this for about $1.
  • 3 cups (cooked) black beans, drained

As I've mentioned before, I believe that any claims that it is possible to make dried beans edible are nothing but lies. However, even though canned beans are more expensive, you can actually eat them. 3 cups of beans would be about two 15 ounce cans. I can generally find cans for $0.60 each.

Total time:

As long as I remember to put the rice into our rice cooker approximately one hour before we'd like to eat, this recipe otherwise takes just about twenty minutes total, from initial sauteeing of the onion and veggies to allowing the beans, tomatoes, and other goodness to simmer.

Total cost: $7.92

Cost per serving (four): $1.98

We will often add some garnish/toppings, like cheese, cilantro, or lime wedges, or some sides, like corn bread, which means this meal is not quite as inexpensive as it appears. However, considering the fact that I always have every ingredient available in our pantry and the fact that the meal comes together very quickly (and in only one pot, not counting the rice cooker), this is one of my favorite go-to meals for days when I'm wishing Alice from The Brady Bunch would come cook and clean and provide hilarious insight for me.


What are your favorite "I don't feel like cooking and why isn't life more like a fershtunkiner sit-com?" days?


Meatball sub photo courtesy of jeffreyw

Beans and rice photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman

Published Oct 19 2013, 11:31 AM by Emily Guy Birken
Filed under: ,



haverwench said:

Quiche (the crustless variety) is a good one, because it takes little time to prepare and you can throw in pretty much anything you have in the vegetable bin. Just chop up the veggies, toss them in the pan, sprinkle on cheese, beat together some eggs and milk with a cup of flour or Bisquick, and pour it on top. It does take time to bake, but you don't have to sit there and watch it.

For a super-fast meal, I like the Canton Tuna from Peg Bracken's _I Hate to Cook Book_. Just throw a can of tuna, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a bit of chopped celery and green pepper into a pot, thin with a little milk, stir, and heat. She says to serve it over chow mein noodles (this book dates from the days when anything containing celery was considered Chinese), but I prefer it with plain pasta, which can be whipped up in about 20 minutes.

Even more light-speed: Mark Bittman's "Vastly Improved Ramen Noodles," from _How to Cook Everything Vegetarian_. The first step is the most important: remove the little flavoring packet from the ramen package, and *throw it away*. Then just cook the noodles as instructed (takes about three minutes) and stir in a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of dark sesame oil, a couple of chopped scallions (which you can chop while the noodles cook), and an egg or two. I like to beat the eggs lightly before stirring them into the boiling water, but you can also slip them in whole. They cook in a flash, and your meal is done. I don't like to use this one too often because the fried noodles are so calorie-dense, but it's always handy to have it up my sleeve for those times when we're fresh out of ideas and we just want to eat *now*.

October 21, 2013 11:08 AM

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