Friday, February 27, 2009

A Pot of Beans -- The Real Value Meal

An Applebee's commercial has been annoying me recently, something about "A night out for the cost of a night in!" But they're advertising 2 meals for $20. I can't remember the last time that I spent anywhere near as much as $20 on a home-cooked meal for the two of us.

One of the lighter moments at our Book Club last night (we discussed Race Matters by Cornel West, which is not a light book) was when we were discussing the state of the economy and one of the black women bragged that black families know how to make a meal on a budget, "serve 10 from a chicken breast!" Another black woman countered, "...from a chicken bone!" I'm going to have to get recipes from Antona and Gretchen to do that well, but I got four servings from a chicken breast earlier this week and I routinely get two servings per breast with stir-fries like the greens and chicken dish.

The locally grown, organically raised chickens that I buy whole and cut up are about $11 each. Typically, we get eight servings from one chicken plus chicken stock. So, even using some of the best meat I can buy, the chicken works out to less than $1.50 per person. Add a few other ingredients, and we still easily get meals that are less than $3 a person -- that's considerably less than you can eat at Applebee's, or would typically spend at McDonald's.
Now, let's talk about beans. In Mark Bittman's new book, Food Matters (yes, I did manage to read Race Matters and Food Matters back-to-back and learned from both), Bittman says "I'm on a mission to make sure every fridge or freezer in America is stocked with a container of home-cooked beans." The book is new, so he wrote it before this current economic crisis fully hit. His argument is that beans are a healthy source of protein with a low carbon footprint. For the economical cook, we can also add that they are cheap.

I have less experience with beans than chicken. The package says I'll get 12 servings from this pound, but I suspect those are side dish servings. Let's assume I'll get 8 main dish servings, just like my chicken. I bought this bag of beans for $1.34 today. Now we're talking a serving price of under 20 cents! I'm planning to make tostadas on Sunday -- adding a tortilla, some lettuce, some cheese, a bit of home-made guacamole and this meal is going to cost less than a $1 per serving. Later in the week, I'll try Alanna Kellogg's new black bean burger recipe for a similar cost.

So, don't buy the hype that restaurants, including fast-food ones, are trying to sell that they are a good value. If you don't believe that you can have a meal for $1 to $3 a person, just ask some home cooks -- and make sure to ask some black home cooks!


Marianne said...

$20 represents 10% of my grocery bill (but I feed boys)! I am hard pressed to find value and nutrition in restaurant meals. When you make your beans, set some aside and mash with cumin and other spices to make glorious "refried" beans that are fat free and freeze like a dream!

Marianne (

Amanda said...

Watching TV with my husband last night, I made a similar comment about that Applebee's commercial. You're right-$20 for a night in is ridiculous, though I suspect they are referring to take-out at home, which is frighteningly the norm these days.

I often cook from dry beans--they certainly do make for economical meals! We particularly love black-eyed peas with ham hocks and biscuits. Of course we don't do that often, but it is a favorite!