I have been a parent for 21+ years -- 22 if you count the prior nine months during which I responsibly refrained from alcohol and high-mercury fish. As a parent, bake sales loom large in my consciousness. Two of the songs on my new album -- that's over 15% -- actually feature bake sales as a prominent theme. But this month, after more than two decades, I have finally found the key to mastering the bake sale. So as a public service, I share my new-found knowledge with you now.
Rice Krispie Treats. You should never, ever make anything else for a bake sale again. And neither will I.
The great virtue of the Rice Krispie Treat is that it has prep time of approximately 7 minutes -- 15, if you include mise-en-place and cleanup. Plus, you don't even have to go to the grocery store for the ingredients. Because the ingredients are not actually food! I got this tasty lineup at Walgreen's:
"Buying health food today," I joked with the cashier. "Oh, not at all!" she said. "If you make those Rice Krispie Treats, they are actually good for you!" And she should know: she works at a drug store. Those people give health advice all the time.
And the best part is that when you show up at the bake sale with your 15-minute creation, you get serious uber-mom cred because you have actually produced something homemade. Unlike all those slacker moms who bought packaged Rice Krispie Treats from Costco.
Before I go any further, let me say right here that bake sales are a truly dumb idea. Think about the batch of Rice Krispie Treats pictured above. Consider the cost of the ingredients:
- $4.32 for the box of Rice Krispies;
- $1.99 for the bag of marshmallows;
- $3.89 for the bag of M&Ms;
- For argument's sake, let's round off the cost of the 3 Tbsps. of margarine to 25 cents, plus another 25 cents for the Saran Wrap.
That's $10.70, just for the raw materials. Then there's the cost of labor: 20 minutes to go to Walgreens for ingredients; 15 minutes food prep and clean-up; plus another 10 minutes to wrap each precious RKT individually in its very own sheath of Sarah Wrap. 45 minutes all told. It is probably appropriate to categorize RKT Production as unskilled labor (although it does take a bit of finesse to fold in the M&Ms at just the right moment, so that the marshmallow is still pliable but not hot enough to melt the food coloring). Using the new Massachusetts minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, that's $7.88 worth of labor, then, bringing the entire cost of the enterprise to $18.58, not including water, fuel or transportation costs. And this effort yielded a batch of 12 (11 of which were available for sale after the mandatory in-house Quality Testing). They sold for $1 each -- $11 total. A net loss to the economy of $7.58.
Of course, those are just the stats for the batch I donated the first night of the Drama Club production. The second night it was my turn to actually run the bake sale during intermission. I baked a double batch, plus I cut each pan into 15 instead of 12 squares. I did, after all, go to Harvard Business School. If I'm going to take on a bake sale, then I'm going to kick its ass.
But even after these modest economies of scale, it's a pretty absurd exercise, spending my time making mediocre sugar bombs to sell at a loss to kids who eat far too much crap anyway. It makes me want to ask, as I do about so many other Parent Volunteer Opportunities: can't I just write a check?
Of course you could argue that the bake sale is not only about raising money; it's about supporting the community, and about offering sustenance during intermission to kids who might not otherwise survive the second half of the show. And I guess it would make economic sense if I just happened to have a surplus of Rice Krispies and marshmallows, and thus could pull the whole effort off at relatively little marginal cost beyond my labor. But I don't have a surplus of any of those things.
As a gardener, what I do have in surplus, pretty much all of June, is lettuce:
SO much healthier as an intermission snack! Of course, you can't expect kids to eat lettuce instead of Rice Krispie Treats, even the inferior pre-packaged variety. Unless, of course, you provide the proper incentives.
So here's the plan for next year:
- Write the Drama Club a check for $14 -- a 21% increase over the $11 they currently raise from my (generously-cut) batch of Rice Krispie Squares;
- Use the remaining $4.58 to provide financial incentives to the teenagers to eat lettuce during intermission.
A perfect plan! Everyone wins.