Trading Time For Money

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by kyheirloomer, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Well, I heard it again the other day; how home cooking from scratch takes up so much time, and the ingredients cost so much, that there's for no real gain.

    To me, that's a ludicrous comment on the face of it. All of us here can make a long list of the benefits of cooking from scratch. But the implication that home cooking is more expensive than take-out or convenient products is the silliest thing I've ever heard. The fact is, one can cook great tasting food, and do it creatively, for very little money.

    Case in point. I just went through my periodic cycle-the-chicken routine. Chickens were on sale for 85 cents. These averaged about six pounds each. Total upfront cost: $15.35. Let's keep that figure in mind.

    I broke down the three chickens. In this case I kept the breasts aside, because we're having a party, and they'll be grilled as part of that. With chickens that size, each breast half makes two servings. So that's 12 servings right off the top.

    The wings go in a freezer bag. When enough of them are saved, they're made into a meal. From this group, we can count the wings as one serving (albiet a short one).

    So far, our investimnet is $1.18 per serving.

    The balance of the chicken was put up for stock, from which I put up 8 quarts. Last time I looked, stock was upwards of three dollars a box, on average. So that's a cost savings of $24.

    After simmering 40 minutes I pulled the chicken pieces and stripped the meat, returning the bones to the stock. Yield was 8 cups of chicken meat, totalling a hair less than two pounds.

    Most recipes (chicken salad, croquettes, chicken a la king, chicken empanadas, etc.) using cooked chicken call for two to four cups for six generous servings. Going with the high end, that's another 12 servings, dropping the per-serving cost to 61 cents.

    Granted, there is more involved in any dish than just the protein. But remember that $24 cost savings. Apply that against other ingredients, and it's pretty close to a was. But let's go whole hog again. At most, the cost of any of these dishes is a buck per serving.

    Side dishes are almost always exponentially less expensive. F'rinstance, with the grilled chicken breasts I'll be serving a quinoa dish. Haven't figured it out, but I seriously doubt, even fancied up as I do, that it will cost more than 20-25 cents per serving. Same goes for the other side dish, in this case, honeyed carrots.

    So, without even considering the taste, nutrition, and health benefits, it's obvious that there's no way you can serve take-out or convenience meals less expensively than making your own. Not if you're willing to trade time for money.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2010
  2. gunnar

    gunnar

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    It's a sad state to be sure. However, people just won't take the time to learn.  The time it takes to learn recipes, basic skills and proper shopping is negligible  to people like you and me. However, these are the same people that can't open an e-mail attachment or figure out how to upload a photo cause they won't take the time to read and figure out how it is done. They would just rather have someone else do it.

    For instance, I know how to break a chicken down in about 3 minutes and can open an e-mail attachment by almost merely glancing at a  screen. Both are idiot simple, unless you have never done it before. So what takes me almost no time takes them (and I suspect whoever wrote the latest article you just read) about 15-20 minutes and they had to READ how to do it which could take even more time depending on how the instructions were written.

    Then there is the the order of things in a kitchen.  I don't even hardly think about what I am doing anymore when working in a kitchen, (mire poix sauteeing, part chicken, add chicken, add water, move on to peeling and chopping carrots, add broth, add  honey,season this now, strain that, clean as you go... et all) most people are not even up to the standards of the Home Cooks we have here at Cheftalk.  Could you imagine Ishbel or Siduri, doing ONE THING at a time in a kitchen? preposterous. Yet most beginning cooks do just that so they experience the worst time wasters that a kitchen brings forward. A noob spending 8 hours trying to get a simple chicken and rice dinner to the table may just feel that "no,  it is not worth my time to do this."
     
  3. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    It also brings us back to the lack of available training issue.

    If you come from a family that, for the past 2 1/2 generations, confused microwaving with cooking, even if the desire is there you don't know where to start.

    Most cooking classes aren't that much help, either, because instead of being techniques oriented, as they should be, they tend to be recipes oriented.

    Breaking down a chicken is a good example. Instead of being taught how to do that, they attend a class (if they can find one) that teaches them how to cook a specific recipe using, say, breasts. So when they go shopping they by a package of skinless, boneless breasts (putting aside flavor issues, that's the most expensive way to go). And then they conclude that Micky D's is actually less expensive.
     
