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:

Measuring pasta, cheese, etc. when bought in bulk

Price breakdown of our favorite Italian Cheese Bread

Homemade fruity oatmeal with calorie breakdown

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! :)

 

Comments

I've done a complete breakdown of all the ingredients I regularly use, and I did it very much as you just described here. It was SUCH a worthwhile thing to do and really helped me to see where I was spending or saving money, what was more frugal, etc.

That's smart to use the packaging details and serving size to help you out. With some of my bulk beans, grains, baking stuff, I just had to do my most educated guesstimate and call that good enough. :)

Here are a couple of links to the posts I did on my prices break downs: http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2008/04/cost-per-serving-for-dinner-menus.html

http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2008/04/breaking-down-meals-into-price-per-serving.html

Stephanie

http://www.keeperofthehome.org

Oh, yeah! That's great! Thanks for sharing your links with us! :)

Bulk stuff is THE hardest! I don't have a kitchen scale (yet!) and for figuring out my cost of flour when buying a 50# bag... the amount of cups per pound can vary, so I kinda experimented and guessed/rounded a little. :)

Also, figuring out how much the wheat berries used in a loaf of homemade bread cost. Oh, my! :) It went something like 3 c whole wheat flour = 1.5 c wheat berries, so how many cups of wheat berries were in the 50# bag I bought?! I figured that since 100 pounds of wheat would fill three, 6-gallon buckets, that 50# would be about 9 gallons of wheat berries... Oh, my brain hurt when I got through it all! I need a calculator!! :)

Hi:) Thank you so much for this tutorial. This will help me greatly:)

But I never really think about doing it. It might be very useful to know how much my meals cost. It's fun to compare prices between the US and Canada too, as I find myself wondering what the differences will be when I try a so called '$5 meal'. Most of the time it costs a lot more here. And oh to have the coupon/grocery savings that you have in the US!

I've thought about figuring up the prices for my meals, but it seems like a lot of work. Still, it would be interesting to do with some of our regular meals.

yeah...Canada is way more expensive!
Tereza

Your food photos always look so good! Makes me want to go out and cook some of whatever they are of - even if I don't like it LOL.

Tammy, where do you buy the tapatio hot sauce?

In Ohio we bought it at Kroger's. I think here in WA we got it at Fred Meyer's. I would think that most grocery stores would carry it though.

Oh good. I love hot sauce. I am in KY. We only have kroger,meijer and superwalmart. I love your site. I have 5 kids and they love your cheesy bread, even my 3 year old. Keep up the great work! ;Jennifer

I'm pretty handy in Microsoft Excel. And so a few months back, at my husband's suggestion, I set up a set of spreadsheets to calculate these things. The cost of a main dish, bread, etc is a formula with each ingredient referring back to the main ingredient worksheet. That way, if cheese was $1.67 for 8 oz (the best I could get a few months back), but drops to $1, I just change the price on the ingredient page, and all the recipes using cheese are automatically recalculated. I thought there might be someone else who was comfortable working in Excel but might not have thought of this application. If you have no clue how to use Excel, this would be rather complex for a starting project.

Heather (married in Aug '00, mom to 5 children under 8)

Thanks for sharing, Heather! I think Joshua's pretty good with Excel, so in the future that might be a project he and I could do together! :)

Do you know approximately how many different ingredients you calculated all together? :)

I've done the price breakdown for my homemade bread, but don't usually do it on anything else... I might do it occasionally on a meal (for example it only took $3.50 to feed for one nite, plus a lunch leftover).

And the hot sauce question... I grew up Grand Rapids, Michigan (Meijer's headquarters are there) and I would find it very surprising if they DIDN'T have it. They tend to stock a lot of that unless it's on a store-by-store basis. If you can't find it there, they might be able to order it for you.

Kim (foxxyroxie64@yahoo.com)

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