Apr 27 2010

We’re paying more for food than ever before

Lynnae had a great question on her blog the other day: “Is it really more expensive to eat healthy foods?” For me, right now, the answer is a big YES.

I used to be able to get a week’s worth of stuff for around $50. “Stuff” is the key word there.

I combined coupons with sales (and took ’em to places that doubled their coupons, when possible). And I filled in the gaps at Aldi.

It felt great to spend so little on groceries for the week…on paper. I don’t think our health felt so great. There was plenty of junk — from straight up junk food (chips, cookies) to the more innocent-looking stuff — canned goods, boxes of instant dinner-type things and so on.

There was some healthy things, too — but not nearly enough. It just wasn’t a priority. My biggest goal was a low grocery bill.

When I was in labor with my son Jonathan, I developed a condition called pre-ecclampsia. It was mild and it was detected just about three hours before he was born, but still! I had it and it was probably my fault. Some research has shown that poor nutrition and diets low in protein can be one cause.

I’m not going to beat myself up for it — after all, Johnny was healthy and I was also fine.

But with Baby #2, things will be different.

I don’t want a repeat of pre-e. And I don’t want an IV while in labor at all if I can help it. I think if I do well with nutrition, that’s my best hope at preventing problems.

Awhile back, we watched Food, Inc. (available free online here for a limited time). That really got our attention. We also enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and realized that we really do need to cut the fake foods out — NOW.

So we’re trying. We still have a long ways to go before I have this whole “eat well without spending a fortune” thing figured out.

We’re joining a CSA which will begin in June. Since we’ve already paid for it (it amounts to about $13/week), we figure it will help lower our costs during the five months it is active. And, as fresh food becomes available locally, we should be able to get some for a better price than I’ve seen in stores lately.

We buy organic when possible. I bought a carton of organic strawberries today for $4. The conventional pack was $3. I am not exaggerating — these were the best strawberries we have ever had. And they were shipped all the way from California! I think if I had eaten one straight from the strawberry patch, my tastebuds would have exploded.

I did skip some of the “good” beef this week, though. I wanted to get a roast. At $6/lb., the three-pound roast I had wanted would have been $18. I’m sorry, but I just can’t justify that expense.

So I think I will go to another store tomorrow to see my options, and I just may buy a conventional cut instead. Probably not as nutritious or protein-dense, but it’s better than nothing…right?

All told, today I spent $95 at Right By Nature, which is a good 30+ minute drive from my apartment.

I spent $37 on fresh produce. That isn’t much less than my old $50/week grocery budget, total!

I spent $17 on dairy items.

About $12 was on boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I don’t like messing with chicken bones too often, so that’s the (expensive) cut I usually buy.

The rest were things like organic raisins, Parmesan, cooking spray, and dried seeds.

I’ll need to go to another grocery this week to get some meat and more milk.

I think the best thing I can do right now is to just be patient. Prices ought to go down this summer, at least a little. I need to make sure that we minimize food waste — no carrots left to go bad, no wilty lettuce, no spoiled yogurt.

And eventually, one day when I have a house, maybe I’ll have a little garden. And maybe I’ll have a big freezer where I can store sides of happy cows.

Mostly, I am thankful that while I’m cringing at my new grocery spending, we can at least afford to buy these things. It’s really sad when families are torn between choosing low-nutrition foods over nutrient-dense ones because of cost.

How do you save money while eating healthfully?

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17 Responses to “We’re paying more for food than ever before”

  1. I hear you on the roast- it’s crazy how expensive organic meat can be! I buy whole organic chickens when they go on clearance at Kroger and freeze them. Then I make the whole chicken and use the meat during the week or freeze that. It helps!
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..Creating Multiple Income Streams =-.

  2. I just started getting the feeling like we needed to change our diet, although we don’t eat boxed meals, the occasional box of mac and cheese will be prepared and we are far away from organic and natural foods. I bought a gallon of organic whole milk last week and OH MY it tasted so good. Then I started to watch Food Inc. we still haven’t finished… but I am determined to switch us over to healthy food. For us it will mean a 45 minute drive to a good store, but I also want to get Caylee on a wheat free diet so I will need to. The town we live in is full of produce stands and there is a farmers market about 20 minutes away where I’ve been told there is an organic farmer. Hopefully as the crops come in I’ll be able to save money and time by buying up there. I am not looking forward to the growing cost of our grocery bill, but all in all we will be eating healthier and now that I know I’m pregnant again it’s even more important. Thanks for the encouragement!
    .-= Jes´s last blog ..a secret =-.

