Friday, May 23, 2008

One Family's Food

Since I'm going to be talking a lot about food in this blog, I thought it would be helpful to take a detailed look at my own food buying and consumption habits.

To this end, I collected all (or most) of my grocery receipts for one month and broke it all down by category:
  • fruits and vegetables
  • meat and eggs (subdivided by type)
  • dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
  • bread and grains
  • canned goods
  • prepared meals, including frozen entrees and deli sandwiches
  • oils, condiments, spices
  • snack and junk food, coffee, and other misc. food and drinks

(You'd think with these obsessive/compulsive tendencies, I'd manage to do the laundry a little more often. Oh, well.)

Not everything is included here. My husband only saved about half his receipts - he cooks about three nights a week for himself and our son while I'm at work. I didn't save receipts from places like Quizno's where I have lunch about once a week. I also didn't include wine or beer, cat food, or non-food items like shampoo. And of course this is only what we bought, not what we consumed that was already in the pantry.

Still, I think these numbers are pretty representative of what my family eats in a week. I think we do pretty well in terms of a balanced diet, although those three nights a week when I'm working at the video store account for most of the frozen entrees (me and the microwave) as well as a lot of the pork (Italian sausages and KD for the boys). The rest of the week we're probably above the North American average for fruit and veg consumption, and below average for meat and for take-out.

All in all, it's an illuminating exercise. Try it for your own family!

The Smiths:

Family members:
    2 adults, 1 teenaged male, 2 cats
Family members who cook on a regular basis:
Approx. number of take-out/fast food meals:
    3-4 per week (including lunches)
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with all family members present:
    3-4 per week
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with at least two family members present:
    almost all
Est. food costs per month:
    $570.00 (including estimate of items not counted)
Est. food costs per week:
Est. food costs per week, per person:
Regular grocers:
    Loblaw`s SuperCentre, LaRose Italian Bakery, Food Basics

The differences between these two charts is interesting, because it illustrates the fallacy of a common belief: that eating healthy is expensive. Just going by the number of items vs. their cost, it seems that fruits and vegetables are more economical than meat, and that breads and grains are more economical than dairy products.

Going by number of items isn't terribly accurate, but I did verify this by comparing the average price per kilo of the meats with the fruits and vegetables.

KilosCostPrice per kg

In other words, meat is about twice as expensive as fruits and vegetables - and this is the off season for just about everything here in Ontario.

This is, of course, as it should be. In fact, meat should be three or four times as expensive as the equivalent weight in vegetables or grains because that's about how much grain goes into every kilo of meat. Specifically, it takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef: the conversion is 4 to 1 for pork and 2 to 1 for chicken. If prices truly reflected this, and if people were aware of it, then they might start looking at meat (particularly beef) as more of a luxury item than a staple.

Happily, we don't go through a lot of beef. We do go through a lot of pork, partly because our son cooks himself up a mess of bacon and eggs most every morning. To give him credit, he's also been going through an enormous amount of fruit every day as well. Here's the breakdown for the whole family:

I worked it out, and it adds up to an average of 3.2 kilos of grain per kilo of meat we consume. Mind you, there are a lot of unknown variables. We eat free-range eggs and a mix of wild and farmed fish, and I have no idea how much if any of the other meats are grazed rather than grain-fed.

Still, this is something I'll be keeping in mind when shopping at the farmers' market tomorrow. There isn't a lot of local or organic produce out yet, but there are local meat vendors. Time to check them out.

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