  4. chefross

    chefross

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    And not to forget the people who, for the life of them, could not, would not handle raw meat with their bare hands.
     
  5. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I don't see that as a fundemental problem, Chefross. Friend Wife wears rubber gloves anytime she handles raw meat. Doesn't effect the final dish at all.
     
  6. siduri

    siduri

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    I think there are whole generations of people who never sat down to an ordinary family meal together.  With all the crap about "family" and "family values" that is thrown around, mothers don't get any maternity leave, people are expected to pick up and move their whole family across the country every few years to follow their job, and even schools schedule activities like sports during what would be most normal people's supper time.  My friends in the states tell me that most rich kids have all the numbers of local take out restaurants and are often home alone to order their own supper.  People can't just come home from work to their kids, they have to go running or the gym.  Many people have to work such long hours and then do extra stuff like entertaining clients, that they never get home at a reasonable hour.  So how can cooking fit into such a life?  It isn't even the main problem.  I'd rather see people eat some crappy fast food together than cook each closed in their own world. 

    That said, the kind of cooking shows i hear about now are not geared to teach regular people how to prepare regular food.  It's all over the top stuff.  Interesting perhaps, but how many shows and all teach how to cook very simple meals that are quick and easy to do, and that are accessible to regular not very creative or manually skilled people? 

    It's a really sad fact.  Besides, it's such fun to cook.  And even more fun to eat!  And particularly fun to have a family around the table eating and cooking and talking. I feel bad for them not being able to enjoy that.   What shrivelled up people our society has produced. 
     
  7. chefross

    chefross

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    While I agree there are still people who will not touch raw meat even with gloves on. They are grossed out.

    Siduri, while today's fast paced family life doesn't allow enough time to cook a meal,  it is a mind set that a family has to set to make the time and make the effort to cook and sit down as a family to enjoy it. It is a lost value these days.
     
  8. chefedb

    chefedb

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    There is some truth in the fact that fast food is cheaper(not better)  Say a person living alone wants a burger, shake and fries. Well at a local Wendy's this can be had for  $3.39 . One can't produce this at home for this price. If however one would make a salad or a single dish, you could make this for the same 3.39. If however cooking for the main family meal and say 4 people, one could certainly put a good dinner out for  3.39 x 4  or  $13.56.
     
  9. butzy

    butzy

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    I had one of those very hectic jobs and was also stuck in traffic for hours every day, but I found getting take-away food very time consuming. On top of that, I hate to q (OK there was no phone delivery service at that point of time yet.....)

    What I used to do was cook about 3 or 4 different meals (mostly stews, curries and pasta sauces) during the weekend, freeze in individual portions and when I got home all I needed to do was cook some rice, potatoes, pasta or so and I would have a proper meal

    Quick, cheap, convenient and a lot more tasty than most take-away stuff! oh, and the whole lot would cook while I had a shower, so no time-wasting there!
     
  10. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    at a local Wendy's this can be had for  $3.39 . One can't produce this at home for this price.

    I don't know where you shop, Ed. But I suggest you change stores.

    I just did a search, and ground chuck is selling for from $1.93 to $2.37. Which means a quarter pound burger is, at most, 59 cents to make at home. That's just for the meat. So add as much as a nickle to cover other ingredients. One hamburger of at least Wendy's quality: 64 cents. That $3.39 special includes a small fries, basically about a medium potato. Add another 73 cents to the mix. And maybe a quarter for the bun (I have no feel for that cuz I bake my own). So, the burger and fries part is $1.62.

    I don't know what goes into a milkshake, as I've never had one. But if the ingredients cost more than $1.77 I'd be very surprised.

    The fact is, even at today's economic-crisis driven give-away prices, fast food is on the pricy side for what you are getting. Wouldn't surprise me to find that frozen entrees in the supermarket are actually a better value. But the idea that you can't make a burger meal cheaper than a squat and gobble is just silly.
     
  11. french fries

    french fries

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    I think Ed was making the point that you can't make that for that price if you're by yourself. You can't buy a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce, a slice of onion, a single bun, etc... so either you're going to eat burgers for a few days in a row, or you better invite your friends over.

    FWIW here in Socal you can find burgers for $.29 and cheeseburgers for $.39. I don't think anyone can make that at home.

    There was a city in the U.S. (can't remember where I've seen this - probably in Food, Inc.) where all they had was fast foods, and everybody was pretty much fat, so they decided to do something about it and opened an Albertson supermarket. After a year they had to close it, as nobody could figure out how to make a meal for less than the 99 cents menu at those fast foods. They interviewed a Mexican family and the father explained that after working two jobs, they had a choice of driving through a fast food, and spend $.99 a head for a burger each, or go to Albertson, shop, go home, cook, and probably spend 2 or 3 times the amount, so for them it was an easy decision.

    I know that for me, coming from Europe, the first thing that really stunned me about the U.S. was that it's generally cheaper to eat out than to cook at home. It's exactly the opposite in Europe: farmers markets are dirt cheap, and fast food are expensive. Here in Socal at least, farmers market are ridiculously expensive, and some fast food have crazy offers that are just impossible to beat by cooking at home.
     
  12. donmoocao

    donmoocao

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    There are many benefits that come from home cooking and this community of course knows it.  But in today's society, convenience and cost will ultimately be the deciding factor on the majority of meals that Americans eat.  Even though the American economy is in shambles, fast food chains are still having increasing profits.  That in itself struck me as peculiar.  But some of that comes from me coming from a larger family and planning and buying meals is a lot simpler than just cooking for yourself.

    I was polled in a few different times in my school years one was "Does you eat dinner together as a family?" and "Do you know how to cook?" and I was one of very few.  Of course prior to that I was naive and thought that my family was the norm.  Guess the average household doesn't look like a Norman Rockwell painting.
     
  13. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    Although there are many cases where cooking at home is cheaper there are also a lot of examples where it is not.  Take pizza for instance.  I can order a large pizza for $12 but I can't make one for that price.  Not if I buy the ingredients that I really want to eat rather everything on sale which is usually not the good stuff.  And like Ed said, when cooking at home you can't buy just one serving of whatever you need, you need to buy the whole bag of flour, not just the amount you need for the pizza.  You need to buy the whole package of pepperoni, not just the number of slices you will be using, etc. 

    To make one burger you must buy 6 buns, one tomato, one whole head of lettuce, a whole onion, the smallest amount of ground beef yet still more than you need, a whole bottle of ketchup, a whole jar of pickles, etc.  Some of these are staples but bread will go bad, what do you do with 5 leftover buns?
     
  14. gonefishin

    gonefishin

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      You certainly do have a point but I don't think you can discount the fact that those items still have some worth for the rest of the week or much later if frozen.   You can make hamburger buns yourself or you can buy a pack of six.  During the week you can use them for other things such as sandwiches, garlic bread, breadcrumbs, bread pudding...there's nothing saying you can't put peanut butter on a bun... make french toast or toast it and use for a breakfast sandwich.  You can also freeze them if they aren't going to fit into your meal planning for the week.  

        Same thing goes for the other items.  You you cut an onion, tomato, head of lettuce to use for a hamburger and throw the rest out.  The fact is...you just wasted money.  You can use each one of those ingredients for the rest of the week.  I can easily make a nice salad, pilaf, sloppy joe, stuffing, breaded chicken cutlets from a whole chicken that I broke down and froze last week using those "left over" ingredients.   Ground beef can still be purchased from the meat department in quantities as small as you would like.  I know for a fact you can order just 1/4lb of ground chuck from a number of grocery stores all over in my area.  You can't do this at Walmart, true.  But I don't buy my ground beef in tube form anyways, that's just me though.  

       There are times when I'm a horrible shopper and don't plan things out at all.  But within a weeks time there is no reason I can't use all of the items that I've bought in one meal or another.  Nearly everything can be made into something using with rice, pasta or in a stew, soup, salad or a side.  If I do choose to throw something out because I didn't use it, it would be my choice...and a poor one at that.  

       Try going to a fast food joint and place an order for a family of five.  I guarantee any one of us can make a better meal spending less money.  My argument would be that fast food isn't as cheap as it appears.  People aren't frugal when they order fast food, they're only frugal when they argue the value of it.  But everyone has to find what works for them and fits their own wants/needs.  I know that I'd benefit from being more disciplined when shopping/cooking, I'll have to work on that.

       dan
     
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2010
  15. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Anyone can prove just about anything by cherry picking isolated examples, and twisting things around.

