Often times when Mr. B and I are looking for financial independence inspiration, we try and make some of our frugality and savings into a kind of mental game. For example, I try and make “fancy” dinners for our family, for under a certain dollar amount (*by fancy, I mean an entree that actually requires a pot/pan and not just something we just toss in the microwave). So, if steak or ribs are on sale, and I cook it for dinner and have enough leftovers for lunch the next day, I divide the total cost of the evening’s ingredients (minus the staples I always have on hand like oil, salt, etc.) by the number of people who eat it and the number of meals it covers. I typically can make a nice home-cooked meal for less than $4 per person per meal. While I think that’s pretty good considering we eat a protein with almost every meal, I’ve recently decided to put my cheap-style gourmet cooking to the test. And, what better way to do that than to use a tried and true tool in my arsenal – ye olde crockpot – a crockpot my mother got for free for opening up a bank account back in the day when toasters and umbrellas were used as financial incentives!
I should note that I’ve always been a fan of pickling and canning excess fruits/veggies, but I never really got into cooking “slow on low”. I understand that lesser and/or tougher cuts of red meat and chicken can be made into melt-in-your-mouth goodness by using a slow cooker recipe. Now was also the perfect time to challenge myself because Mr. B’s parents were celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary and I had volunteered to make them dinner to celebrate.
So, based on the ingredients I already had in the pantry/freezer, and knowing that I had four adults and one toddler to feed (Baby B is just starting to eat oatmeal), I set out to find a tasty recipe on www.allrecipes.com. I came across a goody for honey garlic chicken which had great reviews, and I simply upped the ingredients to account for larger portions/leftovers.
I used 5.5 lbs of boneless skinless chicken or about 8 thighs (@ $10.83), a cup of soy sauce (@ $2.49/bottle) , a cup of honey (@ $3.89/jar) and a cup of ketchup, 6 teaspoons of jarred minced garlic and 2 teaspoons of dried basil (all free because I always have it on hand – we buy ketchup in bulk because our toddler eats it on seemingly everything!). I also planned on making 2 lbs of pasta (@ .89¢/box) so we had something to ladle the chicken over. I put all the ingredients in the pot at 6 pm and set my alarm for midnight… Six hours on low!
When the cooking was over, our entire house smelled unbelievable. I packed everything up in pyrex and that night, Mr B., my in-laws, our toddler and I all feasted on this delicious, surprisingly simple and hearty meal. It got such rave reviews that I was asked to make it for the next family holiday gathering. After eating our hearts out, there was enough left over for both my in-laws and us to have for dinner the next day.
So how did I do in my effort to keep costs under $4 per person (my standard goal)? Well, the total cost with tax for the items I had to purchase was $20.65. Since 5 people enjoyed the meal the first night and 4 would enjoy leftovers the next day (our toddler opted for chicken nuggets with ketchup on day two), the total cost per person per meal was $2.29! Well below my normal goal!
I’m excited to try my hand at some other crock pot recipes and welcome your thoughts and comments below. What are some of your favorite sweet or savory slow on low recipes? How do you make money go farther at meal time?