in which i test a bit of conventional wisdom and find out it is false: the mystery of roman tuna salad

I've noticed that ideas that I used to blog about, I am now posting on Facebook instead -- a combination of laziness and time pressure. I'm going to try to get the ideas here, first.

Conventional wisdom has it that preparing food at home is less expensive than buying prepared food. I'm not talking about frozen or processed food, but freshly prepared food from a store like Whole Foods, or increasingly, regular supermarkets trying to compete with specialty stores.

Allan and I buy quite a bit of prepared food. With limited time and energy, it's often the tool we reach for to keep healthy eating on track. It's less expensive than eating in a restaurant, and it's more convenient if you're tired and want to stay at home.

I always think we spend far too much on prepared food, especially something I could make myself -- and once did, in the dark ages before Whole Foods came to Mississauga. Of course, you're not comparing the price of prepared food to not eating. You're comparing how much it would cost to make an acceptable substitute yourself versus buying the food already prepared.

So this week I conducted a little experiment. One of the foods I always feel I should be making myself is tuna salad. I buy something Whole Foods calls Roman tuna salad, which is tuna with a lot of different chopped vegetables mixed in -- olives, bell peppers, celery, red onion, parsley, artichokes. (I know about the issues with tuna, the fish. I have not been able to stop eating it.)

I bought Roman tuna salad and noted the price, then added to Allan's grocery shopping list the ingredients I needed for a scaled-down version of this.

I was amazed to discover that the prepared tuna salad from Whole Foods was only slightly more than the cost of the canned tuna alone, with no other ingredients, and no time and effort factored in -- and that was because we happen to stumble on canned tuna "on special". Normally priced, the canned tuna alone would be more expensive than Whole Foods' product!

320 grams of Whole Foods Roman tuna salad = $9.79

360 grams (3 cans) of white tuna packed in water, drained = $8.97, on special
360 grams of the same tuna, normally priced = $12.56

Whole Foods Roman tuna salad:
Buy, eat, enjoy.

My tuna salad:
Open cans of tuna, drain well. Put tuna in mixing bowl, use fork to break into bits.
Wash and dice two ribs of celery
Wash and dice one bell pepper.
Put all ingredients in food processor with blender blade.
Add reduced-fat mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, pepper, and dill.
Blend thoroughly. Transfer to containers.
Wash food processor parts, cutting board, knife, mixing bowl.

Yes, we could buy less expensive tuna. But this is the tuna I eat. The point of this exercise wasn't to see how cheaply one could make tuna salad, but rather to compare the prices as I would experience them.

And yes, I don't have to use a food processor, and I don't have to chop up vegetables, both of which require time and effort. But again, this is the tuna salad I want to eat. Preparing food that I don't enjoy doesn't make much sense.

Way back when, Impudent Strumpet showed that bringing one's lunch from home to work isn't actually less expensive than going out to lunch. In my case (as I say in a comment on that thread), my lunch out always costs at least $10, sometimes more. I know I can bring a less expensive, healthier lunch -- and I like having my lunch with me, not having to spend part of my lunch hour looking for food, waiting in line, and so forth. My meal at work is often dinner, so trying to find inexpensive food is even more challenging.

But this experiment in home-made versus prepared food has been very enlightening. We're going to put a bunch of other prepared food to the test.

No comments: