Kris and I had dinner last night with our new acquaintances friends, Chris and Jolie. Dinner was fun. This was in part because our hosts made a point of preparing a frugal meal. “If you bring wine,” Chris told me on the phone, “bring something cheap. I can’t tell any difference from the good stuff.” I happily complied.

I love good food and good conversation, but the truth is I’d rather have a great talk with friends over ramen noodles than have a gourmet meal filled with awkward silences. Fortunately, we had both good food and good companions last night β€” and it didn’t cost a fortune.

Cooking one meal a year
For dessert, Jolie served some fantastic chocolate candies. “These are great,” I said. “Did you make them?”

“I did,” she said, grinning. “They’re just chocolate chips melted in the microwave and then topped with raisins and cranberries.”

“Well, they’re delicious,” I said. You can never go wrong with chocolate chips.

Our conversation turned to food preparation, and how different families have different habits. Some spend a lot on food. Some spend very little. Some prepare all of their meals at home. Some never cook at all.

“My mother only cooks one meal a year,” Chris said.

“One meal?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah,” said Jolie. “The only meal she cooks is Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s quite a production. She has a spreadsheet that lists everything that needs to be done. She has columns for everyone who is helping her, and rows that show what each person should be doing at any given moment.”

Kris and I were awestruck.

“She’s an engineer,” Jolie explained.

“What does she eat for the rest of the year?” Kris asked.

“A lot of Domino’s,” said Chris. “And Burger King. That sort of thing.”

“That must be expensive,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “But both of my parents are engineers. They can afford it.”

“And was it like that when you were growing up?” Kris asked.

“Yup,” Chris said. “Pretty much.”

The notion of eating out for every meal is foreign to me. I’m sure that people do it, but I can’t imagine the cost. When I was a boy, my family rarely dined in restaurants. My parents couldn’t afford it. We were poor. Now that I’m older, I eat out much more often β€” sometimes too often. But every meal?

McDonald’s every day
“I think Chris had quite a shock when we started eating at home,” Jolie said. “He grew up eating in restaurants. In college, he ate on campus. Then we spent four years overseas at a job where there were communal meals. Other people did the cooking. Eventually, though, we had to make our own food.”

Chris nodded. “When we got married, my goal was to be able to eat at McDonald’s every day. If we could do that, I thought we’d be rich.”

“McDonald’s?” Kris asked, screwing up her face.

“Those were my early days of goal-setting,” Chris said, and we laughed.

“You have to understand,” Jolie said, “when we got married, we had a budget of $30 a week for food. For both of us combined. That’s not very much. When your food budget is that small, you learn to pinch your pennies. Chris ate a lot of raviolis. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese. And I’d buy the Wal-Mart brand because it was 33 cents per box. Kraft macaroni and cheese was better, but it cost twice as much.”

“Right,” said Chris. “And we each got $3 a week from the $30 to spend on special treats.”

“Little Debbies were 99 cents!” Jolie said.

Chris smiled. “I ate a lot of Zebra Cakes.”

I smiled, too. I was thinking of how I used to buy boxes of Jiffy muffin mixes when I was in college. Who needed chocolate cake or apple pie? Give me a 25-cent box of blueberry muffin mix and I was a happy camper.

30 bucks a week
Our conversation reminded me of a website that a friend sent me recently. 30 Bucks a Week is a blog chronicling the adventures of one couple in New York as they try to squeeze all of their home-cooked meals out of a $30 weekly budget. (This isn’t a militant experiment β€” the couple still eats in restaurants about once a week, and occasionally has alcohol. Those costs are not included in the $30.)

Reading 30 Bucks a Week, and speaking with Chris and Jolie, makes me realize how much lifestyle inflation has affected my eating habits. As I’ve earned more, I’ve spent more on food. My appetite has grown to match my income.

But expensive food doesn’t necessarily make me happier. Some of the best times Kris and I have had were when we were scrimping and saving, living on chicken noodle soup and Jiffy muffin mix. Though fine food can be a wonderful thing, the real pleasure of dining comes from the people you’re with. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive.

