Q & A: How much do you spend on food?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I received this question from one of my customers and thought others would appreciate it as well:

Hi Erica!

I was just wondering what your weekly or monthly budget for food is for your family?  (If you don't mind divulging that information that is...)  This is one of the biggest struggles my husband and I have regarding a healthier eating lifestyle.   He doesn't want to pay for it!  We live in rural upstate NY.  We raise chickens for eggs and meat.  We barter for raw milk with my uncle who owns an organic dairy farm.  Jason hunts so we have turkey and venison.  Still--for a family of six......it is expensive at the grocery store.   Our budget is around $240 a week, but I  have been known to go over this and that is not even everything organic.  I would love to know how/where you shop and how you manage it.  We have four kids- you have six?    I do order some bulk foods and have also ordered from vitacost....but still I wonder how all these people (on the blogs I follow) manage to do it .  Funny they never say what their food budget is (at least that I've seen).....

Hi Heidi!
Good to hear from you.  It sounds like you guys have a lot of good healthy-living resources available to you!

I feel like a shmuck to say that I don't even know anymore how much I spend on food.  (My husband handles all of the account stuff, so I never even look to see how it all adds up.)  It seems to vary quite a bit.  Some weeks either because I'm already well-stocked, or because money is a little tight and I'm doing more super-cheap meals, I may spend well under $100 (Or even buy nothing some weeks).  Some weeks I have to stock up on stuff or we are having company or someone is having a birthday or whatever, and I might spend $300 or more.  Plus, we do stock up on stuff, like today I am buying a bunch of honey from a friend who just harvested last week, I spent $100 two weeks ago on 9 gallons of freshly-pickled organic strawberries and now all of those are in the freezer for months worth of morning smoothies.  In the fall I stock up on raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, and cashews and have that for the year.  I buy 50 lb. bags of wheat and use that for bread and baked goods for months.  Heck--we still have a 5 gallon bucket of organic rice from Y2K preparations that we are eating (and yes, it still tastes good!).  My husband does hunt some, so there is a hot-or-miss factor in what venison is available for the year.  Also, I spend around $100 monthly for some Thrive freeze dried foods from Shelf Reliance as a way to both stock up on items for emergency food storage, plus I use a lot of that in everyday cooking. We are gardening this year, so of course once that food comes in, we'll spend less at the grocery store.  I sporadically do super couponing, so sometimes that gets us a lot of goodies for way cheap (even healthy stuff), but there are plenty of months in the year that I just can't keep up on it.

I do buy quite a few things through amazon's subscribe and save option when they have good sale prices.  I take advantage of great deals at places like VitaCost and Tropical Traditions.  I usually have enough wiggle room in the budget to stock up on good deals when they come along, and then of course I'm set on that item for months, at least.

We don't do all organic.  We don't even do 100% perfectly healthy.  (True confessions:  My children really like Little Caesar's Hot and Ready pizzas.)  I am constantly flexing what I'm buying according to finances, my ability to make things from scratch vs. needing to cut corners on my time, how much time we are away from home and may have to pick up food while we're out and about, sometimes the kids want to learn how to cook certain things, my various personal health goals/things I'm trying/bees in my bonnet, and also trying to make stuff that guests and extended family members will enjoy.

Cooking from scratch definitely saves money when doing healthy food.  I have learned how to make my own almond milk and other nut milks.  Most treats we have are homemade.  However, there is always the reality of the trade off between your time/energy and your money.  Sometimes I have noticeably more or less of one or the other, and I flex in the direction that needs it the most.  Sometimes I am short on time, money, AND fortitude, and on those days you might find us going through the Little Caesar's drive thru window or buying bakery cookies at Kroger, and I just try to do better the next day!

I have found that some people can get away with more flexibility (health-wise) in their diet, other people really feel the health effects one way or another.  I tend to get sick easily if I eat junk, and I really feel it in my energy levels if I eat poorly.  (Sadly, I do not experience great energy even when I'm eating really, really healthfully.  At this point I'm more teetering between somewhat low energy and completely pitiful.  Working on my thyroid and adrenal issues these days!)  For a family of 8, we need to go to the doctor very, very rarely.  This is partially because we do not get sick very much, and partially because I have learned enough over the years to handle most ordinary sicknesses at home.  For families that find doctor's visits and illness to be a regular feature of life, eating a healthier diet can be a really good investment and trade-off.  For families with children struggling with behavior issues, concentration issues, etc. they may also find helpful solutions when changing dietary standards for their family. (I know that's not true for everybody.)  I don't know what specific "side effects" (pro or con) your family may be experiencing from how you eat, but I do take that into consideration when making choices about what we're going to eat.  Enjoying good health, modeling good choices and developing good taste buds and cooking skills for our children, getting older with fewer health issues, etc. are all very worthy side benefits of choosing to eat as healthfully as you can realistically manage.

I have some serious limits for our diet that generally I will not break.  These include MSG, aspartame, and processed meats (deli meat, hot dogs, ham), and anything GMO.  Those are items that I would not put on the table even if they were free.  The next level of stuff I avoid includes High Fructose Corn Syrup, non-organic corn in all forms, non-organic soy, and soda.  Those I avoid very strongly, but realize that sometimes they sneak in, usually during special occasions like birthday parties, etc.  I do my best to buy organic for the "dirty dozen" items, and flex more on the "clean 15" items.  I have found really good mark downs at my Kroger produce dept., and I understand how their pricing and sales work, so I can do pretty well even with buying organic produce a lot.  Some items I just can't find organically in my area (kale comes to mind) so I just buy it and enjoy eating it anyhow, and try not to worry too much.  We can't do everything perfectly, and it isn't going to do anybody any good to beat ourselves up about that.  :)

This was a great question that has now turned into a blog post.  (Thanks!  I needed some inspiration!)  I am sorry that I don't have a more direct answer for you as far as a number.  We do have six kids, though the oldest hardly ever eats here any more.  Let me know if you have any more questions.  :)

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