Which item is the most cost effective, both in terms of healing and/or energy gain?
I pulled what I believe are the most efficient recipes, here are the results with some pros and cons:
Quick note: Energy and Health directly related for recipes, that is to say, if health gained goes up or down comparatively between food items, energy goes up or down as well. That's why I only evaluated for health here, because once you know the most efficient recipe for health, you also know the most efficient recipe for energy.
Maple Bars(My favorite)-
-Efficiency: 2.22 gold/point of health
-Pros: Grow year round, without Greenhouse. No need to water/sprinkler/plant, just harvest every 9 days forever. Convenient! Only item on this list able to be produced in Winter.
-Cons: Priciest on this list, still better than most foods though.
-Cost: 120 for 10
-Efficiency: .48 gold/point of health
-Pros: Only require 1 type of ingredient, very cost efficient.
-Cons: To get recipe, you must have 7 ♥ relationship with Clint, only grows in spring (this matters very little once you get the Greenhouse).
-Note: Make sure to plant an even number of Bean Plants, or you will end up with extra beans!
-Cost: 70g for 4
-Efficiency: .25 gold/point of health
-Pros: Most cost efficient on this list, has defensive and mining bonuses, which is helpful since you'll be doing most of your eating in the mines, were you need those bonuses.
-Cons: 2 "dependent" ingredients, the 2 ingredients grow in different seasons, you need a 7 ♥ relationship with Mayor Lewis to get the recipe.
-Cost: 150 for 8
-Pros: Easy crop to grow, grows across two seasons. Having the ability to heal up small increments of health while you still remember to is nice, and not wasteful with tortillas. Cost efficient (so is everything on this list, I guess). Recipe is available very early on.
-Cons: Not much? It grows across two seasons, so it's more convenient than most crop-based foods, and it's more cost efficient than maple bars. Not much to whine about there, just nothing too special.
Read on if you want details
Maple Bars - Health +90
Here is why I like Maple Bars: Most cooking recipes have what I will call "dependent" and "independent" requirements. Independent requirements are things like wheat flour, sugar, vinegar, etc. That is to say, things you can go out and buy any time of the year, for a fixed price. Dependent ingredients are things you harvest, like crops, gathering foods, artisan goods, animal products, or in this case, tree sap. I pick maple bars because even though they cost 200g per bar, they heal most of your health, and you can get they any time of year. If you set up a sizeable tree farm for your maples, you can easily get 30 jars(just an example), (and bars) every 9 days(the harvest cycle for maple tapping), which at a cost of 6000 per cycle, isn't too bad. Depending on how you evaluate cost, these are probably one of the most cost efficient foods, and unlike most of the things on this list, the recipe is available relatively early in the game(random recipe from cooking show on television). The dependent ingredient is available year round too, which adds to it's own category of convenience. No changeover between seasons for your food source is amazingly convenient once your farm really starts to get big and you also want to spend more time away from it.
The other recipes which heal about as much either require too many dependents(crops, which adds into pricing), or require animal products(too much work, visiting coops and animals every day, feeding them every day, though later in the game they become less work), and also mostly require the same amount of independent ingredients as well.
If you want some other suggestions that might be a little cheaper, I can provide some suggestions for that too.
Bean Hotpot Health +50
Bean Hotpot is a pretty great recipe, requiring only two green beans to make, and healing 50 health. Lets do some math to figure out how well it stacks up.
1 maple bar costs 200g, and heals 90 health, giving it a cost of 2.2 gold per point of health.
1 green bean plant costs 60g, and produces 5 green beans a season (10 days to grow, produces every 3 days, so 28-10=18, you lose the first day because that doesn't count as a growing day, so 18-1=17, and math.floor(17/3)=5), which would make 2.5 Bean Hotpots, but we'll just say 120g makes 5 Bean Hotpots, for the sake of simplicity. 5*50=250, 120/250=.48 gold per point of health.
Pretty good! The only real downside is that you only get the recipe by having a 7 ♥ level with Clint, so it's a little bit of work to actually get there.
Eggplant Parmesan - Health + 70, Mining +1, Defense+2
This one might be a tough sell, because the two necessary crops, tomato and eggplant, grow in different seasons, so the payoff isn't immediate in terms of getting the food. At least the crops produce the same number yield(4 crops each)! That makes life much easier.
