Several weeks ago Ms. SE wrote a post detailing how our family managed to Eat Healthily on $200 a Month. The post was more popular than almost any of the things I’ve ever written and drew a tremendous response. The article was really designed as an intro and a starting point to figure out what you spend on groceries and what you eat. But the article also brought a slew of specific questions with it. Namely, do we really eat on $200 a month? Is that really possible? What exactly do we eat? Do we use coupons? (No) What do we consider healthy? So, what exactly did we buy?
April’s Grand total: $191
The quote that makes me cringe every time I hear it is: “Healthy Eating is Expensive.” I always found this to be an excuse but I never had any data to back it up. Was it true? Are healthy foods more expensive? Maybe I should look at what we buy and see if that is the case. To be honest, we don’t normally track the specifics of everything we buy. We have an envelope with money in it and when it runs out we quit buying groceries and eat what we have. But this got me thinking. It would be interesting to keep track of everything we bought and ate for one month.
So, we developed an experiment. We decided to track the food that came into and out of our house for one month. We categorized it and kept track of all the costs. We also kept track of our dinner menu every night and how much food we threw away. It is all available at the bottom of the post. At the end we put it all together and analyzed the results.
The Grocery Store Experiment – 30 Day Challenge
- Keep track of all the food you buy
- Write down when you go out to eat
- Keep track of all the Dinner Menus
- Keep track of all the food you throw away
I think for me the results really confirmed a lot of the suspensions I have been holding. Not surprisingly, the processed foods we bought were significantly more expensive (68%) and fresh fruits and vegetables were by far the cheapest. For full disclosure, because I knew we would be publishing this, we were probably slightly more selective than we would be on our average grocery shopping trips. Especially when it comes to junk food (we are still in transitioning process for eating minimally processed foods). We still have some unhealthy food that somehow makes it into our house via friends, gifts and holidays but we try to limit it.
The Pretty Analysis:
Convenience foods are expensive. And healthy convenience foods are some of the most expensive items in the store! But ironically, minimally processed fresh fruits and raw veggies retained the title of least expensive items. For the month, processed foods we purchased were 68% more expensive than unprocessed foods. We defined processed foods by 100 Days of Real Foods definition. About 8.5% of the food we bought was processed in some way.
I was actually surprised that diary was the most expensive. I had a feeling fruits and veggies would be the least expensive, but a few spices were pretty pricey per pound and cheese was the most expensive item we bought consistently.
We ate a lot of food! Most of the vegetables came frozen and we ended up freezing a lot of the fruit to make smoothies. I never knew how many pounds of food we bought every month! We ended up throwing away 6.1 lbs of food. We have a little kitchen scale that we measured when we threw edible food out (or into the compost bin). That has been a big part of saving money. Having a meal plan helps us not waste as much food. We purchased 120 lbs of food so about 5% of our food went to waste.
Our dinner menu for April:
Click to Download
Everything we purchased:
Click to Download
I’ve always wanted to have our grocery purchases consist mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables and I was pleasantly surprised to find that was actually the case for our family! I was happy to see that the fruits and vegetables were the least expensive items per pound as well. As a dietitian I frequently get the rebuttal from clients that healthy options are more expensive, but here we see the opposite which can be eye opening for many people. I enjoyed this exercise because it made me more aware of where our money is going and what foods we are bringing into our household. I hope to eventually weed out most (if not all) the processed foods we currently purchase. – Ms. SE
To start, we don’t really use coupons for grocery shopping. We have in the past but, for us, we ended up buying a bunch of processed stuff that would fill our tiny pantry. Our grocery budget is actually a lot more consistent without using coupons. We did eat out this month and ended up having restaurant food randomly at places like work, church or friend’s houses. We did eat out for dinner three times in April. We’ve already eaten out more than that in May and the month just started. Also, coffee was not included in this as we typically pay for it as a form of entertainment. We are actually not drinking any coffee this month as part of a 30 day caffeine detox.
We are still working towards buying primarily whole foods with minimal processing. More interestingly than what we bought, perhaps might be what we didn’t buy:
- Anything Branded
- Much Meat/Expensive Meat
- Anything Processed (or very little)
- Very few beverages
- Candy or Sugar
- Convenience Food
Groceries are really cheap in GA. I must admit, being able to grow crops year round is nice and the distribution center that is Atlanta/Savannah definitely helps keep our prices incredibly low. Are you up for a grocery store challenge? How do prices here compare to where you live? Are the prices here insanely low our about right? Do you buy organics or processed food? How much do you spend on groceries?