Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eating Healthfully on a Small Budget

This blog gets a decent amount of traffic, so I know you're out there reading even if you don't comment. But I'm going to ask each and every one of you who reads this post to answer the following questions...

How much do you spend on groceries every month?

Do you think it's possible to eat healthy on a small budget?

What exactly would be considered a small budget?

Some folks think that eating healthfully, therefore being healthy and fit is only for people of means. Yes, very poor people often have access to only poor quality food and that is distressing and unfortunately I don't have a solution to that problem. Other than extreme situations, do you buy into the idea that healthful eating is a privilege of wealth? Or is it just another excuse to not take responsibility for what we put in our bodies?

Yes, we're lucky. Rob and I both have jobs and although I bargain hunt, and strive to be economical in the kitchen, I am able to buy my milk and eggs at a local farm and shop the nearby farmer's markets for seasonal, local produce. Yes, I have means and access. But what if I didn't have the means, would I still be able to feed my husband and myself a healthful diet on a limited budget?

This is a challenge that I'm thinking about taking up and blogging about in the coming year. But I really want your input. Please think about it and answer the above questions. This information is crucial for my challenge. Thanks in advance and thanks for reading!


  1. It's a complicated issue. Buying good food does take means, of course, but it also takes knowledge to discern that salad isn't a healthy choice, for example, if it's bathed in creamy Caesar. I still see that a lot. Yes, I think it's possible to eat healthfully on a low budget but I don't think most people want to get their protein from beans when they could have a cheeseburger instead.

    My grocery bill varies so wildly depending on a million things. I commend you for supporting your local farmer's market for produce, eggs and milk.

  2. I personally spend about $200 a month on groceries and it's just me. I guess it depends on your tastes whether or not it's possible to eat healthfully on a budget, and I'm not really sure what kind of a number I would consider "a budget."

    When I ate poorly, I was able to get by on $25-30 per week on groceries. I wasn't putting good food into my body. I am now much more conscious of what I eat. I don't use the cost of healthy foods as an excuse to fuel my body with crap.

    In fact, I am still a university student and have had to make sacrifices in other areas of life to buy nutritious food - I will skip those extra few pints on the weekend if I know I can eat properly and feel better all week long.

  3. I think the whole "eating well on a budget" thing goes way beyond financial means and access and into a whole section of socioeconomics that is extremely complicated.

    My son's girlfriend comes from a family where there was financial means but still subsistence was based on convenience foods.

    On the other hand, my parents raised five children on a military NCO's salary and we rarely ate convenience or junk food. Treats were just that - treats.

    If I had to sum it up, which is extremely simplistic, is that a great deal of the issue is whether you live to eat or eat to live.

  4. I spend way too much on groceries.

    We were poor, but my friend in school was even more so (13 children, one very small income). And another friend was also from a low income family (lived in the "projects", single mother, food stamps etc).

    My home meals were based on quick foods that were sold cheap. Canned peas were a big star in my house (can't touch them now). But the nutrition level was low.

    My friend of the big family - they used their tiny back yard to grow tons of vegetables. The main protein was beans. Once a month multiple roasted chickens and then tons of chicken soup for the month.

    My friend of the single mother - food stamps used for beans/rice/oatmeal. No soda, tea instead. Any extra money was for fruits and vegies.

    I do believe it's possible to eat in a healthy manner with very little income. The biggest obstacle for many people is the how and getting to the food. And unfortunately most people do not consider raising a garden for consumption. They assume that the time is too much (not as much time as people think) or they do not know how to do it.

    It's a difficult question.

  5. We spend far too much on groceries, mostly through bad planning though (my other half doesn't always let me know when he will be out four out of five nights in a week until after I have shopped), or laziness, or just not fancying what's in the fridge (much as I'm embarrassed to admit that). I don't think you need to spend a lot to eat healthily, I think it's all about meal planning and bargain hunting...

  6. (Hi, its ilex from, delurking)

    Typically, groceries have been around 350 but that will go up a bit because all eating out is right out because our income has shrunk due to job loss. So around 400 for two people. Which seems high, but I guess it puts us between "thrifty and moderate" in the range of USDA food plans:

    Key things for eating healthy cheaply are knowing how to cook and comparison shopping/planning. Access is obviously always a factor as well. All of those things- knowing how to cook and having time to, being able to spend time shopping in multiple places for the best deals, having access to good produce etc. are obviously related to socioeconomic status and being poor, undereducated and under a time crunch will make it more difficult.

    Using small amounts of meat (stir fries, curries and stews are very helpful for this) in proportion to veggies helps. Not eating cheese also helps. There are lots of ways to cut back without breaking the bank. But carbs are always higher the cheaper you go, which can be a problem.

    I think 250 for two people would be a pretty tight budget. Doable, but very tight.

  7. We spend about $100 a month on groceries for 2 of us. We eat one meal out a week, and then have bagels for breakfast twice a week on average.

    I think it is possible to eat healthy on a budget, but honestly - a box of mac and cheese is the same price as a couple of pears. That sucks.

