By Natasha Price of Alaska Knit Nat

In January I was being interviewed for a media project about what Alaskans cook for dinner. The interviewer asked me how much I spend a month on groceries. I really had no idea. I told him we live within our means, but I’ve never been a budgeter. I’m thrifty, yes, but not organized. I estimated about $500 a month. It got me thinking about what I spend on food. Five hundred dollars seemed low. So in February I meticulously recorded every cent spent on grocery items. After a big Costco blowout, which is not a usual monthly event, it came to $613, or $153.25 per week.

I know I can do better than $153.25. So this week I kept track of how much I spent to make dinners and lunches for my family of three. Nothing is exotic, but everything is tasty and my family loves it. My goal was to spend no more than $75 this week on dinner and lunch.

I cook extra of each dinner so my husband and I have leftovers for lunch. Sometimes I save leftovers to use for other dinners later in the week.

It’s going to be tough to calculate my week since many food items come from a well-stocked pantry. I can’t tell you how much 1 cup of dried pinto beans or ¼ cup soy sauce costs. I’ll do my best to estimate the cost of each meal, but here is a list of staple items that I will not calculate:

  • Butter
  • Chicken Stock
  • Condiments
  • Cooking oils
  • Dry beans
  • Eggs
  • Flours
  • Garlic
  • Milk
  • Spices

Costco membership is a plus, but not a must. I try to purchase Safeway groceries on sale. I also aim for healthy, well-balanced meals.

Sunday: Creamy Crock Pot Chicken – Serves 5

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75

This meal is stick-to-your ribs delicious. It takes little effort since all you do is toss everything into a slow cooker and let it steep for a few hours. I was in a rush, though, and ended up using a pressure cooker for 25 minutes. Worked like a charm!

This is basically chicken noodle soup without the soup. Add whatever veggies you prefer. I am not usually a canned cream-of-something chef, but I’m on a budget and strapped for time. This isn’t a regular rotation meal in my family, but it always gets a “beeeelicious” rating from our 3-year-old son.

From the pantry:

  • Olive oil
  • Spices

From the store:

  • 1 lb. chicken breast: $3.69, Costco
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup: $1.09 on sale
  • 1/3 lb. mushrooms: $1.25
  • ½ bag egg noodles: $.85
  • 1 brick of cream cheese: $1.99
  • 8 oz. frozen peas: $.75
  • 2 carrots: $.25
  • 2 celery ribs: $.45
  • ½ onion: $.30

Total: $10.62

Monday: Spaghetti with marinara, Italian sausage and salad – Serves 6

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75

This was a staple meal in my family when I was a kid. My dad would spend Sundays cooking up a huge batch of marinara sauce, which he would jar up and freeze. My sister and I would eagerly approach the stove with drinking glasses, into which my dad would ladle piping hot sauce and we would sip on it till dinner was ready. In addition to preparing our marinara in bulk, we make our own sausage in my family. I don’t expect everyone to have access to unlimited free sausage, so I’ve included it in the overall cost of the dish. You could substitute ground pork if you’d like to save a few bucks. I made a double batch of spaghetti because we’ll be using it again later in the week.

From the pantry:

  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Spices
  • Vinegar

From the store:

  • Marinara in bulk: about $.80 a jar
  • 1 onion: $.58 , Costco
  • ½ lb mushrooms: $1.50 (optional)
  • Italian sausage: $5.49
  • 1.5 lbs. spaghetti: $3
  • Mixed greens: $1.50 on sale

Total: $12.87

Tuesday: Costco chicken with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy – Serves 4

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75

I can’t always be Susie Homemaker. Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking. But this was a strategic decision. A whole chicken can go a long way. It’ll reappear later in the week.

From the pantry:

  • Butter
  • Spices
  • Chicken stock
  • Flour

From the store:

  • 1 Costco rotisserie chicken: $4.99
  • 2 pounds potatoes: $1.10
  • 12 oz. frozen peas: $1.37

Total: $7.46

Wednesday: Chili with cornbread waffles – Serves 6

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75

Chili is always a winner in our household. It’s really hard to screw up and you can toss in lots of nutritious stuff without your child knowing. I try to cook dry beans instead of buy canned ones only because they are cheaper. Today I tossed the dry beans into a slow cooker, filled it with water, salt and two slices of bacon and let it cook on medium for six hours. I had perfectly cooked beans when I came home from work.

