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The Great Grocery Question

March 25, 2010

How much do you spend on groceries? Are you offended that I asked? Embarrassed by how much you spend? Impressed by your own cheap-skate-ness?

I wanted to write about this subject because I love grocery shopping more than any other kind of shopping, including shoe, underwear, and health insurance shopping. I could spend years in Earth Fare or Trader Joe’s, but unfortunately they are not open 24 hours a day and they get mad when I fall asleep there, leaving a butt-shaped dent in the organic spinach and drool in the Swiss chard.

I want to cover two things here: 1)Americans spend way less on groceries than they used to, and it’s showing up in health care costs and 2)I bet you can eat healthy for less expensive than you thought. What? We should spend more but you are going to tell me how to spend less? I know, it confuses me, too, which is why I’m going to ramble on about it until it either makes sense to you or you get tired and bored and fall asleep in the potato bin.

According to Michael Pollan, my idol, we used to spend 18% of our household income on groceries, but now spend less than 10%. Shockingly (not), we now spend something like 16% of household income on health care when we used to only spend 5%. Check out the article or one of his many books, because he is way better at fact-checking than I am.

So why is it some big point of pride to spend less on food? Food is our fuel, we absolutely, positively, cannot live without it. (Side note: When the sweetie pie and I went down to Atlanta for my half marathon, I stopped at a Chick-Fil-A to use the little girl’s room. Above the doorway there was a giant quote saying something along the lines of, “Food is essential. Therefore it should be good.” This made me laugh and laugh in the bathroom, much to the fear of the person in the stall next to me. I have never eaten Chick-Fil-A, but I can’t imagine it does much good for our bodies when we consume it. Please don’t send me angry letters.) So if food is so important, why do we want to skimp on it? We can afford 7.2 trillion cable channels, unlimited texting, $5 coffee, and on and on. If there is one thing that is truly important to your health, it’s the food you put in your body.

Let’s say, however, that you want to put healthy food in your body but you really can’t see how to eat a diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and awesomeness on your lame-ass paycheck. Or perhaps you really, really need that full body waxing every week, and that has slashed your grocery spending money considerably.

Let’s start with breakfast, shall we? I’m going to roll with what I know, though there are probably other inexpensive options out there. You can buy an entire giant container of old fashioned rolled oats for between 2.75 and 3.25. Said giant container has 32 servings in it. That works out to roughly 9.5 cents per serving. You can also buy 8 bananas for about $1.50, which you will want to add to your oatmeal for creamy deliciousness and potassium etc. Each banana comes to about 19 cents. Want some protein? Peanut butter is cheap and easy, you can even buy all natural peanut butter with no weird ingredients for 2 or 3 dollars for a 16oz jar. That works out, on the high end, to 19 cents a serving. Bring your breakfast total to 47 cents. Are you telling me that you can eat a McDeathBiscuit for cheaper than that?

For lunch and dinner, beans, brown rice, barley, quinoa, veggies, and more fruit will make a variety of meals on the cheap. Buy dried beans instead of canned, rice that you have to cook for more than five minutes, produce that you have to wash and chop yourself (the horror!), and you’ll see real savings.

I haven’t mentioned dairy, dairy alternatives, meat, or meat alternatives yet, as they certainly up the grocery bill. Is it just me or is this post getting way too serious? Let’s talk about cheese! Okay, here’s how I feel about cheese: I’m a recovering cheese-a-holic. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 17 years now (starting at 13 with the occasional ham, jello, or marshmallow-related slip up in the early years) and have probably consume more cheese than…a dude who really likes cheese. As I have learned more about the way dairy works in our bodies and the way the cows that produce the dairy are treated, I have cut waaaaaaay back. Which is very good for the budget. However, when we do bring dairy into the house, it’s usually some sort of variety of raw, organic, free range, magic fairy dust, pastured, produced-by-cows-listening-to-Bach variety. Which is very bad for the budget. The boy still eats meat, but is similarly picky when it comes to getting the good stuff. To keep our spending on track, meat and dairy are treated more like small, occasional side dishes than the main event. At least on my plate and wallet they are!

I’m not so sure I really made any points in this post, but as I mentioned before many of you may already be asleep. Healthy living on a budget is something I am super passionate about, so I plan on doing a cost-analysis on more of my healthy meals and telling you about them here, so you can see that it can be done!

Don’t expect this anytime soon, however, as I have a scallion stuck in my ear and I think it’s poking my brain. Have a great day!

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 27, 2010 11:21 am

    I spend way too much 😦 I think it’s because I shop at a store which doesn’t usually have lower prices unless you buy their brand, AND I buy a lot of stuff from the “health” section, which is notoriously way more expensive 😦 But really half of what I usually buy is produce, and yet my bill tends to be about $70 a week!!! Just for me!!!

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