Thursday, January 03, 2008

Salad Plate Lessons: Eating Green; Saving Green

Yesterday, in a fit of stubborn frugality, I refused to eat my money. But it was a hot debate between the $20 bill on my dining room table and the bag of pre-washed baby green lettuce in my frig. I have a weakness for salads, especially overstuffed, exotic salads with a wild assortment of tastes. My ideal meal: a big salad and a fabulous dessert. But after tax, tips and other charges that ideal meal usually costs about $20.

Feeling really frugal, I made my own salad. Here's my recipe:

1. Large serving of pre-washed organic salad: red and green romaine, oak leaf, chard, arugula, and other mixed greens. Thankfully, we had a bag of organic mixed greens in the frig.

2. Baby carrots

3. One vegetarian Morningstar chicken patty. (My favorite restaurant charges about $3 for that addition of veggie meat.)

4. Chopped almonds, walnuts and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds.

5. Chopped onions.

6. Minced, crisp miniature pickles.

7. Italian salad dressing.

Arranged on a large glass plate, my homemade gourmet salad was just as pretty as the $10-plus salad that I would have picked up at the restaurant. My own creation was a riot of color and taste, washed down with a tall glass of Asian Plum White Tea, sweetened with honey, which would have cost $3 at the cafe. For dessert: a generous serving of Oreo cookies, with the yucky cream center scooped out. (Yeah, I love the chocolate cookies, no cream.)

Bottom line: I didn't feel deprived; I felt pampered for a total cost of less than $2. And I learned several lessons from my salad plate:

1) Keep the kitchen well-stocked: Without the nuts, pickles and other perks, my meal would have just been lettuce on a plate. That so-called salad would have been no competition for the color-coordinated eye-candy salad at the cafe. Having a few extra ingredients in my cabinet and frig really saved me a lot of money.

2) Be creative: I don't normally put sour pickles on a green salad. But in a festive, anything-goes mood, I chopped and sprinkled the pickles onto my salad plate. My creativity was awarded with extra crunch.

3) Be patient: It took time to wash the pre-washed salad. (I never trust pre-washed salads!) It took patience to chop the carrots and the onions. Even reaching into the assorted bags of nuts was an exercise in persistence. But if I want to save money and live well, I'll have to stretch for the higher shelf, open the bag of baby greens and sprinkled the nuts myself.

4) Be honest: This is the big X-Factor. When I started to reach for the $20 bill on the dining room table, I initially told myself a lie, namely: I don't have time to make my own salad. It was easier, I thought to just walk out the door with my money and just hand over my green bill for a plate of green food.

But here's the actual invoice of time:
  • Leaving my house is at least a 10-minute process.
  • Walking to the little cafe near my home or the competing restaurants involves a brisk 10-minute sprint if I do that swishy hip-heel-toe weird walk demonstrated by speed-walkers that make little kids giggle.
  • At this time of the year in Miami, my neighborhood is overrun with snow birds and the wait for a table at my little cafe could take as long as 20 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes to be waited on and served.
  • The remaining balance of time: 20 minutes to eat, 10 minutes to wait for the bill and to pay my tab.
  • And finally: 10 minutes to walk home.
Final time cost of cafe salad: 95 minutes (including meal time) or 75 minutes (excluding eating time)

Final cost of home gourmet salad: 10 minutes of prep time.

Bottom line: I saved about $18 in cash and over an hour in time. My gourmet salad was worth the effort.


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach:How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.





Money Blue Book said...

Have you tried making a strawberry vinaigrette salad with toasted almonds...easy to make and tastes great!

Canadian Saver said...

Love how you figured out the time involved, as well as the actual monetary cost.

Your salad sounded awesome!! I jotted down some of your tips!

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Mark Framness said...

Great post,

I would note (as I do on my newer frugality blog Frugal Framentt) organic translates into expensive and has its own set of problems.

However, you give some good cooking tips. Cooking your own food is much cheaper than going to any restaurant, for what I eat one night at the Olive Garden (however, that is on someone else's tab) I can eat on for about a week at home.

It is about learning to cook. Learn a few recipes by heart (that is, get to a point where you no longer measure the ingredients) and then you come to understand how the ingredients work together and can start improvising on your own.

What kills in terms of time are having to go out to get ingredients, as you point out a well stocked kitchen is a frugal one.

Girl and Cents said...

your salad sounds delicious! and it probably tastes 20 times better because you didn't eat it in a restaurant and saved $18!

Anonymous said...

Sounds too much like grazing to me.

Gimme' a couple greasy one buck each McGrease double cheese burgers.

The taste lasts for hours as the body makes feeble attempts to rid itself of the intrusion.

Those feeble attempts indicate to me the quasi-food can't be all that bad....or dangerous.