67 Replies to “A Frugal Dinner with Friends”

  1. Adam @ Checkbook Diaries says:

    I completely agree that good food doesn’t have to be expensive. My wife and I have been making it more of a habit to make the experience of cooking and enjoyable daily event as opposed to something that we just rush through so we can eat and move on to something else. Almost all of our meals contain very basic ingredients and a spice or two. Basic ingredients keeps our shopping list small and inexpensive. A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment is felt when we cook our own food, and it always tastes better and makes us feel healthier than when we dine out. We have fun preparing the meal together, and have fun eating together. Now if we could just figure out a way to make cleaning up the pots and pans fun!

  2. says:

    Great post. I’ve saved a lot of money by cooking more of my meals at home – and I can’t even cook that well!

    We often don’t realize that eating out not only costs more but is usually less healthy than eating at home.

    The food at many “fine establishments” is chock full of butter and cholesterol. Fast food is loaded with sodium, fillers, and preservatives.

    Its not only a lot cheaper to cook at home but people don’t realize that it can be much faster as well.

    By time you find the restaurant, find parking, order, have your food cooked and served, and pay for the meal you could have made a quick meal at home and saved money in the process.

    There are a multitude of cookbooks loaded with 20 minute and 30 minute dishes.

  3. Lisa says:

    Yes, yes! One of my favorite meals is a huge bowl of popcorn seasoned with various combinations of spices (salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, turmeric, pre-mixed seasonings, garlic powder). I buy the pop-it-on-the-stovetop stuff, super cheap. You can stretch a big bowl into an hour’s worth of chomping.

    In the past, if I was stressed, had a bad day, wanted to escape, my first thought would be to
    go out to a big dinner with appetizer and dessert and treat my “poor me”. Hunger was beside the point (I don’t have to be hungry to eat). But really, the big bowl of popcorn works better!

  4. Heather says:

    Great post. Funny that your second paragraph is just what I was reading this weekend:
    “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (proverbs 17:1)

  5. John Ingle says:

    When I moved out on my own for the first time last year I set goal to get my grocery bill down to $40 per *month*. I didn’t include eating out or my expensive craft beer habit in that figure, that all came out of the entertainment budget. I never officially met that goal. The closest I came was $60 one month. Every other month was closer to $90 or $100. Now I’ve adjusted the budget to give myself $100 every month but also raised my expectations accordingly. I don’t expect to get more food with the money so much as higher quality, healthier food.

  6. Alison Wiley says:

    I’m in full agreement that expensive food does not necessarily make us happier. And I find this to be true with most wines, too. I’ve been a frugal cook ever since I was a girl.

    I do think good quality food makes us happier, and healthier — but in some cases the cheapest food can be the best quality (provided you know how to cook it). I recently made a company dinner that was $1.56 per person when I penciled it out

    Interestingly, our friends complimented the above dinner more than the time we served them wild salmon, which was many times more expensive. Seems to prove the exact point you are making in this post, J.D. Great post.

  7. RJ Weiss says:

    I can’t remember where I found read this but it was about how eating dinner with people was one thing that correlates to happiness…Stanford I want to say?

    It’s very true when I look back. Some great family memories have common after Sunday night’s pasta and meatballs.

  8. Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet says:

    Have your friends or their parents’ seen the movie “Super Size Me”. That is the first thing I thought of when I read this post. I can’t imagine what their health must be like from eating all of that fast food…yuck

    I put alot of time into planning our meals and they are not expensive, but they are healthy. I am finding that a healthy, inexpensive dinner with my hubby and 2 kids makes me a very happy momma.

  9. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    I grew up in that exact household. We ate out far more than we ate in. It took me a long while to break that habit.

  10. AD says:

    We rarely eat out, but we spend for high-quality ingredients (grass-fed beef, real butter, fresh olive oil, all raised/made locally).

    I think cooking from scratch and not dining out evens it all out, though. For us, cooking at home isn’t a sacrifice. We both love to cook…it’s a hobby, really, and fast food and chain restaurants just don’t appeal. The places that we really like are so expensive that it’s a once-a-year treat!

