What’s for dinner? Chicken Tacos

Aka: “Taco Bell drive-through.” The first fast food I’ve eaten all week.

Mr. Brooks watched me calculate the price of ingredients for Thursday’s dinner, then asked: “So what have went spent this week?”

My ongoing experiment of cooking at home isn’t necessarily about frugality; although I do like being able to crunch the numbers, it’s not as if I am earmarking any savings for a designated purpose. (Now that I think about it, that might be a good idea.)  It was more about realizing one day that we couldn’t remember the last time we ate at home.

But it did astonish us both when I tallied it up: $63 plus change, for six days’ worth of meals for two people. That figure is a little deceptive, because it doesn’t include the price of ingredients I didn’t need to buy this very week because I already had them in the freezer or cupboard, and meats like chicken, turkey and salmon are among the biggest-ticket items at the grocery store.

But still. Even at the quick-and-relatively-inexpensive  nearby Thai restaurant we like, we usually get out the door for about $15 each (entree $10, drink $2.50, plus tax and tip). So that one meal out, basically, cost half of what I spent all last week.  Plus, I took leftovers to work for lunch every day — yes, I even ate the failed turkey meat loaf, for two straight days, even! — so that was even more money I was saving.

It does take a lot more work — not just the cooking, but sitting down and picking out what you’re going to cook, then heading to the grocery store with your big list. There are other mitigators, too: I will be interested to see how the upswing in cooking will affect next month’s gas bill. And we’re running the dishwasher more — we used to let it sit for more than a week, until the top rack was filled with glasses — so I wonder if the water bill might increase. (Then again, we live on a parcel with 110 thirsty orange trees, so I can’t imagine an extra dishwasher load is going to make that big of a difference.)

It does feel a little odd to be eating at the table so often. And eating in restaurants is more social — at least there are other people to look at! Mr. Brooks said the other day that he felt like he was becoming a shut-in: “All I do is get up, eat at home and go to work. I don’t see anybody all day.”

But he likes knowing what’s in his food, without having to worry if there’s some sort of gluten surprise waiting around the next bend. With only one exception, the meals have all been good. I think he also enjoys being able to tell his boyfriend that he’s doing something that saves some cash, instead of blowing it willy-nilly at restaurants.

And me? It’s funny — right around the fifth straight day of cooking, I was standing there chopping an onion and thinking, “God, I really wish it were some sort of special occasion so we could go out to eat tonight.” But for the most part, it’s still enjoyable and entertaining, and I plan to keep going.

That said, I hope I can talk Mr. Brooks into going to Fez sometime soon — their August special is a turkey burger and field greens salad for $5. After all, we’ve got to support and sustain local businesses, too!

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