    Produce can be the most expensive thing to get, but I try to buy some stuff frozen that is cheaper.

    There is a difference when you lose weight, though. We spend less on groceries now in some respects because we eat less. We don't need 2 boxes of cereal because we measure portions instead of just having big bowls of it.

    Same thing with crackers and chips. When you eat according to portion sizes, it is much easier to stay in a budget.

  8. I usually shop for 9-10 days when I go shopping. I end up spending around $300 for a family of 5. I think its a lot and would love to find ways to budget better. I try to buy organic veggies and fruit and I find any organic food to be more expensive. Not to mention I think the fruit goes bad fast. Plus I usually forget something and have to run back to the store.

    Of course its easier and way cheaper to go to fast food places, eat frozen pizzas, etc... We don't eat "fast" food, but we do indulge and pizza, subs and restaurant food from time to time.
    We do go to farmer's markets in the summer, but I don't find a lot of people offering organic fruits and veggies or even veggies and fruit without pesticides, herbicides. I'm curious if you had a choice between buying fruit or veggies that weren't organic, is that better than not buying any at all?

  9. I think you can eat healthfully on a smaller budget. I feed my family of 4 on approx. $125/week and I know a lot of families who spend twice that. It includes lots of produce, organic milk and moderate amounts of meat. I pack my kids lunches 4 out of 5 days every week since the school lunch is sooo junky. If you're buying whole foods and cooking yourself, then healthy food becomes less expensive than the processed food that many families depend on. I always have to laugh at the "Feed your family for under $10 a meal" articles in magazines, because I rarely spend even that amount on one meal.

    Now, I was just complaining to my dh how much I spent at Trader Joe's today ($168), but my nearest TJs is an hour away, so I really stock up when I go. I've got at least 2 weeks worth of food at the house, so I'll only stop at the store this week for some milk.

  10. I think it's possible to eat healthily on a small budget, but what you don't spend in money you spend in time and low-income earners just don't have the time to soak the beans, saute the tofu, chop the veg and stay home while it simmers on the stove (because they don't have the kind of money you need to buy a slow cooker,...).

    And as Lori pointed out, a Big Mac and fries fills your tummy up a lot more than a couple of pears and all for the same cost.

    Money and time are just as important as teaching people about healthy eating. I think we're fooling ourselves as a society by blaming the poor for not eating properly.

    Anyone ever heard of "food deserts", i.e. neighbourhoods basically populated by 7-11s, where it's practically impossible to buy fresh produce? This is a significant part of the reality of being poor.

    In North America, and particularly in the States, the myth of the rugged individualist reigns supreme. "You can do it if you try! Anyone can succeed! Just put your mind to it and all good things will come to you." To this I say: b.s. In a world where the production of HFCS is subsidized while family farms that use fewer or no pesticides are crushed with debt; in a world where hormones are pumped into the cows and therefore into the milk we drink and the food we eat while the cost of hormone-free products has gone through the roof, it's hard to say that eating healthy and cheap is just a question of personal choice.

    As to how much my family spends on food: no idea. It differs from week to week. Sometimes we take the car and do a huge shop at a big grocery store, sometimes we buy incredibly expensive "natural" foods at the local stores. I really don't know. What I do know is that my family is lucky enough to have the kind of income that enables us to make choices that are both healthy and time-saving.

    Herein endeth the rant.

  11. Our monthly food budget varies a great deal based on season, but I'd say that on average we spend between $200 to $300 a month on groceries. This includes the price of our CSA membership averaged over the course of the year and also our bills for milk/eggs/coffee which are delivered to us from a local dairy. What does us in is the nights I am too lazy to cook (after working 9-10 hours) and we go out.

    I think in some ways eating healthy is actually cheaper. I know that when I truly shop the perimeter of the store and focus on vegetables and fruit (the cheapest in-season varieties) and dried goods (pasta, beans, lentils, etc) my bill is ALWAYS cheaper than the weeks I buy frozen meals or snacky food. The biggest things that cause my grocery bills to bulge are cleaning products, cereal, granola or energy bars and bread. Cheese can be expensive, but I shop the sales for it and have a local brand that isn't too spendy that I buy regularly.

    We eat quite well, but our budget is helped (allowing us to buy the CSA membership and local milk) by the fact that my family hunts, and probably 80% of our meat comes from those efforts. (Venison and rabbit mostly, with some fish. The only meat I buy is chicken and the occasional beef steak as a rare treat.) This year I also bought half a locally raised lamb for what amounts to $4.00 a pound -- we were able to do that because I've saved so much with my year of no buying bath/body/indulgence products!

  12. I know sense Our family has started trying to eat health our budget has doubled. However I think that there is a price we pay for convenience. Convenient healthy food costs comes at a premium vs convenient junk / unhealthy food. I know if I took the time to grow and raise my own food I could save on allot of that cost but I am to lazy to take that on right now. although to keep eating healthy I will have to because I can not afford to eat healthy out of the market.
    Thanks Corey from