  11. Steve says:

    Was that Chris & Jolie Guillebeau that you had dinner with? I was wondering if you would get together with them after they moved to Portland. I just found Chris’s site a couple of months ago and I love it. You guys should do some posts together so you can bring together two great sites.

  12. kaitlyn says:

    I love the story of the spreadsheet thanksgiving. During Christmas, I make time charts when I’m making potato dumplings for my extended family. The microwave gets covered with Ti and Tf times like a hood (I’m a chemist). My mother threw a fit the first time I covered her microwave in writing with a Sharpie. Side note: Sharpie comes off with acetone nail polish remover.

    I love baking! It’s cheaper and tastes better than anything I could buy. Drives my boyfriend nuts that I won’t let him buy store cookies, but he agrees that my cookies taste better. This weekend is banana nut bread.

  13. Erika says:

    I totally agree what you’re saying about taking the time to enjoy good friends and food. I think, though, if you’re trying to survive on noodles and Little Debbie that spending a little more to buy fresh or minimally prepared healthy food (vs. high sodium, high fat fast, frozen or pre-prepared food) makes economic sense in the long run because you’ll be healthier. From Michael Pollen (food/health author, NYT): Did you know that:

    …”as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent…on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income.”

  14. Aperson says:

    Erika, I completely agree with you that you will pay a long term cost if you try to survive on a very cheap food budget consisting of things like Little Debbies, ramen noodles, Kraft Dinner and muffin mixes. All of it is highly processed, sugar-and-salt-laden, nutrient-stripped GARBAGE. I would much rather buy good dairy products, whole wheat breads and pastas, fresh fruits and vegetables, and spend a lot more if I can reap the benefits of a healthy, nutritious diet. The doctor’s bills and medicine paid for due to an unhealthy diet later on will exceed your short-term savings.

  15. Tim says:

    My family is frugal, but I try not to go crazy-cheap on the food. I’m not talking prime rib every night, but I’m talking fresh, healthy and often organic food. The cost savings of eating McDonald’s and other cheap fare (which are doing well in this economy as people shift to lower-cost items) just can’t be outweighed by the costs to your health and your well being. In the long run, eating poorly will cost you more — and you’ll feel lousy to boot.

  16. Snowy Heron says:

    Learning to cook and paying attention to costs is a great way to be careful with your money. But I will say that after 20 years+ of marriage and cooking almost all of the meals during that 20+ years, it got a little boring. Fortunately, our financial situation had improved to the point where on Saturday nights we now get carryout and sometimes even eat at the restaurant. But by getting carryout we avoid the exorbitant costs of the wine since we just buy our own bottle, as well as the cost of a tip. Nor are we tempted to order hors d’oeuvres (calories we definitely don’t need). And its only once a week so the cost is manageable. It has been a happy compromise for us.

  17. Mercy Mei says:

    If you cook, it’s easy to make a little extra and have enough for another meal or leftovers for lunch.

    I buy ground beef, season it and make hamburger patties, then add breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning and voila! Meatballs.

    Roast a chicken or two and use the leftovers for sandwiches, chicken salad or a pot-pie (which is super-easy to make, btw.)

    I hate McDonalds and refuse to eat there EXCEPT for breakfast and only when I’m on the road. It’s fast AND cheap and holds me until I can eat a decent lunch.

    But for the most part, I like to cook so it’s not a big deal to make good, nutritional meals without spending a lot of money or wasting time.

  18. Chelsea says:

    Erika, Thanks for that Pollen quote — loved it.

    I’ve always thought of eating healthy food — which, again, doesn’t have to be expensive (I spend $50-100/wk for two people at Whole Foods & look what GRS’ garden has provided) — as an investment in my future, but also my present. I feel so much more energized and able to work and relax when I’ve eaten a good meal. Yesterday, one of my students (senior in college) was shocked when I said it was cheaper to buy fresh veggies at WF than most people’s food budgets; maybe he wasn’t thinking about meat, but these boxed goods. The sooner we start really emphasizing that buying the healthiest food is better for ourselves and our environment, the better we’ll be. I think that saving money is great, but it needs to be from the excess, not the basics.