  3. I buy my meat about once a month from a farm. It’s about a 30 minute drive, but it’s right by the gluten-free bakery I visit monthly to stock up. Since I’m buying direct from the farm and the farm does no advertising other than word-of-mouth and a modest website, the prices are not as high as those I’ve found at the nice grocery store with the local products.

    Boyfriend and I have discussed the very real possibility of buying sides of beef when we get married. That would save us a substantial amount because he eats lots of beef.

    I eat little to no processed or convenience food. I have food allergies, so that already complicates matters. But whenever possible, I try to DIY before I buy. I cut up whole chickens, I make batches of dried beans, and I make many of my own gluten-free pastries. This helps me save money, too.

    My CSA is supposed to start in May at some point. It comes out to about $20 a week and I’m hoping it will be plenty of produce for me!

  4. Where I work, we operate on a harm reduction philosophy. When we see individuals with addiction problems, we don’t throw them out just because they can’t nip the addiction right then and there. As long as they are moving in the right direction, even if it can’t happen all at once, we applaud that and consider that success in treatment. As Americans, I think we have an addiction of sorts to convenience and processed foods, and altering that lifestyle completely is HARD. I applaud you for the steps you have taken thus far. And what you are doing, as you say, is better than nothing. Even though you say you have a long way to go, I am sure your bodies are thanking you guys for the changes you’ve made thus far. Kudos to you for that :)
    I like the idea of buying sides of beef. My Granny and Pappy purchase half a beef from a local farmer twice a year. They save lots of money, and it’s healthier, too. We plan on visiting Farmer’s Markets this summer, as we did not partake in a CSA this year. Also, something else that helps me is to only buy what I need. We try to buy the organic vegetables and whatnot, but we’ve found at times that we buy too much and they end up going to waste. NOT GOOD, especially when you’re paying a higher price. So, we buy a little at a time and then if we run out, we just go back and get more. It’s more guilt-free than wasting a bunch of delicious veggies and fruits.

    I also buy meat and such on sale and then freeze it.

    We, too, have a long way to go. But we’re working on it.

  5. In terms of produce waste, if it looks like something will go bad before we can use it, I like to freeze it in some way or another. Sometimes it’s easier to cook something and then freeze it; other times it’s easier to freeze it directly. It just depends on the item. But that way it still has a chance!

  6. I’m a former vegetarian, so I’m not huge on eating tons of meat. Hubby has compromised, so we have a few meatless meals a week. This helps cut down on the cost, and makes it easier to keep our little apartment fridge stocked when it goes on sale because we don’t go through it as quickly.

    Even just substituting bean for half the meat, like in tacos or chili helps to cut back on the amount of meat used.
    .-= Renae´s last blog ..Not Me Monday -Country Edittion =-.

  7. Two bits of encouragement: one, probably meat (or other animal protein) in general, no matter whether it is organic or not, is better than a low protein diet. I read a study on a similar issue with seafood. A lot of pregnant women steer clear of seafood or use very little during pregnancy, because of all the dangers related to mercury and all. But this study found that eating seafood was better for baby’s brain, period, regardless of if it was a “good” source. Not to say go out and devour large quantities of tuna (or large quantities of non-organic meat), but do what you can as far as your convictions with organic meat are concerned and as far as your wallet allows, but don’t err on the side of caution by eating less protein, but more “good” meats. Some occasional conventional meat, to allow you to get enough quality protein, is probably better for you than sparing the meat but getting only good quality. Does that make sense?

    Also, i like Renae’s idea of mixing in some beans and stuff. Animal protein is a higher quality, but any non-animal protein is easier to assimilate when accompanied by meat (or other animal protein), so you could do some meat-and-bean dishes. Also, homemade bone broth is a “protein sparer” as Sally Fallon calls it. It’s very low in protein itself, but it helps your body properly use the protein you do get. So I try to get a good amount of bone broth in my diet, when I remember, to help utilize my protein more efficiently. That’s how peasants used to live on such low-protein diets! They’d buy bones for really cheap and make broth.
    .-= Susan´s last blog .. =-.

  8. *just to clarify my comment about the seafood, what I mean is that they compared three groups of women, women who ate little or no seafood, women who ate “clean” seafood, and then women who ate seafood, regardless of clean or not. The women who ate little or no seafood were at the bottom of the list in terms of baby’s neurological development, indicating that seafood is good for you, period, regardless of cleanliness, but definitely steer for the clean stuff when possible :-). And I think the same analogy could be made for meat as well.
    .-= Susan´s last blog .. =-.

