In January of 2009 we challenged ourselves to a month-long project to try out a new recipe every single day for the entire month. Some days it was really fun, and some days cooking was the absolute last thing in the world we wanted to do. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience, and in 2010 we kind of regretted not doing something new. We still cook a lot of the recipes and look back fondly, so in the months leading to 2011 we have talked about wanting to challenge ourselves again.
And then mid-December this Facebook status update happened:
“We just helped Levi plan cheap food for himself for a day for his imaginary budget for health class. For $4.41 he is eating oatmeal, banana, and soy milk for breakfast. Brown rice, beans, cheese, and broccoli for lunch. Apple and yogurt for snacks. Spaghetti, vegetarian meatballs, and peas for dinner. $4.41!”
December 14, 2010 at 9:39pm · · Like · Comment
We were all inspired and agreed that trying to feed our family on $5/person/day would be a good January 2011 project. Even Levi was enthused. We have talked about improving our grocery budgeting for what seems like an eternity. I have been asked in the past how much we spend on groceries, and the answer is “I have no freaking idea.” I even tried to go through bank statements once to figure it out (I know, I need to start using mint.com), but in the end our grocery budget is mixed in with our “everything else” category that includes things like take-out and entertainment and household items.
So, $5 a day. You could be thinking, “OMG, I could never do that.” Or you could be like, “And so?” Maybe you have a meager budget or maybe you spend way, way more than that. We don’t buy a lot of processed food, but we do buy a ton of produce and fancy ingredients for our cooking and drinking exploits. Generally we try to eat out only once per week and each visit the coffee shop once per week. We’ve been pretty successful on the coffee front, but we have gotten really out of control with the eating out. For the month of January we won’t be eating out at all. That alone is going to be a big change around here.
And we don’t want to spend the month of January eating Top Ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese. We want to push ourselves to see exactly how healthy we can eat for $5. As we started to really plan for this, a lot of questions came up. We figured we could approach it one of two ways: take out cash and buy our groceries from that, or calculate the cost per serving and portion our food carefully. We decided on the latter, because if there is anything we need to work on around here it is portions.
Now as we are working out the kinks, we realize it would have been wise to try to clear out the fridge and cupboards during the month of December. That didn’t happen, and we figure those extra ingredients will help us ease into the process. So that can of pumpkin in the cupboard is a freebie, although we may try to calculate something in if it is a particularly expensive ingredient. And the food we so carefully put-up this year is free, but we won’t rely very much on that. Staples and spices will be free, and admittedly we keep a well stocked spice cabinet. But if we have to replace a staple during the month we will try to add that cost in. And of course our garden is another freebie. All we’ve got left at this point is kale, leeks, and a brussels sprouts crop that is looking like we might lose it to bugs.
Dang, I really wanted those brussels sprouts, too.
We allowed ourselves the 1st to celebrate the holiday and have our last meal out. We spent a good chunk of time plotting our first 3 days worth of food and grocery shopped. It was not easy, even though we had already brainstormed a long list of meal ideas. In fact, I wanted to bash my head against a wall repeatedly while I was working up the menu and grocery list after 10 hours at work. And then there was the staying up late to make our breakfast and lunches since I would need to take them to go the next day.
We might be in a little over our heads, but we persevered today. Come back tomorrow to find out what we ate for $4.13 per person!