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How to Figure the Cost of a Meal

Updated on June 21, 2008

Finding out how much a meal costs for you to make is a great tool to help you stay frugal in the kitchen. It might seem as if a meal is extravagant, when in reality it costs very little per serving. It can work the other way as well; something that seems so inexpensive could actually be the opposite. Doing the math will help you decide the best meals to make, based on your budget.

There are a couple of ways you can figure the costs of cooking. You can figure it out based on each serving, or you can figure it based on each meal. I usually figure it per meal, because with little children that eat varying amounts it is hard to decide what a serving is. If everyone that you are feeding is an adult, or eats like one, it would be very easy to figure it out per serving. Really once you have the cost per meal, you can quickly figure the cost per serving.

To find out how much it costs to make a meal, you will need to know how much you paid for each ingredient. When you aren't using all of an ingredient it can be difficult to be exact, however just make an educated guess as best you can. The basic math is to add up the cost of the ingredients and that is what it costs to make the meal. If you can eat two dinners from the meal, then divide the total by 2. If you can get 3 meals then divide by 3. If you want to figure out the per serving cost, then divide the total by how many servings you can get and that is what it costs for each person to eat that mea. Here is an example of what it costs for me to make meatloaf tonight.

I used 2.5 pounds of ground turkey. I had bought a 5 pound pack at Sam's Club for $8.93 and because I used half the cost of the turkey was $3.57. I used a pound of ground sausage for a cost of $1.70. I used a half a bag of stuffing mix for a cost of $1.25. I used a bottle of BBQ sauce that I had gotten free with a coupon. The total cost of the meatloaf was $6.52. I made three loaves of meatloaf from this batch, which is a great way to save time in the kitchen. So for our dinner tonight, the meatloaf part of our meal was $2.17.

Here is another example of a meal I made this week. I fed 14 people for $5.50. I used 2 pounds of whole wheat pasta for $1 (bought on sale with coupons), 3 cans of tomato sauce for $1.29 (bought in bulk from Sam's Club), 1/2 pound of ground sausage for $.85, 1 pound of frozen green beans and 1 pound of frozen corn for a total for $5.14. I used some garlic and misc. spices so I rounded the total to $5.50. Everyone happened to have water with our meal and I actually had leftover green beans and one serving of pasta with sauce, so I know I made plenty.

Dinner does usually end up being the most expensive meal that people eat, but it pays to figure the costs of breakfast and lunch as well. If I buy a box of cereal for $1.25 (I rarely pay more than this with sales and coupons) and we can all eat breakfast twice that is 12 servings of cereal for a cost of $.10 per serving. I do serve fruit or yogurt along with cereal when we have this. If I were to add a pound of strawberries with this breakfast it would cost our family $2.62 for breakfast. Multiply that by 30 and if we were to eat this every morning I would spend $78.60 for breakfast alone each month. That actually isn't bad, but every breakfast won't cost that. Some will be more and some will be less.

The key is to even it out and not always have expensive meals and not always have cheap meals. No one wants to eat PB&J for lunch every day (at least I can't imagine anyone wanting to), but PB&J every few days is fine. Mixing things up and occasionally having an expensive meal, and then sometimes having a cheap meal and sometimes having an in the middle meal will keep your taste buds and your wallet happy. Most people can't afford to eat an expensive meal every meal of the day. Knowing what it costs you to serve a meal will allow you to get a good mixture of meals together so that no one gets bored with what they are eating and so that it doesn't cost you a fortune.

Of course the prices of ingredients vary, due to sales or the time of year. Cantaloupe in the winter will cost you a small fortune; however cantaloupe in July will be very affordable. If you find cheese on a great sale, then suddenly those cheesy meals that your family loves become much more affordable. I have several meals that would be pretty expensive if I were to pay full price, however if I can stock up on the ingredients when they are on sale, the meals become pretty affordable. Again, knowing the overall cost of a meal or dish will help you make good decisions.


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    • maheshpatwal profile image

      maheshpatwal 7 years ago from MUMBAI

      Jennifer really like your perspective of looking at things which most of us including myself would have never thought of.....

      I am really weak in maths..... but for me homemade food is best and economical compare to outside food which is no where near to homemade food cooked by my mom..... Outside food does not include the love with which she cooks it for me.........

    • profile image

      Jay 7 years ago

      is there a site where you can learn more about costing out a menu

    • profile image

      Nicole 7 years ago

      Thanks for this, I used it for a math project I have to do in my math class. I'm doing it on the relationship between cooking and math, so i thought it would be good to add in how to calculate the price of a meal an dper serving. Thanks for posting this :D

    • DixieMockingbird profile image

      Jan Charles 8 years ago from East Tennessee

      This is awesome - thanks!

    • profile image

      Barb 9 years ago

      In order to mix up my menu plan I aim for;

      1 soup, 1 casserole, 1 meat & potato, 1 meatless dish, 1 egg dish,

      1 salad and of course the left over night.

      This works well in my home.

      I also get a lot of my recipes from friends & the public library.

    • profile image

      Chef AL 9 years ago

      We as chef's make or break a restaurant through our due diligent math. It is here that a restaurant becomes profitable, though other factors are involved. You can make your household profitable so to speak by implementing controls. Portion controls as there is a big difference between over eating and what you actually need daily. Keep in mind that 1 unit of cellular fuel produces 32 units of energy. Empty food produces... well nothing.

      When we design a menu we do so by costing out every slice of a tomato, oz of pasta, service portion of meat, etc...etc. Food cost in a restaurant should run at or below 32%. This is going a bit far for the household kitchen BUT the principles can apply to aid you in stretching your family food budgets...

      Plan a menu...then shop for supplies to create that menu. Not the other way around as most people do.

      Jennifer has some good solid beginning ideas and concepts here that everyone can be following. The more you need to stretch that budget of yours, the deeper you need to go with them...

      Thanks Jenn...


      Chef AL

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 9 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      That was brilliant working it out. I had never even thought of doing that. Ihave never done meal planning either. Because I must be lazy. I stand in front of the freezer and think umm what will I have tonight, and what vegies are in the fridge and that is the way I decide.

      Shocking hey. If cant be bothered, I look for something like steak and onions and eggs or something easy that wont take too long to do. Thanks for sharing it has given me something to think about now that I have to make the dollar go further to allow for travelling and fuel too. tar.

    • Adelaida Kate profile image

      Adelaida Kate 9 years ago from Small Town, America

      Fantastic hub! I really appreciate your experience. I am new to this but found it to be a great resource.