The Real Foe Was The Beef

I am asking each of my teens doing the $20 cooking experiment to write me a couple paragraphs about their cooking experience, detailing what worked and what didn’t work, and what they might do differently another time.  Here is the list of food my 17 year old son bought and here is his commentary.


During the planning phase I found it hard to plan just the meals or plan just the shopping list. If you write your shopping list first, you won’t know the quantities needed of each item, since you haven’t planned which meals will use it.

If you write your meal plan first, you will either list too many meals with ingredients you can’t afford, or you will limit yourself by listing only a few of your possible meal variations, giving you a boring menu. I think I may have leaned more toward the final option, since I planned six meals of split peas and rice. But it worked out okay in the end, and I don’t think I’ll even gag very much next time I eat them.

While shopping, I kept a tally of the differences between my expected prices and the actual prices. Flour, for example, ended up being cheaper than I had expected by about 20 cents per pound. I think I got lucky with most items, since after I got through all but two of the items on my list I had a few dollars to spare. Last things on the list? Ground beef and carrots. (The carrots are a distraction; the real foe is the beef.)

Ground beef at the first store was quite a bit more expensive than my estimate, so I went to the second store with high hopes. And naturally, the prices were just a little bit higher. I didn’t really want to go back to the first store to save a few nickels, and it appeared that I would be able to buy the meat and then a few carrots besides. It didn’t quite look right, but I went with it and didn’t realize my miscalculation until I went over the numbers in the car [and realized I’d overspent by 88 cents]. From that point on I darkly plotted the sacrifice of 88 cents of food, but it worked out in the end anyway.

My first meal was scheduled to be split peas and rice. It was Thursday evening, and we were bound for the Rec center after dinner. About 40 minutes before we would need to leave, I walked into the kitchen and learned the first lesson of the week.

Cooking Takes Time.

The solution?

French fries, with a side of drastic meal-plan adjustments.

My least favorite meal was oatmeal on Friday morning. I decided since I didn’t know the exact proportions necessary, I would just do it in the microwave the first time. I had done oatmeal this way before, but somehow it just didn’t work out this time. I had vague thoughts about saving my sugar for something, so I just used cinnamon (free from the spice cabinet) and apples. I didn’t add enough liquid early on in the process, so that I ended with a surprisingly unappetizing block of oatmeal, though it did have apples and cinnamon, and those in abundance. The oatmeal turned out much better next time on the stove, where I was able to stir it more easily and keep an eye on the water content.

Something I would do differently next time would be to swap something else for ground beef if it’s expensive. I’d probably get something like pepperoni or salami, and then spend the difference on cheese, something I was wishing for several times throughout the week, since it would make my flour that much more useful.

My most favorite meal was probably hamburgers on Thursday night. All I had for buns was bread, and only ketchup and mustard for toppings, but these burgers were quite good, nonetheless. A close second would have to be biscuits and gravy on Tuesday. I was able to follow my mom’s recipe for Really Big Biscuits exactly, and they turned out great. The gravy was also easier than I had expected.


  • 1/4 lb butter                        $ 0.62
  • 5.55 oz apple                       $ 0.27
  • 3.05 oz carrot                      $ 0.13
  • 1 lb 4.2 oz potatoes            $ 0.70
  • 8.1 oz split peas                  $ 0.33
  • 1 lb rice                                $ 0.54
  • 8.6 oz oats                           $ 0.30
  • 6.6 oz sugar                        $ 0.23
  • 1 lb 11.4 oz flour                $ 0.50
  • garlic (1/2 head)                 $ 0.19
  • 4 oz oil                                 $ 0.30
  • ~2 cups milk                      $ 0.27


Total Leftovers                              $ 4.38

Initial Cost Over $20 budget   – $ 0.88


Final Cost for the week                $ 16.50



  1. Alisha Martin says:

    Sounds like you had a very successful week!! Would you be willing to share your biscuits and gravy recipe? I’m sure my hubby would be wildly grateful 🙂 I have NO idea how to make them.

  2. Sounds like you did a good job and learned alot of good ideas to use in the future.

  3. I really admire what you’re doing with this experiment, and it sounds like your son has learned a lot!

  4. Fantastic – be proud, homeschool mama, of your son’s solid writing skills, not to mention his shopping, budgeting and cooking skills!

  5. I didn’t hear you say you starved, but I’m sure after a few bowls of oatmeal you felt like it! The overage, burned oatmeal, late start on dinner, very typical of real life. Great lesson!

  6. Great job! Thank you for the guest-post and describing in detail your experience.
    I think you did a better job than I did at age 16 when I found myself parent-less. I ate mostly hot dogs and ramen and didn’t understand why I had constant headaches! Looking forward to your sibling’s post (the one who bought all the soda and ramen). Wonder if he will notice a difference in how he feels compared to eating Mom’s scratch food?
    Did you feel fine all week? Did you feel deprived watching siblings eat other things?

    • Thanks!

      Health-wise I felt fine all week, just a little hungry before lunch sometimes. Really the only meal they had that was out of the ordinary was home-made corn dogs, and we had them again later. So I really got the best of both.

  7. Great account of your experiment!

  8. Lisa Thomas says:

    Great work! Very admirable for someone your age. I wish my mom had given me this challenge as a teenager!

  9. Nicely done! It’s nice to hear the break-down in your own words.

  10. I thought this was a great article and great learning experience. I hope he does a follow up post answering some of the questions above.

    Did you eat all of your fruit and veggies?

  11. This was fun to read! He’s an entertaining writer. 🙂

  12. I’ve been wondering how this went. It was nice to read how well it turned out.

  13. Sounds like you learned a lot! Do you get to do it again? 🙂
    I’d love to hear the biscuits and gravy recipe too…I’m not very good at making gravy, so I could use an easy recipe!

  14. Great job! What a great learning experience.

  15. This is wonderful! I’m really enjoying this series! My kids are just babies but i’m filing this away for future use.

  16. Katy Wedepohl says:

    What a great life lesson! Trial and error are some of the best teachers…

  17. WOW–I wish all my students wrote with such voice!

  18. My favorite line? “French fries, with a side of drastic meal-plan adjustments.” Ah…how many drastic meal-plan adjustments I have made! Great work!


  1. […] The Real Foe is the Beef (son, 17) Wounded Calzones (daughter, 16) Starvation Week (son, 13) The Part I Liked Best (son, 13) I Need Someone to Cook for Me (daughter, 14) […]