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The $7 Dinner Challenge: Week 3

Shawn just caught on that every Monday we’ve been eating dinner for just $7. And he was kind of dreading tonight’s meal as a result. I certainly don’t blame him. It is breathtaking to think about putting a full meal on the table for four people for just $7. Your mind jumps eight steps down the line, making all kinds of assumptions about what can be made for that small sum. Fresh? Nah, can’t be. Tasty? No way. When I think cheap meals, I think of Hamburger Helper, ramen noodles and frozen dinners — the $1 ones I used to eat.

But if I have learned one thing since Cate and I launched The $7 Dinner Challenge, it’s that eating cheap doesn’t have to mean eating poorly. Sure, if you never paid attention to sales or coupons or store discount cards, you would end up paying more for food. But the thing is that those small things — the $0.35 cent coupons, sale meat and all — really add up in the long and short run.

This week, chicken is on sale at a local grocery store for just $1.49 a pound for a bulk package. (So yes, while I do know that this is the third time chicken has been my star protein for the challenge, I am using it again. Good thing all of these recipes were different.)

When you see huge sales like this, you simply have to stock up. And I do know that for a person living on a shoestring, spending $6 for a bulk package of chicken can be scary. I’ve been there. But really you are saving loads in the long run.

Another important way to save money on your groceries is to clip coupons. I’ve gotten in the habit of picking up the New York Daily News and the New York Post on Sundays. Each cost $1, and save me loads with the coupons inside (the two papers have different advertisement packages). Many grocery stores also double coupons that are under $1 at checkout, so you save even more that way.

And are you planning ahead? You should be. Careful, thoughtful meal planning will help you devise recipes within a budget.

So, what did I make for The $7 Dinner Challenge this week?

We started off with crusty bread with gorgonzola butter (yes! an appetizer for a change!). This used:

1 small loaf of bread (sometimes called a demi-loaf), 2 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp gorgonzola. Total cost: $1.75.

  • Demi-loaves can be purchased for about $1 at many grocery stores in the bakery section. For me, it’s a pantry staple — I have at least half a dozen in my deep freezer. Buy them when they go on sale for $0.75 and stock up!
  • To freeze a demi-loaf: wrap in aluminum foil and seal in a resealable bag.
  • To defrost a demi-loaf: When you are ready to eat, remove from the freezer and bake for about 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees. So easy.
  • To make gorgonzola butter: Simply melt 2 tbsp salted butter and stir together with 1 tbsp crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Butters 1 demi-loaf.
  • To make Crusty Bread with Gorgonzola Butter: Heat the bread in an oven unwrapped until heated through. Once it’s warm and toasty, cut it open (as if you are making a sandwich) and spread the gorgonzola butter down the length of it. Flip it upside down for a minute or so to let the butter melt into both sides.

For our entree, we had Lighter Chicken Enchiladas from the November 2008 issue of Everyday Food. I served this with a side of corn. This used:

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, canned chipotles in adobo, chicken broth, corn tortillas and Monterey Jack cheese, 1 box frozen corn (on sale). Plus pantry items: canola oil, garlic, flour, cumin. Total cost: $4.98

  • I used sale items from ShopRite and Caraluzzi’s to make this menu.
  • For the enchiladas recipe, just pick up a copy of Everyday Food that’s on the newsstands now.
  • My total cost was $6.73. For pennies more, I could have added a side of rice as well. However, we really didn’t need it.
  • Unfortunately, Will and Paige didn’t give this meal the kid seal of approval. But Shawn and I liked it.

Remember how I said that Shawn was dreading this meal? When we were finished, he admitted that it wasn’t so bad — and it certainly didn’t feel like a cheap meal. He even helped me start brainstorming for next week’s $7 Dinner Challenge.

Iced Pumpkin Cookies Recipe
Delicious Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe


Thursday 30th of October 2008

I love this challenge! I have an unreasonable edge here because I do meal planning every week and so I'm used to figuring out how a four-serving meal with healthy and organic ingredients can fit into a $20 or $40 a week budget. (And then I sell the weekly plans online, for all the folks who don't have the time to research ingredients and recipes and plan out a week's worth of meals!)

I finally got mine up: balsamic braised chicken legs with steamed artichokes! A lot of people don't live near a Trader Joe's, but for those who do, their free-range chicken is about $1.09 a pound all the time. It is a freaking chicken bonanza out here!! Good thing I love it!


Tuesday 28th of October 2008

We had squash "ravioli" on homemade pasta with pecan cream sauce and green beans. We didn't have appetizers OR dessert....

But I have no idea how much any of this cost really. I can't imagine it could have been more than $3.50 and if we don't have to include pantry items then it was well below $3.50 as all we actually bought specifically for the dinner was the squash and the green beans.

1 egg for the pasta ($2.25 per dozen - in the fridge) ~90gm flour ($10 per kilo - on hand) pecans (again, no idea, we had these on hand) small amount grated Ilha Branca cheese ($23??? per kilo - we had it in the fridge) 1/2 onion (no idea, we always have onions) milk powder (no idea, we always have milk powder) 1 Tbsp butter ($4 per lb; on hand) 1 Tbsp olive oil ($8 per litre; on hand) splash of 10% cream ($2 per litre; on hand...) good shot of green beans ($1.29 per lb - I'm guessing it came to around $.90??) butternut squash (no idea but we only used half of one)

I'll try to remember about this challenge for another time.

If you buy chicken breast with bones and then freeze the bones til you have enough to make stock, you can eliminate the need to buy canned stock. (Home-made stock is great and VERY easy to make.)

Sarah Caron

Tuesday 28th of October 2008

Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for the comment! What was your dinner?

When we calculate dinner, we don't include pantry items in the price, as long as they are things that everyone is likely to have in their pantry (such as spices, salt, pepper, oil). For this dinner, here's the break down:

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts ($1.49), canned chipotles in adobo (0.75), chicken broth (0.59), corn tortillas (0.80) and Monterey Jack cheese (0.55), 1 box frozen corn (on sale)($1). 1 small loaf of bread (sometimes called a demi-loaf) ($1), 2 tbsp butter ($.20), 1 tbsp gorgonzola ($0.35).

Also, items that you only use a portion of are prorated. You can find the full rules here:


Tuesday 28th of October 2008

I'm pretty sure that our dinner for the two of us last night must have worked out to around $3.50, although the inexpensive wine we drank with it might have tipped the scale...

When you're calculating the cost of the dinner, do you include the pantry items?


Tuesday 28th of October 2008

I am amazed at how you are beating the challenge each week with tasty stuff to boot. Well done :)