Frugal Living Tip: Dinner for Just $5?

At many restaurants, just ordering a beer or a fountain soda can set you back $5 (especially once you figure tax and tip into the equation), so it sounds downright ludicrous to suggest that you could whip up a nutritious and delicious family dinner for less than a Lincoln.

Still, that’s exactly what Erin Chase, a.k.a. The $5 Dinner Mom, does over at her blog Pretty much every day—sometimes several times per day—Erin posts recipes, shopping trip reports, coupon alerts and other valuable information to help her readers put together tasty meals without breaking the bank.

For example, check out this recipe for Caesar Chicken Pasta Salad that combines protein, pasta and veggies for the whole family, with leftovers for the next day’s lunch, all for $4.55. Erin breaks out the cost of almost [every] ingredient—[including] 3¢ for one tablespoon of olive oil. The only ingredient costs she doesn’t tabulate are for spices like salt and pepper, plus items she grows herself, like the tomatoes from her garden.

Some of the other $5 dinner recipes that struck us as being particularly inspiring?

Admittedly, Erin is only able to bring some recipes (such as the shrimp scampi) in under budget by relying on sales, but there’s something to be said for being a savvy sale shopper at the grocery store.

Erin also seems to be a big fan of farmers’ markets and offers tips on the advantages of buying in bulk. For instance, she recounts getting a five-pound jar of honey from her local market for just $20. In another instance, she buys two zucchinis from the farm stand for a grand total of 18¢!

And, if you’re feeling nervous about trying out a new recipe, have no fear! Erin enhances her blog with numerous photos that show the beauty and fun of food preparation. Just check out these gorgeous photos that show the creative process behind a Grilled Eggplant Panini from start to finish.

And, in case you think these meals are only fit for a sparrow, think again. On her “FAQ” page, Erin notes that she uses these recipes to feed her family of four, including two boys ages 4 and 2. It’s true that Erin admits she lives in the Midwest, where prices tend to be lower than on the coasts, but even if you’re in a big, pricy metropolis, you should still be able to put together similar recipes for just a few dollars more—certainly much less than you’d pay at a restaurant or takeout counter.

If you can’t get enough of Erin’s recipes online, keep an eye out for her first recipe book, due to appear in January 2010 from St. Martin’s Press.

Would you get a thrill out of cooking $5 dinners for your familyor would such a low threshold seem too restrictive? What are some of your favorite inexpensive recipes to cook?

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