Wednesday, January 12, 2011

19 meals in 10 hours for 200 bucks

In our house, the witching hour begins at four pm. Perhaps you know the hour- when the pitch and volume of the kids' whining turns up a notch. When your spouse stomps about the house suddenly noticing the the mess. When you start slamming cupboard and fridge doors moaning, “How can the shelves be so full with nothing to eat?”

Welcome to “Low Blood Sugar Hour”. As a way to combat this time of day, and save some money, three of us gathered in my mom's kitchen to cook for a month. We surrounded ourselves with recipes, pots, and ingredients, and cooked from 10am to 10 pm with short breaks for lunch and supper.

Here's a review of the experiment that hopefully inspires you to try it too.

The Rating:
7/10: Success with room to improve

The Experiment:

On Thursday morning, my friend Katy Spane and I choose recipes and developed our shopping list. Instead of dictating a full month of recipes, like many cookbooks do, “Frozen Assets” provided cooking 'mini sessions' of 4 to 6 similar dishes. This allowed us more control over what we would be cooking and so more control over our budget. A quarter of the recipes we chose were chicken, another quarter were pasta recipes, and half were bean.

On Friday night, Katy and I shopped. We hit the Italian Centre, then Costco, then finally Superstore. Hands down, the Italian Centre offered the best deal on cans of tomatoes, cans of beans, pasta packages and vegetables. Not only were the prices the best, they packaged it all for us and packed the boxes into our car. At Costco we bought our chicken, Superstore we bought most of our cheese.  The total number of hours we spent shopping was just over 2- and the next hour was spent unloading it all!

Prep was quick with two food processors and six hands.
On Saturday at 10 am, Katy, my mom Terri, and I started chopping and slicing. Thanks to a friend's food processor, the 30 lbs (!!!) of onions cut with fewer tears and cabbage and cheese grated with ease. We hadn't realized how important our equipment would be. Since we were multiplying every recipe by 3- we used all of our largest pots to capacity. The food processor was a necessity and good knives were essential. Thankfully Terri had a number of extra large metal bowls which we filled with chopped ingredients, ready for measure into pots. Around noon we started to cook, each of us was responsible for one mini session of recipes which meant there were lots of hands and feet in the kitchen. We ate a Hollywood Pizza delivery supper and finished cooking around 9pm. It took an hour to clean up.
We cut and food process 30 lbs of onions.

The Stats:
-      12 hours = average time spent per person on planning, prep, cooking and shopping
-      19 = Recipes completed (multiplied each by 3)
-      120 = Servings made per family (each recipe served 6)
-      $200 = total cost per family
-      $1. 65 = cost per serving

-      Pulling out a tray of stuffed manicotti, stuffed florentine shells, chicken chili, spinach quiche and lime marinated chicken has cut some of the stress of the supper hour. We don't eat a frozen meal every night, but probably every third night. 
-      It is critical that the recipes have lots of variety, and our choices did.
-      I had frozen meals to share with friends who had babies.
Stuffing manicotti- was delish and served 8!
-      The cost per meal was exceptional for the variety. I cut our family's supper budget by at least a third- maybe even half.
-      There is lots of leftovers for lunch (and sometimes supper) the next day.

Room to Improve:
-      While many of the meals have been good, about a third haven't been to my taste. Next time we'll use a website that allows us to pick each recipe specifically then it collates the shopping list. This will cut down on our planning time and limit the food wastage.
-      We need better freezer methods. We used freezer bags for most things, but some casseroles were frozen in dishes that did not stand up to being stacked (and froze together in blocks!)
-      Some of the recipes didn't freeze as well. Macaroni from the freezer to the pot is rather nasty.

That is bean puree on the tortillas- I swear it. Mat was roped in at the end.

The benefits are many and the problems surmountable. We'll be doing this experiment again soon, perhaps buying less beans and more elk meat from Christine at the Alberta Avenue Farmers' Market.


Desi said...

Love this idea! Thanks for sharing it.

An Avenue Homesteader said...

If you end up doing it, let me know how it goes!