Anyways, 1 eggplant plant and 1 tomato plant make 4 eggplant parmesan, so 4 eggplant parm costs 70g(price of the two seeds, added), 70*4=280, 70/280=.25 gold per point of health. That is great! Plus the mining and defensive bonus, it's a pretty sweet treat, if you feel like waiting.
The wiki, on the page for Eggplant Parm, says it's a recipe from the cooking channel, but as the recipe masterlist states, it's actually a recipe from Lewis after 7 ♥, don't be fooled!
Tortillas - Health+20
Lets get down to it:
Corn seeds cost 150g, and corn plants produce (48-1-14)=33 math.floor(33/4)=8 crops per plant. it takes 1 crop to make a tortilla, so 150 gold gets you 8*20=160 health, 150/160=~1 gold per point of health. Pretty good too. Plus the recipe is available in your first fall from the cooking channel, or for purchase from the saloon, so it's not a lot of work to get.
The best bang for my buck that I've seen is the ice cream that's sold in the summer. As a bonus, it works as a gift for everybody I've met except for fisherman Willy and the girl with the blue hair who works in the saloon.
I'll also use things I'm gathering as I go along. When I'm fishing and I get seaweed or algae, no big deal. I'll eat it. Even a Joja Cola can give me a little bit of energy to do a couple more casts. In spring, the salmonberries are good freebies.
The cave mushroom is a must for 3 reasons: 1. Life Elixir (Hard to come by but can still craft a few) 2. Purple Mushroom (Lots of life mostly in the skull/mine levels) In the mine mushrooms appear on levels 81-119, but never ending on a 5 or 0. Level 83 often has mushrooms, once you reach the 3rd integer in the range, I would move on to next i.e., 83 reach and harvested, now go to 90. The reason is barrel platform levels often end in 4 and barrels don't give out mushrooms, and rare are both barrel platform and mushroom level combined if ever. 3. Fried Mushroom
Salad costs 220 and heals 50 Parsnip, Spring onion, Leeks, Eggplant, Cave carrots, grapes, crystal fruit, winter root, snow yam are all better to eat then to sell, esp parsnips. Hazelnut and Wild plums are much better in recipes.
Sashimi, but from carp, sunfish and primarily from 16 crab pots; doable.
Berries esp. Berries (see below) with Double Harvest foraging perk @ level 4 foraging (chop down 64 trees before spring 15) i.e., after gifting I still had 257 salmonberries which will easily take me down to mine 120, by which time I will have sprinklers, gold axe and gold pickaxe. In the fall blackberry cobbler is must for mine in the desert.
Chowder; Put those clams to good use if not for speed grow then for chowder.
Heals 100, just add milk.
Lobster Bisque; yet another reason to have crab pots
Heals 100, just add milk.
Crab Cakes; Actually not that hard, you need sunflower seeds for oil, then wheat for wheat flour, crab and egg, but shouldn't be your go to.
Eggplant Parmesan Heals 78 & +3 Defense for 5min (if used early enough)
Rhubarb Pie; very economical, just add wheat and sugar, and rhubard from Oasis for Year 2 Spring.
Glazed Yams: very economical, just add sugar!
Plum Pudding: Put those wild plums to good use, just add wheat flour and sugar
Roasted Hazelnuts: Use those darn things, 3 per cook, not other ingredients
Blackberry Cobbler: Make the most out of those black berries, just add wheat flour and sugar
Chocolate Cake: Make the most out of eggs, just add wheat flour and sugar
Poppyseed Muffin: Not just good for gift, but for eating Whoa!!! just add wheat flour and sugar
Cranberry Sauce: Make the most out of cranberries, just add sugar
Secret, What do you do with all the white & green algae you fished in the mine, you make pale broth and algae soup of course. Heals 56
I like the energy bars - it's easy to get the necessary acorns\maple seeds\pinecones just from cutting down trees. I'm early-ish game mind you, so this may not be the best answer.
Also, if you have the mushroom cave, you get many of those, and they can keep me going fairly well through a full cave expedition.
I like to use the fruit that I pick from the bushes as one source. Then when I got eggs I made scrambled eggs and omelets. Be sure to watch cooking show on tv to learn recipes and buy recipes from Gus in the saloon.