Q & A with the $5 Dinner Mom

A key element to saving money is learning how to cook healthy, affordable meals at home.  But for the cooking challenged (like me!), a little guidance is good.

And that’s why I love $5 Dinners.com.  $5 Dinners offers simple recipes and money-saving tips to help you create great-tasting meals for your family for less than $5.

And now, Erin Chase, the mastermind behind $5 Dinners, has just announced her new cookbook: The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, and Nourishing Meals That Are Easy on the Budget and a Snap to Prepare, which will be released Dec. 22.

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I’m thrilled that Erin took a few minutes from her busy schedule to share her meal-planning and money-saving tips with all of us at Northern Cheapskate.

NC: How did $5 Dinners.com get its start?
Erin Chase: $5 Dinners was a phrase that popped into my head while doing the dishes after a “$5 dinner”.  I wondered if I could challenge myself to keep making meals that cost less than $5.

NC: How are you able to keep your dinners under $5?
Erin Chase: A combination of savvy shopping skills, meal planning and couponing.

NC: What are some basic tips for cutting costs when making meals?
Erin Chase: Never pay full price!  Shop the sales circulars and make it a habit to plan meals based on what’s on sale each week.

NC: Where does the inspiration for your meals come from?
Erin Chase: Several places…meals I’ve made in the past, family favorites, other food bloggers and occasionally magazines.

NC: What do you do on days you just don’t feel like cooking?
Erin Chase: When I don’t feel like cooking, I cook anyway!  There are certainly those days when I’m not “feeling” it, but the guys have to eat.  So I have to cook.  Take out is a luxury and something we RARELY do…as it’s just too expensive!

NC: If you’re able to spend just $5 on dinner, what do you typically spend on breakfast and lunch?
Erin Chase: I’ve never calculated what I spend on breakfast or lunch…as we usually do leftovers or sandwiches with fruit for lunch, and we have a “rotating” breakfast menu.  If I were to average it all out, less than $3-4 total for lunch for sure.  And likely $2-3 or less for breakfasts!

NC: One of your children has several food allergies.  How does this affect your meal planning?
Erin Chase: I think meal planning helps with food allergies.  By taking a few minutes to find new recipes or think of ways to experiment with old favorites based on the food allergies we deal with, it helps take out some of the “well…we can’t have that…or that…or this.”  I have learned which ingredients make good “substitutions” and which don’t.  I have learned to base meals around starches that we don’t have allergies to, and avoid the meats and fruits that cause trouble too.

NC: You just welcomed your third child to your family. Will $5 Dinners grow as your family grows?  Will we see a $7 Dinners blog during the teen years or will you just work harder to meet the challenge of a family meal under $5?
Erin Chase: Yes.  The family is growing!  I imagine I’ll be able to continue the $5 Dinners for a while longer, as the food for baby won’t add in too much…until he reaches toddlerhood!  The teen years…that has yet to be decided!  We’ll just take things one year at a time and see how things go!

NC: What’s the cheapest recipe you’ve created?  What is your favorite recipe?
Erin Chase: I’m not sure about the cheapest…but rice and beans type meals usually run $2-$2.50 depending on what vegetable we have and how much it cost that week!  My favorite recipe is Green Tomato Beef Roast.

NC: Creating a quick, healthy, affordable dinner is every busy mom’s challenge.  Please share a few tips for how to save time in the kitchen.  Do you bulk cook?  Do you prep in advance?
Erin Chase: Bulk baking is helpful, as my kids love baked goods for snacks. Being able to pull some muffins or cookies from the freezer is very helpful on busy afternoons.  Bulk cooking of the ingredients that take a long time to cook, like brown rice or dried beans also helps.

And using the slow cooker!  I am always thinking about the next meal or snack…and will sneak some prep work in while the kids are having their afternoon snack, so that my time in the kitchen during the “4-6 pm PANIC hour” is minimal!

NC: You have a cookbook coming out December 22.  Tell us a little bit about the book.
Erin Chase: The cookbook is a compilation of 200 recipes that I made for less than $5, along with money saving tips on each recipe.  It also includes a comprehensive look at all the strategies that I use each week to make this all happen! 

NC: I had the honor of meeting Erin in person at the General Mills Eat and Greet earlier in August.  Erin is a down-to-earth, all-around-great gal and she is serious about what she does.  She’s had her share of critics who say $5 dinners can’t be done, but she’s got the receipts (and hundreds of fellow coupon clippers across the country) who can prove it! Please check out $5 Dollar Dinners and The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook.  I think you’ll enjoy both!

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About Christina Brown

Christina is a wife and mother dedicated to figuring out how to live a simpler, happier life on a budget.

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