When dining out, we know exactly how much money we are paying for a serving of food. By the time we walk away with our receipt, the cost of the meal, tax and any gratuity have been totaled and paid. But how much do we pay for servings we place on our tables at home?

Buy a TV dinner, and you know how much you have invested in dinner. But use several ingredients to create a dish, and the cost is usually far from exact. Some keep very strict grocery budgets so their idea of food expense is much better than those with no actual budget. The entree cost might be an estimated $30 if spent on steak instead of $15 on ground beef.

Even without a grocery budget, most of us are interested in saving money when it comes to food. Buzzfeed.com has some helpful hints to make the most of our grocery money:

• Eat less meat. Use beans as filler in meatloaf and tacos.

• Dried beans vs canned. Dried take more prep time but save money. They also contain less sodium.

• Breakfast for dinner. Break out the eggs for a meatless meal. A dozen eggs go a long way.

• Buy cheaper meats. These can be just as good as more expensive cuts when slow roasted or prepared in your slow cooker.

• Buy a whole chicken. Break down the bird and use in different dishes or freeze separated parts in marinade.

• Invest in a vacuum sealer. Buy in bulk at a lower cost then freeze for later use. Vacuum sealing keeps frozen food fresh longer than freezer bags, and even though they can be a little pricey, they can save money in the long run and your frozen food will be better quality.

• Make big batches. Eat one batch and freeze the other for use on one of those many busy days we all have.

• Save leftover veggies. Keep a big freezer bag at the ready to keep adding that dab of veggies left after a meal for use in soups and stews.

• Grow your own vegetables if possible. You know exactly what you are eating. If a garden is not possible, visit the local farmers markets, buy in season, then can or freeze what you can.

• Check out sales and coupons. Don’t drive all over town to save a quarter but checking ads can save you money and help in planning a weekly menu which is also a money-saver. Shopping on Wednesday could help you take advantage of both last week sales and this week sales.

• Don’t shop hungry. This idea has been around since the beginning of supermarkets. Whether shopping the aisles or the ads, make sure you aren’t needing a food fix.

• Make your own sauces and dressings. Fresh is better. You can season to your own preference.

• Plan your menu for a week at a time. Save time and money scurrying around trying to figure out what’s for dinner. This will help avoid ordering takeout more than usual. Sale ads are invaluable in menu planning.

• Have a leftover night. Once a week, plan dinner around leftovers in the fridge.

Buying groceries is one of those times when the saying “watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” can serve us well. A little planning and prep really can make a difference.

A good start to being thrifty is homemade salad dressing. Make fresh to go with your fresh fixings. Make it your own. Maybe you like more garlic or less vinegar. Plan tacos for dinner and make a double batch of taco meat for pinwheels the next day. These are great for quick dipping as well as appetizers. These recipes are from “Taste of Home.” If last night was rotisserie chicken, tonight the leftovers can be the quick stove-top casserole. Simple and delicious from “Rotisserie Chicken to the Rescue.”

Have a wonderful week, and happy eating.

Honey mustard dressing

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup vegetable oil

Combine first five ingredients in blender. Gradually add oil in steady stream while processing until smooth and creamy. Store in refrigerator. Yields 2 cups.

Taco pinwheels

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup seasoned taco meat

1/4 cup finely shredded cheese

1/4 cup salsa

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons each chopped ripe olives and finely chopped onion

5 (7-inch) flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded lettuce

Beat cream cheese in small mixing bowl. Stir in all except tortillas and lettuce. Spread over tortillas: Sprinkle with lettuce and roll up tightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. Unwrap and cut into 1-inch pieces. Serve with additional salsa. Yields 3 dozen.

Homestyle chicken noodle casserole

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

4 cups wide dry egg noodles

1 tablespoon butter

1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 can cream of celery soup

1 cup milk

2 cups bite-size chunks rotisserie chicken

1 cup frozen peas and carrots

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with hot water, drain well, return to pot and cover to keep warm. Mix together spices and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat in 3-quart saucepan. A celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add soup, milk and spice blend. Stir well and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add chicken and veggies; stir well. Bring to a simmer and turn heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in noodles and sour cream. Heat through, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not boil. Serve immediately. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.