Budget Menu & Dirt Cheap Recipes Cooking for Two Groceries vs. Out-to-Eat

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    • #273448

      So this is something bf and I have been discussing recently. We actually tested it out and it kind of worked, except I missed cooking.

      What do you all think about not getting groceries and eating out instead? See we live in a big city so the cost of living and groceries are high here and eating out can be so cheap now. For example a baked potato and side salad at Wendy’s is less than $3.

      Anyway, we only eat one meal together, dinner. So that would be where we would go out. I usually get groceries and home cook everything but it costs just about the same as out to eat, i think.

      Our meals cost somewhere between $5-10 each night for the two of us but we can get that out at the same price.

      Our groceries cost a lot. Maybe I’m not being as thrifty as we should since coupons took up so much of my time but my schedule is so busy I barely have time to sit. So it’s about $150 for 2-3 weeks as of now, which is about $7 a day.

      So I don’t know… we’re playing around with this idea. I definitely don’t want to eat unhealthy/fast food every night, and its even more difficult since we don’t eat meat or chicken and only fish or veg.

      dishes. But I think it’s doable, i think.

      Any advice? comments? what do you all think?

      the back of my head says it’s crazy but i dont know…

    • #421589

      Unless you are getting a ‘senior discount’ when you all are eating out, you are not saving money by normal standards. And, if it is cheaper to eat out then you drastically need to reevaluate and change your grocery shopping.

      You say you are too busy to find time to cook, yet you have plenty of time to drive to a restaurant and sit for a much longer time for someone else to make and serve the food. And do that 3 times a day?

      Preparing meals at home is way cheaper than eating out and the more ‘preparing’ to do the cheaper it gets. Start out with the basic frozen/packaged meals and then start adding to them, like dinner rolls and/or a simple dessert like a cup of fruit. On the weekends try creating something new, from scratch.

      It will be a fun time, lots of mistakes perhaps, but eventually you will expand your skills.

      And yes use coupons and take advantage of store specials. Don’t just fill the freezer with pizza and no space left for those specials. With coupons you can save 30%-50% of your grocery bill without hardly trying.

      More if you got serious about it.

    • #421593

      Hmm… i dont think you understand. I do cook home meals as of now and stock the fridge with deals.

      I only buy items on sale when we grocery shop too. I think it might be that we are in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

      And yes, going to a resteraunt for 30 minutes to an hour is much faster than making a home-made meal and then doing dishes after, especially when it wastes my energy so I can’t study afterwards or clean.

      We would only eat out once a day, since we eat breakfast (boxed cereal or fresh fruit) and lunch at work. I usually use leftovers for lunch, so this would include my dinner the night before, regardless of where it came from.

      I love cooking, I cook many gourmet meals from scratch, even went to cooking school. So that isn’t the problem. The problem is about the time spent making the meals and the money almost being the same and whether it’s really worth the cleanup and energy if the money is about equal.

      But thanks for your reply. I do appreciate it.

    • #421595

      Your health should be a major factor in your decision. Just because it’s not fast foods doesn’t make it good for you, even if it’s fish.

      2 frozen, preseasoned salmon filets from Gortons = about $6; a bag of frozen broccoli about $1.50, a whole wheat baguette from the bakery = $2. A lot better for you than dinner out, and not too expensive. And you have to wash a whopping baking sheet, bowl, two plates and two forks.

      Want to wash less? Line the baking sheet with foil. Then just throw it away.

      Buy paper plates and plastic utensils.

      I am a proponent of eating at home. It’s healthier and tastes better, imo.

      I don’t know where in FL you live, but when I lived in Palm Beach, I found groceries reasonable and restaurants too expensive. Same in Miami.

      All this being said, you seem to be clearly leaning toward eating out every night, and if that’s what you truly want, why not just do it?

      Frugality is a good thing, but if it makes you miserable, what’s the point? Life is to enjoy and if you dread washing a few dishes at night, you are not, realistically, going to stick with your eating in plan.

