Dinner for Two – 88¢

Ever have a meal at a restaurant and then been appalled with yourself when the bill arrives. How could I possibly spend so much money for one meal?

I always do the mental calculation and figure that I could eat for a week on the cost of one restaurant meal! No wonder Michelle and I rarely eat at restaurants!

I was reminded of this recently when one of the larger Canadian chain grocery stores, No Frills, had their 88¢ Sale. Michelle and I source our food from a number of places. First off we grow some of our own. During the summer months we live on the veggies we grow in our own garden and during the winter we continue to enjoy our homegrown potatoes, onions, garlic and anything else we have managed to store. We also order periodically through a food co-op/buying group that orders organic foods from the “Ontario Natural Food Co-op”. We buy some of our food from the awesome grocery store in Tamworth, and we shop for specials at the big grocery stores when we’re in the city.

My favourite big box grocery store is No Frills. I love the concept of No Frills. Nothing pretty. Just food. No frills (get it?) And boxes. Oh the boxes! They have a huge bin of cardboard boxes at the front of the store that you can grab to carry out your groceries. You can bring your own bags; buy plastic ones for 5¢ a bag (I can’t believe how many people do that!) or grab some boxes.

I love cardboard boxes. I am a cardboard box aficionado. I use them to store stuff. I use them for our totally awesome kindling, but mostly we use them for the CSA. We do have a system of re-useable plastic bins for our members, but periodically people will forget to return their box so we need a big supply of cardboard boxes. No Frills has them and I stock up whenever I go. I particularly love the boxes that peppers come in. Sturdy. Just the right size. Could there be anything better than a free pepper box that probably came all the way the California? Who cares about the peppers, it’s all about the boxes!

Last week during one of my box gathering/special stocking up forays to the city I stocked up on pasta and tomato sauce. These are excellent items to have in a pantry. If you’re a prepper, you can spend hundreds of dollars on freeze-dried foods, or if you’re a cheap prepper like me, you can buy stuff like pasta and canned goods that last forever, but are outrageously cheap.

I understand that the “88¢” sale at No Frills doesn’t represent the true cost of the food. These items are “loss leaders.” They are designed to tempt me into the store so that I buy their other stuff at regular price (which doesn’t really work for me). And since there is no price on carbon (yet) the price of these items doesn’t truly represent all the externalities of the product in terms of the carbon emitted by the tractor that planted the food and the trucks that got it to the supermarket, etc. I get this. That doesn’t stop me from participating in this little game and stocking up on the specials!

A couple of weekends ago before we headed out to the Trent Severn concert on a Saturday night I didn’t want to eat a big dinner so I just suggested to Michelle that we just have some pasta. So we had ‘Capellini’ and a lovely ‘Garlic Basil /Tomato sauce.” If you were at a high end restaurant and saw “Capellini alla Basil and Garlic” for $17.95 you’d think, well that sounds good. I like capellini because it’s like spaghetti but the noodles are thinner so they cook up to be nice and soft, like fresh pasta … only cheaper.

The sauce was nice and the pasta was nice. So I did the math. It was an 88¢ box of capellini. We cooked the whole package and only ate half. Jasper the Wonder Dog and the chickens got the leftovers the next day. Chicken love noodles. They think they’re worms! So awesome.

We used less than half of the 88¢ can of the sauce. We’ll use the rest for our next pizza or our next pasta dinner. So we spent 44¢ on the sauce. And we ate half of the pasta so it cost us 44¢. That’s 88¢ total. Divided by the two of us… that’s 44¢! Really. Dinner for 44¢!

And yes, I know, we should have added some roasted vegetables and a green leafy salad but some times I just feel like sitting down to a bowl full of steaming hot pasta.

