The old axiom says that writers should write what they know. Jennifer Maughan, a freelance writer from Utah, knows it’s not easy to feed a family of five on a freelancer’s budget. In her upcoming 100 Meals for $5 or Less (Gibbs Smith, 2009), she shares the lessons she’s gleaned as she struggles to put food on the table and stay sane.
The book is worth checking out for its first three chapters. Here, Maughan provides clear, useful tips on grocery strategy: how to use the circular to plan your meals in advance, how to keep a price list to make sure you’re getting the best deals on your regular purchases, and the importance of approaching your supermarket aisles with a suspicious eye.
Then, from chapter four on, Maughan presents the 100 recipes that give the book its name. The main course is disappointing after the useful appetizer. Of course I was not expecting gourmet recipes to come in under $5, but a lot of Maughan’s recipe suggestions are not even palatable. They generally include mixing several prepared foods together: a fish stick casserole that combines frozen fish sticks, processed cheese, and dry onion soup mix, or a mixture of ground beef, condensed cream of mushroom soup, and condensed chicken noodle soup. Even the recipes that don’t feature canned food disappoint, like an herb-crusted potato recipe that mysteriously doesn’t include a single herb.
I may not know 100 recipes that use fresh ingredients for under $5, but there are certainly a hundred out there, and I’m inclined to wear them out before I let Campbell’s take over my kitchen.