We recently embarked on a whole family homeschooling project. It was a little bit practical math, a little home ec. and a lot of honing of critical thinking skills. The premise was really very simple, it’s easy to figure out how much we spend on groceries in a given week or month, our goal here was to figure out where exactly that money goes.
For two weeks, we calculated the cost of each and every meal we ate. We kept all of the receipts in an envelope, on a clipboard, along with our lists. When we sat down to a meal or snack someone would grab the clip board and a calculator and off we would go. We included every ingredient that it was reasonably possible to figure out a monetary sum for. Where we would normally “drizzle” something or add a “splash”, we started measuring that drizzle or splash and then figuring out exactly how much said drizzle of olive oil cost. We added in the cost of a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of lemon juice.
There were a few things that were really beyond our ability to figure out, at least without driving ourselves crazy. I drew the line at trying to calculate the cost of salt per meal, as monitoring and measuring each individual’s salt usage seemed a bit much. I also have no way of knowing how much it cost to make a jar of peach jam last year. Nor do I have much of a chance at figuring out the cost of bananas, bought by the case months ago and frozen. Without knowing exactly how many bananas were in the case, it’s hard to say what the three we added into our smoothie amounted to. But we were able to figure out mostly everything else. We came up with a grand total for each meal and then divided it by the number of people eating to get a price per person. At the end of the day we did a full day total. If a by product of the food got used again, we went back and marked the original entry with an X, allowing us to really see what gave us the most bang for our buck, if you will. So the roast chicken from Monday gets an X when I make hash on Tuesday and another when I make stock on Wednesday and so forth. The results were surprising!
I’ve always felt guilty about making my cashew yogurt. Cashews are expensive after-all. But it turns out that a container of cashews being the basis for an entire meal made for one of our lowest cost per-person meals. One of our highest? Brussels sprouts! This never would have occurred to me, as I always think of eating more vegetables as being cost effective. Granted on this occasion we did add in bacon, which didn’t help the cost. Because they are priced by the pound, we had been just scooping them into a bag, until we had a meals worth, without realizing we had packed away like $16 worth of sprouts! All of which disappeared in a single sitting easily, without so much as a leftover to redeem itself by. Now Brussels are out of season in our area at the moment and we normally wouldn’t be buying them at all at this time of year, but there was a special request and we obliged. It’s like when a house guest came to me concerned because a 1/2 lb of spinach had been left out on the table and the kids kept coming by and taking huge fistfuls. Seriously, what am I going to do, stop my kids from eating spinach? I think not. Like wise, they ask for Brussels sprouts as a special treat (really, I’m not making this up) and I wouldn’t think twice about putting them on the list, at least that is, until now.
It turns out that we don’t save nearly as much as I had hoped growing all of our greens for six months of the year. Not that I have any intention of stopping, but that was a disheartening discovery.
What to do with all of this information? Well it’s helping us to better define what we should enjoy occasionally as a treat and what we should focus on as everyday foods. It seems that a couple of our regular meals were huge money drains. It has also helped to shape our garden plans. Hint: we’re growing a lot of Brussels sprouts. I think that knowing exactly how much a teaspoon of vanilla extract costs is just the kick in the pants I needed to finally, finally start making my own, after years of just talking about it. The whole thing was a really empowering and educational experience and I strongly recommend it to others.
Just because I feel like I should have some actual food represented in my Feeding Our Families post, here we have a Blackened Salmon Bowl (served on a plate!). In theory this should be an expensive meal. However, by cutting out some of the more expensive ingredients, i.e. no truffle oil, using salmon that was purchased in season during a sale, playing up the veggies and serving it alongside asparagus from our garden, it was actually quite reasonable and very enjoyable.
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