  19. Aman@BullsBattleBears says:

    wow, eating out everyday must be nice, but the consistent high sodium diet is really going to hurt you down the road. I am sure a lot of us have the finances to eat out all the time, but its a matter of not only saving money, but making healthy choices. Those chocolate chip cranberries sound good…might have to make a batch later today!

  20. skywind says:

    When I first moved to the area I now live in, my son (age 4 at the time) and I lived on $150 a month for groceries. I had a job that paid very little and had to pinch a LOT of pennies, and that was all I could afford. At the time I was contributing to some personal finance boards, where some folks would spend that much in a week, and complain that it wasn’t enough. My son is nine now and eats a lot more, and I’ve doubled my income, so now we spend about $250 a month. We eat a lot more fresh fruit, and he drinks a lot of milk, and we have more expensive protein occasionally now, but we still try to be as frugal as we can. I like to think I’m encouraging good habits for the future.

  21. Eric says:

    You can easily eat on $30/week without eating total crap.

    Incorporate rice, nuts, homemade bread, and cheap fruits/veges.

    Cut out dairy (milk AND cheese) and all meats. Cut out restaurants and fast food.


  22. Bre says:

    I have to echo what a few other commenters have said – I don’t think that eating super-cheap, highly processed food often or everyday is the best way to go, considering the cost to your overall health. If you have the means, investing a little more $$ in nutritious “whole” foods is much more beneficial in the long run. I’m willing to spend a bit more on good food I can prepare myself, and cut back on spending in other areas to balance out my budget. It’s really interesting that people try to spend as little as possible on food, when it’s one of the most important (and delicious!) things in life.

  23. Katherine says:

    All I could think when I read this was, how on earth can a person with food allergies live cheaply? I know I spend more than others on my grocery bill, but really. I can’t eat any of these “budget” foods despite the fact that I have cut down on my grocery spending substantially but it still needs to go down more…

  24. Paula D. says:

    I cook most meals, especially now that I’m not working but I must say, every once in awhile it’s nice to have some one else do the cooking.

    I had absolutely killer Indian food last night that I could never had made and it was worth every penny.

    The key is balance.

  25. Tina says:

    Dinner with friends is usually one of my favorite kinds of dinner. I don’t have to worry about the check or tipping at the end and everyone has a great time. Thanks for mentioning $30/Week and stay tuned for a dinner for friends we’re doing this Friday on the cheap.

  26. e e cummings says:

    I read GRS almost every day and I agree with pretty much everything here. However, one thing ALWAYS steams me up – “frugal eating”. If you are in a place where you have to squeeze every dollar out of a budget (I did it when I was a student), then OK, you do what you have to do. But if you don’t, where is the evil (financial or otherwise) in buying good wine, eating the wild salmon in season, having the once a year crosnes that cost 20 euros a kilo (because it only appears for about 3 weeks). and what about shopping at a slightly more expensive market because the quality is miles better? Saving money on food means not wasting what you buy, using your left overs and enjoying good food, because it is a pleasure not just because it is the cheapest efficient fuel you can find.

  27. J.D. says:

    e.e. cummings (#27)
    Ah, my favorite poet. πŸ™‚

    Let me be clear: I agree that there is nothing wrong with eating well if you can afford it. Trust me, I spend a lot on food. When I was cutting back so that I could pay off debt, food was one place I did not make sacrifices. I said that then, and I’ll say it now. Kris and I love good food. That’s one reason I have to run a fitness blog! πŸ™‚

    But that wasn’t the point of this article. This was mainly meant to be a story about how inexpensive meals can be fun because it’s the companionship that matters most. Also, I really feel that struggling through those times of scrimping and saving helps us appreciate what we have today.

  28. Tina says:

    e.e. – Eating well is something that I love to do and I usually do it organically, but that doesn’t mean it has to be ridiculously expensive. I have the great fortune to belong to an excellent Food Coop with prices for organic and bulk items far below most in retail and do not buy “junk” or fast food that costs $1. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to eat great things. You DO have to spend a little time on it though. And having a bottle of wine doesn’t hurt either.

