Menu Planning Step 3: Pricing

After I have a general idea of what I am cooking and when, I than need to figure out how much it is going to cost.

recipeThe first thing I do is to take every recipe I am going to be using and putting it in a spreadsheet form. I include what quantities I need of which ingredients and how many it feeds. Once I have the spreadsheet for each of my recipes I then take all the ingredients, put it in a giant list and go shopping.

This is where technology is your friend! I go shopping from the comfort of my own home. I take that handy dandy shopping list and put it straight into peapod or another home grocery shopping site.

PeapodI use Sam’s Club and local grocery stores to do the actual shopping, but this gives me a pretty accurate breakdown of how much things are going to cost.  Yes, Peapod is technically more expensive per unit, however I have found that in the end it comes out pretty even. Why is that? Well when I price my recipes out, I do it down to the ounce ( or cup, ext. ) You can go in and buy a cup of almond milk, so you do end up with a little waist. This also gives me a tiniest bit of a cushion in case I need to get additional items or something goes wrong.

CostsOnce I have the current price of the item, it goes back into a spreadsheet that breaks down exactly how much it costs per piece, per tb, per cup, per lbs, ext… Currently did you know that a clove ( not a head, but a clove) of garlic is about .10?

I do keep these so I can track the cost of items over time. Sometimes I will use a previous spreadsheet, but I always get new prices at least once per year.

DinnerNow that I have those prices, they go back into our original spreadsheet that had out recipes and quantities in it. This way I can figure out how much per persona single recipe will cost.

I put them all together in yet another tab, so I can see how much the meals in total are costing.

Don’t forget the propane.

Propane contains roughly 20,000 btu’s per pound, that means a burner of 20,000 btu’s will last 1 hour on a 1lb bottle. If your burner is 12,000 btu’s you’ve got a little less than 2 hours of fuel in a 1lb bottle.

Because I run 2 ovens and a stove I go through anywhere between 3-6 lbs of propane per day. Each bottle runs aprox $2.50, so I need to make sure to add in $11.25 per day in fuel. If I am feeding 25 people, 2 meals a day that’s an additional .25 per person per meal.

But Gulf if so cold, do you really need ice?

Yes. It might be cold out, but you still need to get ice in the ice chests. I have 3 ice chests and each one gets a bag per day.  At $7.50 per day that’s .15 per person per meal.

Don’t forget to clean up.

You also need to include sponges, soap, bleach, paper towels, garbage bags, foil, gallon bags ( trust me),ext. Using out handy dandy online shopping tool, that comes to $30 (.60 per person per day)

You guessed it, all this goes into one more spreadsheet

Overall Meal Planning

 I now know how much each meal will cost as well as the average cost over the course of the week. This year, the meal plan will cost aprox $5.08 per person per breakfast and $12.63 per person per day for dinner.

Using this information I can judge how much to charge. I normally like to charge $10 per day, but I knew prices were going to need to go up this year.  The Gulf Wars ticket meal plan in the lodge runs $13 per day, so I did not feel bad raising my prices to $12 per day.   Of course if anyone asks why I raised prices, I now have all the spreadsheets to backup my pricing.

Menu Planning Step Two

The first step was getting an idea of who I am cooking for ( ie which groups) and any recommendations and known allergies.

This can be seen in the post Gulf Wars Meal Planning questionnaire Results.

The second step is taking those results and figuring out what I want to cook. (ie this post)

Gulf Wars is normally cooler, so I like to highlight a lot of soups and stews. This year will be a challenge as I am feeding

  • Vegans
  • Glutton Free
  • Royals
  • Low Carb
  • Allergies: Hazelnut, Citrus, Onions

I originally thought I would be having: ” kolaches, their will be sausages, there might be pizza, there might be Shepard’s pie, there will be cake and pies, and eggs, and veggies.”

