It’s the Ham That Never Ends

I think there is a perception out that that buying a ham, a whole chicken or a roast is an expensive item.  Which to be honest in some cases I think it is, but given the number of meals I typically get out of a ham I was curious to find out how cheap per serving a ham could end up being.  So during the last few months we bought and then ate a ham to test this theory.

I spent $24.02 on a boneless ham, which by the way was not a sale price (I wanted to keep things reasonable).  The results after several months were: 44 servings over seven meals or on average $0.55 per serving.  Since you might want an idea of how this works here are the meals we ate.

The main event for this ham was a dinner with friends where we served the classic ham, mash potatoes and peas supper for six adults and two kids.  Next up was leftovers for lunch during the following weekend.   At this point we got smart and froze a large part of the ham for future use.

In the mean time we made a chickpea and ham salad, which we love.  Then forgot about ham for a week or two.  The secret to using up any large amount of meat from a ham, turkey, roast is to space it out.  Eating the same thing for weeks on end is boring as hell so take advantage of your freezer to shift it a month or so down the road.  For example, I have some Christmas turkey in my freezer right now which I will likely defrost in February.

Once we defrosted the frozen ham we got cooking again with a few more meals.  One supper was a simple one of pasta, spice and veggies to make a meal.  Then we made a homemade ham and pineapple pizza….mmm.  Then for some other company we made some ham, white bean, sweet potato soup.  To use up the last of the leftover ham we diced it up to make a ham and cheese quiche.

So overall, yes the initial cost of something can be expensive for a large amount of meat, but when you space out the leftovers it is entirely possible to drive down your average cost to something reasonable.  At $0.55/serving for a family of four means that we would spend on average $2.20 per meal just for my family to eat that meat (plus obviously the cost of other ingredients). Also recall that wasn’t even a sale price you could drive that number much lower.  Overall I think that is fairly affordable, but entirely dependent on your ability to use ALL of your leftovers. Wasting that meat is really the expensive part of of buying a big piece of meat.

Do you every buy big chunks of meat at once?  If so, what meats do you find cost effective to buy? If not, why don’t you?

11 thoughts on “It’s the Ham That Never Ends”

  1. We buy a quarter of beef and a bunch of chickens from a local farmer so we’re getting free range without meds (and it tastes way better than store bought). And yes, we’ll freeze portions for later use as you’ve done. And yes, we pay less than store bought. For example, the farmer charges us approx the cost of hamburger at the store per pound – but that’s the price we pay for everything including roasts and steaks.

    We also have a meat slicer so occassionally we’ll cook a bunch of things like a ham, a roast beast, and a chicken breast. Then I’ll run everything through the slicer and voila – sliced luncheon meats without the crap and ebola virus additives you get in store bought.

  2. I like buying turkey (especially around holidays when the prices drop significantly) and ham also. My only comment would be that I find bone in ham to a) tasty much better and b) you get the ham bone at the end to made pea soup which I almost enjoy more than the ham!

    here’s the recipe if anyone is interested (works with smoked turkey legs too)

    Split Pea Soup

    1 large onion, finely chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 tbsp oil
    500 g split peas – yellow preferred
    2 liters water
    1 chicken bouillon cube
    Aromat(Maggi) to taste – optional
    Pepper to taste
    1 Tbsp ground cumin
    ham bone (best) or 350 grams smoked diced ham or can of ham

    Saute onions, garlic in oil in a large pot.

    Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally

  3. I also try to buy a quarter of beef when I can find one at a reasonable price, it has been a huge bonus in helping with my spending challenge.

    I will get a bird or roast if I find them on sale and I will make it stretch into several meals. Right now, I have ham and turkey from Christmas that I froze in small portions and am using it for pizza, stews, quiches, quesadillas etc.

    @Tim – Chick Pea and Ham Salad? Sounds interesting, care to share the recipe please?

  4. Oh! This is just like Mortgage Free in Three’s rubber chicken 🙂 She can make a single chicken feed her family forever!
    We have game meat, so there’s always something in the freezer if we want. That’s 99% of the meat that we consume.

  5. I’d like to generate enough income when I’m “free at 45” so I don’t have to make a spreadsheet and calculate the portion cost of a ham.

    Call me cynical if you want but I think it’s odd. Should I compare pizza parlour prices and see how many slices are left over (and which pizza has a bigger circumference) so I can eat them the next day for lunch. I don’t want to worry about a food budget when I’m retired… At least this precisely.

    I have a thick skin write what you want….

  6. @Sheryl,

    The recipe is as follows: 2.5 cups chopped tomato, 190z can of chickpeas (I personally just used dried and cook them prior to making the salad), 1 1/4 cups english cucumber, 1 cup chopped green pepper, 1 1/3 diced ham, 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion. Put all of it into a bowl and mix. Dressing: 3 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 1/2 tsp parsley flakes, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp salt. Shake well pour over salad and mix then serve at once.

    @Paul N,

    I do these little experiments out of my own curiosity, not to retire early. Live your life how ever you want and if you spend more on food and if have to save longer to pay for your retirement, so be it. After all an extra $200/month on food equals another $60,000 in savings to generate interest to pay for it (assuming a 4% rate of return). So yes, you don’t have to worry about the small things, but there is still a cost to that. By the way, I would never do that on a pizza…that’s even insane by my standards. *grin*


  7. Perhaps the piece that’s missing here is that it’s not so much that meat is ‘expensive’ or not, but rather portion control is key. Eating steak or chicken breast burgers are expensive as much due to the fact that you’re eating a whole hunk of meat with a ‘side’ salad, as it is that it’s an expensive cut of meat. Take the same chicken breast and dice it up in a big stir fry and voila – feed 3 for almost the same price as 1!

  8. Love to read all the comments…..but Paul, I am with you. I want to live awhile, and I want to be as healthy as possible therefore my diet is strict–nothing processed, I cannot eat wheat so that’s a bonus. Just fresh veggies, fruit, nuts and lean protein. It actually is not that pricey and my bloodwork is, and I quote my doctor, “the best she has ever seen”
    Yes, I can make a chicken last for lots of meals, and I make the best lentil soup ever, but I don’t calculate how much my meals cost. I certainly don’t worry if one month i spend a little over my budget and wonder if i can ever retire….there is a limit to my frugalness and it stops at nutrition

  9. Our normal meal planning always involves intentional leftovers. We purposely cook either a large item (big ham or turkey) or multiples. When the oven’s on anyway why not cook 2 or 3 whole chickens? For the same electricity it generates a ton of extra meat. The next night’s meal is usually based on what extras we made the night before. When there is a ton of excess we package it up for the freezer in amounts that work for our favorite recipes. Excess chicken/turkey in bags ready for enchiladas, divan etc is really handy. The poultry bones either get frozen or we make broth immediately. Then the broth is frozen or made into soup immediately. Then the excess soup is frozen for later. It’s a rate night when we don’t have some component of the dinner precooked. We don’t generally eat leftovers in the same format as the night before, but cooking in bulk to create a starting point for the next night saves a lot of time, effort and electricity.

  10. After Xmas and Easter our grocery stores offer a whole leg of pork for $0.99 ! Usually 20-25lbs.
    What a great offer and I make sure the fridge is semiclear for this monster. I check you tube to remind myself how to debone that leg and sharpen my knives.
    There is nothing like a fresh rolled roast.
    The rest gets cut up into smaller roast/chops and frozen for a later date.

  11. I’ve been experimenting with buying a split chicken and carving it myself. It is much cheaper than bone less skinless chicken and I get the bones to make soup out of.

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