It is not desirable to cut down the expenditure for food to the lowest point at which nutritive food may be obtained if the income justifies a larger expenditure. Economy does not mean spending a small amount, but expending money in such a way that it may bring in the largest return.
The cost of cooking modifies the expenditure for raw material. Often a cheap food, requiring long cooking, is in the end more expensive than a higher priced food requiring only a short cooking. This difference is particularly marked in the case of such a fuel as gas. With a coal stove careful planning- for the utilization of all the heat may mean only the difference between the wasting of heat and the using of it. For example, the beans baking in the oven while ironing is going on add practically nothing to the amount of fuel used, while the beans baked in the gas oven must have the cost of the gas consumed added to their cost. It is quite possible that a cheap, tough piece of meat might consume so much gas in the long cooking necessary to stew it that its cost would be raised nearly to that of the more expensive cut that it supplanted.
Another element in the cost of food is that of the labor consumed in preparation and in service. The time taken to prepare a certain dish must be added to the cost of the raw materials before we can fairly estimate the cost of that dish. It must be remembered, however, that a dish requiring long cooking does not necessarily involve the expenditure of much time in preparation.
In a certain hotel having a large number of guests it was estimated that the extra time required to add a sprig of parsley to each plate of meat served meant the employment of an additional helper for the equivalent of one day a week. In the private family, the difference between a dinner served in three courses, or in four, means an expenditure of additional time that has a definite money value.
The waste of food must also be considered. This is of two kinds, necessary waste, and needless waste. It is foolish to say, as some have done, that the garbage can might be eliminated from our houses if greater care were taken. The parings of potatoes, the husks of corn, the pods of peas, must always be refuse. In one experiment it was found that because of the cost of service, it was cheaper to allow thick parings of potatoes to be thrown away than to pay for the care that would insure thin parings. On the other hand, the head of a certain institution found that the careful paring of the potato meant the actual saving of a large number of bushels each year. Mrs. Richards says, "It is not food actually eaten that costs so excessively; it is that wasted by poor cooking, by excessive quantity and by purchase out of season when the price is out of all proportion to its value.
"Good judgment as to the amounts to be prepared, as to the harmony of the meal, the blend of flavor; as to the right appetizers; and good humor and cheerful conversation, with the most attractive setting and perfect serving, will cut down the cost of almost any table one-half. Many seem to hold the idea that hospitality requires the setting of a double portion before the guests, and this alone doubles the cost of food in some families".
She says again, "In no other department of household expenditure is there so great an opportunity for the exercise of knowledge and skill with so good resuits for pocket and health; no item of expense is so fully under individual control".