I am asking each of my teens doing the $20 cooking experiment to write me a couple paragraphs about their cooking experience, detailing what worked and what didn’t work, and what they might do differently another time. Here is the list of food my 17 year old son bought and here is his commentary.
During the planning phase I found it hard to plan just the meals or plan just the shopping list. If you write your shopping list first, you won’t know the quantities needed of each item, since you haven’t planned which meals will use it.
If you write your meal plan first, you will either list too many meals with ingredients you can’t afford, or you will limit yourself by listing only a few of your possible meal variations, giving you a boring menu. I think I may have leaned more toward the final option, since I planned six meals of split peas and rice. But it worked out okay in the end, and I don’t think I’ll even gag very much next time I eat them.
While shopping, I kept a tally of the differences between my expected prices and the actual prices. Flour, for example, ended up being cheaper than I had expected by about 20 cents per pound. I think I got lucky with most items, since after I got through all but two of the items on my list I had a few dollars to spare. Last things on the list? Ground beef and carrots. (The carrots are a distraction; the real foe is the beef.)
Ground beef at the first store was quite a bit more expensive than my estimate, so I went to the second store with high hopes. And naturally, the prices were just a little bit higher. I didn’t really want to go back to the first store to save a few nickels, and it appeared that I would be able to buy the meat and then a few carrots besides. It didn’t quite look right, but I went with it and didn’t realize my miscalculation until I went over the numbers in the car [and realized I'd overspent by 88 cents]. From that point on I darkly plotted the sacrifice of 88 cents of food, but it worked out in the end anyway.
My first meal was scheduled to be split peas and rice. It was Thursday evening, and we were bound for the Rec center after dinner. About 40 minutes before we would need to leave, I walked into the kitchen and learned the first lesson of the week.
Cooking Takes Time.
French fries, with a side of drastic meal-plan adjustments.
My least favorite meal was oatmeal on Friday morning. I decided since I didn’t know the exact proportions necessary, I would just do it in the microwave the first time. I had done oatmeal this way before, but somehow it just didn’t work out this time. I had vague thoughts about saving my sugar for something, so I just used cinnamon (free from the spice cabinet) and apples. I didn’t add enough liquid early on in the process, so that I ended with a surprisingly unappetizing block of oatmeal, though it did have apples and cinnamon, and those in abundance. The oatmeal turned out much better next time on the stove, where I was able to stir it more easily and keep an eye on the water content.
Something I would do differently next time would be to swap something else for ground beef if it’s expensive. I’d probably get something like pepperoni or salami, and then spend the difference on cheese, something I was wishing for several times throughout the week, since it would make my flour that much more useful.
My most favorite meal was probably hamburgers on Thursday night. All I had for buns was bread, and only ketchup and mustard for toppings, but these burgers were quite good, nonetheless. A close second would have to be biscuits and gravy on Tuesday. I was able to follow my mom’s recipe for Really Big Biscuits exactly, and they turned out great. The gravy was also easier than I had expected.
- 1/4 lb butter $ 0.62
- 5.55 oz apple $ 0.27
- 3.05 oz carrot $ 0.13
- 1 lb 4.2 oz potatoes $ 0.70
- 8.1 oz split peas $ 0.33
- 1 lb rice $ 0.54
- 8.6 oz oats $ 0.30
- 6.6 oz sugar $ 0.23
- 1 lb 11.4 oz flour $ 0.50
- garlic (1/2 head) $ 0.19
- 4 oz oil $ 0.30
- ~2 cups milk $ 0.27
Total Leftovers $ 4.38
Initial Cost Over $20 budget – $ 0.88
Final Cost for the week $ 16.50