What drives our food choices . . . and budget.
We think differently about food depending on what time of day it is and when we last ate. Hunger is a highly emotive and primal driver. You can think academically about food in the morning after a light breakfast and perhaps a coffee. This is a good time to plan your week’s food.
If you need to shop or think about food in the afternoon, have a light lunch first without too many carbs to slow you down. Never shop for food when you are hungry.
The most dangerous time to think about food is before dinner. Depending on your household routine, if it is getting toward 6 pm and you don’t know what is available at home to eat, your body starts to panic. Hunger trumps logic and dinner will be whatever is considered most convenient.
The price of Convenience
There are four key considerations that drive our food decisions. Convenience, Budget, Quality/Taste, Health/Principles. In most food decisions there will be a primary driver, yet all factors might need to be referenced for a choice to be made.
For example, the price of convenience can be three to four times the price of ingredients, if we pay someone else to prepare and deliver our food for us. Eating what North Americans call “take-out” is highly convenient, but it effectively takes out the next three days’ food budget.
If budget is important to you, then you need to carefully consider the quality and taste of the food you have available in your home. Choosing low-cost food items, or buying less food can be a false economy. If what you have in the house is considered unappealing or inconvenient when people become hungry, then convenience will take precedence, and you’re paying $25 for a burger to be delivered instead of $5 to make one at home.
To prepare a simple meal takes 15 to 30 minutes – if you have the provisions organised. To order food and get it delivered takes 45 minutes.
Convenience is not only about time spent cooking. Easy planning and accessibility are major factors of convenience. Most of us find it challenging to plan our meals for the week. Food delivery services, however, have conditioned us to expect that planning our food should be as simple as selecting meals from a digital menu full of tempting choices and a variety of tastes.
Convenience also changes based on the time of day, or day of the week. Taking an hour to prepare a meal on a Saturday can be relaxing and rewarding, but on Tuesday it might be stressful and tiring.
In creating the Designer Menu range, CooksClub initially developed 250 dishes focused on offering great-tasting meals. We then categorised them based on convenience and health considerations.
Each meal was then costed at standard serve sizes, using pricing from major supermarkets. The average ingredient cost for our initial meal range turned out to be less than $5 per serve. We now consider this to be our standard budget base for main meals. If you need an even tighter budget, Designer Menus that present an average main meal ingredient cost of $4 per serve will soon be made available.
It is logical to accept that premium quality foods, cost more and taste better, than lesser quality items. Seafood or prime fillet steaks that cost $60 per kilo will likely result in a serving cost of $12 to $20 when combined with a few nice sides.
If shopping at this price level, the primary trade-off is between quality/taste and convenience. An Asian takeaway meal might be $20, but for that same price, you could also have eye fillet steak with browned butter, mushrooms, and baby potatoes. Both meals can be ready in under 45 minutes, except you need to have the steak available and do the cooking yourself. The sweet spot is when you have the skills and tools to be able to make that choice.
Quality, convenience, and budget are not mutually exclusive considerations. You can also have a burger once or twice a week and still have a healthy food lifestyle, depending on your other choices. Similarly, when you provision ingredients yourself, you can eat quality meals at say $15 per serve a few times a week, with only incremental adjustments to your average weekly budget.
The table below shows that a base budget of $5.00 per serve can be achieved with ingredient costs averaging between $3.00 and $7.00 per serve. A fine food budget of $15.00 can also result when choosing meals priced between $10.00 and $20.00.
When you select from a wide variety of both budget and quality ingredients, one $15 meal each week only increases your average meal cost by $1.50, from $5.00 to $6.50.
Similarly, you can regularly be eating meals with an average ingredient cost of between $10 and $20 and still stay within a $10 per meal budget. (columns 3 & 4)
This is not the case when you buy a meal kit. Each meal kit is costed to their $10.00 price-point. The ingredients for every meal must allow their margin and be under this price. You will never get a meal in your week with $15.00 worth of ingredients. The limitation of meal-in-a-box programs is that the ingredients in every meal must pretty much fit the same price, which of course limits the ingredient range and therefore choice. Keep in mind, without the margins and delivery, the average meal in a box serve would cost less than $5.00 using ingredients from your pantry and supermarket.
CooksClub takes the view that healthy eating requires healthy food options to be first or second priority in motivating the majority of meal choices. Health can be your first consideration. You can also have budget-healthy foods, or quality-healthy foods, and even convenient-healthy foods. The issue is the pattern of your diet choices over time.
CooksClub also recognises that ethical principles around animal rights or religious beliefs also determine people’s food choices. Allergies and intolerances can further limit choice. Our broad view is to encourage home cooking, because it offers the greatest opportunity to control what we eat and to include more fresh fruit and vegetables, quality proteins, and less processed foods. CooksClub’s Designer Menus also enable self-determination in specific ingredient and brand choices from preferred suppliers.
In developing our menus, CooksClub considers the glycaemic load of the meal, balancing the volume and GI level of carbohydrates that may be included on the plate. It is, therefore, possible to manage glycaemic load without killing all carbs.