Tracking a Year of Meals

Posted 23 January, 2016 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 29 Comments

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a year of meals


Near the end of 2014 I was reading Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. Rosenstrach started keeping track of her nightly meals in 1998 and has kept up with her food diaries through meticulous journaling. I’m notorious for being a failure at keeping a journal, but I wondered if I could keep up with a monthly calendar of what we ate each night.

I printed out a blank calendar for the month and filled in each day with what we ate. I used different colors for when we dined away from home for a quick glimpse. While I didn’t keep track every single day of 2015, I ended up with a little over 300 days worth of data. Most of the lapses were when we went out of town, when I had my monthly sewing class and didn’t take care of dinner, or when we had dinner with friends (though I did track our dinners with family).

After I completed the year of meals, Scott jokingly asked me if I was going to put it into excel so I could run reports. Duh–genius! Oh the things I do when I’m on maternity leave and the baby won’t let me put her down. Ha! So…

Cooking vs Eating Out

The biggest surprise for me is that we only cooked 55% of the time. Though two thirds of the time if I count the days when we ate at home but had leftovers. As you can see, we dine out a lot (a big portion of this is actually take out that we eat at home) and we definitely want to do better for 2016–if not just for our waistlines but also for our wallet.



What We Ate

No big surprises here! We eat a ton of pasta and beef, specifically ground beef. And most of the soup category and half of the pasta also contains meat (spaghetti with meat sauce and beef stew are two favorites). Convenience category includes frozen pizza and mac and cheese–this category increased greatly near the end of my pregnancy. I was pleased that chicken ended up being about 15%, though I’d like to make this number a bit higher this year. I think half of that is rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (which I counted as eating in since the chicken cost less than it would cost to cook a regular chicken dish and we still made the sides).


Favorite Meals

Ask the girls what they want for dinner and 9 times out of 10 it’s Bowtie Pasta. I make this a lot when Scott is out of town–sadly with plain jarred sauce.  Tacos is the second highest request, which is funny because I don’t think we cooked tacos at all before this year. Scott’s number one request is Spaghetti and his second two are Brats (which we eat with caramelized onions) and Salisbury Steak. I definitely want to note that Spaghetti and Beef Stew are two meals that we make big batches of and then freeze. I can usually get four meals out of my Meaty Spaghetti Sauce and three out of Beef Stew.

I don’t have a favorite meal, which makes the dinner time question “what do you want for dinner” a tough one. I’ll eat nearly anything (except spam and beans), so I try to make dishes that I know will make everyone else happy.

what we ate

Where We Ate Out

Pei Wei and a local Mexican restaurant are the two favorites. Burgers means In-n-Out–another favorite. We used to frequent the “pizza joint” quite a bit, but they stopped selling ice cream from a freezer chest and the girls lost interest. Ha! Pei Wei and In-n-Out are places were we order take out and eat at home; the Mexican and Pizza Joints are places were we eat out with the kids–we have no qualms about eating out with the kids, but we do like to choose places where the noise level is already high enough that we don’t have people staring if someone is unruly.

dining out


I’ve already started my calendar for 2016 and it’ll be interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two years. I have a feeling we’ll be eating away from home less with three kiddos and since my dad moved away that will cut down on some of our family dinners (we are very spoiled with having family close by!).

I hope to make a bigger variety of meals in 2016–we sometimes get stuck in comfort zones and I don’t want the girls to become too particular. I think they’re good eaters but they do scoff at different foods which makes eating out difficult when food doesn’t taste like mommy’s. Last week we cooked steak and it took a lot of “I don’t like that!” before they finally tried their bites and ate it all up.

If you took a look at your Year of Meals, what trends do you think you’d find?





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29 Responses to “Tracking a Year of Meals”

  1. Wowowowowowowow. I’m so utterly impressed with this. Now *I* want to do this. Hummm, I could start with Feb. 1, right? And I have a year to learn how to generate reports from Excel. I’d love to know if my thought that we eat my home-cooked meals about 325 nights a year (that includes leftovers & freezer meals) is really true. OK. I’m on it.

  2. That’s great! I am doing meal planning on my foodie blog but I never thoug about using Excel to track the categories. You are ahead of the curve, my friend!

  3. My inner geek is freaking out with ideas right now, and wondering how I might adapt this to deal with the fact that I don’t have the first 22 days of the year recorded…

  4. Kay

    That’s a good way of keep track of what you’ve cooked and how many times. My husband gets tired of our usual meals and wants new things. We just had a discussion about this. I’m not so much about cooking any more and if I did this, I could prove my points (we don’t actually have that very often)! LOL

  5. Oh this is brilliant! I adore data and tracking trends (this is what happens when a technical person with a type A person becomes a SAHM). I’m printing off some calendar pages right now and let the tracking begin! Thanks for the inspiration. I get excited when I discover things that can be turned into spreadsheets!

  6. Oh great, another learning curve – this time Excel, and our new accountant just told me I need to learn and do Quick Books. But I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end, maybe by preventing early Alzheimer’s. :)

  7. What a terrific idea and how disciplined you were to stick to this. I’m very impressed! I may try this since it’s just my husband and I it should be easier and very enlightening.

