Monday, June 25, 2007

Does real food cost more?

While I was mulling over the topic of budget considerations when it comes to real food I received a lovely email from Rose asking questions on that very topic.
But, I do wonder how much your wonderful diet ends up costing you. (And I know, I know, we would all save a lot of money on doctor bills if we all ate well!) But really, I wonder what the ballpark food budget is for your family, because when I hear you mention Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, I immediately think ‘Expensive!’

I want to eat much, much better even than we are eating now, even with me cooking all of our food from scratch. But it seems I am always caught between the four variables of nutrition, taste, cost, and convenience. Something has got to go.

Since she's probably not the only one with similar questions, I thought I'd answer her here. She also shared with me post that involved some very creative solutions that she has already come up with and she said I could share it with you, so I'll do so a bit later.

So, I quickly went through and added up everything that we spent at a grocery store over the month of April. (Because I had those records handy.) Since I only had totals, not receipts, those numbers indicate everything we would have spent on food, toilet paper, detergents, toothpaste and whatever else. Also, I realized that we threw a very big party for the Genius Husband's birthday in April for a large group of people and I know we spent close to $100 on that alone. S0 the total for April was $544.67. Subtract $100 for party expenses and it's just over $400 to feed a family of 4 for a month and keep their hair, teeth, butts and house clean as well. Oh, and diapers for 3 short people and quarters for laundry ($10/week) should be figured in there as well.

For some of you this will be quite high, for a lot of others this will be fairly low. I chose April because it is a pretty good representation of what happens when we're not counting pennies. On penny counting months I can bring our grocery bill way down with a few simple adjustments that I'll share later.

I don't have a Whole Foods near where I live. Jimbo's is our local equivalent. Yes, it's very expensive to shop there. It's lovely to shop there because they have already done the work of label reading so most of what they stock is good for you food, though you still have to think. Organic Evaporated Cane Juice is still sugar after all, even though it's less processed. You know what? I rarely ever shop there. When I do go it's for a very specific item, usually on sale, though not always. I window shop at their deli for inspiration, sometimes purchasing one thing and then going home to figure out how to make it myself. That's how I learned about Avocado Pie. I bought a piece, read the ingredients list and experimented at home. Jimbo's is for things I can't find elsewhere, like millet in bulk, and black lentils.

Okay, now let's talk about my favorite store, Trader Joe's. I shop there all the time because the prices are so good. I can buy a dozen local brown eggs for 99 cents. I can get hormone free milk and cheese for less than I can buy regular milk and cheese at a national chain grocery store. I can get bars of single origin organic dark chocolate for less than 2 dollars. In fact they have a 10 pound bar of Belgian dark chocolate that they sell for $20. That's a lot of chocolate. The price for crackers, cereal, sauces, cookies and most every thing else is the same or less than grocery store prices and they all have real food ingredients. TJ's is the only place where I can purchase a very nice organic Italian wine for $3/bottle. (Tommolo Montepulcian0 d'Abruzzo bottled by Chiusa Grande if you go looking.) They also sell pretty big bottles of pure Maple syrup for $7. I can buy a loaf of sprouted grain bread for just over $2. (Remember higher fiber bread is more filling, you don't need to eat as much.) If you are going to purchase really high quality meat and gourmet foods you can also find them there and pay more for them, but not as much as you would at a gourmet foods place. There are some things we get at Trader Joe's that are treats, special foods for special occasions. They cost more than getting the regular version would at a store, but we think it's worth it. These are things like ice cream, which we only eat once a week so it lasts a while, apple smoked nitrate free bacon, we only have bacon once a month or less, fancy cheeses, which are still not that expensive compared to other places, and chocolate, alcohol, etc. If you are going to purchase prepackaged food, their's is better for the same amount of money.

Okay, enough about TJ's because not everyone is lucky enough to have one nearby.

Now, to address the 4 things that Rose very neatly summarized that she feels a tension between; nutrition, taste, cost, and convenience. In my opinion food that tastes better is a natural by product of eating foods that have more nutrition in them or are at least less processed, (cookies made with real butter always taste better than cookies made from margarine don't they?) and that the two go hand in hand. This may not be your experience in which case I respectfully suggest that perhaps you haven't yet had enough experience of real food.

Looming largest are the issues of cost and convenience and how do you get good tasting and nutritious food without sacrificing either of those? Well the truth is both of these things have to give a little from time to time, it can be a bit of a lifestyle adjustment if you need to stay within budget, but it doesn't have to be extreme. (My mother made the tiniest little food budget stretch far enough to feed us and many guests as well without resorting to KD in a box and it tasted good and was real food.)

Tomorrow I will talk about how to get Whole Foods quality without paying too much for it.


urban mama said...

I also love Trader Joes. I do not know what I would do if I did not have near me. I also find that it is less expensive than the big stores and people always think it is more expensive. Thanks for this information. I am looking forward to more.

Rose said...

Thank you for tackling this! I look forward to the rest of the posts on this topic. Meanwhile, I am so inspired by your singing TJ's praises that I want to run out to the nearest one and check their prices. We don't have one nearby, so the one time I was in the area I stopped by, and I wasn't struck by the pricing. You say the eggs and dairy are cheaper than in the grocery store? If mine were the same, I'd make the trek! I wonder whether it varies from state to state. Where I used to live in VA, I heard people raving about how cheap TJ's was, and that's why I was so disappointed the one time I checked it out. Maybe I need to give it another look.

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