The cost of living is at an all-time high, but is it high enough to change the habits of a flat full of scarfies?
A Dunedin flat of six share the rent, but not the food bill. In the middle of exam season, they helped Stuff test whether cooking as a flat was worth the hassle, even if it saved money.
Their task was to come up with five days worth of dinner ideas and make it happen, then compare the cost and the effort to going at it alone.
Their first obstacle was instant – picky eaters couldn’t agree on certain ingredients.
* Last-minute dinner sorted: Cook corn fritters with roast vegetable salad tonight
* What chefs cook at home: Capitol’s Tom Hutchison
* The Block NZ: It’s all-out sabotage with dinner wars
Partners Lucy and Bram usually cooked together and separate from the rest due to Lucy’s vegetarianism; Keegan and Saffron tried to keep their meat and protein content high, as they played a lot of sport on top of study; friends Claudia and Amy often opted for a late lunch-dinner combo, especially as second year med student Amy was often in the library until it is closed. For Claudia, any tomato-based foods were a no-go.
The flat calculated what and how much they’d spent on food in the five days prior to the experiment. The average was $5, but the meals were sometimes non-existent, or consisted of a single can of spaghetti.
For this test, they were committed to cooking each other decent feeds. After agreeing to a meal plan, it was off to Pak ‘n’ Save for a 54-minute shop.
The total cost came to $159.50, or about $5.30 per person per meal – more expensive than doing it alone, but a guaranteed hitting all major food groups, and usually resulted in enough for seconds or leftovers.
The most expensive ingredient was the chicken at $15.29, which they hoped would cover two nights worth of meals, but didn’t. In lieu of the planned Butter Chicken on night 4, they got takeaways.
The next most expensive item was a 1kg block of Colby Edam Cheese for $14.99, which lasted for four meals.
On night one, the whole flat gathered to watch Love Island while Keegan milled about in the kitchen making mac’n’cheese. He didn’t pre-boil the water in the kettle, resulting in a wait of almost 15 minutes for the water to boil on the stove.
“I’m following mum’s recipe,” he said, mixing the appropriate ratio of corn flour to milk and cheese from memory.
At the last minute he remembered the frozen vegetables, which he threw into a bowl then nuked in three separate increments until ‘cooked’.
“It’s not bad at all, aye,” Bram said once the flat tucked in.
The next day it was burgers, cooked by Lucy and Bram. While straight forward, it left some wanting – there had only been enough patties for one burger each, but the flat thought padding it out with hash browns and eggs would have made it good enough. Still a yum, but disappointing result.
The enchiladas were next. Claudia was recovering from a flu, so Lucy helped. Everyone at the flat agreed Lucy was the best cook, so they were stoked she had a second night. It ended up being the favorite meal of the lot, but took the longest to cook – around an hour – and used up all the chicken. “Just because of the way we did it,” Claudia said.
Friday and Saturday were write-offs, with the former being Amy’s 21st birthday, then on Saturday the flat was plagued with sickness and general cooking fatigue. Keegan’s Snapchat revealed a game of beer pong with KFC packaging in the background.
Sunday, the fourth and final night, was tacos. Amy was stressed about how to bulk the meal without adding beans to each dish, as Keegan didn’t like the ingredient. They settled on blending the beans to mix with the mince in the hopes he didn’t notice. It worked.
For most nights the flat tried to be together while one of them cooked
“It’s quite sweet being together, but everyone has very different meal preferences,” Lucy said.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page to make it work, but we’re usually quite indecisive. It’s got to be structured.”
If someone wasn’t in the library, another was at work, or at training, then someone just wasn’t hungry.
Even buying individual items to share wasn’t ideal – the cheese was too expensive and people would eye each other up for eating too much of it.
Then there was the ordeal over whether green or blue-topped milk was better.
“Going forward we’ll keep doing what we have been doing, but cook more and larger stuff for leftovers,” Bram said.
“I used to put the effort in to make the one meal, but buying larger amounts is cheaper.”