October 18, 2010

The 2-Vegetable Dinner

This is my first day with “full bars” and I am feeling like a 4H winner at the fair!  I followed the wisdom of my 9-year old and drank my milk, at veggies with lunch and then snuck two vegetables into our dinner. Speaking of dinners – the Trader Joe’s Masala sauce would make an old shoe yummy (put you’d miss your nutrition goals.)

Breakfast            
Latte
Scrambled Eggs with ham onion, and cheddar
Whole wheat toast with Avocado
Orange Juice

Lunch   
Red bell peppers
Wheat Bread with Munster
Carrots Baby
Dried Plums
Milk

Dinner 
Tofu Masala with Cauliflower, onion and baby corn
Basmati Rice Medley
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $7.87


Since I am a winner today and feeling the exhilaration of triumph, I would like to take a moment to address a common peeve registered by my peanut gallery patrons. More than a few nuts have lambasted me for including lattes in an experiment partially about frugality. It would be difficult to say this without sounding condescending so please know that I am only trying to de-stigmatize the wrongly demonized latte. A latte is nothing more than steamed milk in strong coffee and ours happen to be made at home by my hubby, Ed. All in, my latte costs us $0.68 - more than half of which (approx $0.37) is one of the three servings of MILK required each day. So – have your 30 cent coffee and I’ll have my 30 cent espresso with steamed milk and stop fixating on my latte. Latte drinkers are people too.

Full Bars! Celia Wins.

As you can imagine, tabulating, preparing and posting our daily attempts to Eat in 3D takes far more time that the enterprise itself. Since I have shared with you how the program works and the detail with which we tracked our progress, I am going to move to a more simplified posting format. The majority of folks following this blog are simply interested in what works so, going forward, I’ll post examples of a single day for one of the three of us which hit the mark. Don’t worry, I’ll still divulge our failures and tips to avoid them but, fortunately, these are becoming increasingly rare.

Celia was the first of us to achieve what we call a “full bars” day – she met all of the daily requirements under the $10 cap – in fact, she did it under $7. Here’s what she had:
Breakfast            
Orange Juice
Whole Grain Crunch Cereal with Milk

Lunch   
Chicken Patty Sandwich and whole wheat
Corn
Apple slices
Milk

Dinner 
Salmon Patty on Wheat toast with Dill sauce
Sweet Potato
Broccoli
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $6.67

Celia’s tips for getting full bars:
1) Drink milk
2) Eat a vegetable at lunch
3) Two veggie for dinner doesn’t really seem like two if one is orange.

Congratulations, Celia! For the record, I was one glass of milk shy of matching Celia's full bars. It's on little girl - oh, it's on!

October 14, 2010

Shout out to Trader Joe’s – 3D Eating on $400/month

I’ve seen websites and forum postings in which people share how to feed their families of 4 on $600 a month. Generally these folks rely on co-op style sources for bulk items and make their own breads, jams, etc…  My initial reaction to these claims was that it didn’t seem plausible. That was before 3 weeks Eating in 3D.
Fair warning – I am about to give an unabashed endorsement of a commercial entity. Since sucking up to this particular company will get you nowhere – they don’t even accommodate media interviews – you can be assured that my endorsement is for no personal gain of my own.
I know that everyone does not have a Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood. I am fortunate enough to have two within a couple miles. I’ve been a TJ shopper for a few years but off and on. I struggled to shop in the cramped aisles with throngs of people during peak evening and weekend hours. Inevitably there would be items for which I’d have to go next door to Vons. And, many TJs products are not packaged in the right increment for a family of three. But, as I planned for my first grocery run for this experiment, I saw a trend among cost-conscious, nutrition-minded bloggers. They all rely on TJs for staple ingredients. So, I joined the TJ masses to fill my cart with roughly enough food for 2 weeks.
At the checkout I asked the amiable, well-pierced clerk to ring my alcohol purchases separately so I can have a clean receipt for the food. When the last food item slid across the scanner, I stood speechless at the total glowing on the digital display - $167.26. I hadn’t seen a grocery bill that began with a 1 in years. My first thought is that I must have misjudged and not purchased enough food.  But as I packed it all into bags, I could clearly see that I had everything I needed. I mentioned the experiment to the clerk. His eyes opened wide and he said, “You’re going to mention Trader Joe’s, right?”
Yep.
Within the first two weeks we returned to a store once for more staples: milk, cream, parmesan, peanut butter, yogurt and fruit.  These mid-month needs totaled $27.94
In week three, I went back to TJs and loaded up again – this time for $154.38.
So – without shopping in vats of bulk grains, baking my breads, canning or preserving anything, our grocery bill for ONE MONTH was $352.58. Hard to believe? I wish I had recorded all the actual product names because I would the vast majority.  In particular, the Salmon Patties are a huge favorite with my family, the Thai Red Curry is yummy and the frozen cod fillets were surprisingly fresh tasting. 
Our total expenditure for the month was slightly higher – including our few meals out, all the food items that were already in the pantry, coffee, etc...
I now feel certain that a family can eat for $10/person, meet nutritional guidelines, and not dedicate precious hours to the enterprise. So, yeh! for us. But what about the significant portion of our society that can’t afford $10/person/day? Remember – according to the median household income the realistic number is more like $5.60/person/day. How low can you go?

