Mary Anne E. Rittenhouse and her daughter Mariel Goodson are the mother daughter duo behind Feast on the Cheap, the budget-friendly food website that everyone should know about, especially those who are looking to save a penny or two, here and there. Their idea for Feast on the Cheap came to fruition in 2009 when the stock market took a turn for the worse. Since then, these two have been informing their avid readers about easy ways to make delicious dinners, without spending a fortune.
GoGirl Finance was thrilled to catch up with Mary Anne, and profile these two women. Who doesn’t want to learn about how to put together a feast without breaking the bank? Read on to find out how these two entrepreneurs got this idea, how they manage their time, and for recommendations on how to save time and money when cooking at home.
What did you both do prior to starting Feast on the Cheap?
Mary Anne: for the past 25 years I’ve run my own catering company, From Rittenhouse to Your House, LLC. I’m also a registered nurse and during the past 9 years, due to our unstable economy, I’ve worked at a community hospital as the Orthopedic/Spine Care Coordinator.
Mariel works as a freelance health and beauty writer for magazines like SELF, Martha Stewart Living, and Redbook. She also hosts a beauty blog for marthastewart.com called “How Lovely.” (http://howlovely.marthastewart.com)
Is FOTC something you work on everyday?
Mary Anne: Yes. I focus primarily on creating new recipes while Mariel does the same, but she also runs “the back room” of our blog – visiting other sites, finding new avenues for better exposure and increasing our presence on the internet. Running the blog entails about 70% cooking/writing and 30% maintenance and actively participating in the food blog community.
Do you find it’s better to work on it in the morning, afternoon or evening?
Mary Anne: I am definitely a morning person, but given that I have a day job, I do much of my creating and writing late in the afternoon and well into the evening.
Would you want to do this full time if you could?
Mary Anne: Absolutely! Food and its creation, staging, and consumption is a lifelong passion!
Where did the idea for Feast on the Cheap come from?
Mary Anne: Mariel came to me 2 ½ years ago, on the heels of the tremendous stock market crash. I had packed up my catering biz on the east end of Long Island and moved back to Westchester to work for the hospital full time. Prior to the crash, I had been signed with Sterling Lord Literistic and my agent was working on finding a publisher for the cookbook I was writing. The market hit bottom; I didn’t have a celebrity platform to entice a publisher, and my dream had to be put on the back burner…again!
Mariel called me on a Monday in February of 2009, and said she had a great idea for another cookbook. She suggested I take my fancy, expensive catering recipes and cut out the costly ingredients for the repressed economy while charting the journey online. Literally, the very next day, Mariel had single-handedly put together our WordPress blog! All I knew how to do was cook – she is our chief marketing officer, internet and public relations expert. My very own media guru! Initially her participation was solely relegated to monitoring the site, but it’s now a joint journey and she’s been learning to cook “alongside” me online.
Are you happy you started the website?
Mary Anne: YES! I have a format where I can create new twists on old favorites, or simply new recipes, and write about not only the food, but family history, events that might have inspired the recipe, or simply posts about what’s on sale or in season and how to literally feast-on-the-cheap.
The other reason our blog makes me incredibly happy (and should really be listed first!) is because I share it with my beautiful and brilliant daughter. Initially, she was going to be a silent partner–the wizard behind the screen–but she’s really proved to be an integral contributor to the project.
Where would you like to see it go?
Mary Anne: I want us to get a book deal, and we have some really good ideas for the concept, content, and the targeted market. From there, I’d like us to get our own TV show and then brand and market some of our creations!
Dining out can get really expensive. How much would you say a person saves by eating at home instead of eating out?
Mary Anne: That’s very difficult to answer, as it really depends on whether you’re eating at a fast food joint or dining on sushi. Clearly eating at home is not only healthier, but far and away less expensive. If I have to guess, I’d say the savvy shopper probably saves between 50 to 75% by eating at home.
Do you develop most of the recipes?
Mary Anne: I’d say 95% of our recipes are developed in our respective kitchens. The rest are old family favorites, passed down from my grandmother, mother, and aunt. Mariel also belongs to an on-line “Secret Recipe Club,” where she is assigned a blog site to peruse and then selects one of their recipes to re-create and post.
What do you think is a reasonable amount to spend on groceries a month for 2 people living in New York City?
Mary Anne: I’d say about $300 per month
Do you encourage people to eat less meat/chicken/fish because it can be cheaper?
Mary Anne: No. Actually, I use some fairly pricey cuts of meat and fish, occasionally. The key is to add heft to the recipes to make the indulgence stretch further. When I’m not splurging, I swap out more expensive cuts of meat and poultry to create reasonable alternatives to say, veal and filet mignon. For example, I created a Turkey Saltimbocca which is every bit as good as the veal version, but literally less than half the price. Ditto with steak – by marinating and tenderizing lesser, tougher cuts of beef, you can get that melt-in-your-mouth texture and flavor as a tenderloin. People spend such a small percentage of their income on groceries – I say feed yourself well and you’ll live well!
What is your advice for people who want to cook more, but find that they are too busy with their jobs?
Mary Anne: We have a section I named “Super Sundays.” The idea is to spend one or two Sundays a month, baking, cooking, and then freezing individual meals for those nights when you simply don’t have the time or energy to cook dinner. Additionally, we suggest a “Well Stocked Pantry,” which allows one to have enough staples on hand to toss together a quick dinner without having to run to the market. Mariel also started a section named “Last Minute Meals,” which speaks for itself.
Essentially, our message is that if you plan ahead, take stock in your larder and fridge, and spend a bit of time preparing meals in advance, you can enjoy fabulous food without breaking the bank OR a sweat. And for me, it’s become a game – how much bang for my buck can I get, while feasting on gourmet-inspired food!