    • #421597

      thanks michelle for your comments. my bf is very leaning towards going out every night and i’m actually trying to think about this carefully. we did it once before and i really missed cooking so that’s why we stopped.

      But now I guess he is realizing that my frugal meals are just as expensive as say… taco bell, which of course he’d prefer. haha And while we know it’s not healthy, we decided we would stock up on fresh fruits and salad for the rest of the time at home.

      I don’t know if that really “balances” things lol but it’s an idea.

      i think grocery shopping is so much tougher than many lead it on to be. we shop every few weeks but eventually we run out of the good stuff and start going out or complaining. we usually eat everything before we shop again, but maybe we should do smaller loads?

      uh oh – now i feel confused! i’ve tried couponing, shopping for sales, sticking to a list, wholesale shopping, stockpiling, etc. but for some reason we still leave the store with a large bill, even though we use it all.

      What are we doing wrong?

    • #421625

      I think you need to compare apples to apples, not take out to gourmet meals

      baked pot & salad $3 x 2
      Potato at home and salad

      If you buy a bag of potatoes and basic head of lettuce etc the total cost would be a tad over $7 but you will have more potatoes left for another meal and probably way more salad left too ..

      the differance at home could be you also buy a bag of mixes salad fixings (baby spinach etc) to increase the nutritional value of the salad .. basic lettuce salad is not terribly nutrious.

      i make my own ‘house’ dressing and we like it better than bought at this point .. i can control how much sugar, what kinds of oil, no chems etc in it vs store bought with who know what in it

      you can nuke the potato for part of the cooking time, then put in oven to crisp if you like skin crispy (just put on rack – no dishes)

      cutting board, knife, plate, forks, measuring spoons – thats it for dishes pretty much ..

      left over meals:
      take some of the potatoes, cut up and put in crockpot with water & creamer (if vegan)/soy/rice milk .. add in some onion, herbs .. now do you want a fish chowder?, pot soup (with corn or brocchilli)?

      .. personally we grab one can of clams or oysters, 1-2 cans of smoked oysters or clams (drain well) and make a clam/oyster chowder (sometimes with fish too)

      Parselyed Potatoes .. cut potatoes into bite size chunks, cook in water, drain – in same pot add butter, parsely, italian seasoning, (onions, garlic if you want) .. serve as a side

      taco bell not sure what he is getting but assuming he is doing vegetarian also

      mexican pizza:
      tortilla, can of refried beans, can of black beans, kidneys (rinse and mix together, left overs go in fridge), chopped onions (if you pre chop onions and put in jar in fridge you only dirty the cutting board once), cheese, olives, salsa (from jar), green pepper chopped

      spread refried beans over tortilla, add in veggies (from above), add salsa, cover with cheese (if you do dairy), add another tortilla if you want .. nuke or cook in oven to melt cheese

      the cost of this:
      tortilla (reg flour not speciality) >1.50 for 8-10 (*with left overs)
      2 cans of beans >2.00 (*with left overs)
      1 can refried beans >1.00 (*with left overs)
      olives, peppers, onions, etc >5.00 (*with left overs)
      pack of shredded cheese >4.00 (*with left overs)
      jar of salsa >4.00 (*with left overs)

      I tried using the highest prices I could find .. its still way under $18 and there is enough for at least 3 meals (mexican pizza) with still some left overs

      using the mixed black & kidney beans you could make a mexican rice dish, add the salsa, some of the last bits of veggies and salsa, maybe a can of tomatoes added in .. this makes meal #4 from the above .. with just the addition of some rice ..

      this should leave you lots of left overs for lunch etc (freeze and nuke if you want)

      ALT: bean salad is nothing more than the kidney & black beans, some onions, green beans and anyother bean you want to add, make a vinegar & sugar combo with spices let sit at least a day .. good cold .. I like it on top of salads ..

      the guys like it as a side

      Figure going plain vs fancy and its usually less dishes ..

      Wipe down the stove while stuff is cooking, spot clean anything that falls on the floor

      Start dishpan with super hot water (I actually use an old coffee pot) and presoak – by the time you get done eating the water is usually still hot and dishes are a breeze

      No reason both of you can’t work in kitchen, one can make salad while the other does another part of the meal .. You can always use another person to open cans, drain etc .. Kitchen can be a great way to talk too ..

      Plus theres always the tush pats when you walk by each other ..

      Cook cooks, the other person does dishes??


    • #421630

      Thanks Ria, great ideas! After this post yesterday I did go home and make some pea soup and muffins which I have for lunch today also. I guess what throws us off is the shopping for the items. I feel like when I make a meal, it costs about $20 in groceries which I never realized how important the leftovers are to take into account since they double as another meal too.

      Do you all shop based on the meals your making or make the meals after your shopping/leftovers? I usually shop first then make meals out of what we bought, and maybe I should do it the other way around now?

      Ps I LOVE the onions idea in a jar, never thought of that and I have an onion at home now. Plus I hate chopping them since they make me tear up, so doing only one chop will help reduce that too.

    • #421637

      I shop then make a menu. That way I can see what’s on sale, what’s on clearance and stock up based on that.

    • #421661

      I find making a menu saves me money and time ..


      when you shop if they have onions, gr peppers etc (or anything else you use) on sale grab them and prep them ..

      if you buy extra green peppers and know you are going to make a stir fry later in the month cut them up put on cooky sheet freeze, then bag .. this way they are easier to grab just a little to make an omlet, stir frys, quiche, rice dishes etc

      Cooking vegan or vegetarian means you need to see if they have a mark down section .. If I go into the store today and they have markdown portabellas or any mushroom, I grab as many as I can afford .. cook up and you have mushroom stock, you can freeze cooked mushrooms..

      Sometimes they have tofu marked down, I’ll grab a bunch – I make a faux egg salad, which even the guys like (alot) .. You can freeze tofu, it changes the texture, but I found it worked great for sloppy joes, taco etc

      I will put together mini combos of mushrooms, onions, cooked sausage, etc and toss into freezer these are handy for morning breakfast sandwiches, or omelets .. pasta dishes work this way too – grab a baggie of mixed veggies make a quick roux with herbs and add the veggies


    • #421673

      Eating out is alot more expensive and very unhealthy. Every resteraunt adds fat or butter and lots of sodium and msg to make their meals taste so wonderful!

      A salad and baked potato is not bad, if you have low fat dressing.
      But you can make a big salad and buy a whole bag of potatoes for $6
      And it is more than that if you are buying drinks at Wendy’s
      You say you don’t have a lot of time, but you could broil some fish, toss a salad and throw some potatoes in the microwave for less money than eating out.
      A crockpot is wonderful for vegie meals.
      You can broil fish, make salad and nuke potatoes for 2 or 3 meals on your days off, or make other things you like and then just warm them up.
      I don’t think eating out is a cheaper option, no.
      Coupons only save you money if you use them wisely.

      Only use them for something you were going to buy anyway and with sales.
      Alot of times generics are cheaper than an item with a coupon.
      I find eating at home a lot more relaxing and you can have seconds!! lol
      Good luck!

    • #421695

      I have our monthly grocery bill for a family of 7 down to $250 a month. Once or twice a month when I’m really running like today I might stop and bring dinner home. $24 to $50 for the 7 of us.

      That’s a good portion of my grocery bill for the month! It’s not a daily occurrence but a rare treat and a lifesaver for me. I can’t imagine eating out daily, it would kill use financially!

      If the two of you can eat out cheaper than at home that’s great! But I can’t imagine what you are doing to your bodies! I ate out once a day (mostly salads!) for the 2 weeks while we were gone and gained 24 pounds!

      I got home and quickly worked it off but boy I can’t imagine doing that all the time!

      If you are spending a lot at the grocery store maybe you need to look at what you are getting. Process foods and junk foods can kill a budget and buying steaks isn’t in most budgets either. It takes time and effort to get it all together but you’ll figure it out in your own time!

      I also buy my stables in bulk and put it up at home (dry goods like flour, oats, beans, ect.)

      good luck figuring it all out.

