How to Calculate the Total Cost of Any Recipe


Cooking your own meals at home has always been (and likely always will be) the cheaper option. You can opt to replicate your favorite fast food or restaurant meals, seek out simpler, less labor-intensive recipes, or experience the gluttonous glories of the past by digging through grandma’s recipe book. But just because cooking at home is generally cheaper doesn’t mean every recipe is a bargain. And while some recipes will offer a “per serving” cost, that doesn’t help you budget your grocery shopping. If you’re cooking at home more but not necessarily saving a lot of money, you might want to price out the total cost of your recipes to see where the true bargains lie.

The problem with most recipes is that they can obscure their true cost in a variety of ways. Different ingredients are priced and sold differently, and different amounts are used. Many recipes assume you have certain staples on hand at all times, and even if they offer guidance on their cost, it’s typically “per serving” costs, especially if it’s hyped as a budget-friendly recipe. Knowing that a lasagna will cost just $3 per serving is nice, but if you have to spend $50 to make the lasagna in the first place, that’s crucial information for your budgeting.

Pricing out a recipe is both a straightforward and somewhat mysterious process. Here’s a general guide for how to approach the problem.

  1. Figure out unit pricing. You’ll need to know how much you paid for the whole package of each ingredient and how much you’re using. If your recipe calls for using two shallots and you can buy a single shallot for $1.50, that’s easy enough—your recipe cost for shallots is $3. If you have an 8-ounce bag of lettuce that cost $1.29 and you’re using half the bag, your recipe cost is $0.65. If you’re using a different amount of lettuce, you can figure out that each ounce costs about 16 cents and multiply as needed.

    With some ingredients you’ll need to consult the serving size under the Nutrition Facts. If you have a 6-ounce can of tomato paste that cost $0.50, but your recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of the stuff, the calculation might seem complex. But if the serving size is 2 Tablespoons and there are five servings in the can, then each serving—and thus your recipe cost—is $0.10.

  2. Estimate spices. Spices and herbs can be challenging to price. Most packages of spices don’t list nutrition information or serving sizes, and prices will vary a great deal depending on when and where you buy them. Many cooks use a generic estimation of $0.10 per teaspoon of common spices and $0.20 per teaspoon for costlier, more rare spices. Salt tends to be cheaper (about $0.05 per teaspoon). If you want a more accurate idea of how much your spices cost, you can use a conversion chart like this one, which breaks down how many teaspoons or tablespoons are in an ounce of the spice. So if you have a 2-ounce package of cinnamon, for example, you’ll get 23.5 teaspoons out of that. If the package cost you $3 overall, your cost is $0.13 per teaspoon used.

Once you’ve worked out the cost for each portion of each ingredient used, add it all up—that’s the total cost of your meal.

Other costs

Of course, there are other costs involved in cooking food. Not counting your time, you probably use water in every recipe, plus cooking gas or electricity (or both). Water is generally pretty cheap—about 3 cents per gallon—so your water cost in most recipes will be a rounding error. While it’s difficult to pin down exactly how much your stove and oven use might contribute to the cost, in general it costs around 10-20 cents an hour to run an oven at 350 degrees, and 10-15 cents an hour to run a burner at full blast. These numbers will vary greatly depending on the energy costs where you live and the age/efficiency of your appliances, but you can make a somewhat educated guess if you crunch a few numbers from your latest utility bill.

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