  29. Linear Girl says:

    @Katherine – You live cheaply by cooking from scratch. I don’t which allergies you have, but almost everyone can eat rice and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, tofu). Almost everyone can eat most vegetables and fruits, and those with common-ish allergies (strawberries, melons, mangoes) aren’t really necessary to a good diet. If you adopt a style of cooking that has an Asian base you can have a really flavorful, colorful, varied diet based on rice, beans and veggies. If you can eat any meats, poultry or fish you can add that in small amounts to most Asian dishes. This is inexpensive food at it’s finest.

    In my sister’s family there is soy allergy, lactose intolerance, gluten free requirements, and in one person a choice to not eat meat. They still manage pretty inexpensive meals through CSA vegetables, a neighbor’s eggs, a little meat and bulk grains, flours, etc. from Whole Foods type store.

  30. katy says:

    β€œBetter a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (proverbs 17:1)

    Truly. (smile)

  31. guinness416 says:

    The spreadsheet thanksgiving story is very funny. “She’s an engineer.” Haha!

  32. EK says:

    In college a few years back, I managed on $20/week for both food and gas. While I certainly didn’t have the healthiest diet – a big sack of potatoes makes for a lot of cheap meals, even if it doesn’t have too much nutritional value – it taught me to take great pleasure in the little things. It was a triumph to be able to afford eggs, and grocery trips became a fun game in finding how far I could stretch those dollars.
    With less time on my hands I don’t do as much bargain-hunting as I once did, and I kind of miss it! I should carve out a little more time for it. =)

  33. EscapeVelocity says:

    Generic mac and cheese was 33 cents when I got out of college :). And it seems to me sometimes you could get ramen 12 for a dollar. I am SO glad I’m not trying to live on $4 an hour anymore.

  34. Buckeye says:

    If people are living on tight budgets, I would suggest they first cut back on expenses such as cable, internet, magazine subscriptions, etc. I enjoy frugality, but not at the expense of healthy food. I am a big believer in eating fresh meat and vegetables. Plus, my wife and I get our best quality time helping each other out in the kitchen rather than watching American Idol together!

  35. okgirl says:

    Thanks for the new blog information1 (New to me, anyway.) Really enjoyed reading it.

  36. Corporate Barbarian says:

    I remember when we bought our house, and we were literally going through the couch cushions looking for spare change. McDonald’s was a luxury! But, I’d too still rather split a grilled cheese sandwich with good friends than sit through an expensive dinner at a steak house while having to tolerate dull conversation. Good friends make the food taste better.

  37. Anna says:

    But what did you eat for dinner!

  38. Craig says:

    I am a big eater and spend a lot on myself every week for food. Sure I could eat a little bit less, maybe have less snacks, but I think it’s difficult to always be so frugal with food. Especially if you enjoy food and eating different things. You can only have so much pasta and sauce.

  39. J.D. says:

    @Anna (#38)
    Ha! Good one. I forgot to list what we ate for dinner. We had a green salad, manicotti with home-made tomato sauce, and sorbet. Very tasty.

    When the conversation is good, the food doesn’t matter. πŸ™‚

  40. LLnL says:

    I love eating at home or with friends. Eating out has lost its appeal because of the amount and quantity of food is not worth the cost. I forget that you can invite people over for a simple meal, I don’t know why we assume when you have guest there must be a big production.

  41. EMBO says:

    One of the things that has saved me a ton on good food was learning to BBQ. I bought a smoker, a vacuum sealer, and a deep freeze. Now I buy meat in bulk. I can pay $100 for enough brisket to feed my family of 4 for a month, and it tastes fantastic. Vacuum sealed, cooked meat will keep for a year, and still tastes as good reheated as it did coming off the smoker.

  42. Carla says:

    For health reason, about 80% of the food I buy is fresh, organic fruit and veggies. I get really good deals at a local produce store (Monterey Market – Berkeley) and save a ton not buying pre packaged foods, processed foods, etc. Everything else I buy is fish, nuts, etc.