Learn to love leftovers

At just over $20 dollars for the family for the day we are on the right track. With a couple minor changes, this day had the potential to reach the the Eating in 3D goal.  

ED
Breakfast
Latte
Granola with vanilla yogurt

Lunch
1/2 sausage
Beans
Edamame
Peach Yogurt with a banana

Dinner
Broiled Cod
Brown Rice
Peas
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $6.71


JAMIE
Breakfast
Latte

Lunch
Meatballs and Swiss cheese on 1/2 a bagel
Edamame
Peach yogurt

Dinner
Brown Rice
Peas
Cod (4 oz)
Peach
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $6.39


CELIA
Breakfast
2 waffles
1/2 syrup (1/4 cup)

Lunch
Broccoli & Cheese Baked Potato
Pineapple and apple slices
Cherry tomatoes and baby carrots
Milk

Snack
Z-bar

Dinner
Broiled Cod
Brown Rice
Peas
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $7.15

Lessons Learned and Observations

I have a friend who will not eat leftovers. If and when she ever joins us in this eating adventure she will change her tune. Eating last night’s dinner for lunch tomorrow is the easiest path to cheap, effortless, nutritious eats.  Once I realized this I started cooking 5 servings of each dinner and immediately putting 2 servings aside in storage containers for the next day.

The other lessons of this day, in retrospect are:

1) Fill the gaps. Assuming you are well within budget, if you come to the end of dinner and you are short a fruit – have a piece. If you’re missing a serving of whole grains, have a piece of toast before bed.

2) Don’t eat a meal that misses the mark. Celia’s waffles with syrup were woefully inadequate from a nutritional standpoint. Her chart at the end of the day looked like she only had 2 meals. No fruit, no veg, no milk, no protein - just grain and sugar. That is not an effective meal unless the goal is simply to fill ones belly.

September 21, 2010

In Memory of Lox

It's better that you face the facts now. There are foods - maybe some of your favorites - that you will not be able to buy while Eating in 3D.

ED
Breakfast
Latte
Bagel with cream cheese, tomato and smoke salmon

Lunch
Turkey and Swiss cheese on 1/2 a bagel
Radishes
1/2 apple
1 hard-boiled egg
Peach yogurt

Dinner
Pasta Bowtie with Marinara sauce and meatballs
Salad with tomatoes, avocado, pecans and Balsamic vinaigrette

Total Daily Expenditure: $11.59


JAMIE
Breakfast
Latte

Lunch
Turkey and Swiss cheese on 1/2 a bagel
Radishes
1/2 apple
1 hard-boiled egg
Peach yogurt

Dinner
Pasta Bowtie with Marinara sauce and meatballs
Salad with tomatoes, avocado, pecans and Balsamic vinaigrette

Total Daily Expenditure: $7.48 



CELIA
Breakfast
Nectarine
Apple
Milk

Lunch
3 Bean Tostada with Tomatoes
Mango slices
Baby Carrots
Milk

Dinner
Pasta Bowtie with Marinara sauce and meatballs
Salad with tomatoes, avocado, pecans and Balsamic vinaigrette
Kiwi

Total Daily Expenditure: $7.30


Lessons Learned and Observations

No matter how much you love your foie gras, crab, lox, or caviar, you’ll never find a way to work it in to Eating in 3D unless you liquify these delicacies and spray a thin mist on the rest of your food items. I foolishly bought some wild smoked salmon knowing how much Celia likes bagels and lox for breakfast. It never occurred to me that two ounces of lox will set you back $2.50 – one-quarter of your total daily budget. Save the specialty items for special occasions or buy a spray bottle.

