Quantified Awesome: Back to buying our own fruits and vegetables

We decided to skip the community-supported agriculture program this season in order to try buying the vegetables ourselves. Without the commitment device of a box of vegetables turning up at our doorstep once every two weeks, would we still buy and eat the same amount of vegetables? For comparison, the CSA programs typically cost $25/week.

To analyze this, I delegated data-entry to a virtual assistant who typed in the line-item details from all our grocery receipts. Total time: 2:10 for a total cost of USD 1.38, so I gave him a bonus. I used VLOOKUP in Microsoft Excel to map the line items to descriptions and categories.

Anyway, here’s what the data says.

Grocery item Total
Baking $26.65
All-purpose flour $9.77
Whole-wheat flour $7.49
Sugar $7.41
Unsweetened medium coconut flakes $1.98
Bread $12.46
Tortilla wraps $6.98
7 Grain Bread $3.99
Hot dog buns $1.49
Breakfast $5.98
Steel-cut oats $5.98
Canned fruit $2.34
Pineapple chunks $2.34
Canned vegetables $1.38
Pizza sauce $1.38
Cheese $16.95
Mozzarella $11.96
Cheddar cheese $4.99
Condiments $15.60
Seaweed $8.97
Barbecue sauce $3.94
Mayonnaise $2.69
Dairy $63.95
Organic milk, 3.8% $36.96
Unsalted butter $15.51
Skim milk powder $6.49
Organic yogurt $4.99
Deli $10.58
Salami $10.58
Dessert $8.99
Ice cream sandwich $8.99
Eggs $8.58
Extra-large eggs $8.58
Fish $34.64
Tuna $22.00
Atlantic salmon (fresh) $12.64
Frozen food $8.26
Frozen fish $5.99
Frozen fries $2.27
Frozen vegetables $2.99
Frozen soy beans $2.99
Fruit $78.48
Apricots $25.19
Clementines $14.97
Apples, gala $7.11
Navel oranges $6.68
Apples, ambrosia $5.69
Tangerines $4.99
Pears $4.83
Bananas $4.39
Lemon $3.20
Strawberries $1.44
Meat $80.00
Lamb shanks $50.30
Extra-lean ground beef $12.43
Hot dogs $12.27
Ground pork $5.00
Mushrooms $3.66
Cremini mushrooms $3.66
Nuts $12.66
Walnut pieces $5.99
Almonds $3.98
Cashews $2.69
Pasta $9.98
Pasta $4.17
Spaghetti $4.15
Fusilli $1.66
Poultry $7.21
Chicken legs $7.21
Snacks $3.99
Granola bars $3.99
Spices $4.33
Cinnamon sticks $3.69
Garlic $0.34
Ginger $0.30
Vegetables $7.77
Organic spinach $2.99
Sweet peppers (green) $2.72
Sweet peppers (orange) $1.44
Carrot $0.62
Grand Total $427.44

$78.48 on fruits and $7.77 on vegetables?  Yeah, we need to work on that. Partly it’s because we made large batches of lunches using the frozen vegetables in the fridge that we’d bought the other month, so that wasn’t counted in this month. I’ll track for a few more months, and we’ll keep trying to build the habit of eating more vegetables… =)

  • Markus

    Do you want to compare in $? I guess there also price differences, wouldn’t it be better to compare quantities?

  • Greg

    Wow those numbers are pretty sobering. 3/4ths your budget is animal products, refined grains and processed food. Although that’s way more fruit and way less processed food than most people eat for sure!

    Lastly, Seaweed totally counts as 9 bucks worth of vegetables.

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Someone at the Quantified Self Toronto meetup pointed out that we spent more on ice cream sandwiches than on vegetables! <laugh> We’ll just have to see how this month turns out.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Markus: I have weights, but not for all the produce. Maybe next time!

    Greg: Kinda scary to think about other people’s grocery expenses, then! <laugh> We make most of our meals from scratch, but still drink a lot of organic milk. We’re slowly getting the hang of eating more vegetables.

    We tend to cook in large bunches, which throws off the grocery counts. We’re still living off the lamb korma that we stored in the freezer, for example, and all those apricots became apricot syrup. I’ll collect data over a few more months to get a better idea.

  • Tony

    Interesting…. but what is the methodology? Do you plan meals and buy accordingly? Or do you buy what you think will work and sort it out later? I find that in our house the problem with vegetables is that we get too ambitious and buy a bunch and then let them go bad because we don’t always cook them. They tend to hide in the back of the crisper and get bad. We had thought about joining a CSA (I used to work at a farm with a CSA a few years ago) but we haven’t. Did you find that that was a positive experience?

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Tony: The lamb shanks turned into about 16 person-meals of lamb korma – around ~$4 each, well below eating-out prices and the kind of luxury that’s awesome to savour at work. =) And we got bonus yummy broth for noodles!

      The CSA was great for discovering new vegetables, although it sometimes felt like a bit of a drag (oh no, more cabbage!). That’s one of the reasons why we’re buying our own vegetables this season. We usually look at the store flyers and plan meals based on what we haven’t had recently. We’ll also pick recipes based on what’s in season. If there are no interesting sales, we pick whichever recipes we feel like. We’re settling into a routine of making some kind of pizza every week too, which is a good excuse to use up bits and pieces. I’ve also been on a whole “WE MUST EAT MORE VEGETABLES!” kick, so I slot the new recipes in.

      My husband and I bike to the butcher, the organic food store, and the supermarket. On occasion, we pass by the farmer’s market too. We often change our plans depending on how the produce looks, and we’ve got a good collection of go-to recipes for those moments. We do most of our cooking on Saturday or Sunday, which makes the week go more smoothly. We also try to batch ingredient preparation – chopping a whole head of garlic, cutting up four carrots, etc. It helps that we have a gazillion bowls. =)

      We host study groups regularly, which are good excuses to cut up carrots, broccoli, celery, apples, and oranges. Extra spinach can be frozen for smoothies or tossed into soup. I sometimes go overboard on lettuce. When it starts wilting, we usually shred it and toss it into soup with some udon noodles, sliced onions, and sesame oil. We still have a butternut squash left over from the last season of the CSA. It’s almost summer, and I haven’t felt like eating it.

  • Tony

    … also – yes you spent a lot on meat, but I noticed that the lamb shanks alone, a specialty item, cost $50, so it’s not as bad as it looks. Takes courage to post your grocery list for others to criticize!

  • Tony

    It’s awesome how organized you are. I need to work on this myself since I hate throwing away rotting veggies. But in NY we get lazy and decide it’s easier to eat or order out a lot. I haven’t been to Toronto for a few years, but I know it’s a great city for bike riding. My friend lived in a nice apartment overlooking the lake and the little island there with the yacht club and airport on it. Lamb korma sounds delicious, but my gf won’t eat lamb, or fish for that matter. Nothing is easier or more delicious than grilled salmon. I miss that!