Favorite Recipes, Cost & Nutrition

These are family favorites, new and old, tweaked and worked up to bring them in at a budget price, and in many worked over to increase their nutritional value.  My main goal:  To make recipes so good everyone will think you’re clever, no one will know you’re cheap!

To massacre a phrase from America’s Test Kitchen, “I’ll do the math, so you don’t have to!”  Because I’ll explain the strategies I used and the cost in detail, along the way you’ll pick up the skills needed to figure this out for your own recipes.  You may also see me point out where I’ve gone wrong and spent more for an ingredient than I should have – why not learn from my mistakes a well a my successes?

Don’t worry if you have to spend a little more than the stated price of the recipe at first:  as you start adopting the strategies, you’ll find your savings will multiply…a lot of savings is choosing what you’ll pay for a product and when you’ll pay that amount.  Keep cooking, keep shopping at the best prices, keep saving! Keep in mind, too, different regions of the country tend to have different pricing.

If you’re a great frugal cook, already, please share your ideas!  I get so excited over finding new ways to save money, I can hardly contain myself, and I’d love to hear of ways I can do things:  Better, Cheaper, and/or Faster!

On most of my main dishes, you’ll see a tag “Bargain Meal of the Week.” These are dishes I’ve developed extensive shopping strategies for to bring the cost down to about $5.00 more or less. This was started by Erin Chase of $5.00 Dinner Mom – the concept is for local bloggers to shop at “their” grocery store and come up with a meal using sales priced items.  I generally shop at Rainbow here in Minnesota, sometimes Cub and more and more often at Aldi’s.

I’ll attempt, on every recipe, to include:

  • Introduction – notes about the recipe, cost and planning strategies
  • Recipe – of course, the recipe itself, and any special instructions
  • Money Saving Strategies and Cost Analysis – How I saved money and how much I spent for each item.
  • Nutritional Analysis – to the best of my ability, keeping in mind I’m just a Mom, not a nutritionist.(Note: I’ve been having issues with my program and have had to suspend this for now.)
  • Your Own Spin – ideas to change/improve the recipe.
  • My Payoff – why I think the work I put into this recipe was worthwhile.
  • The Month and Year – of course, I don’t want you looking at this blog in 2092 and thinking the prices are really great! Can you even imagine what it will cost to eat then…or what we will be eating?

Some of my cost saving information IS boring, some is redundant – skip it if you want – the recipes are still great family favorites, all tried and true.

Notes on Nutrition:

1st of all:  Get a small scale and use it – small, spring diet models run around $6.99 and a smaller digital from $20 on up. Figure out what your family needs and measure it out until you have a good idea of what a portion looks like.

About our nutritional needs:  There are three main agencies that have some serious recommendations, and all somewhere in their literature advise us that there is collaboration with the food industry – keep this in mind when looking at their guidelines. They are probably NOT as strict as they should be, and maybe we should be reading them, in reference to meats and dairy, especially, as saying ‘no more than…:’

  • The American Heart Association:  Be sure to scan to the bottom to see what the American Heart Association recommends on their no nonsense chart! These are guidelines for a healthy diet for all, to prevent heart disease, not for just heart patients or overweight individuals.
  • The USDA:  These people are responsible for the food pyramid.  Here’s the new USDA guidelines. In my opinion, they’ve been revising and attempting to find a way to make it easier for consumers to eat right and nudge us in the right direction for years. What we’re left with is often confusing, not clear cut and perhaps a bit of a ‘dumbed down’ version of what we need. To see what prompted the “my plate” guidelines, check out this PDF from the USDA on the 2010 guidelines.
  • The American Pediatric Society:  Some surprising information, especially about milk and juice. Of interest? Several years ago they recommended children drink much less milk then they had in the past, then the guidelines changed back. A flurry of activity on the internet accused them of caving to the Dairy Council.


