Calculating Cost Per Meal Per Person

by Tim on August 15, 2011

Recently I wrote about how my wife and I keep our grocery bill at $250 each month.  We shared our grocery saving tips and had a lot of great comments.  A few readers asked what the suggested budget should be for a large family (7 people with teen boys).  There really isn’t a hard and fast number to follow for making a family food budget, because location, jobs, family age and appetite will be significant factors to take into consideration.

It seems obvious, though, that with economies of scale, you should be able to add one more to the dinner table without spending a lot more.  I’m sure those with larger families understand this well – which is why buying in bulk can really be a great deal for large families.  The cost per unit is cheaper as you buy more, which brings the cost per person down.

Instead of suggesting an amount that you should spend each month, I’ll challenge you to calculate the per person cost of each meal and aim to lower that as you shape your budget.

For my wife and I, our per person cost for each meal averages to be $1.40.  If you’re a family of four, you can probably get the average to be a little lower – maybe even close to $1 per meal per person.  That would be a grocery budget of about $375 each month.  That might be pushing it, but you get the idea.

How to Calculate Cost Per Meal Per Person

I’ll try to keep this brief and work through an example for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Breakfast

Eggs, Toast, Orange Juice, banana

Eggs: $1.25 a dozen

Bread: $2.00 a loaf (approximately 20 slices)

Orange Juice: $3 a bottle (12 servings)

Banana: $0.25

Eating two eggs cost roughly $0.20.  Add a piece of toast at $0.10, a serving of juice at $0.25 and a banana at $0.25.

Total Breakfast Cost: $0.80

Lunch

Turkey Sandwich, chips, apple, granola bar

Bread: $0.20 (two slices)

Meat: $0.65 (Based on Hormel Deli Meat: $2.50 – 4 servings)

Apple: $0.50

Granola Bar:  $0.35  (Nature Valley box of 6 at $2.00 each box)

Total Lunch Cost: $1.70

*These prices are retail price.  Adding a $0.50 coupon for the granola bars and $0.50 coupon for deli meat or bread can bring the meal cost down $0.10 – $0.20)

Dinner

Spaghetti, carrots, garlic bread

Box of Spaghetti: $1.00

One serving: $0.25

Sauce: $1.00 (serves 8 )

One serving: $0.13

Carrots: $0.60

Total Dinner Cost: $0.98

Total Cost for 3 Meals: $3.48

This averages to just over $1.15 per meal for one person.  If you’re feeding a group, you can save in buying bulk, driving the unit cost down even more.

Have you ever calculated your cost per meal per person?  What was your average?

image credit

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Doctor Stock August 15, 2011

I sometimes feel extremely guilty when I eat out, especially at breakfast, knowing how little it would cost me to simply prepare that same food. Your post reminds me again today how I can save a little bit in my budget without sacrificing my quality of life. Thanks.

Reply

Candiss August 15, 2011

Love this! I haven’t figured cost per meal per person, but I do know that we can keep our monthly grocery bill at $400 for a family of 4. That includes everything, paper products, diapers, etc. Yes, 2 of our family members are small, but I splurge and let them get a few (way over priced) treats! :) The main thing for keeping the cost of your meal low is planing! Make meals based on what is on sale, coupons, and always freeze leftovers! Thanks for this reminder!

Reply

Lauren Hunter August 17, 2011

Interesting post! I’m really strict with our food budget, but find as my kids get bigger, it is really easy to go way over. I thought it would be interesting to share the food stamps guidelines for the State of California: http://www.placer.ca.gov/Departments/hhs/public_assistance/Food%20Stamps.aspx

We have four kids ages, 8.5, 6, 4, and 2 . . . according to CA, the largest amount of food stamps a family of our size could get (if we needed it, we don’t) would be $838. That’s about $200 more than I budget for food, diapers, and toiletries!!

For us, the expanding expense seems to be produce – I don’t buy lots of packaged snacks and chips, etc. We eat tons of fresh fruit. Right now, we’re averaging about $40 of produce per week. I don’t mind increasing our budget for this – seems like produce can cost more than packaged snacks, which is a bummer.

Keep of the good blogging!!
Lauren

Reply

Tim August 19, 2011

@ Doc Stock – Thanks! I hope you’re encouraged to look for ways to save with your food bill!

@Candiss – $400 is awesome! Thanks for sharing that; I’m sure a few readers will be encouraged by that and make it a goal to keep their grocery bill low.

@Lauren – Good input. Fruit and veggies can add up sometimes. It’s interesting that you brought up the food stamp amount. That seems like a lot! But I’m not surprised seeing that the gov’t is used to spending so much…why not assume that families should spend so much too!

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Reply

Anjanette August 19, 2011

We spend about $400/month for 4 as well. We’re able to achieve this solely because we spend almost $0 in the household/cleaning item category. We eat very little in the way of processed or packaged foods, and fresh food does add up quickly, so we use cloth diapers, napkins, wipes (for the whole fam), and menstrual pads. We also clean with baking soda & vinegar, and use the same for shampoo & conditioner. The only cleaners we end up purchasing are bar soap (in bulk), dish soap, and laundry soap.

Reply

cjs May 15, 2012

Here’s what the government thinks about cost/week, adjusted for inflation, with tips for increase/decrease of family size.

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/usdafoodcost-home.htm

Reply

Leave a Comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: