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High Class But Low Cost

October 04, 1990|MARCIE ROTHMAN

Question: Can $5 buy a meal for four people?

Answer: Yes. And it isn't just spaghetti. How is it done? Just take a look at what goes into the shopping cart. Load it with high-priced prepackaged and frozen convenience foods and the bottom line for a weekly food budget edges into red. But if you fill the cart with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, you will save precious dollars.

What about the convenience factor? We pay a high price for convenience, but are convenience foods really easier? Cooking these foods often takes the same time as cooking raw food--but costs much more than fresh ingredients. Convenience can also mean buying your body more sodium and preservatives than normally is found in from-scratch meals. On the other hand, some products are worth the cost when you consider that they eliminate time-intensive tasks (making tomato sauce), or allow for year-round availability of seasonal foods (frozen peas or corn).

Compare the taste and cost of time and money for a simple dish of mashed potatoes. Recently 10 pounds of fresh russet potatoes were 99 cents (9.9 cents a pound), while a pound box of artificially flavored, dried mashed potatoes was $1.80. In almost the time it takes to boil the water needed for the dried and fresh potatoes, you can scrub the potatoes, bake them quickly in the microwave and then mash them with your own favorite flavorings. And most importantly, save $17.

If you still don't believe you can make a meal for four for $5, try this one: EASY RICE

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon Italian herb blend or to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 cup uncooked rice

2 cups water or chicken stock

Heat oil in large saucepan and saute onion until almost tender, about 1 minute. Season to taste with herb blend and salt. Add rice, stirring until grains are coated. Add water. Bring to boil.

Cover and simmer 20 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. (Try not to open lid and keep heat low so bottom doesn't burn.) Remove from heat and let rest few minutes. Makes 3 cups or 4 servings.

Note: Instead of Italian herb blend use curry, Mexican blend or leave plain.


1 whole chicken

Salt, pepper

1 whole orange, pierced with fork

1/4 onion

Small handful parsley, optional

Remove giblets and liver from chicken cavity. Rub cavity and skin with salt and pepper to taste. Place orange, onion and parsley inside cavity.

Place chicken, breast side down, on rack in roasting pan and roast at 375 degrees 40 to 50 minutes, or until juices run clear at leg joint. If crisp breast skin is desired, turn chicken breast up last 20 minutes.

Prepare quick chutney to serve with chicken by removing orange, parsley and onion and processing in food processor, adding some of pan juices for flavor. Or make simple gravy from pan juices. Makes 4 servings.


3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar or to taste

1 teaspoon dill weed or to taste

Salt, pepper

Mix cucumbers, vinegar, sugar and dill weed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill at least 1 hour. Makes 4 servings.


1 pound zucchini, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Steam zucchini until tender, about 5 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Makes 4 servings.


4 pears

1 cup water

1 cup red wine or apple or orange juice

1 stick cinnamon or generous dash ground

5 or 6 whole cloves or dash ground

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar or to taste

Peel pears, cut in halves and remove seeds. Combine water, wine, cinnamon, cloves and sugar in saucepan. Bring to boil. Add pear halves and simmer gently to poach, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with dollop whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. Makes 4 servings.


Chicken 3.5 pounds, 55 cents per pound: $1.93 3 cucumbers: $1 Orange: 15 cents Zucchini 1 pound: 39 cents Rice on hand Pears, 4, 59 cents per pound: 95 cents TOTAL: $4.42

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