Pretty much everyone, USDA, American Pediatric Society, American Heart Association all recommend the same amounts per day, they just measure it different ways: by “servings” or by cups. The recommended amount varies by age and calories. When the USDA recommends 3 – 5 servings, they are not giving us “options.” Because they are basing their servings by size, not weight, what they are saying is that if you are smaller (say a child) you are going to need less servings (3) to fulfill this requirement. If you’re an adult, you should be eating all five servings. Of interest, many doctors, especially those who are treating cancer, recommend even more.


Again, pretty much the same information by all the big sources, and either “servings” and measurements. Again 3 to 5 servings a day, depending on what agency you’re looking at and how they measure. Of note:  Until recently, all of the agencies recommended no more than one serving of juice a day, a serving being generally 1/2 cup of juice. The containers say otherwise – 8 ounces, which is interesting because you’ll get about 4 ounces of juice from an orange, apple or a cup of grapes. Don’t believe the manufacturer on the serving size.


The USDA “my plate” guidelines that came out this year reversed their position on juice, and now recommends eating fruit OR drinking juice to fulfill the fruit requirement, and they count a serving of juice as 8 ounces. This makes no sense:  the serving size is way off and they do note that juice lacks fiber in their discussion. Fiber is one of the main reasons it is recommended that Americans eat fruit. They do say that anything less than 100 percent juice should count toward toward the empty calorie category and to limit sugary drinks.

The American Pediatric Association recommends cutting juice with water for children.

Most commercial juices are so processed and have been sitting so long, much of their nutritional value has long passed…my nutrionist told me, and I quote:  “There is very little difference between having juice and having a pop;  both are going to spike your blood sugar and neither has any fiber to slow down the glycemic process.”


How much protein do you need to stay healthy? What’s the best source of protein?  Protein requirements vary with age, but you can be sure if you’re eating the typical American diet that you get WAY more than you need. The Institute of Medicine, a highly esteemed agency, non-profit & non governmental agency recommends we get at least 10% and no more than 35% of calories from protein. Many cancer doctors recommend 8 percent.

USDA says: All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein group.  They recommend 2 to 6 ounces per DAY (8 ounces per week from fish and seafood), depending on age, or (depending where you look on their site, 17 to 21 percent of calories from protein or 17 to 35 percent. They make no mention of other protein sources, particularly the amounts of protein in grains, dairy or even vegetables.

American Heart Association recommends 5 to 6 ounces a DAY for adults..  Yep.  per DAY.

I’ve not seen any agency mention “usable” protein in food, or the amino acids necessary to digest and use protein: some are produced naturally by us and some are present in the food we eat. For instance beans may have 8 grams of protein, rice 4, which totals to 12. When eaten together, the usable protein rises because the amino acids found in both allow you to use more of the protein in each.  There are charts, but how do you figure this out without a chart? It’s been done for us already:  Most of the classic combinations in every culture take advantage of this process.  They combine grains, rices and bean.  Example:  Beans and tortillas, Red Beans and rice, Minestrone, and on and on.  When in doubt, eat less meat and more whole grains, and a lot more vegetables, but eat healthy sizes and less fatty dishes.

Grains:  1/2 should be whole grain.  Period.  Recommended by all the agencies.  Why is it that they recommend we only shoot for 1/2 whole grains when we’ve known all along whole grains are better for you??  It sounds almost like they are saying 1/2 should be NOT whole grain.  Odd isn’t it, when you think of it?  I suspect that this is, again, a dumbed down recommendation based on what these agencies THINK we might be able to shoot for, or even based on what’s available, or perhaps, even based partially on pressure from the industry.   USDA my plate grains  does give some information on how to incorporate whole grains in the diet.

