Home Economics 101–How to Calculate the Cost of a Recipe

Several years ago, a major fast-food chain had some commercials on TV that supposedly showed that their family-sized meal deal was more economical than trying to make a similar meal at home. The set up was Mom and the kids rushing through the supermarket, trying to get all the ingredients that went into each part of the meal, while keeping the cost within the price of the deal the chain was advertising. The advertising failed miserably, because the company didn’t understand how the cost of a recipe is actually calculated. Thankfully, the commercial didn’t last long; I suspect that there were a lot of home economists who had a lot to say to the company about it.

To calculate the cost of a recipe, you first need to know a few things about the ingredients you’re using to make the recipe. For starters, you need to know the price of the ingredient as a whole. Then there’s the number of servings per container, package, pound, or any other way the ingredient is sold. The equations involved are simple: price ÷ number of servings = cost per serving. Then cost per serving × number of servings of the ingredient needed for the recipe = total cost of the ingredient for the recipe. Finally, to get the cost of the recipe per serving, you would add up all the costs of the ingredients and divide that result by the number of servings the recipe makes.

Let’s have an example. Say I want to make cookies. I buy a dozen eggs for $2.49. I need four eggs for my cookie dough recipe. The equations will look like this:

2.49 ÷ 12 = .2075 (rounded up, about 21¢ per egg)

.21 × 4 = .84

So in the above example, four eggs will cost 84¢. I will keep doing this for all the ingredients in my cookie dough recipe. Next, I will add up all the ingredient costs. This will be the total cost of the recipe. Finally, I will divide the total cost of the recipe by how many servings the recipe makes. If my cookie recipe makes two dozen, then I will divide the total recipe cost by 24.

Things can get a bit tricky when dealing with odd measurements. Say an ingredient has a serving size of ¼ cup, but your recipe calls for 2⅓ cups or 2⅔ cups. What do you do then? You have to take the calculation of cost per serving and then divide it. There are 12 teaspoons in ¼ cup, 16 teaspoons in ⅓ cup, and 32 teaspoons in ⅔ cup. Here’s an example:

¼ cup of the ingredient = 25¢

.25 ÷ 12 = .0208 (rounded up, about 2.1¢ per teaspoon)

.0208 × 16 = .3328 (rounded down, about 33¢)

⅓ cup of the ingredient = 33¢

.0208 × 32 = .6656 (rounded up, about 66.5¢ or 67¢)

⅔ cup of the ingredient = 66.5¢ or 67¢

If you plan on calculating the costs of your recipes on a regular basis to help bring your food costs down, it may be helpful to keep a list of the things you buy regularly with their costs per serving. Keep the list in a central location so that when you decide to make something new, you can just bring it out and do your calculations quickly. You don’t need to have the exact cost per serving; food prices fluctuate too much. Just use the regular price you usually pay for the item in your calculations. Any time you get something on sale, you can recalculate the cost based on the sale prices, just as a way to see approximately how much money you’ve saved.

This sort of cost analysis works with many other things, as well. If you want to keep your laundry costs down, for example, divide the price of your laundry detergent by the number of loads that can be washed with the size of detergent you buy. Keeping your grocery bill as low as possible is a very helpful way of saving money, especially in these uncertain economic conditions. Using these equations can help you extend your grocery budget farther.

Have any questions or comments? Feel free to let me know below!

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