Out of curiosity, I had a look at the program's menus for this month. There are several different packages available, including the "Family Box" (described as "perfect for a family of 4"), the "More than Enough Box" (similar to the Family Box, but with more of everything), the "Golden Cuisine Meals" assortment (10 individual frozen meals), and the "Fresh Frozen Veggie Box" (mostly veggies with a couple of other items). There were also meat-only boxes featuring chicken, roasts, and grilling meats, as well as "survival meals" in Mylar packets, presumably to be deployed in case of natural disaster or zombie apocalypse. However, it didn't take long to figure out that none of these options would really work for us. To see why, take a look at what's in this month's Family Box, which sells for $36:
- 1.5 lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
- 1.25 lb Homemade Style Salisbury Steaks
- 1.5 lb Flounder Fillets
- 1.3 lb Kielbasa Sausage
- 1 lb Premium Ground Beef
- 12 oz Ground Turkey
- 1 lb Lee Breakfast Sausage
- (2) 8” Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizzas
- 32 oz Crinkle Cut Fries
- 1 lb Fresh Frozen Green Beans
- 1 lb Fresh Frozen Stir Fry Veggies
- 1 lb Fresh Frozen Shoe Peg Corn
- 1 lb Fresh Frozen Sliced Carrots
- 1 lb Fresh Frozen Sliced Peaches
- 8.5 oz Jiffy Cornbread Muffin Mix
- 1 Dessert Item
This selection really doesn't reflect the way we eat at all. It's really heavy on the meat, and the meats offered are (presumably) not free-range, with the possible exception of the flounder. Then, too, there's a lot of convenience food here, like frozen pizzas, fries, and muffin mix. These prepackaged items are probably a lot less healthful (and also more expensive) than the versions we could make from scratch. And while we do use frozen veggies, we don't really need them in September, when the garden is brimming with fresh produce.
However, looking at the list did raise two intriguing questions for us:
- Is $36 for this box really a good deal? How does it compare to the amount we'd normally spend for the same number of meals?
- If we were going to buy a box of food once a month, what could it contain that would actually be useful for us?
So basically, what would make a useful package for us would be mostly staples: rice and beans, oats and flour (but probably not sugar, since we buy that organic), and a few easy-to-store veggies like potatoes and onions. But the thing is, we get pretty good prices for these items right now. We buy most of them from Aldi, but we also rely on a couple of other local stores for specific items: the Whole Earth Center in Princeton has the best prices on mushrooms and bulk yeast, while the Shop-Rite generally has the lowest price for powdered milk. So just how little would a box of staple goods have to cost to make it a good deal for us?
To figure this out, I estimated what we use in a month, along with the price we pay from our preferred source. Our ideal staple box would look something like this:
- rice, 2 lbs. ($1 at our usual price)
- beans, 2 lbs. ($3.20)
- oats, 42 oz. ($2.20)
- flour, 5 lbs. ($2.35)
- yeast, 2 oz. ($.50)
- potatoes, 5 lbs. ($2)
- onions, 3 lbs. ($2)
- mushrooms, 2 lbs. ($4.60)
- cheese, 3 lbs. ($10.50)
- powdered milk, 1 20-quart box ($13)
- breakfast cereal, 5 lbs. ($8)
So, bottom line: it's unlikely that any food program will ever be able to offer us a good deal on the foods we actually use. (Sadly, this has proved to be the case for CSAs, too, every time we've tried doing the math on them.) But what about those folks who would actually use the foods One Harvest has to offer? Is the package deal a true bargain for them, or could they do better using shopping strategies like ours? Stay tuned to find out.