What Five Meals For Five Dollars A Person Looks Like

I went grocery shopping yesterday, determined to make five meals that cost five dollars per person (10 altogether, as I am cooking for Marco and myself). The recipes/pics will follow, but if you’re curious, they are:

Turkey Taco Lettuce Wraps

My Mom’s Delicious Peasant Soup, Seen Here

Cacio e Pepe (with a side of garlic broccoli)

Greek Salad with Chicken

Vegan Stir Fry

Overall, a pretty humble menu, but satisfying and (for the most part) rather healthy. And while this shopping trip literally only consisted of components of these meals (I remained disciplined enough not to pick up a bag of those chocolate-dipped Lay’s Wavy chips, somehow), it still felt very productive. Making a detailed list beforehand with everything that you need — down to the littlest detail of a recipe — seems to be the ultimate key to grocery store sanity and financial health. It’s much harder to go off track when you are playing scavenger hunt with “where is the fresh basil I need, dammit” than when you are just wandering around, picking up stray bags of Cheetos.

I also noticed, though on some level we all know this already, how much cheaper it is to buy “ingredients” than “foods.” The more you break down a meal to its essential components — bulk vegetables, bags of rice, cans of beans — the less expensive it’s going to be. If you can avoid buying packages of anything pre-made, you’re almost guaranteed to get out of the store at a fraction of the price. (Though I admit, not buying the tub of rice pudding I was craving was pretty hard.)

Overall, exempting the few things I already had lying around the house — mostly the essential ingredients I talked about yesterday — getting the supplies for the recipes were not that hard. And for the low, low price of (almost exactly) 50 bucks, I got the following:

1 bottle habanero hot sauce, 1 jar pepperoncini, 1 small block pecorino cheese, 1 block feta cheese, 1 red onion, 2 yellow onions, 2 cans cannellini beans, 1 can black olives, 1 can bamboo shoots, 2 small tomatoes, 1 fresh jalapeno, 1 avocado, 2 bags frozen broccoli, 1 bag frozen corn, 1 bag frozen green beans, 1 head iceberg lettuce, 2 heads romain lettuce, 1 box ditalini, 1 box thin linguine, 1 package thin sliced chicken breasts, 1 package ground turkey, 1/3 pound roast ham, unsliced, 1 box unsalted chicken stock, 1 packet taco seasoning.

As you can see, lots of veg, and lots of basics. Without exception, the meat and cheese were what cost me the most, so if you were to go all-vegan on these meals (not impossible), you would arguably save much, much more. And while it may not be the sexiest grocery trip of your life, it feels pretty great being able to spend all that saved money on something much more fun than Sundried Tomato Triscuits.

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