    • #421698

      One concern I see is your diet may be too low in some minerals esp calcium .. I am assuming you are young, as someone who did not eat properly in 20’s- 40’s I am now someone with osteoporosis even though I am honestly large boned (my wrist is 7 inches).

      Do the math on your breakfasts, how much for coffee for the month (even just for you) how much for whatever you are eating .. I didn’t bother with saving money either .. If you make your own breakfasts and tuck 1/2 that money away you can pay for car, house, extras ..

      it adds up fast

      Think about making some muffins, yogurt smoothies etc on weekend and pull from freezer for mornings .. you will save some cash and increase your calcium intake .. Put the smoothies in ice cube trays and use blender with some reg ice in morning, you can mix rice or soy milk with these too

      Not sure if you are still eating ovo-lacto .. if so you can make pancakes, eggs etc and freeze .. I do this for my dh since he leaves for work at 4:30 am


    • #421721

      I really like the ideas. I am definitely going to try and freeze more items and spend more time cooking on the weekends. I’ve been meaning to make pancakes, which would be great frozen.

      I made muffins last weekend so I’ve been eating them for breakfast this week. I also like the idea of getting staples in bulk (not sure where we’d store them but I’ll figure it out) like rice and flour and butter. I never realized how many things you can make out of basics: pancakes, pizza dough, bread, muffins, cookies, etc.

      Tonight I’m making pizza out of stuff we already had and some frozen pizza sauce I made a while back.

      Ria, I should probably start taking Calcium supplements, especially since I am small-boned. I still drink milk but probably not anywhere near the recommended calcium intake. I should also look up veggies that offer it.

      I’ve been getting OJ with calcium added too recently. It’s so good. 🙂

      I think the next time I do grocery shopping I might have to somehow figure out how to go alone since bf always wants to go, but the snack foods/prepared stuff always racks up the final bill. Do you all have any ideas of some homemade snacks? Maybe I should start a new thread?

      I think buying nuts wholesale would be a good idea too. And cereal.

      Thanks again! it was so nice to read this when I am having such an awful day.

    • #421722

      I can relate to your situation. I was just like you, I am still learning tho-!
      lol and yes leave the dh at home, mine is the same way.
      i do not know if you do this, but it has helped me so much. i read the weekly ad’s
      at my pc with my coupons on my side and proceed to write down what store has what and what coupons go with that store.so by the time i’m ready to go shopping i have 3 list(3 favorite store’s) and paperclips attached to each with the coupons for the sale items at that store!

      Well, anyways like i said i’m still learning and have learned alot from this site!
      I am grateful and very pleased with the information from here. I am still not down to what i wanna be on spending on groceries, but i’m working on that. LOL.
      Wishing you luck with this adventure( i can say adventure because that is how it was and still is for me).

    • #421724

      @starsinnight 118957 wrote:

      Do you all have any ideas of some homemade snacks?

      Popcorn is #1 on the list.

      Veggie pieces is #2 and must be cold and crisp (carrot strips, celery, red/green pepper strips, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)

      Chex Mix (homemade so you can control salt)

    • #421743

      what does he head for? crunch? salt?


      how are you’all for ethnic foods? hummus with extra garlic can be cheap to make using canned beans ..

      grab sub rolls and slice on angle, put on cooky sheet and spread some olive oil, cook when almost done rub garlic on it .. these are great for parties too – add veggie dips, spiced tomatoes, various types of hummus (use different beans)etc

      Popcorn is cheap, filling and with flavors it can really hit the spot .. I am pretty sure they have the popcorn flavor or spices on this site .. If not I know I have some on my computer ..

      Feel free to email me direct at hslinks@gmail.com put the subject line in caps and use the word request popcorn recipes etc .. one request per email, so its not so confusing for me

      nuts can be on the expensive side so add it as an accent not as a munchy (speaking as a wife to someone who has downed 1# of pistachios while watching TV) .. I bought the little containers from dollar tree (they have a set of 10 for a buck) less than 1/2c for some munchies ..