    Good and healthy food is important to me and some weeks I spend more than others. I prefer to save in other areas in my life and not skimp on food and nutrition.

    When I friends over, I also have a lot of fun preparing good meals without breaking the bank. Having friends bring the main course for me to prepare (salmon, etc) is a big help at times.

  43. Cathy says:

    I agree with you J.D. What matters is the people whom you share experiences with. Of the dining I’ve done with friends, the memories I’ve cherished the most have been the ones where we shared food in our own homes. More than any ‘fine dining’ experience. Among my friends, we never went crazy with fancy dishes or fine silverware. It was about spending time, not about trying to impress each other. That’s how you know you have good friends, not superficial ones.

  44. Miss M says:

    I’m an engineer and I can’t afford to eat every meal out! Well maybe I could but I’d have no savings and weigh 200 pounds.

  45. Cathy says:

    I’m an engineer too, but ugh…there’s more to life than pizza and Burger King!

  46. freemo says:

    I wonder where you all shop where you find that you can eat fruits and veggies for cheap. In my market, most fruit/veggies range from $2-$4 a pound, which makes it comparable in price to meat. And the farmer’s markets aren’t much better (when things are in season). We are talking about $1 for one zucchini, $4 for a small box of tomatoes, $2 for a bunch of carrots…so comparable in price, and sometimes more expensive than, to the grocery stores.

    We were on a strict $60/week food/household expense diet for 8 months and found we ate a lot more starches than we usually do. Starches are cheaper than either meat or fruits/vegs.

  47. Erika says:

    @freemo – I live in an urban area with produce markets. These are generally much cheaper than grocery stores, and I end up spending about $30/week there for most fruits/veggies, supplementing the rest with frozen. I shop at chain grocery stores for other items (like meats, starches, pasta, canned goods). I haven’t seen these kinds of produce markets in the suburbs much, though. The farmer’s markets here are insanely expensive, at least 2x the grocery stores.

  48. Jen says:

    I can totally relate to Chris. My parents didn’t have time/can’t actually cook so we ate out all of the time when I was young. I continued that tradition all throughout college until I got married. My parents are engineers too, haha. We did the Boston Market thing for Thanksgiving though. Luckily, we ate at only the really good restaurants and man have I got some stories to tell about places I’ve been and some really good dining experiences. I can’t cook either, but I ended up marrying someone who’s a professional cook and loves doing it. So he does all of the cooking and I do everything else in the home. It’s a fair trade-off considering everything I attempt turns out black and hey, a girl’s gotta eat.

  49. E says:

    Fortunately I have some family and friends who love to cook because I hate it. πŸ™‚ I much prefer being in someone’s home, eating something made by someone I know, than going to a restaurant. It’s so much more relaxed!

    I hosted a dinner party once with my former BF, and it was a disaster. All my attention was on cooking and I couldn’t enjoy our friends; not only that, but the dinner didn’t turn out too well and that was quite awkward. My friend C, on the other hand, can turn out delicious meals without ever appearing to DO anything – we never miss a moment of her company – and the conversation is always stimulating too. πŸ™‚

  50. Cathy says:

    E: #50

    I’m a big fan of Rachael Ray’s show ’30 Minute Meals’. I learned how to turn out delicious, 3 course meals in about 30-40 minutes (she’s a faster chopper than I am!) Cooking a dinner party doesn’t have to be time consuming – it helps to know which recipes you can turn out fast! Practicing on yourself helps too! πŸ˜‰

    For a large number of guests, I prefer a ‘tapas bar’ style with lots of small bites rather than a formal dinner where we sit at a table. Allows people to wander around and mingles. You can get most of the tapas snacks from an olive bar at the local supermarket, cheese and crackers that take no time to prepare, then pan fry some chorizo bites in a pan for a hot meat. Easy! You can spend more time snacking and mingling! πŸ™‚

  51. Joyful Abode says:

    I can’t imagine eating ramen, ravioli, mac and cheese, and other processed “ready made” foods for very long… I love them in moderation, but I’m definitely a home cook and love making exciting delicious meals out of simple ingredients.

