Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cheap date

I have a seventeen year old brother and a thirteen year old brother, both of whom live in the same town as I do. The seventeen-year-old is headed to college next year. He's a Type 1 diabetic. This means he can't spend the next four years living on Ramen noodles and Lucky Charms. At the same time, he can't afford to be dining out every night.

What's a sister to do?

I have the family over to dinner once a week. Tuesday is good, since the grocery store fliers usually come in the mail. I sit him down with the fliers before dinner and ask him to tell me what's a good price and what's a waste of ad space. He's getting good at this.

I try to have two or three courses for dinner--your standard restaurant meal with salads and desserts. About halfway through, everyone gives me a total and a per-plate cost estimate. My mother is always right (no shock there), but my brothers are always way over. Generally we can also give a comparable restaurant cost. I don't cook anything that can't be made by a novice.

The point is, of course, to give my brother a good reason to shop sales and make himself real food. A pair of candles and five bucks can make a spectacular romantic dinner on a college student budget, and he'll impress by being able to cook. There's some female indoctrination going on, too: we've got salad plates and salad forks, proper table settings, and a nice atmosphere. I'm not expecting Emily Post, but I do hope he remembers to put out napkins the first time he hosts a meal.

This is fun for me, as well. I've got an excuse to try new recipes. I'm getting good at having everything ready at the right time. And it reminds me that cooking for myself is the frugal option.

Yesterday, I got a take-and-bake pizza for $10.00, which provided three meals. (So I eat pizza for breakfast.) Tonight I served pork loin with orange oregano sauce, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and shallot-and-lettuce salad for four. I have leftovers in my fridge to last two more meals. Total cost? $7.35.

Don't feel bad; my brothers didn't figure it out either.

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