      Muffins are great because you can freeze them .. wrap them well and make up more than one kind ..

      Do you travel to work together? If not one night on way home do the shopping .. Plan to use the crock pot that night

      Bringing guys shopping generally costs more all the way around ..

      I am going to put in some snacky type recipes – some are probably from here, others not sure where I got them ..

      marsha’s ff spice
      this is the recipe that i use as a french fry spice. i just sprinkle it on and then fry or bake my french frys. i think it originally came from recipe zaar, but i have used it for many years.

      here in ky you can buy premixed french fry spice but it is mostly salt.
      3 tablespoons salt
      2 tablespoons chili powder
      1 teaspoon ground cumin

      marsh’s veggie chips
      i use squash and zuchini to make homemade chips. just cut into thin slices. put seasoning on them- garlic salt, bbq sauce( this is good to marniade them in), and french fry spice, then dehydrate them.

      my kids eat them, up quickly and they are getting a good snack without all the fat. they like the chips without seeds so i tend to pick them early before the seeds are very big. they keep very well after drying in airtight jars.

      you can also add these to soups.

      crispy chipotle potato skins (8)
      Preparation Time: 18 min
      Cooking Time: 15 min
      4 large potato(es), baking-variety, cooked and quartered lengthwise
      1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
      1 tsp chili powder, or chipotle chili powder
      1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
      6 slice cooked Canadian-style bacon, finely chopped
      3/4 cup shredded fat-free cheddar cheese
      2 medium tomato(es), diced
      3 medium scallion(s), finely chopped
      3/4 cup fat-free sour cream

      Preheat oven to 425°F. Scoop out flesh of potatoes, leaving about 1/8th of potato flesh in potato. (Reserve remaining potato flesh for another use such as mashed potatoes.)

      In a small bowl, combine oil, chili powder and hot pepper sauce. Using a pastry brush, brush insides of potato wedges with oil mixture. Place potato wedges in a single layer on a large nonstick baking sheet; sprinkle with bacon and cheese.

      Bake until cheese melts and potatoes are heated through, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with tomatoes and scallions; serve with sour cream on the side. Yields 2 potato skins and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sour cream per serving.

      Notes Make these sensational spuds milder and sweeter by using fat-free mozzarella cheese instead of cheddar and pineapple tidbits instead of tomato.

      ria’s sweet & spicey ff spice
      2 T chili powder
      1t cumin
      1T sugar
      1T salt

      cranberry crunch
      from lady d:
      i made this with the leftover cranberry sauce that i froze from thanksgiving. it also can be made from any kind of fruit type thing such as cherries, apples, or mincemeat. use your imagination and what is
      left over.

      it works up quick and fast.
      1 cup uncooked “quick” oats
      1/2 cup flour
      1 cup brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
      1/2 cup butter (I used margarine)
      1 pound can cranberry sauce (I used 1/2 can which would be about 1 cup of fruit sauce)

      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
      Mix all ingredients except cranberry sauce. Place half of mixture into greased 8 x 8 pan.
      Spread cranberry sauce over the top and cover with remaining mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

      This was a quick thing to prepare and also very versatile as far as the fruit layer.

      easy crunchy roasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
      16 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or dry garbanzo beans, soaked, drained and rinsed or cooked and rinsed)
      cooking spray (i have been using olive oil flavored cooking spray)
      season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder
      1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

      Spread chickpeas on baking sheet.
      3. Season to taste
      4. Roast chickpeas on bottom rack of oven, shaking the pan every 15 minutes, until brown and crunchy, about 45 – 50 minutes.

      Maybe longer. They should feel kind of hollow and crisp.
      5. Cool before serving.
      Variations: Chili powder or other seasonings that you like

      2 cups hummus (garbanzo-based spread available ready-made, or make your own with recipe below)
      1/2 cup plain, unflavored yogurt
      2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
      1/2 cup diced cucumber
      1/3 cup sliced red radish or diced red bell pepper
      1/4 cup crumbled feta cheeseSpread hummus onto the center of a round plate or platter, making a 6 to 8-inch diameter circle. Stir yogurt and mint together. Spread evenly over hummus.