Milk and Dairy Guidelines for Infants, Children, Adolescents and Adults:

I take these guidelines to mean, now, “NO MORE THAN…”  I think we’ve proven over and over in the US with different diets and such that we, as Americans, tend to think more is more…

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends:

  • For ages 1 year to 2 years: 2 percent milk for all children between the ages of 12 months and two years if there is ANY family history high cholesterol, obesity or heart disease, or there is risk of being overweight, otherwise serve whole milk.
  • For ages 2 and over: After the 2nd birthday, switch down to one percent or skim.

For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended whole milk for most children and 2 percent after the age of six, if I remember correctly, and no skim until the teenage years. The change came about because even though they know certain fats are necessary for brain development, they fear obesity more, and the calorie count is less in lower fat milks. Parents consistently ignored those guidelines, beginning in the fat fear years of the 90’s.

USDA Guidelines recommend:

A serving is 8 oz. of milk, 8 ounces of yogurt, 8 ounces of fortified soy product, 1 1/2 ounces of cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. 1 percent, 2 percent, whole milk and low-fat chocolate milk are listed on the USDA empty calorie chart. Only skim is not. Low fat chocolate milk is listed as having more empty calorie than whole milk – just in case you’ve been buying it for your kids or yourself. There was concern about naturally occurring trans fat in milk and milk products.

  • For ages 2 – 3, two servings of low fat or non fat dairy daily.
  • For ages 4 – 8, two and 1/2 servings of low fat or non fat dairy daily.
  • For ages 9 – 18, and adults over 50:  3 servings low fat or non fat dairy, daily.
  • Adults, two servings of low fat or non fat dairy daily.

American Heart Association recommends:

  • 2 to 3 servings a day, serving size the same as USDA.
  • For ages 2 and over: fat free or skim.

It appears there is no reason for almost anyone to be drinking anything other than skim milk after age 2, except for studies that indicate that the increased fat in milk retards how fast the sugars progress in our systems, and the lack of fat contributes to more acid in our stomachs which negates the effects of calcium absorption. Sigh.

Of course, there have been many studies over the past 50 – 70 years implicating milk as a culprit and suggestions that we shouldn’t be drinking milk at all after being weaned. Very comprehensive studies have shown no correlation between bone calcium and milk – the belief seems to be that the acid that occurs while digesting milk renders the calcium ineffective.  If we get our calcium from milk, where do cows get theirs?  From vegetables.

Be careful of those serving sizes – listed above. More is not better; more is just more calories.

Whole foods

We hear it over and over, but what does it mean and how can we start incorporating them into our diet?  Check out the World’s Healthiest Foods.


Here are the American Heart Association Guidelines, 2011:  The adult version is very similar to the 14 – 18 year old female, and these are for “healthy” children, not children in need of losing weight or heart patients.

TABLE 3. Daily Estimated Calories and Recommended Servings for Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk/Dairy by Age and Gender

1 Year 2–3 Years 4–8 Years 9–13 Years 14–18 Years
*Calorie estimates are based on a sedentary lifestyle. Increased physical activity will require additional calories: by 0-200 kcal/d if moderately physically active; and by 200–400 kcal/d if very physically active.
†For youth 2 years and older; adopted from Table 2, Table 3, and Appendix A-2 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005)14; http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines. Nutrient and energy contributions from each group are calculated according to the nutrient-dense forms of food in each group (eg, lean meats and fat-free milk).
‡Milk listed is fat-free (except for children under the age of 2 years). If 1%, 2%, or whole-fat milk is substituted, this will utilize, for each cup, 19, 39, or 63 kcal of discretionary calories and add 2.6, 5.1, or 9.0 g of total fat, of which 1.3, 2.6, or 4.6 g are saturated fat.
§Serving sizes are 1/4 cup for 1 year of age, 1/3 cup for 2 to 3 years of age, and 1/2 cup for ≥4 years of age. A variety of vegetables should be selected from each subgroup over the week.
∥Half of all grains should be whole grains.
¶For 1-year-old children, calculations are based on 2% fat milk. If 2 cups of whole milk are substituted, 48 kcal of discretionary calories will be utilized.
Calories 900 kcal 1000 kcal
    Female 1200 kcal 1600 kcal 1800 kcal
    Male 1400 kcal 1800 kcal 2200 kcal
Fat 30%–40% kcal 30%–35% kcal 25%–35% kcal 25%–35% kcal 25%–35% kcal
Milk/dairy 2 cups 2 cups 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups
Lean meat/beans 1.5 oz 2 oz 5 oz
    Female 3 oz 5 oz
    Male 4 oz 6 oz
Fruits§ 1 cup 1 cup 1.5 cups 1.5 cups
    Female 1.5 cups
    Male 2 cups
Vegetables§ 3/4 cup 1 cup
    Female 1 cup 2 cups 2.5 cups
    Male 1.5 cup 2.5 cups 3 cups
Grains 2 oz 3 oz
    Female 4 oz 5 oz 6 oz
    Male 5oz 6 oz 7 oz
Trans Fat:

