For most of the year, our grocery spending has averaged around $350 a month for 2 people, plus another $100-150 for restaurants. I’ve always battled the grocery bill especially since I work in a restaurant, which means that I get at least 20 free meals a month. I also love things like pasta, rice, potatoes, and chicken, which can all be had for pretty cheap.
It’s what I lived on in my last year of college, and I remember spending about $30 a week on groceries then! I’m afraid those days might be long gone.
Our New Approach To Food
This all started earlier this year when my girlfriend got a new job at a doctors office. It’s a very community and neighborhood oriented place that does a lot of outreach and education around town. In June we went to a seminar on nutrition (she HAD to go, I thought it sounded interesting) which kicked off a 30 day food challenge.
The rules of this challenge?
- No artificial ingredients, coloring, flavors, or artificial sugar.
- No refined oils (vegetable, canola)
- No refined grains, bread, gluten, pasta, soy, potatoes, beans
- No dairy.
- Preferably organic fruits and vegetables
- Grassfed meats. No cured or smoked meats, no pork.
- Especially no sugary drinks (I stopped drinking soda last year aside from on rare occasions so this one wasn’t difficult).
Basically, we started a Paleo Whole 30…
In short, the Paleo diet consists of eliminating the refined grains, flours, and processed ingredients found in most of our food these days. It emphasizes using “whole” ingredients (raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) and meat that has been produced as naturally as possible.
How Expensive Was It?
We started the challenge in late June so for July (2 people), our grocery bill went from about $400 a month to a little over $600 a month.
Our groceries mostly included:
- Grass fed eggs and meats, which costs around twice as much as standard eggs and meats
- Fruits and veggies. Some produce is inexpensive, and some you pay a premium for. We ate a ton of brussel sprouts an asparagus, which is expensive. Things like carrots, kale, peppers, and onions were pretty cheap. Fruit for smoothies, aside from bananas and avocados, tended to be more expensive.
- Speaking of avocados, I know they get a bad rap, but I don’t think they’re that expensive. You don’t have to buy them organic, and combined we went through around 1 a day.
- Flours and oils. Namely, coconut oil, which is pretty expensive. Towards the later half of the challenge we started using a lot more Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is cheaper if you buy it in bulk (we bought a $40 container that should last several months). We also experimented with almond butter, tapioca almond flour, and agave nectar, which are all fairly pricey. Most of these should last a few months though.
The financial side of me cringed a lot during this change. It’s no secret that rice, beans, bread, and pasta are all extremely cheap, and it’s hard to go from scoring chicken at $1.99 a pound to paying almost $5 a pound.
But I think we went all in. We’ve gotten a lot better at meal planning, and we cooked a ton of new recipes. At the start, we were going to the grocery store pretty much every day. We’ve gotten in the routine of a couple times a week.
Eating out expenses were greatly reduced, and when we did eat out we tended to actually go out and sit at a restaurant instead of scarfing down takeout in front of the TV.
August was much better. Together we spent around $400 on groceries, much closer to what we were spending. We still had some planning issues and we weren’t the most diligent when it came to shopping sales and comparing prices. We had a lot less waste last month as well, especially with produce.
If you want to start eating more produce, I suggest keeping a WRITTEN inventory – it’s pretty easy if you’re halfway competent in the kitchen to know in your head what you have and when it goes bad, but adding in a bunch of new produce is going to throw you off.
But I look forward to seeing how we do for the rest of September.
And finally, there’s also, you know, the whole health thing. Is it really worth it?
Yes! There were plenty of transition pains, but we’ve seen a lot of the benefits. My girlfriend has lost weight and has had far less digestive issues, headaches and sugar cravings. I’ve had more energy and don’t crash after meals anymore. And my body seems to hurt less in general, despite still working 50+ hard physical hours a week.
We’ve done a lot more self-educating when it comes to nutrition and we’ve both become more confident in the kitchen as well. As we continue to improve our grocery bills have gone down and our meals out feel more special than they used to.
Food For Thought
It seems like food is always one of the budget items that gets the most scrutiny. And when it comes to groceries, it’s easy to latch on to the extremes. You either buy $12 lettuce at Whole Foods or 49 cent ramen.
The reality is that most of us are in the middle. There’s probably a decent mix of whole foods and pre-packaged meals in all our carts, some of it healthy and some of it not as much.
At first, revamping our food WAS more expensive. I already struggled with how much we spent on groceries and had to force myself to let go of that for a little bit. And it was hard.
I read a lot of blogs on recipes, nutrition, and yes, grocery budgets and shopping tricks and frugal eating. And I noticed a common theme, whether it was explicit or not. But I think it serves as a good message for all of us:
Eat the best food you can afford!
You don’t have to buy organic-everything in order to be healthy. Regular vegetables and that $1.50/lb chicken might have antibiotics, preservatives, and chemicals in them, but they’re still miles better for you (and cheaper!) than ANY pre-packaged meal and virtually any restaurant meal. If you can afford to add in organic meat, then by all means do it.
But considering most Americans have diets that are sky high in sugars, artificial ingredients, colors and flavorings, plus whatever else was added under the “tastes good but is terrible for you” category, AND they’re more expensive, the alternatives are pretty damn good.
I also saw a lot of parallels between food and money, especially when it comes to emotions and logic. It’s easy to know WHAT to eat, same as it’s easy to know WHAT you should do with your money. What it comes down to is what you actually do. In both, a step in the right direction, no matter how big or small the step, is still going to take you down the right road.
Image by Prawny at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recommended Reading for more on Paleo: