Dinner and Donations…

It’s been so busy since my last post, I haven’t had a chance to update you all on the end of the $5 dinner week…nor get started on $4 dinner week!  Yeesh, have I got a lot to tell you!

To begin with, our $5 Taco Party on Saturday was a tremendous success.  We had great food with great friends, and through the enormous generosity of everyone who came, we raised $120 for the RI Community Food Bank.  Not too bad for a casual little get-together over tacos and drinks!  On the menu: homemade whole-wheat tortillas, corn tortillas (store-bought, I confess), my slow cooker chicken soft taco filling, slow-cooked apple barbecue pork shoulder, a crunchy cabbage and apple slaw with honey-lime dressing, roasted fajita-seasoned vegetables, homemade refried beans, grilled corn on the cob with lime butter, and the traditional taco toppings — cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, cilantro.  We even managed to pull off dessert without breaking our budget, and served up a platter of fruit with and a big pot of Mexican spiced hot chocolate, with dollops of cinnamon whipped cream.  All that…for less than $5 per person.  I’ll never feel the need to spend major bucks on a dinner party again!

Apple-barbecue pork taco with cabbage slaw and Monterey Jack cheese

Anyway, with that accounting given, it’s time to move forward into this week’s challenge, which was to make and share with you four dinners that can be made for less than $4 per person.  By the way, I should mention that we’re still in fairly comfortable range here, as far as dinner expenditures go.  At $4 a head, or $16 total for my family’s dinners each night, I would be going through $112 of our grocery budget every week before I even thought about any other meals.  We’re probably getting CLOSER to what the reality is; but we’re not there yet. 

The first $4 dinner of the week was last night’s White Bean and Chicken Chili, served with whole-wheat corn muffins and a salad of sliced avocadoes and farmer’s market tomatoes.  Besides being easy, quick, delicious, and super-filling, this is a meal that could easily be made vegetarian (omit the chicken and chicken broth, adding more beans and using veggie stock instead) AND made much more inexpensively, even, than $4 per person.  Just omitting the salad would have brought the price down considerably, but hey, according to the challenge, we had the money to spend…and we spent it. 

Boneless Chicken Thighs: $4.99
White Beans: $1
Green Chiles (canned): $2.50
Onion: $0.25
Chicken stock: FREE (homemade from scraps)
Garlic and spices: $0.50 (estimated value)
Avocado: $2.49
Tomatoes: $1
TOTAL: $12.73 (before muffins)

That leaves over $3 for the corn muffins — which were made with bulk cornmeal and pantry staples — and miscellaneous drizzles of olive oil and lemon juice for the salad.  I’m pretty confident we were right on budget for this one, especially given that it made four additional servings; so, as usual, if I adjusted for leftovers we’d be WAAAAAY under $4 a head.

The second $4 dinner of the week was tonight’s spread:
Lamb meatballs with homemade wheat pita, hummus, and salad

Lamb meatballs, pita with hummus, salad

Ground Lamb: $5.99
Onion: $0.25
Garlic and spices: $0.75 (estimated)
Homemade pita: $1.25 (estimated)
Homemade hummus: $1.50 (estimated)
Greens: $0.75
Cherry Tomatoes: $3
Cucumber: FREE (got it from the children’s garden at our church on Sunday)
TOTAL: $13.49 (Wow.)

I have to confess, I’m both shocked AND slightly indignant, because I could have gotten an extra quarter-pound or so of lamb and still been on budget!  Seriously, I put this dinner on the rotation for the $4 week because I knew the hummus, pita, and vegetables would keep it low-cost, but I figured the ground lamb would easily inflate the price as a premium ingredient.  Turns out, I’ve forgotten how cheaply I can get good quality ground lamb at Whole Foods.  So, in fact, this narrowly escaped being a THREE DOLLAR dinner.  When I think about how full I am — and how much the rest of the family ate tonight –it’s sort of hard to believe that we could feed ourselves so lavishly for so little.

Hopefully, this budget accounting is helpful to some of you, and inspires you to re-evaluate (or nudge others, gently, to re-evaluate) mistaken notions that it’s not possible to feed ourselves and our families incredible, healthy, delicious food on a budget.  We just have to keep reminding ourselves that this, in fact, is what generations of people did before there were drive-thrus and frozen dinners and convenience foods of all shapes and sizes calling out to us from everywhere we turn.  And no, you don’t have to spend hours each day in the kitchen to do it — I’m living proof of that — and you don’t have to do anything extraordinarily special.  You just have to commit to it, and slow down enough to prioritize it.