  9. Sounds like we’re in the same boat! For us, eating healthier has been a “yes and no” kind of thing on the expense issue. On the one hand, it’s cheaper because we’re more discerning about what we spend our money on, I buy lots of ingredients in bulk and cook from scratch, etc. On the other, even though there ARE lots of coupons for organic and healthier foods, there definitely aren’t as many as there are for processed foods. But that’s okay–we’re willing to pay a bit more for our health. Food is actually our second highest budget category (after housing)–$350 for my husband and I and an 11-month-old who’s still mostly nursing. It sounds like a lot, but it includes toiletries & OTC medications, and we hardly ever eat out. But it’s worth it to us to buy sustainable meat and eggs, and as much organic produce as possible.
    .-= Cate´s last blog ..Little things =-.

  10. We spend $50 a week on groceries and eat pretty healthy in my opinion. But let me first define what I mean by pretty healthy since that can mean a lot of different things to different people. We, for the vast majority of our meats eat lean meat, fish, whole grain and real identifyable pieces of food. Very little of our food comes from a can or a box. People that are 100% organic and vegetarians may not think this is very healthy, but it works for us.

    Now, with all that said : ) we do a few things to help keep our budget at $50.

    We grow a garden, this helps keep the organic veggies down in cost dramatically to almost free. I preserve and store several of the most often used veggies for our winter supply.

    We like to fish and hunt as does most of our family . Have you ever looked at how much fresh fish costs per pound? Killing your own fish and game makes for some very inexpensive organic protien sources.

    We collect black walnuts,from our trees, hickory nuts from a neighbor’s trees and harvest the wild berries that grow on our property. Some are used fresh and the rest is stored for use at other times.

    Many of the things we buy at the store are purchased in bulk and on sale. For example, I recently bought a giant can of olive oil at far less per serving than you would pay for one of the bottles.

    These things have helped us tremendoulsy to keep our budget low.
    .-= Trixie´s last blog ..Creative Way to Use Less Cheese =-.

  11. I so hear you. I drive a 20 year old car, and everything we wear comes from thrift stores, but we spend about $700+ on groceries for our family of three each month. That’s the one place I won’t compromise, and for us, it’s worth it. Our son is two and has been sick exactly three days in his life. The last time I had a cold was in 2005, and I think my husband’s last cold was in 2004. So while groceries are by far our biggest expense after housing, we don’t mind it that way. And since all of our other expenses are so low, it works out just fine.

    We did start buying in bulk earlier this year, and it’s helped us to get better prices on things like nuts, seeds, dried berries, beans, lentils, rice, and some frozen stuff (we don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs, so we spend more on things like seeds and legumes). Our local co-op lets us buy in bulk for 20% over wholesale.

    Nearly everything we buy is either dried bulk goods or fresh produce. We’re hoping that our garden will start to provide most of our fresh produce this year, which will cut down drastically on how much we spend on food.

    Since you mentioned strawberries – have you seen the topsy turvy strawberry planters? We got three this year, and 90 strawberry roots (the roots are a lot cheaper than buying the plants, but they turn into plants within a few weeks). So far, they’re looking great, and they don’t require any garden space at all, since they hang up.
    .-= Frugal Babe´s last blog ..Nearly Ready To Put Plants In Our Garden =-.

  12. I totally agree with this post! When I first started “coupon-ing” I came home with way too much unhealthy food. I eventually stopped playing the coupon game, and found better ways to save money on grocery. Now we eat much healthier, and we still have kept our budget fairly low. It took a while, but thanks to Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and shopping weekly sales, it has gotten much better! :)
    .-= Heather @ Fabulous Finds!´s last blog ..Old Navy Sale: 30% Off! =-.

  13. I can’t say I do a lot of grocery shopping but when I do I try to buy local produce at flea markets or farms. Best thing I find is its fresh and I know where it comes from. Boxed goods always scare me, especially when I look at the ingredients and curl my face in confusion as all the big words for sodium or some other preservative.
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..How To Manage Money Tips has joined the Yakezie Challenge! =-.

  14. @Trixie, I hear people say they save money on meat by hunting and fishing but then hunters I actually know say they don’t really save money because of all the money they spend on equipment, permits, and traveling to a good spot for hunting (we live in an area surrounded by forests but I guess it’s not the greatest for hunting??). Not to mention the “cost” of time spent. They say they do it because they love hunting, not to save cost. However, I would prefer to get some of our protein through hunting and fishing. Any ideas on saving costs?
    As for beef, poultry, and chicken, we buy in bulk from local farmers and the while they aren’t certified organic, they are in practice. The cost is substantially cheaper than the store and we’re supporting small, local farmers – a win/win.

  15. @Karyn+Trixie I agree with both of you. you are right now we are habitually use to off eating too much. we should align our food expense. If i have to choose from organic and junk food then i will select the organic food because organize food is relatively cheaper and healthy for us!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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