  8. Ti

    We eat out a couple of times a week. IN N OUT is a fave. I didn’t know you had them there. We tend to skip soft drinks when we go to a sit down restaurant. Saves us $12! Drinks are expensive now that they factor in refills.

    The chicken thing is interesting. I can get a rotisserie chicken for $5 but if I buy chicken to make the package is often anywhere between $12-14 which is ridiculous. I tend to make it because sometimes rotisserie chicken is injected with gluten based spices or marinades.

  9. SarahBeth

    How cool! And really interesting results. I don’t meal plan, per say (i really should) but maybe I’ll give something like this a try. It’d be interesting to see at the end of the year what we ate, how much, etc.

    Also, if you’re looking for some new recipes, I love Cheeseburger Pasta (really super easy, kind of like hamburger helper except you control what goes in it- its really just ground beef, pasta, tomato soup and cheddar cheese soup and then you add a bit of water and spices to taste) and then I’ve had a lot of success with these: – I haven’t made them for awhile but I’d like to get back into it since they really only take about a half hour to cook and its an easy weeknight dinner!

  10. My calendar would be so boring. We eat out way too much and tend to eat the same meals over and over again when we do stay home… It is fun reading stats and lists, though!

  11. Susan in TX

    Great idea – bonus of that process is that when you can’t think of what to cook, you can flip back through these! I plan at least a week at a time and write it down for that very reason – AND to prove to my kids that no, we do not have ___ (whatever the latest thing they’re tired of) multiple times a week, or even once a week. :)
    I love the reports you generated!

  12. What a fun project to keep track of meals. I love your stats and charts!

    We’ve perfected a handful of dishes and don’t change all that much, except seasonally. I always think I “should” try more new things, but if these are working for us, both taste and nutrition, there’s not much point.

    So, I don’t really need to keep track to know that we eat chicken three times a week (one dish producing leftovers that are consumed at lunch), two or three vegetarian meals, and the rest are tuna or, occasionally, turkey. My husband’s allergic to red meat, so our options are limited but that also helps us keep everything healthier. We rarely eat out or do carry-outs at supper (one to three times a week at lunch), basically because we’re old and don’t like going out at night :-).

  13. I should have known the book-blogger crowd would be all over this Excel spreadsheet idea! ;)

    Not me, thank you. I prefer vagueness when it comes to knowing exactly what I eat! We’re trying to cut our grocery bills and eating out bills this year, as I’m unexpectedly unemployed, and tracking through our checking account software is enough for me!

  14. Love this! I might have to think about starting keeping track for the rest of the year. I know we’d see a lot of pasta (although I’ve been trying to cut back on this), quite a lot of chicken, and a big shift in eating habits between the seasons.

  15. mae

    I bet everyone would get some surprises if they found out exactly what they have been eating all year. Amazing what some real data will do!

    best… mae at

  16. Brilliant idea! I usually write a weekly menu and save it for a few weeks, so I have something to look back on for inspiration, but I’ve never kept track for a full year! And, I have no idea how to use Excel, let alone make charts, but this sure would be fun to try.

    We eat out probably 1-2 times a month. Used to be more, but two of our favorite couples have moved (to Texas!), so we don’t get out as much as we used to. Plus, we’re getting to be such homebodies. I’m worn out after work and really don’t feel like going out. I’m not a big fan of fast food, so I prefer fixing something simple (even if it’s eggs or pancakes) on nights I’m not inspired. We eat a lot of chicken, ground beef, steak and salmon. Some shrimp. Some pork (chops and ribs). Crock pot meals when I remember to plan for a Sunday night (too tired to set it up before heading to work at 6:45 am!). We have fallen into a habit of either homemade pizza, hamburgers or nachos for our Friday night movie night. My go-to meal is either Chicken Parmesan, Meatloaf or grilled chicken and salads.

    Fun post, Trish!

  17. Wow!! I’m impressed. I have enough trouble figuring out what to make from day to day, so I think I’ll pass on keeping a yearly record.

  18. We figured out how much we were spending on eating out (and coffee!) last year and are trying to make changes this year because it was WAY too much. We’re limiting the amount of money we are allowed to spend on coffee and I got a French press for Christmas so I’m finally making some at home! As for dinners, I have to find some new ones to add to our repertoire this year because I just don’t have enough options to keep us from getting bored with eating at home. I will have five options on my dinners list but they are all essentially the same ingredients (ie. tacos, burritos, nachos, enchiladas, taco salad, etc.) and so we don’t want to eat them more than once each week. I have about five of these categories — mexican, italian, diner, breakfast, crockpot — and that’s it. Maybe we should all have a recipe swap? Hmm.

  19. Holy cow, woman. This is impressive. I cannot say it has ever crossed my mind to track what I make for dinner each day just to get a feel for statistic purposes. I probably will never be this motivated to do something like this, unless My Fitness Pal comes up with a way to run the analysis for me. However, it is an amazing exercise!

  20. I love it!! Do you use a planner at all? I started tracking at the bottom of each day both what we had for dinner and what I wore (so I don’t wear the same five outfits week after week). I am just now getting into meal-planning, but I can definitely see a spreadsheet happening if I stick with it! Love how organized and nerdtastic this is!!

  21. AHHHH! I need to try this. I love how enlightening the data is – I’d love to see this for me & Graham! I’m going to print out calendars and start in February!
    How completely cool – thank you for sharing!!