Thursday, March 31, 2011

March Meltdown, um I mean Breakdown

We kind of sort of almost did it. Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out the Cheap Eat Challenge.

This month our total came up to $237.49.
After subtracting the $20.00 for our vitamin credit, that's $217.49.
Which (when divided by 31 days) takes us to a daily total of $7.01.

Which is just so close to being in the 6 dollar range that it almost hurts.

The breakdown from highest to lowest:

Produce: $59.57
Dairy: $39.97 (plus $8.00 for the cow share)
Grains: $36.79
Sweets/Sugars: $29.14 (I won't pretend that that's not a little embarrassing for me, especially since I know that we usually eat more.)
Beans/Legumes/Nuts: $24.05
Meat/Eggs: $15.54
Fats: $13.55
Condiments/Yeast: $5.90

What'd we waste?
Very little.
-Milk from sippy cups carried around all day and from leftover cereal milk.
-1 small piece lasagna
-2 eggs
-millions of bread crusts and some bits of sandwich that the kids didn't finish

Were we hungry?

No. We've never been hungry or even close, although I think that we have felt a little deprived of some of our favorite things at times. However, I tried to plan better this month and we had more meat and I'd say that while not completely always satisfied, Kip felt a little less deprived this month than in previous months. However, this was the first month I started to feel a little bored. I'm going to work on that in April.

Are we sacrificing nutrition for some masochistic gimmick?
No. This month in a bout of obsessive compulsive record keeping, I decided to record how many cups of fruits and vegetables the kids and I ate. I used the guidelines from, which recommended 4.5 C for me, 2.5 C for Mark, 2 C for Elizabeth, and 1.5 C for Savannah. It had no recommendations for children as young as Emma and I therefore did not record her fruit/veggie intake. (Kip does not get enough fruits and vegetables, but this is by choice and I'm not going to nag or pester him because he is a grown up and can make his own decisions.) We didn't all make the recommendations, but I doubt we did much worse than average Americans (not that that is something to be proud of) Additionally, I don't feel like any lack of vegetable consumption was too much the result of the foods we bought (or didn't) as much as personality and pickiness. Don't get me wrong; I feel that as a mother, it's my responsibility to teach my kids how to eat well and to make that as easy/accessible a goal as possible, but I'm not going to jam it down their throats either.

You can check out the daily details here if you enjoy reading the records of obsessive compulsive people. Otherwise, you'll find our averages below (to come to this average, I threw out the highest and lowest numbers for each person). Remember: these are cups, not servings. A cup is often (though not always) more than a single serving. 

Me (goal 4.5 C/day): 4.49 cups/day. As my mother would say--close enough for government work.
Mark (goal 2.5 C/day: .88 cups/day. This is probably not close enough even for government work. It is, in fact, a bad number indeed, though I will not take full responsibility for it. (I must take some as I did not help Mark develop very healthy eating habits when he was younger, but...) Mark, like his father, is a man of will. He is a very picky eater and does not like many fruits and almost no vegetables. He does love potatoes and I should definitely try to incorporate more of these in our weekly diets. I know that potatoes have gotten a somewhat bad rap in recent years, but I believe they're perfectly nutritious and if nothing else, they're better than nothing.
Elizabeth (goal 2 C): 1.28 cups/day. Elizabeth is the only child who I felt I sort of short changed. She loves bananas and sometimes we were out when she wanted one. She also loves strawberries, which I tried to buy, but which at this time of year are often out of our league. She also loves green drinks and often wanted more when there wasn't more to have. I'm going to try to make more of those so she can get her daily dose of fruits and veggies.
Savannah (goal 1.5 C): 1.6 cups/day.  Savannah is a great eater, and the only one I've got. She also loves fruits and sometimes even vegetables, so she was fairly easy. (Thank you, my sweet.)

Did I spend all day cooking?

No. I kept the numbers for those as well in my food journal. (Yes, I am crazy compulsive; please don't call the shrink yet.)

I often made breakfast, lunch, and dinner entirely from scratch (we only ate about 6 boxes of cereal this month, which gave me about 8-10 breakfasts off). I spent on average 31 minutes of active cooking time (time when I was actually doing something) and 26 minutes of passive cooking time (time I needed to be home because something was in the oven or on the stove, but where I wasn't in the kitchen doing anything) for a total of 57 minutes/day in food related endeavors (you can add another 5 minutes/day because I forgot to tally the time I spend making school lunches). Again, I made almost all of our meals from scratch; I made bread (though not all of it; thank you day-old bread store); I made more sweets than is wise. This fairly low number of minutes spent in cooking has been one of the pleasant surprises of the Cheap Eat Challenge. I figured I'd be in the kitchen a lot more than that.

Where'd we cheat?

1. I only counted half the cow share we have. It's $17.00 and I only counted $8.00 of it. Why? Because we're not getting much milk from it. I could have cancelled it and then gotten it again in the late spring and summer when milk supplies were higher. But I wanted to support the farm (and by way of full disclosure, I certainly didn't want to lose my spot), so I only counted a portion of it. If I had counted all of it, we would have been at $7.30/day, which still isn't too shabby. You may call me a weanie cheater if you wish.
2. I bought Kip a couple candy gifts. Gifts are allowed under our rules. Of course, if we buy each other "gifts" all the time, then we could get away with quite a lot, couldn't we? In my defense, Kip has been a super sport and has given up a lot for this challenge; I wanted to thank him. And it's really not out of the ordinary for me to buy Kip gifts of candy when I go out, especially if it's without my children.

A note on the future of the Cheap Eat Challenge:

I think I'm going to change the way I tally costs. I've been trying to estimate exactly how much food we actually eat each month, which in some ways is a record-keeping nightmare (even for the OCD among us) because I'm trying to figure out how much of something like ranch powder or ketchup I used and about how much that might cost. So the partially used stuff is being very roughly estimated. Furthermore, people's budgets don't work that way. It's not like if someone used only half a can of peaches in a month, they could count only that 1/2 can; they'd have to pay for it all and count it all in their budgets. Thus. I'm going to begin tallying all I buy, though I won't be including the leftover foods from the month before (does that make sense?). In other words, if I've got ketchup and peanut butter left over, I don't have to count them (because in theory I counted them the month before), but I will end up counting things I open even if I don't use them all this month. The exception will be if I buy things in huge bulk and divide them up and freeze them. Then I only have to count the portion I pull out of the fridge. Also, if I buy something, but don't crack it open that month, it'll go onto the next month's tab. This new process of record keeping might throw me off for a month or so as far as keeping it at $6/day while I build up a cheap-ish stockpile, but we're not quite keeping it at $6/day anyway.

Along with this, I'm going to be giving us a $20 entertainment food fund--a little boost of extra money so that we can afford to have our generous and wonderful friends over without feeding them beans and rice (unless they love beans and rice...). If we go through the month without having anyone over, I won't be allowed to count this.

I'm still shooting for the $6/day, but in the coming months, I'm going to try to be less stressed about it. Last week when I realized we wouldn't quite make it, it bummed me out. I don't want to go through life bummed out about a few cents a day. In coming months I might even raise (um, lower) the bar so we're eating more around $8-10/day so that I can experiment with some different types of foods and participate in a CSA, which is a cause I find worth supporting (and which I expect to deliver some yummy foods). I'll keep you posted.

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