Can you imagine living in a better time of human existence? Sure, we have nuclear weapons that can destroy the planet 100 times over. Sure, species are going extinct everyday because of our wanton disregard for our carbon emissions and habitat destruction. Oh sure, there are some bad things. But we have can have a face-to-face live video chat with someone on the other side of the planet, in real-time, on a shiny bit of plastic and silicon … that we hold in our hand. And we can have dinner for two, for 88¢.

Michelle’s Note: You might be wondering why we don’t have a stockpile of canned or frozen tomatoes from our own garden to make our own sauce. Normally we would, but last summer’s tomato crop was the worst ever for us. We were hard-pressed to provide tomatoes to our CSA members and there were none to spare for our own canning or freezing uses. We are hoping for a better year this growing season!

basket of tomatoes

8 Responses to “Dinner for Two – 88¢”

  • Susanne:

    Ditto! Ditto! I love when I have bumper crops of things to can. Cuz next year might not be the same. I came from a family who believed that, when possible have a food supply in the pantry for two years minimum, and first in first out, so things are rotated. But this also requires for-thought and a love to can and cook. Because then you need to be creative with the things you have canned. Also a stock of jars, so at a moments notice when you have a spare hour you can get something in the jar. Keep it bubbling!!!!!

  • I’ve come to the point where I only eat out if someone else pays for it:} Even then I will still order just water to drink. When you stop working what people call ‘real jobs’ and start trying to live off very little, I find it’s nearly impossible to justify. And yes, one meal out could feed three of us for a week! Go Cam!

  • Gerrit:

    Great stuff Cam. We think pretty much the same about food and value. Here’s hoping for a great tomato crop this summer!

  • Chris:

    This buying cans of things. We only started our garden this years so have no stored cans of tomatoes. So we buy own brand chopped tomatoes at Pick n Pay. I read the labels on cans all the time. The cans we buy contain tomatoes,tomato juice, and citric acid. They come from Italy. The local ones which I would prefer to buy contain tomatoes, water, and some other stuff which has nothing to do with tomatoes. You can’t make pizze without tomatoes, and Ntombi, my wife loves to make chuckalucka for our Sunday braai. So until we have our own tomatoes we’ll use Pick n Pays own brand Italian tomatoes

  • I think you are invoking the 80/20 rule which is great! Many of us live by it! For those who might not know what I mean: If you eat healthy food 80% of the time, you can “get away with” eating not so healthy food 20% of the time without ill effects. Having said that, due to overprocessing of food and GMO grains like wheat, even small amounts of some foods can cause major chronic health problems that include, digestive and autoimmune disorders, that unfortunately our acute-focused healthcare system does not really know how to treat effectively. Feel free to check out http://www.wapfkingston.org if you live in the Kingston area and want to source farms and businesses that are providing, local and sustainable food and products.

  • Glee:

    I feel the same way about eating out. It’s a very expensive and disappointing thing for us. We eat better food for way less at home. I love to cook, so it’s a win-win for us. Also ( and this is a big one) also, I find that the restaurant food tastes funny to me. Many of the foods are loaded with chemicals which are absent from our meals. They use too much salt and you can’t take it out once they have put it in.

    I had the same problem as you with our tomatoes. The canned variety we buy at the store don’t taste the same. My basil didn’t do well, either so I have no pesto to add to our sauces. I hope this summer is better.

  • I know how that feels not having something you produced because the customers need it. I end up selling my eggs to my customers cuz there is never enough of them. I keep the little ones from the bantams and the ones I accidentally crack or the ones that look too weird to sell which isn’t many.

  • Melanie Ann MacKenzie:

    Good post. On the very rare occasions that my husband and I eat out at a restaurant I have to tell myself to just enjoy the experience and not look at the bill. Usually I DO end up looking at the bill and usually also hear the comment from my husband that “dinner was OK but you could have made it much better at home and it would have cost next to nothing”. I love to cook. I have a huge collection of cookbooks. And I use them. All the time. This is why we rarely eat out. I would rather spend the money on great ingredients that pay the price in a restaurant. Cheers.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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