      Sprinkle cucumber, radish and feta cheese over yogurt. Garnish with mint sprigs and arrange chips or triangles made from flour tortillas.To make your own chips: Preheat oven to broil 450 degrees. Cut a stack of tortillas into triangle shapes as shown at right.

      Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Broil for 3 minutes, or until slightly brown.

      Remove from oven. Flip pieces over and spray with olive oil. Broil for another 2 to 3 minutes.

      Watch carefully so they don’t over-brown. Sprinkle with salt or any seasoning of choice. Cool before serving.

      simple hummus
      1 can (15 oz) of garbanzo beans, drained, but reserve 1/4 cup of liquid
      1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed butter/paste)
      1/4 cup orange or lemon juice
      1 teaspoon grated orange rind
      2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
      1 green onion, chopped or 1/4 cup chopped chives
      1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Whirl until smooth, adding more orange juice or bean liquid if necessary.

      garbanzo bean dip
      tahini paste is available in middle east shops and some supermarkets.
      source: better homes and gardens

      1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
      1/3 cup plain yogurt
      1/4 cup tahini paste
      3 tablespoons lemon juice
      2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
      3 cloves garlic, quartered
      1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
      1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      Cucumber slices (optional)
      Chili powder (optional)
      Toasted pita chips
      Crudites (cucumber, red sweet pepper, zucchini, and carrots)
      Check out the recipes our visitors are cooking today

      1. Place garbanzo beans, yogurt, tahini paste, and lemon juice in a blender container or food processor bowl. Cover and blend or process until smooth, scraping down sides of container as necessary.

      Add onion, garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt. Blend or process until well combined. Place dip in a covered container; chill several hours or overnight to blend flavors.

      If desired, roll the edge of a cucumber slice in chili powder; place in dip. Serve with pita chips and crudites. Makes 1-2/3 cups.
      Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare dip.

      Cover and chill several hours or overnight.


    • #421768

      I have to agree with Montique. Eating out can be very unhealthy. Even when you order a salad, its very unhealthy.

      I like to cook at home because that way I know what is in the food. Of course, I can do that because I am a stay-at-home wife. Many women may not have the time because of work, etc.

      I think you just have to have a good balance. As long as you aren’t eating fast food & pizzas every night. 🙂

    • #421805

      Oh Ria – thanks for those great recipes! I’d love to try the hummus one but definitely will have find tahini paste first. I also like the cranberry crunch recipe too, have you tried it with something like strawberry jelly instead? I’ll also make the ff spices too.


      i agree about restaurants. you never do know what they put in the food. and i’ve been reading the msn report cards recently and who would’ve thought fast food can be so much healthier than more expensive places like tgif, outback, on the border, macaroni grill, etc?

      most of the fast food chains got a’s or b’s while the others i listed all got d’s and f’s. some of those places refuse to even put up the nutritional information for their food, making you really wonder what’s really inside it. and the same with salads, i couldn’t believe how many calories just one salad can really have – depending on all your topping choices!

    • #421876

      Have you tried a compromise with the bf? Home cooked meals during the week out to eat weekends? Or out to eat a couple nights a week the others home cooked.

      Prepping and freezing the food to make “convience foods” (take out of the freezer and toss in the oven etc is faster for home if you have a hectic schedule yet healthy because you have control. Have you checked out a farmer’s market to purchase your food? Way less overhead so you can get them for less money but great quality.

      I know it is easier to go out to eat to let someone else prepare and clean up from the cooking but I have to say I just spent a week traveling and I feel so run down and like I completely over indulged to get my money’s worth of the food at the resturants. Not to mention all I kept thinking with the prices was “at the grocery store I could have gotten three times this amount for the price I paid for one meal”.

      Tough decision to have to make. Guess you would have to figure out what will work the best for you and the bf sounds like you want to eat at home and he wants to eat out might need to compromise.

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Budget Menu & Dirt Cheap Recipes Cooking for Two Groceries vs. Out-to-Eat