Apples for Dinner

Ug! I feel like we are moving one step forward and then two steps back. We were on track for a good day until the evening turned into a school shopping misadventure. Ed and Celia returned late from shopping. I had eaten leftovers so they foraged in the kitchen nibbling apples, bagels and peanut butter.

ED
Breakfast
Latte
Granola
Milk
Strawberries

Lunch
Turkey and Swiss on Whole Wheat English muffin
Cherry tomatoes

Dinner
Toasted bagel with peanut butter
Apple

Total Daily Expenditure: $5.90


JAMIE
Breakfast
Latte

Lunch
2 fish tacos

Dinner
Salmon patty
Quinoa and Chard
Strawberries
Milk

Total Daily Expenditure: $12.93




CELIA
Breakfast
Rice Crispies
Milk
Strawberries

Lunch
Turkey and Cheddar on Whole Wheat English muffin
Cherry tomatoes
Nectarine

Dinner
Apple with peanut butter

Total Daily Expenditure: $5.46





Lessons Learned and Observation

Sometimes life get’s in the way of eating right. Today was one of those days.

I met a friend for lunch at a restaurant in Old Town – killing my budget. My Zocalo grilled swordfish tacos (the BEST in town) were delicious but the bit of cabbage on them didn’t contribute much to my veg total. 

Ed and Celia grabbed a less-than-ideal dinner on the run.
Had he eaten a real dinner he would have done very well for the day.

The end result was a low cost day that lacked our nutritional basics. 

September 20, 2010

Lessons from the first two weeks

1.  Eating in 3D is possible. Definitely. But it takes more thought and vigilance that one might think or wish to invest. But like anything new, Eating in 3D would eventually become routine and, therefore, more easily sustainable.
2.  You can’t eat with hope – plan backwards to make your numbers. In the beginning I just jotted down our eating and then added it all up at the end of the day. WRONG! It is better to add it up as you go and then plan your dinner around what is lacking from the day's nutrition. This saves you from inadvertently destroying your budget on a fish fillet for dinner after you've already consumed 6 ounces of protein earlier in the day.
3.  Pack your lunch! Not only does this saves you money but it allows you to control your nutrition in a way that eating out simply cannot.  Creating Starbucks-esque lunch plates with fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. It takes no time at all to throw these items in a container.
4.  Make it easy on yourself by eating the serving sizes recommended. If it says 2/3 cup peas per person, stick to it no matter how much you hate to leave 2 servings in the bag. At the end of the week put all of the partial portions together in a soup or veggie medley. Sticking to the recommended serving sizes will make it infinitely easier to keep track of your nutrition data and reduce your portions to a proper size. I promise, you will not be hungry.

5.  Skip the soda, juices, etc… and drink a glass of milk. One thing that becomes immediately evident Eating in 3D is that everything you consume that is not nutritious displaces something healthy you could have drank. It took us a while to figure it out but you will not likely get your three servings of dairy each day with drinking moo juice. An added benefit is that a glass of milk makes any meal more filling. If you must drink soda - make it diet.

6.  Although I don't show you the daily totals for vitamins A and C, Calcium and Iron, I do track them. This leaves me to ask, what the hell has iron in it? We haven’t scratched the surface of our RDA of Iron yet. I suggest a One-A-Day supplement.

7.  Don’t strive for protein. Chances are, you’ll get plenty. We've been low carb eaters for years so a meal just doesn't feel right without a slab of protein. But at a maximum daily allowance of 6 ounces a day - those slabs ought to be wedges. Control the protein and you'll control your cholesterol and calories from fat ratio.

