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.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.