The Costs of Cooking Experiment

As my family and I sat in a restaurant for dinner, we discussed what type of profitability there is for a restaurant owner. We tried to think through what costs go into the creation of restaurant meals and how they differed from meals we cooked at home.

So, we decided to conduct a little experiment. We planned to have a family meal night in which we all contributed to the creation and preparation of the meal in order to calculate the cost of having a meal at home versus going out to eat at a restaurant.

The Costs of Cooking Experiment Phases:

  1. Plan out the menu.
  2. Shop for the ingredients.
  3. Prepare and cook the food.

Thinking through our experiment, we decide we would pay close attention to our budget during these three phases and try to include any costs that could be incurred if the meal was prepared at a restaurant.

Phase 1: Planning the Menu

Family planning a dinner menu

After some deliberation, we decided we would replicate one of our favorite meals at a local Italian restaurant we frequented:

  • Appetizer: Caprese Salad
  • Entree: Chicken Piccata
  • Dessert: Chocolate Lava Cake
  • Specialty Drink: Piña Coladas (non-alcoholic versions for our underage family members)

Phase 2: Shopping for Ingredients

Family shopping together at the grocery store

At the supermarket, we quickly realized that many of the ingredients for our meal didn’t necessitate us buying a new bag/box. For example, we needed “a pinch of sea salt.” Given that we already had some in the house, it didn’t make sense to buy a new bottle.

So, in addition to pricing out the ingredients we had to buy, we also recorded the prices for ingredients we are already had at the house to see how it would compare:

  • Total Cost for All Ingredients Needed: $91.61 (projected spend)
  • Total Cost for Ingredients Not Already At Home: $38.91 (actual spend)

Phase 3: Preparing and Cooking the Food

Mother and daughter prepping a salad together

Back at home, all the family members took their respective roles and began prepping the meal. However, mid-meal prep we started picking up on some additional costs we hadn’t foreseen. As a group, we found these indirect costs that had to be accounted for at the restaurant:

  • Hourly Wages
  • Cost for Rent (or Mortgage)
  • Utilities: Heat, Gas, Electric, Water

Due to the late discoveries of these unobvious costs, we weren’t able to measure our “home” expenditures for these categories.


While we originally intended to use this project as a way to calculate the cost of having a meal at home versus dining out at a restaurant – for which the preliminary results of our shopping excursion suggested that home-cooked meals cost a lot less – this calculation was much more involved than we initially realized with additional indirect costs like time, utilities, and location-specific fees.

All in all, it was not only a fun experience but we gained a better understanding of what goes into the costs of creating a meal.

Looking for more ways to teach your kids the value of a dollar? Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for other great dinner time conversation starters and helpful videos.

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