I furthered narrowed it down to:
Irish-Shepard’s pie, Pizza, British- Stew, German-Sausage, Kolaches+BBQ (Ie anything left in the kitchen)

Breakfast Items:
Breakfast burritos, Cinnamon Rolls, French Toast, Breakfast sandwiches, Breakfast casserole, Oatmeal (everyday)

Apple Pie, Chocolate Creme Pie, cobbler, cake, cookies, Filled Pastries

Then when sitting down with recipe books, the menu, and a martini I ended up changing the menu ALOT. I actually like my menus to flow and jive. I also did not just want to make a vegan and low carb option for items we already had. Instead I wanted the low carb and vegan items to go with the main items so everyone can enjoy all the options.
The first problem came with the Shepard’s pie. I could not find anything short of a salad to accompany it. I also did not want to just make vegan version. Even though I personally hate Shepard’s Pie, I was sad to see this one go. It was instead replaced by a much needed chicken dish which could be served with a soap.
Next came the pasta night. Being Italian, I make a killer pasta dish. However, I was not coming up with a good low carb option. Yes, I could do spaghetti squash, but as this is the setup day the time frame would not be conducive to it. Pasta went away in favor of chili. I will do 3 types of chili ( all onion free) a vegan chili, a regular chili, and a spicy chili. Packaged cornbread will make an easy addition to this. When I decide my first night meal, I always try to find something that will be easy, quick, and can be kept warm for a long time as people have a tendency to trickle in.

I do everything in spreadsheets, so I started to plug things in making sure I had something for everyone. I also put in the desserts ( which also got changed).

Breakfasts I NEVER assign a day. I create and prep for certain items and then make what I feel like that morning. This year, I will be doing oatmeal everyday ( for those who want it), as well as baked goods which are vegan, and then a main breakfast item…Kinda like the format for a B&B actually. If there are any baked items left, I put them out and people can grab them throughout the day.  For ease of use though I randomly put these on the spreadsheet.

A huge note on breakfast: I know people LOVE scotch eggs, and I use to do them a lot, but honestly they are not the easiest breakfast item to make when your make 36 or more of them. Also, I was taking part in another persons food plan at Pennsic 2 years ago and I got one where the sausage was not cooked all the way through. Looking around I noticed a lot of them had raw pork in the center. I don’t mess around with food poisoning, so I stopped doing them. People don’t miss them, and honestly they love the breakfast Goetta I get just as much or even better.

I also include my schedule (ie what classes I am teaching when), battles ( if available), and important information like Court and battles.

For court I always do something easy so people can grab and go. Normally this is sausages & bratwurst from the Glier sausage company… Why do I like Glier sausage so much?

  1. The product rocks
  2. They are pre-cooked and I don’t have to worry about feeding people raw pork products
  3. I trust the quality of the ingredients
  4. The company is owned by someone in the SCA

The other reason I put the battle information on the spreadsheet is so I can watch for days where my people might not have time to eat. For instance on court- there is the champions battle till 5. This means that those fighters fighting in the champions battle have to run back, hopefully shower, and get ready for court. They won’t have time to sit down and eat. They will have time however to grab a sausage on the way back from the shower.

I am also going to do a very special filled pastry ( think éclair) for desserts on court night, so people can grab and go. In addition I will also be hosting a cookie competition where anyone on our food plan can use my ingredients and kitchen to bake the best cookie ( which can be shared amongst everyone during court)

This is what the current menu for Gulf Wars looks like:

Menu screenshot

Now onto pricing.

Gulf Wars Meal Planning Questionaire Results

As I started to plan for Gulf Wars I wanted a better understanding of how many people I might be cooking for and what would make their bellies the happiest. Therefore I created a little pre-registration poll to help me plan the menu.

campGulf is different from Pennsic, where I cook for just my camp. At Gulf the majority of the Middle Kingdom camps together, so I open my plan up to everyone in Kingdom. It is not a long walk from the Royal Cabins to the Middle Encampment, but this gives me a better idea on where I want to try to set up camp ( Middle Kingdom or the Overflow next to the cabins). groups

This one was just because I was curious WHO I was cooking for. I normally get a few new faces from word of mouth. But I kept hearing that my kitchen was the go to place to eat at (thanks Zsof) , so I wanted to know which groups/houses/ ext. would be joining me. This also lets me know how many people would be joining me for the first time.

