Follow our family's weekly vegetarian menu, access recipes, and download weekly grocery lists, during my quest to get our weekly grocery bill down to $70 per week, while supporting local agriculture and eating healthy organic foods!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Actual Cost of Food

       Living in Texas (in what I can only imagine the most expensive utility district in the nation) has made me acutely aware that the price at the bottom of my grocery sales receipt is not the entire cost of my food. I am sure we have all thought about it in one way or another. Is it really cheaper to go to multiple grocery stores, to get the best deals, if the stores are on opposite sides of town? Is it really cheaper to buy dried beans vs. canned beans if dried beans require a lot of water and hours of electricity or gas use? I don't know. I do feel they are valid questions. While figuring out how much money you are spending on gas to drive between stores seems fairly straight forward. I think it is more difficult to figure out the cost of cooking and prepping your food.
        One thing I think we can all agree on, is using your stove and oven in the middle of summer when it is 100 degrees outside heats your house, and makes your air conditioner work more frequently and harder. I wish I knew how to calculate the actual cost. I can only imagine it is pretty significant. I also know it is completely unbearable to be in our house after cooking a meal in the summer. It usually stays that way well into the night.
        I began having a desire to stop cooking indoors during the late spring/summer months last year. I found very expensive solar ovens, and formulated a plan to get a tall table, and portable electric burners to use outside when cooking. None of that came to fruition. This year I am going to act on it. I am going to keep the indoor cooking to an absolute minimum. I am going to learn how to grill, which means actually using the copy of The New Vegetarian Grill, I bought last year. I have started looking at DIY solar oven plans. I plan to have one made by the end of April. Then I can watch as lower energy bills roll in.
       As a side note, I find it really funny and a tad ridiculous when you look for seasonal summer recipes that call for you to preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  There is nothing seasonal about that.


  1. We made a solar oven as a project one summer and you know I'm in Fort Worth. That sucker got hot. We made English muffin pizzas in it. It was just a science experiment, but I think it could be doable down here in a real way. We've also considered sun drying fruit and even building a cob oven.

    In the meantime, I have a toaster oven that I plan to use when I have to in the summer, but mostly, I just plan on not using the oven at all. The toaster oven uses about a quarter of the power that the big oven uses and takes no time to preheat. I have a bread machine that uses 1/10 of the power of the big oven.

    The crock pot is about like using 200 watts and the stove burner is like using 4,000 watts. To make a pot of beans, I'd use the crock pot for 6-8 hours and if I was making them on the stove it would be 2 hours. That's a lot of power savings. If I had a pressure cooker, it might come out pretty good, too, since I think beans can be done in that in like 20 minutes (brown rice, too).

    Plus, like you said, those big appliances heat up the house and make the air conditioning work harder, costing even more money.

    If you want to figure how much your appliances are really using, check out getting a Kill A Watt meter. They're about $20 at Amazon. I got one for my boyfriend as a gift since he's crazy for this stuff. You plug it into the wall and then plug the appliance into it and it gives a digital readout of how much power it's using.

    Also, we also just got a new electricity meter installed outside called a smart meter. You can go to and check it out. You can see real statistics on how much electricity you are using by hour of the day and then you can do things like plan to use the dryer during off-peak hours, etc. Or you can say, adjust your A/C up a degree or two and see the impact it's having...

  2. Thanks for all the tips!

    I actually do have a pressure cooker and I used that to cook my beans. It cooks them pretty quickly. I really do plan not to cook inside once it gets to be 80+ most days.