Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cost of eating healthy

This is in relation to a post on Patchwork Times about the disparity between the cost of healthy food and junk food. This is a bit of a soapbox issue for me.

I maintain a spreadsheet of all of our spending going back for years based on all of our spending so I can assure your my numbers are accurate. Anything edible gets recorded in our food spending category whether it's celery, milkshakes, tomato plants or junk food from a vending machine.

The cost of junk food versus good food issue is one that bugs me a lot. We average $229/week for food which comes out to $4.68/person/day. We eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, many of which are organic, and 3-4 gal. of organic milk per week. I cook most of what we eat, although we do eat some prepackaged items like veggie burgers. I bake often but I don't make my own bread. I only buy whole wheat bread and rolls. Our garden produced very little this year, probably not even enough to cover the cost of the starter and replacement plants the deer ate. We eat out only occasionally and only at Subway, Ikea (a good, large $9 pizza), Chuck E. Cheese (for birthdays with coupons) and, twice this year, we had Dominos. We hardly drink soda (none for the kids) and no junk juice/sugar water, only 100% juices even for juice boxes. We eat generally only small portions of meat and it's always with lots of veggies. I even mix shredded zucchini, onion and potato into our hamburgers.

According to USDA rates for Aug., our spending falls between the Thrifty and Low-Cost Plans. We used to fall below the Thrift levels before I started buying organic milk and before the kids hit major growth spurts. We maintained these levels even when I was going to school full time while taking care of 3 kids under 6 and pregnant with our 4th. We're all healthy; my kids are above average on growth charts, with the height matching or above the weight percentage.

To get the best prices on the foods we eat, I usually shop at 2-3 stores per week and make only 1 shopping trip per week. I've gotten pretty good at knowing who has the best prices on most of what we eat and can assess each store's "sale" price based on the cost of the same item at different stores. Some books suggest that you keep a little notebook with you to write down the prices at different store but I have enough experience that I just keep that info stored in my memory. I only occasionally use coupons since most of them are for prepackaged stuff that we wouldn't normally buy anyway. I have brand loyalty for certain products but have no problem buying the store brand of other things. After taste testings, I found that some store brands are even better than the name brands I was buying. (If you have a Wegman's near you, many of their store brands are quite good.)

I keep a stocked pantry and when I cook, I usually cook enough for 2-3 meals. Although, now that the kids are bigger, it's harder to make enough for three meals. There are days when they'll eat just about whatever is even remotely edible.
The extras go in the fridge for later in the week or in the freezer to use on days when I'm too busy or don't feel like cooking. We even use these meals when we go on vacation. (We bring dry rice and our rice cooker, as well.)

We sit down and eat most lunches and nearly every dinner together. The TV is in the basement, so no way to watch and eat a regular meal. Every once in a while, we'll have a "picnic" and a movie night.

Eating well can be done on a budget without a garden and having a busy life. It's all about choices.

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