How to figure ingredient costs for from-scratch recipes
After reading my price breakdown for homemade pizza, a reader asked if I'd be willing to share more about how to figure out the cost of food.
Really, it's all in the math. (Why does one of my least favorite things have to be such a part of everyday life?) ;)
1. Figure out the price per ounce/pound/cup/etc.
This is done by dividing the cost of the item by the units in the package/item.
Example: Package of 3 romaine lettuce hearts costs $1.99. Divide by 3 to figure the unit cost of one romaine heart, which would be $0.66.
2. Figure out the price of the amount used in your recipe.
This is done by multiplying the unit cost by the number of units your recipe calls for.
Example: If your recipe calls for one romaine heart, then the cost of the lettuce in your recipe will be $0.66.
Let's do another example:
If an 8-ounce block of cheddar cheese costs $1.99, then I am paying about 25 cents per ounce or $3.98 per pound. (For per-ounce price, divide $1.99 by 8. For per-pound price, multiply $1.99 by 2.)
Most recipes will give an ounce amount when calling for cheese. Some recipes call for "cups" "shredded" in which case it is helpful to know that 1 cup of shredded cheese is equal to about 4 ounces of cheese.
So, using my formula of multiplying each ounce by 25 cents, if a recipe calls for:
16 oz. cheese = $3.98
8 oz. cheese = $1.99
2 cups shredded cheese (8 oz.) = $1.99
1 cup shredded cheese (4 oz.) = $1.00
1/2 cup shredded cheese (2 oz.) = $0.50
As you can see already, it's helpful to know how many ounces are in a cup (it varies depending on the item), how many ounces are in a pound, and so forth. You can usually find info about most things online, but one of my keys is:
Read food packages. :)
Often, the Nutrition Facts label will give clues as to how many cups of something are in the bag, without you having to measure.
Let's say you bought a 32-ounce bag of dry pinto beans. If you paid $0.99 for the bag, it's easy enough to figure out that the beans are $0.50 per pound (2 pounds for a dollar). But how many cups of dry beans are IN that pound? Your bag's label might say something like this:
Serving size: 1/4 cup dry
Servings per container: 25
In which case you can multiply 25 by 1/4 (.25) and know that in 2 pounds of dry pinto beans there are about 6.25 cups. If you divide the price of the bag ($0.99) by the number of cups (6.25) the price per cup is about $0.16. A cup of dry beans makes about 2 cups of cooked beans (in my experience), which would make the price of cooked beans about $0.08 per cup.
Does this make sense, or am I just confusing you?! :)
I'll do one more example, and then you can leave comments if you have more questions. :)
I bought a 5-pound bag of sugar for $1.66. (Yes, it was a really good sale!)
I wanted to find out how much it cost to use 1 cup of sugar.
I looked at the Nutrition Facts and saw that the serving size was 1 teaspoon, and that there were 567 servings (teaspoons) in the bag.
To find out how much each teaspoon cost, I divided $1.66 by 567. That's .002928 cents per teaspoon.
A cup contains 16 tablespoons, and each tablespoon contains 3 teaspoons. Therefore, a cup contains 48 teaspoons (16 multiplied by 3).
I multiplied the price per teaspoon (.002928) by 48, and came up with the price of $0.140524 per cup, which rounds to 14 cents per cup.
To figure the price of an entire recipe from scratch, you'll need to figure out each ingredient and then add them all up. (Now you know why so few of my recipes include price breakdowns!)
The good news is that if you keep a list of your ingredient prices per unit as you figure them out, you won't have to start with a 5-pound bag of sugar every time. You'll already know how much a teaspoon, tablespoon, or cup of sugar costs you! :)
This same principle applies to figuring out the calories in from-scratch meals.
Questions? Comments? Tips on how to make this process easier for me and others? ;)
Other posts that might be of interest:
For the math lovers: Kitchen Stewardship has a great post about the electricity use for kitchen appliances.
Also, be sure to head over to Jessica's blog for lots of Frugal Fridays posts! :)