8.  Pasta rocks. At less than 20 cents a serving, and few drawbacks, pasta is the bedrock of this project. But keep it whole wheat to get your whole grain numbers up. My take on Carbonara with ham chunks, peas and whole grain pasta totaled up to about $2.45 but it delivered a power nutritional punch and seemed like an indulgence.

9.  Forget about eating out. Seriously, it simply cannot be done in budget. By the time you add tax and tip to your selection – no matter how inexpensive - you are sunk.

10.  Sadly, the dog will suffer. No one is more upset about our experiment than our lab-mutt Lola. The beauty of right-sizing portions is that you don’t over eat or waste food. Of course, this is a matter of opinion. Lola doesn’t see the beauty in it at all. All three of us have stayed on the clean plate honor roll since we started Eating in 3D. Our dinners have been tasty, our appetites primed, and the portions perfectly sized such that our bowls leave the table empty as Lola looks on aghast.

Lazy Sunday Snafu

Skipping meals does not pay. No matter how hard you try to correct the course of events with a nutritious dinner, a poor beginning to the day is hard to overcome.

ED

BRUNCH
Latte
Starbucks Calcium Meal
Drip coffee

DINNER
Salmon patty on whole grain English muffin with Dill Sauce
Quinoa and Chard
Fresh Heirloom tomatoes

Total Daily Expenditure: $11.80




JAMIE
BRUNCH
Latte
Starbucks Protein Meal
Drip coffee

DINNER
Salmon patty on whole grain English muffin with Dill Sauce
Quinoa and Chard
Fresh Heirloom tomatoes

Total Daily Expenditure: $11.80




CELIA
BRUNCH
Starbucks Kids Meal
Green Machine

DINNER
Salmon patty on whole grain English muffin with Dill Sauce
Quinoa and Chard
Fresh Heirloom tomatoes

Total Daily Expenditure: $8.66






Lessons Learned and Observations

We all woke late and decided to walk the 2.5 miles into Little Italy for brunch. Of course, knowing that we had only about $5.00 each to spend it was pretty certainly going to be a bagel. Passing by the throngs of tourists and locals leisurely ordering up plates of seafood pasta, nibbling on steaming bread and sipping espresso drinks, I admit that I cursed the experiment. Missing the ritual of eating out is by far the worst aspect of Eating in 3D for me. There is something fundamentally more delicious about a meal that you did not have to prepare with your own hands.

But now that I have become keenly aware of what food actually costs, I question whether a plate of ravioli can, in good conscience, cost $14.95. Is the patio seating and linen table cloth worth $12.00 a plate? Eyeing a light-as-air tiramisu float by on a waiter’s tray, I think, yes, sometimes it is.

It turns out our $5.00 options in little Italy included 2 slices of pizza, a brat, a bagel or a something from the Starbucks cold case. We opted for the Starbucks Protein, Calcium and Kid’s plates because they offered the best array of nutrition. But that is where our best intentions departed. We buckled under the influence of the coffee aromas and bought drip coffees for Ed and me and a small Green Machine veggie drink for Celia. The Starbucks bill came to $18.70. I rationalize that this is alright because, having slept through breakfast, we only have one more big meal in the day and we can still hit the budget.

When dinner rolled around, we had long since burned off the Starbucks meals. I prepared Trader Joe’s Salmon Patties on the grill and served them on toasted English muffins with a dill sauce I made from sour cream, a dollop of stone ground mustard and fresh dill. On the side I prepared the Trade Joe’s Quinoa Duo and added sautéed chard to boost our vegetables. Finally, being hungry, the fresh heirloom tomatoes from the CSA looked so irresistible that I sliced them up and served them as well. In hind sight, I would have saved the tomatoes for another meal. We had plenty of food as it is and at $.90 per serving, we all exceeded our budgets.

The true story here is that while you save cash by skipping a meal, you sink your nutritional goals right out of the gate. We fell short across the board. Foiled again!

September 19, 2010

Party Time!

Unless you are a recluse, you probably have occasion to share a meal with friends. You will also have days when the pace of events finds you standing in line at a taco shack utterly devoid of self control. This day exemplifies what happens to good intentions and will power in the face of In-n-Out burgers and birthday cake.

