Food Network star Sandra Lee’s new show, Money Saving Meals, premieres this Sunday, May 10th. I had a chance to chat with Sandra about her current hit series Semi-Homemade and how she’s trying something a little different with her new show, Money Saving Meals. She was also gracious enough to share with me her involvement with the Share Our Strength organization that fights to help feed the over 12 million children in this country that go hungry each and every day.
EclipseMagazine: Sandra, you’re best known for your show Semi-Homemade on the Food Network. Your latest venture, Money Saving Meals, is a new concept. Tell us what Money Saving Meals is all about and how it’s different from Semi-Homemade.
Sandra Lee: When I first did Semi-Homemade, I guess eight years ago now, I wanted to create a brand where the recipes people created would work out. At that time, if you remember eight, nine years ago, Martha Stewart and before her Julia Childs…some of their recipes didn’t work and I thought, “Why is this?” After I went to the Le Cordon Bleu…why is this, I know those recipes work. What I realized was different name brand products have completely different ingredients and components to them and the only way to really ensure that a recipe would turn out is to tell people what name brand you used. Nobody endorsed those recipes, nobody paid to have those recipes created I created them myself and frankly now that I’ve been doing a lot of from scratch recipes…because Money Saving Meals about fifty percent of that show is from scratch, I realized that a Semi-Homemade recipe for the most part is much more involved than from scratch.
You really have to know not only the different brands but the ingredient base in those and how they’re going to react with other name brands and those ingredients. When the show came to life I wanted the show to be entertaining and I wanted it to be fun and I come from the home and garden and craft space so it was new to me and I did it to fill a void and I also did it because it was something I wanted to do when I created my cook book. I wanted to do something where you could look at an ordinary kitchen and it would transform every single show into a beautiful setting or theme but something you could do in your own house so if you didn’t like this look you could have that look if you didn’t like that look you could have this look. And all the looks you could buy at JoAnn’s (JoAnn Fabrics) who, by the way, doesn’t sponsor or support the show and I have no relationship with. But that’s where I got my background. Semi-Homemade has been very popular and a very highly rated show for a long time and I think that’s because it’s fast quick ways to get meals on the table for your family that are special and that what the table-scape was invented for, to be a very, very special place where a family could come together and you can get the kids out from the computer, you could get them to turn off the TV because they always have something to look forward to at dinner. And that brings a family back together and that makes the unit stronger and I think it’s been a very special meaningful show.
So looking forward to the next kind of phase in food and what’s going to be meaningful and important in the years to come, about seventeen months ago I was reading the paper one day and I went oh my gosh the economy is gonna really go down hill fast and I should write a book called “Money Saving Meals” and I should do meals in that book that are very thoughtful using the grocery store and what do I have to share and how can I help people learn how to shop better because that’s how you can do it. You have to know your grocery store, you have to know what values are, you have to know what price points are and then you have to be able to translate that information into a delicious dinner that you can put on the table and be proud of. In creating “Money Saving Meals”, the cookbook, I learned so much not just about what the prices were and what the products were but how you can extend your dollar. For instance, the beginning of every show I will be in the grocery store so we always open the show in the grocery store and we talk about how to shop smart how to shop right…when do things go on sale? For instance, the first of the month major name brands that you and I might love like Kraft, Sargento, etc. will go on sale the first of the month and at the end of the month is when all the name brands like Kroger brand or Wal-Mart they go on sale at the end of the month because their priced less expensive and then when they go on sale there’s even more savings there.
That was one of the first things that I identified and then drilling down deeper what are the most expensive items people are getting when they go into the grocery store, certainly meats, number two is the spices and the seasonings that you’re putting in there to make those delicious flavors that you need. Looking at those two, what are the price differences? If you wanna eat healthy, if you are a big fish person tilapia everybody says…tilapia is an expensive fish well yeah but by how much? Tilapia is $6.99/lb…now all of our shows are based on nationwide averages so we’re not shopping in New York and we’re not shopping in LA, for my show we’re actually shopping in New Jersey. But we will go online and check everybody’s prices when we’re giving price comparisons and we’re getting percentage of savings. My goal in this show was to save the average family twenty-five percent on their grocery shopping bill. That was my goal.
What we have wound up doing is saving the viewer of the Food Network between thirty-nine and fifty percent on their normal grocery store bill. That is a huge savings and we’ve done it. The first segment is a main meal; it’s a money saving meal so it’s all about meals so it’s a main course meal for instance, let’s talk about it being meatloaf, what do you use for your meat base well we use 80% lean ground beef because that’s $2.19/lb and as you know you don’t get that much shrinkage in 80% verses 90%. However 90% lean ground beef is almost $3.00/lb. It is the same exact price as ground veal, ground chicken and ground turkey. 90% lean ground beef is as expensive as ground veal, that’s pretty incredible. So you’re going to go with your 80% lean. Instead of buying one pound that the meatloaf calls for you’re going to buy a pound and a half because you’re going to make one and a half times the recipe. You’re gonna put in your bread crumbs, you’re gonna put in your catsup, you’re gonna put in your egg and your onions and whatever it is you put in your meatloaf that recipe calls for. You’re going to take off half a pound of meat, you going to put it in a container and save it for the next night. So on Sunday night you’re going to have a beautiful meatloaf that your family will love and the next night when you are over extended on Monday when there’s too much to do and too little time to do it in, you didn’t plan for Monday dinner, you’re going to pull out that extra half pound and you’re going to add maybe soy sauce to it, maybe Italian seasoning.