Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Joys of Hamburger Helper

I have a confession...I used to be a Hamburger Helper snob!

I'm not sure why. It wasn't that I looked down on it as a meal. I think part of it was growing up and remembering how often we had noodles and meat, so the thought of it as an adult wasn't appealing. Another part of it was the preparation. Up until recently, I've never felt comfortable in a kitchen, and even now I'm still finding my feet. But it always seemed like such a pain to have to brown the meat and mix everything (I know, right? That's pretty lazy of me).

Cooking dinner tonight, which was Hamburger Helper (Three Cheese if anyone was wondering), I felt silly for being so snooty about it. HH is a really cheap, pretty tasty, easily made dinner for people who are aiming to save money. It comes in a ton of different flavors and when you get sick of hamburger, you can fall back on Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper.

Some nifty things about Helper meals:

1. Low Cost of Item - The brand name starts at about $1.50 depending on the area you live in, but it seems to be one of those items that goes on sale alot. Look for local sales on HH. The most common one brings the price to about a buck a box, so stock up when you find them to keep around for an easy dinner. If you want to go generic, there's many off-brands of this type of meal, though you might not get the same variety.

2. Budgeting for the meat - The thing that's going to drive an HH meal up is going to be the meat which has gotten more expensive over the past few years. Depending on the type of hamburger you buy, it can get really expensive. We opt to buy the cheapest/easiest we can find which is the small pound tubes of it at WalMart for $2.12 (plus tax). We're currently working with limited freezer space so these one shot servings work best, though if you can find bigger packages at a lower per lb price, buy up, divvy the meat into storage bags, and freeze away. Also remember to drain the grease too as the cheaper hamburger will produce alot of it.

Chicken breasts for CH are a little pricier and take more preparation but not much. If you really want to save time, buy the canned chicken. TH is probably the cheapest as you can get a can of tuna for less than a buck. A Helper meal covers your meat and grains, so adding a cheap veggie and a glass of milk can help cover some of the others.

3. Not a health food, but... - Hamburger Helper is a little higher in calories and fat than alot of foods, but if you're trying to save money you can still compromise. For a slightly higher cost you can buy a leaner cut of hamburger, or you can buy ground turkey instead. I haven't bought ground turkey in a long time, but last I remember, it's actually cheaper than hamburger but gives a similar taste and is much healthier. Substitute "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" for butter/margarine and use skim milk for the mix.

Portion size is also something you can control and can make your meals cheaper. Check the box to see how many it will serve, especially if you're cooking for two or just yourself. Divvy the portions up accordingly. This isn't always easy with families, as different people eat different amounts, but you can try it a couple of ways. After separating it out for one meal, decide if you want to further multiply it. A single person can get two large meals or four small meals out of one box. Two people can one or two meals, etc. The more meals you can get out of one box, the cheaper each meal becomes. Keeping that in mind will also help you stay on track with healthy portions.

The BF and I were lucky enough to have acquired three boxes of HH from a friend who was moving so our meal was a bit cheaper. But taking into account the regular price of HH from WalMart, the meal breaks down into the following:

HH = $1.50
1 lb Hamburger = $2.12
Milk = negligible, but estimated at about $.50.
Total = $4.12

We opted for no sides and we didn't go the healthy route on this, deciding on a big dinner after a long day of work. Therefore, this meal came to $2.06 per person.

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