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Mary Hunt

Pop quiz: Which is the better buy? Pork tenderloin for $2.97 per pound or boneless pork chops at $3.47 per pound — taken from my local supermarket’s weekly ad? If you answered the tenderloin, you’re in good company. Most of us would, but we’d be wrong. Price per pound can be misleading because not all cuts of meat and poultry yield the same number of servings per pound.

You can feed twice as many people from boneless pork chops as from bone-in pork tenderloin. The boneless chops have about four servings per pound, compared to two servings per pound for the pork tenderloin. What you pay for the edible portion is the important factor.

If you want to reduce your food costs and simultaneously raise your grocery shopping intelligence, start thinking cost per serving rather than price per pound.

If you could use some help figuring out how much meat to buy, cost per serving and servings per pound from all types of meat cuts, the University of Nebraska’s Cooperative Extension has done all the math and created simple charts you can print to take with you to the supermarket (I have them for you at EverydayCheapskate.com/meatcuts).

For example, a whole chicken yields 2 to 2 1/2 servings per pound, and you can count on 3 1/2 to 4 servings from 1 pound of boneless chicken breasts.

Reader Jacquelyn L., of North Carolina, has taken the price per serving idea further. “I’ve tried clipping coupons religiously and planning meals, but when time runs short, these methods fail me.” She said she needed a new method, something that didn’t require organization skills she doesn’t possess. She now uses the $1-per-person-per-meal method to cover the meat. The goal is to feed her family for less than $1 per person per meal.

A perfect example of Jacquelyn’s principle would be a package of 10 chicken leg quarters on sale for $7, or 70 cents each. (As I write, my supermarket has chicken quarters on sale for 99 cents per pound, not too far off this example). Serve each person one leg or thigh quarter with an inexpensive but filling side dish such as rice, potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Round out the meal with canned or frozen corn or beans to keep the total cost in the $1 neighborhood.

She goes on, “I don’t deny my family an occasional steak. I simply make sure that I go well below $1 per person for other meals that week. We don’t want to feel deprived, so I make up for indulgences by serving less expensive meals later.”

Make an inexpensive meatless meal such as red beans and rice or potato soup. Or, try stretching your meat of choice. Add breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs to ground beef. Chop up ham to add to beans or soups. Add pieces of chicken to pasta or casseroles. This dramatically reduces the overall cost of the meal so you easily can feed your family for well less than $1 per person.

Using Jacquelyn’s $1-per-meal method, you don’t have to worry so much about if you’ve found the absolute best price. You only have to ask yourself, “Can I feed each member of my family with, say, this chicken for about $1 per person?”

There’s no doubt in these inflationary times we’re facing, finding $1-per-meal options out there will be challenging but not impossible. It means finding the store’s loss leaders — items priced below cost just to get you into the store. It means shopping at the low-cost grocery store or discount warehouse club. It means weighing and portioning carefully.

This isn’t an exact science. Some meals will be more than $1 per person, and others will be less. Estimate. Don’t worry too much about the cost of seasonings or other practically negligible ingredients.

Mary invites you to go to EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at everydaycheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”