    My husband and I are extremely frugal and have a TIGHT budget (no cable TV? Our friends are horrified!) but other than sticking to simple ingredients, cooking at home, and growing some of our own veggies, we don’t “sacrifice” much in the way of food.

    Our grocery budget is $400/month just for the two of us (granted, this includes personal care items, cleaning stuff, paper products, and dog food too). So yeah, I’m not a fan of “frugal eating” if you can afford anything more than that. Nothing beats good produce and from-scratch meals.

    But there’s nothing wrong with inexpensive/simple meals either, and it’s a great way to get together with friends. Usually when we have dinner parties we do it semi-potluck style (I make the entree and everyone else brings sides/salad/dessert/whatever). Low stress for everyone and we can focus on each other.

  52. chacha1 says:

    I’ve been known to invite friends over for a bowl of chili. It’s all about the company, not the food.

    Recently I tried a braised lamb shanks recipe we got from a winery. It was great, but I think the appetizer was enjoyed even more – and all it was, was endive leaves with a schmear of soft goat cheese and a slice of smoked duck breast. Easy. Though, come to think of it, not that cheap! πŸ™‚

  53. Sara at On Simplicity says:

    I was going to say give me hot dogs on the grill and a couple of good friends over champagne and brie anyday, but on second thought… A judicious blend of both makes everything more enjoyable. Consider yourself lucky to have such good dinner company!

  54. sunny says:

    Lovely post!

    I’ve been sick with a cold this week, too tired to cook, so we had Kraft mac & cheese and green peas – always cheers me up. Now if I just had a glass of Hi-C!

  55. Derek @ Live Uncomfortably says:

    Spending $30 on food split between 2 people is down right stupid. I say this because if you’re spending this much you’re most likely substituting healthy foods.

    In the long run, even if your bill is higher, the healthy foods are more worthwhile. Your work productivity and energy levels will be much higher. Not to mention your future medical bills being lower.

    Spend the extra money on good, healthy food. Cut costs elsewhere.

  56. Ari Lestariono says:

    In this bleak economy, I think we should plant our own foods in our backyard, it will suffice though tough for starters.I have a guava tree in my backyard, and I can juice them.

  57. Attagirl says:

    I wish I liked cooking, but I don’t. It’s a drag. I’d sooner do laundry, vacuum, change the cat box. At least the house is cleaner when you’re done vacuuming. Cold cereal – it’s a girl’s best friend.

  58. Jane says:

    @chacha1: “all it was, was endive leaves with a schmear of soft goat cheese and a slice of smoked duck breast. Easy.”

    Are you joking? It might be easy, but as you said it is not economical and certainly not simple by any stretch. I’m impressed that you could prepare with such ease things that I would only order in an expensive restaurant and the vast majority of the US would never have in their life. It reminds me of the disconnect felt by many with Obama’s arugula comment during the campaign.

    So many commenting seem to have missed the spirit of the article, which is the nostalgia for the simple days of ramen and mac and cheese when you are young and poor and how companionship matters more than food sometimes. This is a good piece for those struggling in a recession, who perhaps can’t afford that expensive appetizer anymore. Sadly, I don’t think most of those people are reading this blog.

  59. Andrea says:

    When I was young and poor, I ate eggs, pasta with a little butter and a little cheese(there wasn’t ramen then) and these little fish that came frozen in a big bag at my supermarket(in a fiarly poor neighborhood). Years later, a friend told me his mom only used those fish to cook for the cats.

    Not as tasty as fresh(to me) but still nutritious and thrifty – and useful for soups and stews- are frozen vegetables. It seems there is always some brand on sale at my supermarkets- including their own brand-which is not necessarily so cheap at the regular price.

    and did I post this already? Domino’s and Burger king, yuck!

  60. Rita B says:

    I’m all about frugality but mac and cheese? McDonald’s food? Isn’t anyone at all concerned about nutrition? Maybe that’s impossible on $30 a week, I haven’t tried it. Very sad that poor people have to eat so badly.