Jiffy corn muffin mix is one of the cheapest grocery items around. It’s almost as if it’s impervious to inflation. Make muffins if you’d like, but it’s a fun twist to use a waffle iron. I happened to have corn meal in my pantry, so I just followed the recipe on the back of the box.

From the pantry:

  • Beans
  • Spices
  • Chicken stock
  • Olive oil
  • Corn meal
  • Eggs

From the store:

  • Can of tomatoes: $.99 on sale
  • Bell peppers: $1.50, Costco
  • .69 lb. fresh peppers: $1.38
  • .81 lb. zucchini: $1.86
  • 1 lb. ground pork: $2.99, Costco
  • 1 onion: $.58, Costco

Total: $9.30

Thursday: Fancy Top Ramen – Serves 4-6

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75This recipe calls forth memories of dorm life and hot plates, but this time I’ve added a decade’s worth of flavor knowledge. Also, there’s tofu in it. You could use fresh veggies, but since I’m on a budget, frozen will do just fine. This is a quick weeknight meal. Just boil some noodles, fry up some vegetables, make a thin omelet and toss it all together with a simple homemade stir-fry sauce.

Check out my cooking demonstration for this meal at KTUU.com

From the pantry:

  • Sesame oil
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Fish sauce (optional)
  • Garlic
  • Corn Starch
  • Eggs

From the store:

  • Tofu: $3.29
  • 2 packets of Top Ramen: $.50
  • 1 bag of stir fry veggies: $2.50
  • 2 green onions: $.25
  • 1 nub of ginger: $.15

Total: $6.69

Friday: Spaghetti Pie with Broccoli – Serves 6

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75Remember all that pasta I made on Monday? Now I’m putting the leftovers to good use. I really dislike microwave-reheated spaghetti. Something happens to the pasta where it becomes dry and flabby. Spaghetti pie is akin to lasagna. Take some already cooked pasta, mix in sauce and cheese, top it with more cheese and bake till brown and bubbly. This meal only takes about 45 minutes from kitchen to table and I’ll even volunteer to do the dishes. It’s a one-skillet meal so quick clean up too. My dad used to make this all the time when we were kids. He suggested I call it “Frittata di Spaghetti” to make it sound more impressive, but I like to keep it simple.

From the pantry:

  • Leftover spaghetti
  • Eggs
  • Spices

From the store:

  • Italian blend cheese: $2.99, on sale
  • ½ lb mushrooms: $1.50
  • 1 lb. ground pork: $2.99, Costco
  • Homemade marinara: $.80
  • ½ lb. broccoli: $1.20, on sale

Total: $9.48

Saturday: Matzo Ball Soup – Serves 6

How to cook a week's worth of dinners for $75

It’s been a long work week. I’ve fed my family on the quick and cheap and now I’d like to take my time in the kitchen. Enter the half-eaten Costco chicken. I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder, but I do collect chicken carcasses. After I’ve stripped the meat I crack the bones with the bottom of a skillet, bag them and freeze them. Then when I have the time, I’ll make my own chicken stock. It’s tastier than anything you can buy at the store and can be jarred and frozen for later.

Follow this recipe to make your own stock, but there’s nothing wrong with store-bought. Just remember that broth is made with meat and stock is made with bones. Bones carry all the flavor, which is why I recommend it over broth at the store.

Traditionally a soup eaten at Passover, this dumpling soup brings me back to my childhood. I’ve never had chicken and dumplings, but I don’t think I could love them more than matzo balls. Light, moist and flavorful — homemade matzo balls can’t be beat. The store-bought mix is pretty good, but I like to dress it up a bit more so that it looks and tastes like mom’s. This soup can be enjoyed year round, since most grocery stores have a kosher section. Passover is right around the corner, so the mix happens to be on sale.

From the pantry:

  • Eggs
  • Oil
  • Spices
  • Leftover chicken

From the store:

  • Matzo ball mix: $2.50, on sale
  • 2 carrots: $.25
  • 2 celery ribs: $.45
  • 1 onion: $.58
  • Handful of fresh parsley: $.25

Total: $4.03

Well, did I do it?

Let’s tally it up! Adding $2 for the half a dozen eggs I used throughout the week, my total comes to $60.45. Not too shabby! But I have a confession to make. Thursday I was craving pho like a madwoman, so I cheated and sneaked over to Pho Vietnam, but otherwise I did pretty well. If I cooked and lunched on this kind of budget all the time, I could save up for a nice steak dinner once in a while.

For more tasty recipes, visit alaskaknitnat.com.