Cheap Eats: The One Pot Meal Revisited

My mother recently gave us a crock pot. Occasionally, she hits it out of the park when it comes to stuff I need but won’t buy for myself. I’ve talked about one pot meals in the past, but this particular gift makes it so incredibly easy to cook them.

Crock pots are awesome for cooking soups, stews, and variations on chili. When I first got this gift, I used it for five days in a row, making all of those with varying ndegrees of success. The best recipes were the chili and the spanish bean soup, so I’m including the recipes here.

What I love is how easy the crock pot is to use. You literally throw all of the stuff into the pot before you go to sleep and wake up to whatever you’ve made, cooked and ready to go. This was a serious selling point for me – it’s incredibly simple to blow the diet first thing in the morning from the convenience of the ‘bad’ foods.

One Pot Meal: Chili

2 pounds hamburger – $6
1 medium sized onion – $.50
4 cans kidney beans – $2.40
1 can tomatoes, okra, corn mix – $1.00
1 can diced tomatoes – $1.20
2 small cans tomato sauce – $.75
Chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper – $.25 — Total: $12.10

It works better when you brown the hamburger with the onion before you toss it into the pot. That way, you can get some of the delicious flavors of the meat infused with the onion. You don’t necessarily have to play it this way, though, because my pot came out really really nice.

Makes (at least) 6 servings. Price per serving $2.02

One Pot Meal: Spanish Bean Soup

2 rolls chorizo (these looked like the smoked sausage packaging) – $4
4 cans chick peas – $2.40
1 medium onion – $.50
1/2 head cabbage – $.50
Water to cover everything
garlic powder, salt, pepper to taste – $.25 — Total: %7.65

The spices are all brought out in the chorizo, so you don’t really have to do anything other than let it cook. The nuttiness will come out in the chick peas (garbanzo beans) and infuse the whole dish. To me, this stuff replaces chicken soup as the elixir which cures all of your ailments.

Makes (at least) 6 servings. Price per serving $1.28

When you set the crock pot up, you’re not immediately committed to a meal the rest o your life like you are when you’re making a big pot of something. It’s only 5 quarts of stuff, so if you mess it up, you’re not out the entire budget. I have messed up on chicken soup (it just didn’t have enough depth) and some of the other dishes were just ‘meh.’

Crock pots are pretty cheap – I’ve always equated them with the price of a decent rice steamer. I’m sure, like everything, that there’s a huge gamut of quality out there. But seriously, under $5 a meal is the way to go, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

For more recipes and information about one-pot meals:

65 Cheap Healthy One Dish Meals at Cheap Healthy Good
One Pot Warm Orzo Salad with Brussels Sprouts and Golden Raisins at One Hungry Mama
Crocktober: All In One Crockpot Meals at A Cowboy’s Wife

What We’re Eating (Follow Up)

We haven’t bought groceries here since January 4, but it’s about that time. We would have gone a couple of days ago, but we went to a convention and spent lots of money on food. The total money that was spent was around $127.

This doesn’t reflect the cash that TUM spent on food, which brings the cost to a little over $250. The price of the hotel room was $330 for three nights. My mother picked up the cost of that one. It was a fabulous convention, and well worth the money.

We were fortunate to receive food from a friend to cover the cost of five meals. Imagine my delight when I saw a small roasting pan in the fridge filled with beans, rice, and chicken. Yesterday, TUM and I ate from that tin for five meals. It was absolutely awesome. Do not underestimate the power of friends when it comes to your food budget.

Now, it’s back to basics.

What I’m Eating (with shopping list and costs)

Last year, TUM and I spent an obscene amount of money on eating out at restaurants. You see, I am an absolute sucker for getting the basil rolls and the soup at Chinese restaurants. I love the appetizers because when I go to restaurants, I am hungry and it was inconvenient to eat before going out. And yes, I know that staying at home is one of the million ways to save money.

We’ve recently switched over to the primal diet, and it’s quite full of meat, vegetables, and fruit. This means an increased reliance on Aldi to get the best prices and the best deals for the household. We are only two people, and prices are going up and up. TUM’s going to grow a garden this year, which should dramatically cut the price of tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.

