Friday, July 15, 2011

Healthy Food Budgeting

With rising food (and everything else) costs, it is often difficult to stay within one's food budget at the grocery store. Add in any dietary restrictions and it has potential to become a nightmare.

For our single income family of 5, my goal/limit is to spend $450 on groceries each month.  Sometimes I stay under that amount, and sometimes I go over.

According to the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, May 2011
we are eating well under the "Thrifty Plan".  Cost of living will vary depending on where  you live, but seeing this made me feel a little better about how much I spend at the store. There are Cost of Living calculators to be had if you do a Google Search. Find one and you can compare your city to others across the country.

The following are a few ways we (strive to) stay within our food budget:

1. Limit Eating Out.  We save it for special occasions.  Once a month or less on average.  The last time I took the kids out was to Taco Bell with their Free Taco/Burrito coupons from the Summer Reading Program at the Library.  Most of the time, eating out is not a necessary expense. It's fun, sure, but with a little planning you won't have to do it at all. I come from a family of 7 (Mom, Dad, and 5 kids) and I can count on one hand the times we ate out when we were kids. Yep, pretty hard to believe, huh? But it was necessary to stay within the budget and the accepted way of life for us.  (This background made it easier for me the year I was avoiding 13+ allergens per the allergist's instructions and could not eat out anywhere--see, there is a reason for everything that happens in one's life!)

2. Don't Shop When Hungry. If you go when you are hungry, you will probably end up with a cart full of junk. Enough said.

3. Eat Simple. When you walk into the store, think Meat, Veggies, Fruit, Dairy and Whole Grains and Legumes (unless, of course, you are avoiding any of these).  This cuts out most of the things in the center aisles, which are packed full of overpriced processed foods (or rather, "food-like substances") filled with preservatives and all kinds of things your body just doesn't need (especially if you're dealing with health problems already!). And there's a lot you can do with the basics.
This is not to say "never go into the center aisles", just that the bulk of your food purchases should be the basics. I figure we are doing good if we are eating Real Food at least 85% of the time or so. (My goal, not necessarily anyone else's.)

4. Use Coupons With Discretion. I don't generally subscribe to most of the coupon sites out there, as I find I get spammed with tons of "great deals" that I wouldn't buy in the first place.  One place I do use regularly is  You can sign up to get a monthly email to remind  you to go to the site, or just remember to check it out before you go to the store.  I regularly print coupons from there for Lifeway and Helios Kefir, Lundberg Rice, Organic Valley products, and Simply Organic herbs and spices(from Frontier). The selection changes from month to month.
     A second useful site for me is This site is based on the Sunday paper inserts and is fairly simple to use.   Last week I used one week's coupons and saved about $10 on stuff I was already going to buy (not just groceries). I find this site to be the easiest one to use as far as implementing the coupons in the Sunday paper and showing me  how to "stack" coupons with other coupons and specific store sales to save the most. Still, many times it's cheaper to go with the store brand than to use a coupon on a name brand.
   Another way to get coupons for products you use is to visit the site for that particular brand.  I do this for Stonyfield yogurt, plus they have a Rewards program where you can log in codes and earn free stuff. Woo-hoo!
  If your favorite brands/products don't already have coupons available on their site, you can always email them to tell them how much you love their products and ask for coupons. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask, and most companies do send out coupons when a customer contacts them.

I do cringe a bit at the register as I ring up my groceries (often lots of --but not all--organic, non-GMO stuff and high-quality basics) and wonder if people think I'm "one of those Health Nuts". (Oh well, I'm over that already. They don't know my story.)  I've gotten comments on how much produce I buy, and last time, I got into a conversation about the organic store-brand milk I was buying.  It's often an educational experience to have these conversations (for me, as well as them) and it's encouraging to meet like-minded people.

Often, Real Food does cost more.  But, I find it's also more filling and satisfying than processed food.  Not to mention healthier.  I want to be a good steward of my God-given body, and nourish it, not merely fill my (and my family's) belly.  I figure it's important to get good nutrition from our food and support those that offer it---I will vote with my dollar (when I can) because that's where companies notice it and change.

Once I realize how much I am spending (under the Thrifty Plan)...and nourishing my family's body the best I can...I no longer feel so guilty.  This nourishment is the basis for a healthy body.

Doing the best I can with what I have...

We are what we eat.

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