Dietary Restrictions I always have a few dietary restrictions, and this year I knew ahead of times that I was going to have a Vegan in the bunch. In the past I have had glutton, sugar, sugar substitute, pork, beef, eggs, dairy, nuts ALL in a food plan spread amongst 5 different people. AllergiesAfter that I made the rule only 3 allergies ( minus the hazelnut one) per food plan. Not counting the vegan, this years allergies will be glutton, onions/citrus, and Dairy…. Yes I had to leave the warm beer entry in there as it cracked me up.

mealAt Pennsic I always do breakfast and dinner. Historically I only do dinner at Gulf, but last year I tried doing breakfast again. I was honestly looking at going back to just doing dinner only. However, the poll results show that a majority of people also wanted breakfast again.

breakfast Speaking of breakfast, here are the recipients favorite breakfast items. I am a little shocked by this one. I almost always do bacon & eggs, but I also mix it up with pancakes and the like. Looking at the poll results I think I will stick with eggs, bacon, sausage (Goetta and regular) as well as breakfast sandwiches and burritos. I will also add in oatmeal for my vegetarians.

requestsI always try to take requests for what people like. This word cloud had this years requests. The Goetta was a given, and I only get Glier Sausage and Goetta.

dislikesThe dislike wordcloud is a little harder. There are a LOT of veggies on there and I always make sure to get enough veggies into the meals. This year looks like it will not be a spicy Gulf Wars, which sadly means no chili ( or if I do, a few different kinds like a vegetarian, a spicy, and a not spicy). seriously people!!! What’s wrong with brussel sprouts? I LOVE brussel sprouts.

soupI always do tons of soups and stews at Gulf because it gets so cold. This year I think I am going to do a soup/stew with every meal ( especially if I can get enough cast iron). I wanted to know what soups & stews people enjoy the most. I can guarantee we will be doing a beef stew, potato soup, and tomato soup. I will look into Shepard’s pie, but I honesty don’t like them ( Yes, I still cook foods I don’t enjoy).



What good is a meal if it does not include dessert? I always have a dessert to end the meal. It looks like this year we will be adding cheesecake and pies to the mix.


activitiesThis is just another FYI one. Knowing what people are doing at war better helps me judge the scheduling of meals. It also lets me know HOW hungry people are going to when. A lot of fighters don’t like to eat a lot of breakfast before fighting, but do like a post-fighting snack. Once the fighting schedule is posted, I will look into do a post-fighting snack option.

Hopefully this also helps give people a better understanding of how much work really goes into campaign meal planning for a war.

This last wordcloud is WHY I love spending the majority of my war working ( besides the love of cooking). The question was ” Is there anything else I should know”



What is a Campaign Cook

One of the main things I do in the SCA is cook… Don’t let this create visions of heraldic feasts filled with pomp and circumstance, no the cooking I do in the SCA is a whole lot more rustic and down right dirty- a little bit like me.

I am a campaign cook, meaning all my cooking is done outdoors while the Army is on campaign. No I am not a “camping cook”. There is a whole lot more to being a campaign cook then simply BBQing some meat, opening a can of raviolis or even smores.

When I cook, it’s not normally for a group of 6 friends or so. No, I don’t normally cook for numbers less than double digits and usually cook for around 18-30 people. There is a LOT of planning that goes into cooking for that many people….Outside….With No Running Water… Without Electricity….and…. Without Refrigeration.  There are real life matters that have to be looked into such as quantities, shopping lists, budgets, and sanitation matters.

I could take the easy way out and just cook whatever, but because we are trying to recreate the Medieval Ages, I also try to make the meals as medieval as possible. Last year’s Gulf Wars menu included a FULL Norse Feast one night and regular favorite historical items that I could cook over a propane stove or live flame. Trust me, my rooted veggies in honeycomb was a huge hit.

What a lot of people don’t see is that I also spend a lot of time research historical campaign menus, dietary allotment of soldiers, rations, and campaign journals.  I try to incorporate as much of this information into the meals as I can without shorting their dietary needs.

I also take my real life nutritional training to make sure everyone is getting enough FRESH fruits and vegetables. Everything, including bread, is made from scratch whenever possible. Fresh foods, real spices, and a true love of cooking goes into every meal I serve out of my kitchen.

The best part is I try to do this all without anyone knowing. When the army comes by with their plates in hand all they know they are going to get good food and a full belly. Anyone (in my meal plan or not) knows that IF they need food and I’m in my kitchen, they can be fed. From a vegan at Lillies who needed sautéed spinach to raise iron levels to a Peer who just finished negotiations with the Tux Chuxs over whiskey who needed something in their stomach to help soak up their hard work, to my group of boys who know they don’t need to pack food at war and can pack more weapons and beer.

That is what being a campaign cook is all about.