Chicken Thighs (3.28 lb) $4.23 Expected Servings: 8 (putting half in soup)
Fresh 80% Lean Beef (2.37 lb) $6.38 Expected Servings: 4 (as main course x 2)
Polska Kielbasa (13 oz) $2.49 Expected Servings: 4 (as main course x 2)
Beef Smoked Sausage (14 oz) $2.49 Expected Servings: 4 (as main course x 2)
Pork Rinds (3.75 oz) $0.89 Expected Servings: 2 (used as snack food)
Pork Rinds (3.75 oz) $0.89 Expected Servings: 2 (used as snack food)
Tomatoes (4) $1.59 Expected Servings: 4 (put in 4 salads)
Lg. Pitted Olives (6 oz can) $0.99 Expected Servings: 4 (put in 4 salads)
Light Fruit Cocktail (15 oz) $0.89 Expected Servings: 2 (cottage cheese+mayo+fruit+salt=Yum!)
Pure Olive Oil (17 oz) $2.99 (used as spice)
Broccoli Florets (12 oz) $1.09 Expected Servings: 2 (as side for main)
Stir Fry (37 oz) $3.49 Expected Servings: 4 (as side for main)
Stir Fry (37 oz) $3.49 Expected Servings: 4 (as side for main)
Baby Carrots (16 oz) $0.99 Expected Servings: (putting bag in soup)
Broccoli Florets (12 oz) $1.09 Expected Servings: 2 (as side for main)
Bleu Cheese Crumbles (5 oz) $1.99 Expected Servings: 2 (as topping for 2 salads)
Cabbage (1 medium head) $1.29 Expected Servings: 4 (making sauerkraut)
Iceberg Lettuce (1 medium head) $0.99 Expected Servings: 4 (making 4 salads)
Grapefruit (5 medium) $1.49 Expected Servings: 5 (as snacks)
Flat Leaf Spinach (8 oz) $1.69 Expected Servings: 4 (as side for main)
Italian Salad (10 oz) $1.99 Expected Servings: 4 (more salads)

Non-Perishable / Non-Edible
Toilet Paper (12 Rolls) $4.99
Paper Towels (3 Rolls) $1.99
Plastic Aldi Bags x3 $0.30

Total Spent (with tax): $51.79

We were bad today, and spent $25 at a local restaurant which was good, though it wasn’t worth the price. As I said, I’m madly in love with basil rolls, though I’m going to be learning how to make them so I can refuse them. You see, one of my decision points when I’m eating out is whether I can make said item myself. This is one of the reasons that I didn’t generally order pasta when I was eating it, because even I can toss four shrimp into a bowl of noodles.

Most of the items on the list are going to be good for at least four servings. We seriously scored on the grapefruit, since it’s currently running around $3.99 for six of them at nearly any other grocery store around. The rest of the stuff has a higher per pound price, too. If I were getting these items at Publix, I would have spent between $80-100.

I like to leave the actual meal planning up in the air, because it promotes a sense of creativity and spontenaity. I look at what’s in the fridge and make it on the spot, but the key for me is to have this stuff hanging out in the fridge to cook. As more stuff is added to the grocery list, I’ll put in more costs on things as they come up and I shop more during the course of the year.

One Pot Meals

Recently, TUM and I have decided to go Paleo (a diet which focuses on meats and leafy greens) and ditch a lot of the carbs in our diet. I was asked how I can feed the both of us and save money. The answer? One pot meals!

One pot meals are not only tasty, but they give the best bang for the buck. It’s easy to get 12 servings from a soup and break the cost down to under a dollar per serving. My goal has always been to get my meals under $5 a serving, but I believe that that particular goal is too easy to reach. Consistently getting under a dollar per serving is amazing.

Chili PeppersChili
Let’s look at your average beanless chili recipe:

2 pounds ground beef @ 2.98 per pound = $5.96
4 cans diced tomatoes @ .69 per can = $2.76
paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, hot sauce to taste.

Total Expenditure: $8.72 for staples, spices bring it up to around $9.50.

With this recipe, you can easily get between 4 and 8 servings. That’s without adding the beans or any other filler material.

With most of the meals that I prepare, I can get at least four servings out of the deal. I am a believer in the one pot meal that has the fewest ingredients possible.




Chicken Soup with NoodlesChicken Soup
One of my favorites is chicken soup:
4 pounds chicken @ $1.20 per pound = $4.80
2 bags baby carrots @ $.99 = $1.98
4 stalks celery @ $.25 = $1.00
1 container mushrooms @ $1.98 = $1.98
garlic, salt, pepper

Total Expenditure: $9.76 for staples, spices bring it up to around $10.50

Break it down and you can get around 8 servings from this. Chances are, depending on how much water you add, you can get up to 10 servings.

Last week, we had a one pan meal of chicken and greens. Essentially, we paid for around 12 drumsticks, and a bag of collard greens to put underneath.





A single pot Chicken One Pot
We make this one quite often, because it gets our greens in, as well as our protein. I know that I’m not including a bread product with this, but we’re working under the assumption that the carbs will happen with the leafy greens.

2 pounds chicken @ $1.20 per pound = $2.40
1 bag collards @ $2.50 each = $2.50
garlic, salt, pepper

Total Expenditure: $4.90 for staples, spices bring it to $5.40

You can get four servings from this one, making the price just a little over a dollar per serving.

Anything can be used in one pot meals. The key is to have as few ingredients as possible. The more ingredients that you add into the mix, the more expensive the meal becomes. If you’re opening a can of this or a can of that, the sodium not only gets you, but the price of the cans starts to become unwieldy (have you noticed the 20% jump in canned goods, too?). Simplicity is always the way to go.

Of the one pot meals that I’ve had, the consistent thing about them is that the total cost runs around (or less than) $10 for all of the ingredients. I usually get between 4 and 6 servings, which brings my total cost per serving below $2.50 each per meal. In many cases, as you can see, I usually get more than 4 servings.

Simple one pot meals always make the day at our house. We’ve stayed away from seafood and paid more attention to chicken, and eaten some great meals.

What are some of your family’s cheap go-to meals? The cheaper, the better.