  61. Conrad says:

    J.D.- Why not substitute “Cooking” with “Meal Preparation” ? Maybe Chris and Jolie need to learn how to make a basic sandwich at home and avoid McDonald’s and Burger King.

    A sandwich doesn’t need to require any “cooking”, only Bread, veggies, meat, cheese, salt, pepper… they are quick, nutritious, tasty and cheap. Served hot or cold, a sandwich can easily be “Dinner” and can be prepared in the home at any time without special skills or labor.

  62. Charlotte says:

    Love the Thanksgiving story. It sounds like me! Actually, kind of but not to that extent. I am an Engineer and like everything to be measured, labeled, etc. πŸ™‚ My husband freaked out when I started putting dates on all refrigerated food. Now he is also doing it! Don’t you agree that is a good idea?

    Anyway, I believe frugal means “wise use of resources”. It is not being cheap. With that said, we LOVE good quality food. We do not compromise except when we are in a situation where food is served to us at a function, we are on the road, out of convenience…etc. Not everything we buy is organic but most are natural, whole foods. We are especially particular about staples such as rice, milk, eggs, yogurt, sugar, honey, cereal. We do not eat much meat.

    I agree – the company is what matters, not the food. Although, good food is nice. A typical dinner we make for friends would consist of: Mixed Green Salad, Wild Salmon or a Chicken Dish, Wild Rice or Potato Dish, and Flan. The salmon is expensive but when we combine with the cheap salad, rice, and flan, it’s a good balance. Sometimes, just salad and pasta with homemade sauce. Simple meals can be very tasty. We generally do not serve “processed” food. We avoid anything artificial, with high fructose corn syrup, msg, etc.

    Wow, I am looking forward to a great summer of eating with friends πŸ™‚

    …and if you must have mac and cheese (we do sometimes), go for “Annie’s” brand. They are side by side with Kraft at Costco for about the same price.

  63. kitty says:

    @ Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet
    “Have your friends or their parents’ seen the movie β€œSuper Size Me”. That is the first thing I thought of when I read this post. ”
    Funny, I thought the same thing. Eating every day at McDonald or Burger King: lots of calories, very few vitamins.

    Also, wouldn’t it get boring eating the same thing every day for a year? It’s not like either or these places has much of variety. I don’t mind eating the same food I cooked for more than one day – I don’t have time to cook every day, and certain dishes take too much time for me to be worth it to eat for only one day. Also, having grown up in the Soviet Union, I am used to not having much variety. But I don’t believe I could handle Mc Donald or Burger King fare forever.

    I find that eating out is very much an American thing. I believe most of us immigrants prefer to eat at home and view eating out more like a special occasion.

    I don’t even consider it a frugal choice, although I do consider the cost of a single restaurant meal a waste of money. I buy ingredients that I like, I can buy expensive fruit occasionally, I cook what I like. I can spend money on things I like, even things that other people may find wasteful, but for me eating out is a special occasion. It must be cultural differences I guess.

  64. Amy H. says:

    Call me obstinate, but I think good food does have to cost more. Four examples off the top of my head —

    Organic Straus Family nonfatmilk in glass bottles (with an extra bottle charge that is refunded when you bring it back) . . . around $4.49 per half-gallon plus the $1.25 CRV. (Whole Foods)

    Odwalla fresh-squeezed orange juice at $7.99 for 64 oz. — though occasionally that size will go on sale for $6.99. (Safeway)

    Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese for $5.99 per lb. (Trader Joe’s)

    One loaf of three-seed whole grain bread from Vital Vittles for $5.39. (Safeway)

    The cheaper stuff is far, far inferior on taste. (And often less healthful as well.)

  65. vilkri says:

    Being frugal is only part of the deal. Being with friends is another. Social contacts make our lives happier, but we got to spend a little money socializing. In my view, reasonable expenses spend on socializing is well worth it.

  66. Marcia says:

    Ha! funny. Hub and I are both engineers too. But I cook a lot. Didn’t learn until I was 32, though. Before then, I cooked a little, but inevitably burned or cut myself. (Including needing stitches and a tetanus shot the night before my professional engineer’s exam.)

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