Happy Friday! There is no denying it; we’re living in an incredibly prosperous time. Just over a century ago, nearly 50% of a typical household budget, and I’ll wager a huge amount of its labor as well, was spent on food alone. Today, that number is just over 10% and time saving options abound. However, far too many people are still struggling financially and while it isn’t nearly the concern it was at one time, food can still be a big expense. We’ve all seen articles with lists of suggestions on the topic, which obviously all begin with some permutation of “stop paying $20 at restaurants for meals that would be $4 and nutritionally better at home,” and rightfully so. Today I want to show you an example of something I do from time to time. I’m very grateful to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want to, wherever I want to, and completely ignore the cost. However, I rarely take advantage of that privileged position because I’m not comfortable living that way and because I don’t have to in order to have meals I enjoy.
Today’s exercise starts with Costco’s absolute refusal to raise the price of rotisserie chickens, which it sells for a ridiculous, no way this can be profitable, $5. I can’t remember the last time I saw a rotisserie chicken (or even an unprepared one) for that price in a grocery store, but it was probably a decade ago. Every now and again if I’m in a hurry, I grab one of these gloriously underpriced chickens on my way home. In this case, I paired my delicious $5 fowl with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and some crescent rolls Costco has been practically giving away (yes, I know they are garbage but at about $.80 per tube of doughy goodness, they are a very cheap treat when I’ve been working hard in the gym and have no qualms about eating some extra carbs anyway). This meal took no more than fifteen minutes to put together and most of that was just waiting for things to happen. My total cost was maybe $8. No, it wasn’t art, but it was cheap, it tasted good, it was healthier than most restaurant meals, and its preparation took less time than most restaurant meals take to order, wait for, eat, wait for the bill, etc.
I eat my favorite parts of the chicken, the breasts and the legs (yes, we’re still talking about chicken, you filthy degenerates – and yes, it takes one to know one) along with the side dishes for about three meals. But that’s when the real magic starts. While the side dishes are gone, there is still a ton of meat left on the chicken. So I put it in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours and spend about another fifteen minutes getting it all off the bones. I make that meat into soup – this time I tried the chicken tortilla from the Vitamix recipe book. I will note that this was a somewhat odd recipe but it had a ton of vegetables in it and while a little different from most tortilla soups I’ve made, and not necessarily something I’d make again, the resulting soup was more than edible.
Soup can take about a half hour of actual prep time but with the Vitamix recipe, it only took about half that. Combined with around $5 of additional ingredients, the remains of my original $5 chicken had turned into about five more meals. For those keeping score at home, that’s an investment of roughly $13 and an hour of my time (I added a little for reheating) for a return of eight meals – or about the cost of a single fairly low end restaurant meal in both money and time.
If you’re a single guy like me, it can get a little repetitive eating all those servings. But I intersperse a few other menu items in and it works out just fine. By itself, this isn’t going to solve anyone’s food budget problems. But articles dedicated to that purpose have already been written many times over. Instead of reiterating what has already been said many times before, I wanted to give you an example of a way to enjoy good, nutritious food at an extremely low cost. Hopefully it will inspire you to come up with ideas of your own. Consequently, if you have any, I would love to hear about them in the comments below or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I don’t always do things this way but I like to every now and again because I think it’s important to remind myself that I can. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what my net worth or bank account balance is, I will always be able to afford to eat this way. Maybe that’s why they call it comfort food.