Trans fat raises bad cholesterol AND lowers good cholesterol. Saturated fat raises bad cholesterol. In the US, food labels are required to show trans fat if the food contains over .5 gram per serving. If it contains less, it is allowed to label as 0 trans fat per serving or to label trans fat on a footnote as “Not a significant source of Trans Fat.”

If an item contains NO trans fat, it may say “NO trans fat per serving. If you think you are buying a product free of trans fat, don’t pick up an item thinking it has no trans fat in it because it says 0 trans fat. Note on these items, too, how small or large the serving sizes are compared to what you are eating. I’ve found that servings are often smaller than we think which means that if you are eating several servings, you are getting a lot more trans fat than you should be having. I suspect many food manufacturers play with the serving size in order to get each serving UNDER that .50 mark.

Look for shortening, margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to determine if a product has trans fat. Trans Fat is also in vegetable and canola oils in smaller amounts, and can by in almost anything that says partially hydrogenated.

The USDA my plate guidelines have some information that could be a little misleading on fat/oil choices, especially given some of the research and recommendations of well respected groups such as Harvard, Mayo, Cornell. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.”

USDA my plate, while a step in the right direction, makes no mention of trans fat lowering the bad cholesterol, and actually says: “Solid fats and oils provide the same number of calories per gram. However, oils are generally better for your health than solid fats because they contain less saturated fats and/or trans fats.” This is NOT always true. They go on to say,” A few plant oils, including coconut oil and palm oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes are considered solid fats.” Other than coconut and palm, which interestingly enough, are mostly imported from other countries, they don’t name the other oils they know about in “a few plant oils.”

If it were ONLY coconut and palm oils they were referring to, they would have said something like: “Two oils are high in saturated fats…” This wording may lead consumers to discount the saturated fats and trans fat found in our every day vegetable, corn, canola oils, etc.

The study used for USDA my plate basically says that because naturally occurring trans fat is present in milk, milk products and meat, their recommendation is not to eliminate trans fat due to the potential implications for nutritional adequacy. They stated however that intake should be kept as low as possible. Why the waffling on the “my plate” guidelines? I have no idea. The Dietary Recommendations are so clear. As Low As Possible.

Again on the wording: “Solid fats and oils provide the same number of calories per gram. However, oils are generally better for your health than solid fats because they contain less saturated fats and/or trans fats.” This is not necessarily true, but the wording is ambiguous – note the ‘generally.’ Most the oils we use, including canola (which is rapeseed) contain trans fat. Olive oil does not. Margarine ALWAYS contains trans fat. Shortening contains trans fat. Butter does not.

On the USDA my plate empty calorie chart, butter and stick margarine are listed as being almost identical in the amount of empty calories. Within one calorie of each other. No mention of the additional trans fat in the margarine.

Empty Calories: Of interest, USDA my plate has an empty calorie chart, which coincides with their acceptable amount of empty calories. I do think this is a good step in the right direction.

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Recipes so Good no-one will know you're Cheap!

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