    At base, however, you have to compare like to like. Take that single person and the fast food meal. There are lots of arguments why it might make sense for him/her to shop at Wendy's. But the fact is,it is not cheaper when you compare the one burger, fries, and drink. More convenient? Certainly. Less expensive? Not in a pig's eye.

    But let's say, for the sake of discussion, that that one $3.39 meal did represent a savings the way some argue: that because you have to buy more than a quarter pound of meat, etc., it's actually more costly if you only want one burger. Well, what happens on the second night? And the third? Is that person going to a squat and gobble every night, under the erroneous idea that it's cheaper to do so?

    How many variations on the fast food theme are there? By and large, we're talking burgers and chicken. Which means the fast-food freak has to repeat several times during the course of a week. And that, obviously, means blowing away the argument about having to buy ingredients in greater quantities. Let's say that person has burgers four times during the week, chicken three times. Somebody else can do the expanded math. But I guarantee it is considerably more expensive to go the fast food route.
     
  16. kcz

    kcz

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    I'd like to see the same type of cost analysis for baking, because I'm not sure the results would be the same.  I know I can make a better cheesecake than any I can purchase, but I also know that it's going to cost more to do so.  Home baking, except for the basics like bread, is not cheap.  I think economies of scale play a big role here, e.g. a bakery can buy larger quantities of flour less expensively (per pound) than I can purchase smaller ones.  I'm stocking up now for holiday baking, and my Mastercard is groaning.

    I also think that if you're going to fairly compare total costs, you need to include things like your kitchen equipment, utility bills, etc, because those costs are all inherent in takeout, fast food, bakery products, etc.

    I do agree that the cost savings argument is often a convenient excuse for people who can't or don't want to cook, or can't make the time to do so.
     
  17. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    Indeed in the long run it is much more cost efficient to cook at home than to eat out on a consistant basis.  Not mention better for your health and that's priceless.  But there are many instances where cooking at home costs more than eating out.
     
  18. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I also think that if you're going to fairly compare total costs,

    That would work if we were doing an actual cost-of-production comparison, KCZ. But that's not the case, here. Heck, we've already removed the second largest cost element (labor); the single largest non-ingredient cost. And we're including the retail mark-ups on what you buy.

    If we were doing an actual cost comparison we would also have to compare like to like in each case. And that's impossible, because most finished food you can buy as take-out or from the freezer section, is of lower quality than what you'd make at home. Even that humble ground chuck burger we started with is better quality than you'd get in any squat & gobble because you haven't stretched the meat with all sorts of fillers.

    But we agreed that for purposes of this discussion, quality wasn't an issue. Although it matters to just about everyone here at Cheftalk, it probably isn't that big an issue with the general public. If it were, there'd be no fast food industry.  It's a given that if we include quality that there is no way you can buy cheaper than making.

    Certainly there are economies of scale, when a commercial bakery buys ingredients. But there is also amortization of capital. Somebody has to pay for those floor Hobarts, which, even on a cost-per-loaf basis, are more expensive that a KA Pro 6.

    But the simple fact is, if you include all the cost elements, you cannot cook more cheaply than you can buy; anymore than you can grow your own food more cheaply. America's entire food distribution system is predicated on the ability to provide the maket with vast quantities of inexpensive food. Yeah, yeah; I know it doesn't seem that way at the check-out counter, but it's true.

    As serious home cooks, however, we have a different orientation. Our goal is to provide those we feed with nutritious, tasty meals. And, if truth be told, we revel in the accolades showered onus by family and friends. Cost comparisons have nothing to do with it. At base, quality is what counts to us. But that's a different issue.
     
  19. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I think economies of scale play a big role here,

    Certainly they do. But, as an aside, are you taking advantage of the economies of scale available to you?

    For instance, I buy flour in 25 pound bags instead of five pounders. This makes it 44 cents/lb compared to 79. A fair savings. Yeast costs me $3.15/lb, about the same as those little 4-ounce bottles, and an incredible savings over what those little envelopes cost.

    I'm inferring from what you said that you're using a lot of cream cheese and or ricotta. Just about any market will give you a reduced price on quantity buys. Talk to the dairy manager at your market, and see what sort of deal he'll give you on case quantities.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2010
  20. kcz

    kcz

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    Unfortunately, I have no place to store ingredients in bulk, nor could I use them in a timely fashion.  That's exactly the reason a bakery has an advantage over a home cook.