ED
Breakfast
Latte
Ham Omelet

Lunch
Carnitas Taco with cheese and tomato

Dinner
In-n-Out Double/Double
Birthday cake

Total Daily Expenditure: $10.24




JAMIE
Breakfast
Drip Coffee with 1/2 cup milk

Lunch
Vegetable and Tofu Curry

Dinner
Carrots with Oyster Dip
In-n-Out Double/Double

Total Daily Expenditure: $10.42 






CELIA
Breakfast
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and Raspberries
Milk

Lunch
Bean and Cheese Burrito
Horchata

Dinner
Carrots
Potato Chips
In-n-Out Double/Double
Birthday cake

Total Daily Expenditure: $11.54




Lesson Learned and Observations

Weekends are always a little wonky for us. If I have my way, I’ll sleep through breakfast and focus my energy on lunch when my feet finally hit the floor. Ed and Celia fend for themselves. We often grab fast food on obligatory Home Depot runs or just graze on whatever is laying around from the previous week.

On this particular Saturday, Ed took Celia to the beach and we all attended an afternoon birthday party for a 3-year-old daughter of dear friends. As a result you can see that there is NO rhyme or reason to the day’s food consumption. Simply put – we blew it big time.

For the sake of the experiment, I’ve assigned the cost of the party food – an inspired choice of In-n-Out burgers and birthday cake selected by the birthday girl.  We were all over for the day brining our family total to $32.20.

In a word, our nutrition sucked. I managed to get my vegetables through a left over curry and some carrots on the party veggie tray. We all got our protein thanks to the deliciously decadent Double-Doubles. Celia found half of her milk serving in a Horchata – which might be taking liberties with the definition of “milk.” Look at Ed’s cholesterol and sodium levels. Need I say more?

All in all, this day serves to demonstrate how easily you can exceed your budget and still get close to no nutritional value. All of that aside, it was the best damn Double-double I’ve had in years.

There’s a hole in my Whole Grain numbers

Not a bad day overall. We all came in on or under budget, ringing up a family total of $27.60 for the day. The centrally planned lunches are really helping out numbers but we still have to address the shortfall in the whole grain and milk categories.

ED
Breakfast
Go Lean Crunch with vanilla yogurt

Lunch
Turkey and Cheddar on 1/2 Wheat English muffin
Carrots & Celery
Dried plums

Dinner
Bowtie Pasta with Chicken Meatballs and Chard in Olive Oil
Salad with tomato and avocado with Balsamic dressing

Total Daily Expenditure: $8.16


JAMIE
Breakfast
Smashed avocado on Wheat Toast with tomato

Lunch
Turkey and Swiss on ½ a Bagel
Carrots & Cherry Tomato
Dried plums
Hard-boiled egg

Dinner
Bowtie Pasta with Chicken Meatballs and Chard in Olive Oil
Salad with tomato and avocado with Balsamic dressing

Total Daily Expenditure: $10.00


CELIA
Breakfast
Go Lean Crunch with Milk
Banana

Lunch
Turkey and Swiss on ½ a Bagel
Carrots & Cherry Tomato
Dried plums
2 hard-boiled eggs

Dinner
Bowtie Pasta with Chicken Meatballs and Chard in Olive Oil
Salad with tomato and avocado with Balsamic dressing

