Thursday, March 5, 2015

A One-Year Meal Plan (Or, What Should We Grow This Year?)

This time of year is prime time for garden planning around these parts.  As we were thinking about what we might want to grow this year, we came around to the question of, "Well, what did we eat last year?"  We have a partial record of what we made right here on the blog, so that was a good place to start.  From there, we just had to fill in the things we normally eat for breakfast, lunch, and supper that we don't blog about. There is always a lot of variability depending on what's available (or on sale), the time of the year, how much time we're at home, how much snacking on high-sugar dried fruits we do while waiting for the other to come home so we can explosively greet them when they walk in the door (like Hobbes greets Calvin), etc., but as a ballpark figure, could we make an estimate for food intake, assuming three servings per person per day?

The answer is yes!  And the estimate is fascinating. [...says Jake as Katie snores...]  If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that a spreadsheet is about to appear.  And so we begin, with three sets of columns: one each for supper, breakfast, and lunch.

Into each set of columns, we enter recipes (copied and pasted from memory or the internet), specify the number of times per year we're going to prepare them, and make sure units and ingredient names are consistent (e.g., that we don't say tomato in one recipe and tomatoes in another).

Then we use a pivot table (one each for supper, breakfast, and lunch) to count everything up.  It's a bummer we don't know how to make a pivot table from more than one range at a time (there's probably a way), but that's ok.  The workaround isn't too hard. From each individual pivot table, we create a master pivot table.  From the master pivot table, we can estimate how much of everything we need to acquire during the course of the year.  For example, we learn that we need about 54 dozen eggs, 49 gallons of milk, and 110 loaves of bread (assuming 12 slices per loaf).  If you've been in our kitchen, you know that works out to a surprisingly accurate figure of roughly one dozen eggs, one gallon of milk, and two loaves of bread per week.  And also 23 pounds of mushrooms, which sounds delicious.  Model validated!

More importantly (and to the point), we can estimate how many pounds of vegetables we'll have to grow and how many pounds of meat we'll have to catch to be self-sufficient.

Clearly, if we want to keep taking carrots to work for lunch, we'll need to grow a ton. (Or, a one-fourteenth of a ton, rather).  Similarly, we can see that we ought to devote a lot of our remaining garden space to tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, and greens.  Of course, we're going to grow a larger variety of veggies than that, but the quantities we tend to eat (and would need to find storage space for) are instructive.  And honestly, we'll probably try to grow more winter squash, green beans, and peppers than the chart suggests.

On a similar note, if we want to keep on our current diet, we'll need to grow another batch of chickens and catch one large deer and a quarter of a pig. (Or raise one deer and catch a flock of wild chickens.  But we don't have space to raise both!)

All things considered, it's a pretty balanced diet, not too far from Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate.  We're a little heavier on the veggies, but hey!  Maybe we'll end up being a very localized blue zone.

It's important to keep in mind that these numbers are just guidelines; we're not locking ourselves into a whole year of rigidly following recipes.  We substitute veggies and meats in and out of a recipe like a Wall Street bankster swaps stocks (although we hope none of our meals would be considered subprime or toxic assets).  But it's nice to have a set of go-to dishes we can pick from and toss together from stuff in the fridge or pantry if we've already spent our creative energy for the day and still need to make supper.  Whatchagotamology at its finest!

We won't vouch for the user friendliness of the spreadsheet, but if you want to play around with it, you can download it here.  Suggestions welcome!

Do you make meal plans?  What's your planning strategy?  Let us know in the comments section below!

1 comment:

  1. I have read it is good to focus your garden space mostly on things that store well (like potatoes, onions, squash), and then have a small space for things to eat fresh (like lettuce etc). Nice to see you are eating your veggies!