Friday, May 1, 2009

The High Cost of Eating

Do you know how much you spend on food? Details are not generally my thing when it comes to just about anything except our budget. Early in our marriage, paying the bills and managing the piles of money (ha) became my job. It stressed Nick out to know what we spent on pets or clothing or food or other unnecessary items (unnecessary in his mind at least. He never had an issue with what we spent on beer.). So I claimed this task and began tracking it on my computer. I got a strange thrill from categorizing each expense and generating reports with just a click of the mouse. The pie charts were kind of fun. So I can tell you exactly what we spent on food (or anything else for that matter) for the last 13 years.

For the purpose of comparing our food budget before and after we “went organic”, I am only looking at the last four years. In 2005, organic meant only a term in chemistry class to us. In 2006, our youngest son developed Alopecia Areata and we began our quest to cleanse our diet and our life. In 2007 we were a bit militant about organics and in 2008 we finally hit our happy medium of local, organic, whole foods. We were gardening throughout all these years, but the serious canning began in 2007 and in 2008 consumed our summer.

A little more background – we have three kids. Kid #1 is not a big eater except for Cheezits (he requires at least one box a week). Kid #2 eats less than the birds that wait patiently at my bird feeder that I rarely fill (except when my dad visits because he’s the “birder”). Kid #3 eats anything, all the time, preferably something with lots of meat and fat. All three of these kids have only gotten bigger during my comparison period, so you would expect that they are eating more (except maybe Kid #2, I think she eats less if that’s possible. Her food preferences become more restrictive each week. We’re down to macaroni, cheese sticks, and strawberries.).

The price of groceries has gone up dramatically. A fact that is not lost on you, I am sure.

So bearing all of these factors in mind, I’m now going to share with you our food expenditure for the last four years……drum roll please…….

Has remained just about the same each year, give or take $100 either way. Bizarre, I know. Even as we have transitioned to organic, local, whole foods we have managed to keep our food expenditures the same. Considering the growth of our family and the state of our economy, you might even say we lowered our food bill. Proof positive that you do not need to spend more to eat organic. You do have to be creative and resourceful and you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. I know I’ve said much of this before, but here’s how we do it:

1. We stock up on staples, especially if they are on sale, reducing the number of trips to the store.
2. We buy in bulk – mostly loose bulk from a natural food grocery store we are blessed to live reasonably close to.
3. We buy our beef and pork by the cow and pig.
4. We raise our own eggs.
5. We garden like lunatics and can, freeze, or dry everything that’s not moving.
6. We avoid buying processed food and make our own bread, yogurt, cookies, etc.
7. We pack lunches.
8. We buy directly from farmers and love to “pick and pay” all summer long.
9. We cook and eat at home almost every day, eating out only on rare occasions (we’d rather splurge on seafood and cook it at home where the wine is cheaper and better and the bread is fresh).
10. We eat “planned overs” (never call them “leftovers”).

And we eat well. No way this would work if that wasn’t the case. I love to eat. Last night we had pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and fresh local asparagus. Tonight we’ll have homemade pizza with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers with a fresh salad and homemade ice cream for dessert. So if your excuse for not eating organic and healthy is that you can’t afford to, take a look at your budget. It’s a matter of priorities.

I’m not one to preach (most of the time), but what you put in your body and your kids’ bodies should be the very best. Nobody gets a second chance to be healthy today. It’s an investment, like any other. Maybe you can’t raise chickens in your backyard (although you’d be surprised….), but you can find ways to cut your budget and eat healthier. Little changes add up to big ones. Just don’t say it can’t be done.


  1. Amen! Great post! I loved the bit about hubby and his beer! I can vouch for your yummy meals! I'm not too proud to admit to eating Cara's "planned overs" for lunch several times!!

  2. I love your post. We eat organically at home, garden as much as we can and are trying to eat out less. We are really trying to lower our food budget, but with seven kids, four of whom are teenage boys, it is very difficult! Mealtime is ok, it is the snacking that gets us every time.