Total Daily Expenditure: $9.45

Lessons Learned and Observations
I’m frustrated by whole grains – really, who isn’t? According to the food powers that be, we should have 3 servings or roughly 84 grams of whole grains each day. I'm game, but how do I know how many grams of whole grains are in my oatmeal, wheat bread or quinoa?  Does 100% wheat mean it's whole grain? What does multigrain mean? Whole wheat sounds promising but there is nothing that qanitifes its "wholeness" on the package.
This is where The Whole Grains Council comes in. In the pursuit of getting Americans to consume more whole grains, they are providing resources to help us to know a whole grain when we see one. You’ll occasionally find a special packaging symbol on products telling you exactly how many grams of whole grain are in each serving. Many marketing savvy producers include this information under the banner of “Heart Healthy” food. But, by no means is this commonly applied to all whole grain offerings.
The Whole Grain Council lords over all whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.
The obvious suspects are Corn, including whole cornmeal and popcorn; Oats, including oatmeal; barley; Rice, both brown rice and colored rice; Wheat, and Wild rice. But there is a much more exotic world of whole grains into which few dare to travel: Amaranth, Buckwheat, Millet, Quinoa, Rye, Sorghum (also called milo), Teff, and Triticale.  Not to mention the more obscure “other cereal grasses from the Poaceae (or Gramineous) family” such as canary seed, Job's tears, Montina, Timothy, fonio, etc. which also qualify as whole grains when consumed with all of their bran, germ and endosperm.
But I digress… My point was that you are not likely to find the quantity of whole grain clearly demarked on your canary see – endosperm or not.
Due to this snag in my data collection, I altered my original method which tried to quantify whole grains in grams per day to reflect simple servings per day. Realistically, this is much more practical. If you eat a bowl of oatmeal or Go Lean Crunch (our favorite) cereal – point for you! A turkey sandwich on whole wheat for lunch – 2 points! Throw in whole wheat pasta or brown rice for dinner and you have met the mark.
Still, in my whole grain naiveté, I did a poor job of purchasing for this particular requirement. I bought too many plain Jane pastas (I’m sure the Pasta Council would disagree) and even some egregious white bread. I’ve noted the error of my ways and will stick to the all things consumed in bran, germ or endosperm from now on.

September 16, 2010

Pasta Carbonara? Really?

It has been a shocker to me that I can eat up to 300 carbs in a day and not gain weight. We rarely hit that number but our intake thus far has far exceeded the sub-40 carbs that Ed and I generally observed. So, for me, eating a bowl of steaming Pasta Carbonara was definitely the highlight of the experiement so far - and it didn't torpedo our day's goals.

ED
Breakfast
Vanilla Yogurt and Granola
Latte

Lunch
Turkey and Cheese Sandwich on White

Dinner
Whole Wheat Pasta Carbonara with Ham and peas

Total Daily Expenditure:  $10.09








JAMIE
Breakfast
½ Wheat English muffin with Peanut butter
Apple
Latte

Lunch
Turkey and Cheddar on ½ Wheat English Muffin
Carrots and Celery
Prunes
Milk

Dinner
Whole Wheat Pasta Carbonara with Ham and peas

Total Daily Expenditure:  $6.47


CELIA
Breakfast
Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal
Banana
Milk

Lunch
Turkey on Wheat English Muffin
Carrots & Celery
Grapes
Milk

Dinner
Whole Wheat Pasta Carbonara with Ham and peas

Total Daily Expenditure:  $5.39


Lessons Learned and Observations

On the cost front, we did alright. As a family we kept the daily spend to under $22.00. Ed was at the budget limit because he bought a take out sandwich – proving, again, that it is not an option while Eating in 3D. I know – it takes us a while. Celia rung in at an astounding $5.39 for the day!

Nutritionally, we were all over the place relative to our goals. Ed loaded up on protein but skipped the fruit. I wallowed in cheese, milk, cream and more cheese. Celia over did the sugar but actually fared well overall. Let me say that Pasta Carbonara (recipe below) – of any variety – is ecstasy after days of lean foods. This variety with chunks of ham rather than bacon and peas really hit the spot without totally killing our goals. As a result, we overdid the sodium, cholesterol and calories from fat but it was worth it. All things being equal, our gluttony was still significantly healthier than the average daily intake and everyone was satisfied when the last pea left our bowls. Viva la Italia!

Pasta Carbonara with Ham and Peas
To prepare:  Start with the ham and peas at room temperature. If necessary, warm them in microwave before adding to pasta.

Ingredients (per serving)      
3 oz Ham (84g)
Whole wheat pasta (56g)
Peas (84g)
1 oz Heavy Cream
1 Egg yolk           
1 oz Parmesan Cheese (28)

Estimated Cost: $2.45 per serving

Directions
Prepare pasta per instructions.
Cut ham into small cubes.
Combine cream, egg yolk and cheese in a bowl.
Strain pasta, reserving a little (2-3 tablespoons) of the water.

While the pasta is still hot, return to the pan and add the ham and peas. Quickly add cream mixture and the reserved water. Stir and serve immediately.

Tip:
Serve strawberries in cream for dessert to round out your milk, Vitamin C and fruit goals.