September 6, 2010

What is Eating in 3D?

Simply put, Eating in 3D is consuming the proper nutrients – from food – to meet standard guidelines on fewer than $10 per person per day and with fewer than 35 minutes of food preparation time for any given meal.

Dimension 1 - Nutrition Guidelines

For the purposes of this experiment, I have elected to use the standard “Nutrition Facts” format created by the US Food and Drug Administration which is provided on the labels of nearly every food item you purchase. You know the one. Please conserve your energy arguing against the tyranny of the FDA or the inadequacies of this format. When there is one better and equally prevalent, I’ll use it.

Basically we declare daily success if we stay under 100% on the yellow highlighted items (in chart to the right) and achieve 100% or greater on the blue nutrients.

For simplification, I am using a basic 2000-calorie baseline for all three of us (Ed, Jamie and Celia) in this experiment even though age, gender and physical activity levels impact caloric requirements. Logically, my 40-year-old, 213 lb husband ought to consume more per day (2400 – 2800 calories) than and my 50 lb, 9-year-old daughter (1800 – 2200 calories). I get it. But, when you see how complex it is to track daily nutrients at the ingredient-level for three eaters per day, you’ll forgive me for indulging in the blanket 2000-calorie standard. In practice, we have seen that eating healthy foods lowers our caloric intake, leaving us room to spare and creating a phenomenon known to the FDA as “the discretionary calorie allowance.” At our discretion, we can choose to consume some foods and beverages that may contain added fats, added sugars, and alcohol within this allowance. Half of a light beer never tasted so good.

In addition to the standard “Nutrition Facts” line items, we track our success with five additional core FDA guidelines.
1. 2 cups of fruit per day
2. 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day
3. 3 or more ounce-equivalents (1 oz = 28g so 3 oz = 84g) of whole-grain products per day, with the rest of coming from enriched or whole-grain products.
4. Consume 3 cups (24 oz) per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
5. Consume less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol
6. Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories – we use 30%.

Dimension 2 – Cost

I’ll provide greater detail on the specifics of how we came to the per person/per day food expenditure allowance in another post. For the experiment, we are sticking to $10/per person/day. Although the number strikes many people as impossibly low, at over $10,000/year, this daily spend rate is in fact more than most American families can afford.

We tally up the cost of every item we eat including ounces of olive oil, dabs of butter and sprinkles of parmesan. When we use vegetables from our garden we assign the market price. Of course, gardening is one solution to the cost issue, as is belonging to a community supported agriculture project but I don’t consider these practical assumptions for everyone.

When we eat at other people’s homes we still track our nutrition (although it is harder) and assign reasonable costs. Warning - high ticket items become irresistible while eating in 3D. Try to refrain from sucking the juices from our steak bones, inhaling the cocktail shrimp and pocketing the Danish cheese plate when no one is looking.

We do NOT include the expense for alcohol in our daily total nor do we track our consumption of beer, wine and spirits. These are not substances necessary to meet nutritional guidelines. I like to throw them into the “discretionary calorie allowance” at the end of the day. And if you really hold back on your calories, your liquid allowance will pack that much more punch!

Dimension 3 – Time

This dimension of Eating in 3D is very important to me personally. There are a number of ways that you could achieve the cost goals of this experiment. I am ruling out many of them on the basis that they are ridiculous for most people. For example, go ahead, buy half a cow to get the per pound price of your sirloin down. Of course, you’ll need a walk in freezer while you are at it. Better yet – just hunt down your protein. For a not so nominal fee ($100+ for out of state residents) you can bag your own load of *free* lean venison. While freezing your day-glow orange ass off in the woods in November is classified as recreation by many, fewer sportsmen engage in the tedious, time-consuming and face it – highly gory – process of dressing, skinning, butchering and preparing the meat themselves. For that there are processing houses. Deer go from car hood or truck bed to a combination meat packing plant/taxidermy operation. Out come frozen, packaged, refrigerator-ready chops, loins, and chuck – for a cool $75 ($20 more if you’d like the trophy capping service – a euphemistic antler scalping procedure.) Or, you can skip the bloody bits to purchase a variety of quality protein sources from the local Safeway for not that much more.

On the same grounds, for this experiment, I have ruled out common “saving” techniques that are especially time-consuming. Sure, we could all make all your own bread, pickles, jam, etc… I predict the nation’s botulism numbers would skyrocket and exploding pressure cookers would quickly surpass meth lab explosions in the generation of ER visits. You could raise chickens, pant a vegetable garden and dig your own taters. You could drive all over town with the weekly advertisements and a shoebox of coupons to buy fractions of your groceries on sales at five different stores. You could do all of these things. But does it really have to be that hard?

As a working mom with dinner-making responsibility, I find it impractical to prepare any meal that takes longer than about 35 minutes of my attention. If something can be prepared in 35 minutes and then slow cooked for hours – rock n roll – as long as it doesn’t take my presence. So, for the experiment, I’ll only offer meal suggestions that meet this 35-minute prep rule.


  1. It's an interesting idea to track your nutrition, but why do you even mention cost with a virtually unlimited budget?

    It would make a more interesting project if you had to watch the cost of things as well. You could use the maximum USDA food stamp eligibility numbers - $100 a week for a family of three with one five year old child. Which is not that hard, so restricting it further would make it more interesting.

    A lot of poor families pay a disproportionate amount in rent, transport and medical bills they often have to make do on less than the maximum food stamps. $75 or $80 a week, maybe? That would be interesting. You'd need to be finding different protein sources, for sure.

    There was a very popular blogger a while ago who supported her whole family on $1000 a month (including rent).


  2. Interesting blog. You can further cut your costs drastically by making a lot of your items from scratch - such as bread, yogurt, cheese, etc.