Costing Meals

CostingMeals

My husband and I love to watch reality TV shows about entrepreneurship. It’s silly, but it’s our thing! One of our favorite shows is Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into these small (failing) mom-and-pop restaurants and helps them turn the business around. Sometimes their food is awful, sometimes they just need more presence, but fairly often it comes down to messy finances. The #1 mistake these failing restaurants make is that they don’t cost out the prices of their meals. That is to say, they have no idea what it costs them to make that burger and fries they’re putting in front of you. Without this, there is no starting point for how to make food into a business.

Since kitchen stewardship is one of my main ‘job functions’ in my home, I took this principle and applied it to my family’s meals. I’m not trying to turn a profit, though, so I worked backwards. I looked at our monthly food budget, then divided that by the number of days in a month, and the number of mouths I had to feed. At the time, this gave me $2/day per person. I split it up into 3 meals and decided to start watching closely how much we spent for each meal I prepared. (If you apply this to every aspect in your life, it might drive you crazy, so I don’t recommend it – but it is a definite help in the kitchen!) This has been a really good way to ensure that I know exactly what I am spending on certain meals. It means we eat some meals less often (bye bye, steak) and some meals more often (mmm, beefy potatoes w/ eggs!). It enables me to be sure my family will be well-fed, even when the alternator goes out and our household budgets all shrink a little. I think the thing it has done more than anything is to put a major amount of perspective on a dollar. (IE: I can feed my whole family for a day for less than I can get lunch at Panera. Cry.)

Here’s how it works. I look at what I spend on an item, and what I use in a recipe. Then I add up the costs of those items, and divide it by the number of people I know it will feed. I’ll show how I ‘costed’ lastnight’s dinner (the afore-mentioned beefy potatoes w/ eggs):

Potatoes: $1.29/10 lb bag (Crazy deal, right?!) = .129/lb.
Eggs: $1.80/18 = .10/ea.
Ground beef: 2.095/lb.

We used 1 1/4 lb. ground beef ($2.62), 7 eggs (.70), and about 2 lbs. of potatoes (.26).

So, the total spent on this meal was $2.62+.70+.26 = $3.58. My husband and I and our three children all ate and were full, so not including leftovers, this meal cost 71.6 cents/person.
(I don’t cost out spices, which may be erroneous, but we buy them so infrequently that it isn’t practical to do so. We spend maybe $10 a year on new spices? So it seems like unnecessary work, IMO.)

If this all seems a little bizarre, I totally understand. I will post some recipes, along with the cost per serving, as time allows me to do so. In the meantime, budget bytes is a great source for pre-costed recipes.

Do you have goals for food spending? Have you ever worked out the precise cost of your meals? Weigh in below!

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