The Cost of Eating Well

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Everyone knows that eating well ain’t cheap.  One of the biggest reasons I didn’t start down this path of traditional eating sooner was fear of the price tag.  I’ve had many people ask me if my grocery bill has gone up significantly, so I thought this would make a good topic for a post.

First of all, I would like to point out that the cost of cheap food is anything BUT. Make no mistake, we are paying a high price for that “cheap food” — in the form of medication and health care costs and our children’s behavior and attention spans.  Frankly, I’d rather pay on this end than the other.

Second, you may be shocked at how much you spend on food you don’t need. Here are some of my best tips on how to make room in the budget for eating better.

Slash the Grocery List

The first thing to do if you want to make some healthy changes, but you aren’t sure you can afford it, is to start cutting stuff out. You think you can’t afford to switch to organic milk or grass fed meat?  I know.  The price tags are daunting at first.  So start by cutting out the crap you DON’T need.

I have stopped buying granola bars, breakfast bars, boxed cereal, canned vegetables, canned fruits, soda, Doritos, goldfish crackers, ice cream, Popsicles, frozen pizza, salad dressing, and that’s just what comes to mind at the moment.  That is a LOT of savings.

Yes, it is expensive to replace Goldfish with Cheddar Bunnies, but kids can do without boxed snacks of any kind.  Really.  They can.  I promise.  They will be healthier for it, and your grocery bill will make you smile.  (And remember, just because a box is labeled organic doesn’t make it nutritious.)

I challenge you today to stop buying soda, fruit juice, and boxed snack food. Do that for one month, and then look at your grocery spending and see how much you’ve saved.  Then you can put that towards better quality meat and dairy products.  Or you can take it to the mall and spend it on a new fall wardrobe. It’s entirely up to you.  Either way, you’re welcome.

The other thing to cut out is fast food. Go ahead.  I double dog dare ya.  With the exception of a very occasional pizza takeout, I have not eaten or served my kids fast food in about 2 months.  (That’s not to say that my husband didn’t take them to Burger King when I was in Boston last month, ahem.)  I am not suggesting that I’m holier than thou. I’m just saying that it IS possible.  Because anyone who knows me knows that I love my Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Supersize Me and all.  And you know what?  I haven’t even missed it.  Seriously.  I can’t explain why.  I just haven’t.

Pace Yourself

When you’re ready to start making some changes, don’t try to do it all at once.  Start with the foods you eat the most, and switch to a better alternative. When I read (caution: multiple affiliate links ahead) In Defense of Food and Real Food back in July and got religion about what we eat and why, I did as many who started down this road before me suggested, and I began by changing the things that we eat the most.  Now, that obviously depends on each individual family.  For us, that was milk and peanut butter and jelly.  Then I moved on to meat and eggs.  Then to cereals, bread, etc.

You simply can’t do it all at once.  I didn’t want to get overwhelmed so I’ve been trying to pace myself.  I’m working on another post that details the changes we have made so far and the ones we’re hoping to implement in the future, for those who are interested.

But go easy on yourself.  Even though I’ve tried to pace myself and take things a step at a time, I realize that it sounds like I’ve made a lot of changes in a short period of time.  That’s just the way I’m wired.  We all have our own pace, so don’t feel like you have to keep up with anyone else.  Just make the changes that make the most sense to you, as you feel convicted to do so, and let the rest go until you’re ready to try another new thing.  Every change you make is a step in the right direction.

Eat LESS.

We all know that American portion sizes far exceed what is necessary for good health and comfort. Cutting back on how much you eat can help keep your grocery budget in check.

We drink A LOT of milk, like 3 to 4 gallons a week.  Or, shall I say, we DRANK a lot of milk.  When I started paying $5.99 for a gallon of organic, grass-fed milk, I told the kids that they don’t need to be drinking milk at every meal.  There are some who say that we Americans drink too much milk anyway.  So we have been slowly cutting back so that now we mostly have it for breakfast and perhaps one more glass during the day.  My kids are learning to drink water with lunch and dinner, and so far they’re none the worse for the wear.

A similar example is our meat consumption, particularly fish.  I find that all too often I was buying too much and throwing away the leftovers.  When I started paying $15 a pound for wild caught salmon, seeing even a tiny morsel hit the trashcan made me want to cry.  Plus, I found that we ate more than we needed just because it was there.  I decided I’d rather have my family leave the table wanting a little more than end up throwing part of it in the trash, so I’ve started buying and serving less fish and meat.

Along those lines, start eating leftovers. Frankly, I detest leftovers, but we’ve begun eating them more often because it helps extend our grocery budget.  I serve our dinner from the stove, which discourages going back for seconds.  I try not to over-serve the kids, so as to avoid unnecessary waste, and also to help them learn appropriate portion sizing.  Then whatever is left over goes straight into storage containers and into the fridge.  When I have enough food for a meal, I we have leftovers for dinner.  (Or you can heat them up and send them to school in your kids’ lunchboxes.)

Snack on Produce

If you have kids, you know how much they love snack food.  My kids would snack all day if I let them, but I rarely buy boxed snack food anymore. When they want to snack, I first offer them fruit or veggies. I have to be more diligent about keeping fresh produce in the house and being willing to take the time to wash it and cut it up, but I’m amazed at how content they are to eat it when that’s all that’s available.

There is a myth that fresh produce is more expensive to snack on than junkie store-bought snack foods.  Marion Nestle decided to put that myth to the test in her book What to Eat.  I tried to find the excerpt so I could post it here, but I can’t locate it.  Suffice it to say, she figured out that by ounce, produce is cheaper than junk food.  So there you have it.

And just to keep it real, I also keep these homemade granola bars around, and we sometimes make this popcorn.

Make It from Scratch

As I said, I keep homemade granola bars in the house.  I feel good about them because they contain whole wheat flour and oats, and they are sweetened with honey and Sucanat (unrefined sugar.)  I also substitute coconut oil for half the butter.  Despite conventional medical advice, it seems that both of these natural oils have amazing health benefits.

Do you eat a lot of cereal?  Consider making your own. I know, I know, I’m really going off the deep end now.  But have you ever added up what you pay for cereal?

Same with bread.  I was already buying bread without HFCS but I have since started making my own.  It is MUCH cheaper.

I know this post was long.  Believe it or not, I tried to condense.  Try not to choke on your laughter.

Seriously, though.  I hope it was helpful.  I am in the process of saving receipts from all of our grocery purchases for a month.  Then I plan to compare our expenses to a month earlier in the summer, before we changed our eating habits.  It will be hard to compare exactly, because I don’t have records of our cash purchases before I began keeping receipts, but it should give me a decent idea of how we’re doing.  We think we may just about break even, but I’ll let you know for sure after I do the math.

What about you?  Got any tips for extending that grocery budget?

Related Articles:  Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food — Time.com
A Surprising Way to Save Money on Your Grocery Budget — Home with Purpose

Recommended Reading:  In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan