The Price of Eating Well

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I kid you not, last night I dreamt that Obama came out with an inspirational songs CD and serenaded me personally.  And then I showed him how to use formulas in Excel. 🙂


HAPPY ELECTION DAY!  I’m scheduled to do 45 minutes of cross training tonight, but I may go for a run instead.  I want to get home ASAP because I plan to be glued to the TV all night long.


I work up slightly sore (in a good way) from yesterday’s gym session.  I have the resistance levels on the elliptical and bike to thank for that!  But luckily, I’m not experiencing any of the stiff joint sensations that were nagging me a few weeks ago.  A break from running was definitely in order.


For breakfast, I had a nice bowl of oatmeal and a coffee.


My oatmeal contained:


  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 small sliced banana
  • Toppings:  sprinkle of Grape Nuts and 1/4 plum (saved the other portion for later)


Something about the tartness of the plum and the tanginess of the Grape Nuts worked really well together!


And, I rarely add fresh fruit to my oatmeal (because the banana for a base), so this was a nice crunchy change.


Eating Healthy in the Lower and Middle Class – How Much of a Stretch is it?


I’m sure most of you read Kath’s blog and have heard about her Thanksgiving challenge to only spend $126 in groceries for the month of November.  She admits to spending upwards of $500 a month in groceries and eating out normally.  When I first saw that figure, I was a little shocked…. but then I thought about our spending and realized we probably spend $300 – $400 a month, too (we hardly ever eat out).


We choose to give up other things (like eating out or going to the bars or going shopping) in order to have a gym membership and eat the way we do.  This is a conscious decision that Future Husband and I made when we moved in together. 


Now, as you all have probably noticed, we’re not exactly loaded.  We live on 1.25 incomes (my full-time job and Future Husband’s part-time job at his parent’s clinic).   But, because we have relatively few expenses (no car payments, low rent, no children, no student loans to pay back…. yet), we can afford to choose to do this.  Many lower or middle class people, especially those with children, cannot choose this alternative.


A study recently compared the prices of 370 foods sold at supermarkets in the Seattle area. The study showed that “energy dense” junk foods, which pack the most calories and fewest nutrients per gram, were far less expensive than nutrient-rich, lower-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables. The prices of the most healthful foods surged 19.5 percent over the two-year study period, while the junk food prices dropped 1.8 percent.


Most Americans eat off of $7 a day.  The average food stamp program gives you around $3 a day for food. 


Bottom line:  as the economy continues to tank and the dollar steadily weakens, our pants AND our wallets will get tighter and tighter.


One of our primary methods for keeping the grocery bill down is to buy lots of vegetable protein, like tofu and beans, which is significantly cheaper than meat.  When we do buy meat, we usually get it from Costco and buy it in bulk to get a reduced price.  Lastly, we hardly ever buy fruit or veggies that are out of season and not on sale


Are you finding that eating healthy is breaking your bank?  How do you keep the grocery bill down? 


PS – If you’re an educated voter, I encourage you to get out and vote today!



  • teacherwoman November 4, 2008, 5:31 am

    That is interesting what you said about how most americans eat off of $7 while the average food stamp program gives you $3 a day. Wow.

    I would much rather eat in, cook myself a good meal, than spend $20 on dinner out that probably isn’t the best for me. I just need to get back into cooking better.

  • D10 November 4, 2008, 5:33 am

    Isn’t it amazing that all the good/healthier foods are more expensive than the bad foods. Plus, the amount of money people spend on eating out is crazy, especially those who eat lunch out during the week.

    I prefer to cook my own and bring my lunch to work. For me it is just easier and more economical.

  • Erica November 4, 2008, 5:44 am

    So depressing. Eating healthy is getting out of control expensive. I won’t say how much I spend on food, but its a LOT. I think its worth it… We eat out 1 meal per week and the rest we eat home cooking.

  • November 4, 2008, 5:52 am

    Great research you’ve done … I think by planning meals for the week ahead of time, plus making one weekly grocery shopping trip has significantly lowered our food bill. We also try to eat at home as much as possible – I never get the same joys from food when I eat out, so why spend the money?!

  • Lee (seeleelive) November 4, 2008, 6:02 am

    i like this post alot, Caitlin. and thanks for posting on mine this morning because you inspired me and gave me an excellent idea for a future topic! I will definitely take that into account-i've got plenty of info & experience behind my belt to do a post on it!
    growing up, my mother would always buy produce on sale-and i never understood it-i'd want apples in February, blueberries in december, strawberries in october. it was such as a hassle! But as i grow up and begin to budget my own $ in college, i see how this can help the economy and save the wallet. we also buy our meat in bulk at the grocer's- and we freeze those chicken breasts and whip 'em out whenever needed!!! In college, i have a new appreciation for fresh fruit (we get it once a week on saturdays!) and it makes me so excited!! thnx for the thought! i'm sharing this post with my mom.

  • RhodeyGirl/Sabrina November 4, 2008, 6:16 am

    P.S. I’m rocking my Obama shirt!!

  • Laura November 4, 2008, 6:16 am

    I agree that plant protein is really the way to go when watching your grocery bills. I really hate to admit it, but I’ve only recently started paying attention to what I’m spending. I’m single and doing ok financially, so it’s never been a huge concern. It’s sort of dawned on me recently how wasteful it is to spend so much on food. I also eat out quite a bit, but I’m not willing to cut that out quite yet. I do know that I can choose less expensive restaurants and not drink alcohol with my dinners. It’s something I need to work on.

  • Meg November 4, 2008, 6:36 am

    I find that I do spend more money to eat healthy and it is very frustrating at times! Great post!

  • VeggieGirl November 4, 2008, 6:40 am

    Loooove your breakfast!! Nice change, indeed.

    I always try to buy just enough food for the week, so that I don’t end up wasting money on food that goes bad.

  • lauren November 4, 2008, 6:43 am

    completely agree with this – it is SO much more expensive to buy healthy foods. I need to get my spending under control – definitely is something I want to start tracking and work on. One goal I have is to make my lunch at least 3-4 times a week for work, so that I only go out one day a week. Weekends are tough too – tend to find myself eating out more. A quote I saw once, “The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement!” So I definitely have some areas to improve on.

    Going to vote after work – will be an exciting night!

  • HangryPants November 4, 2008, 6:45 am

    What a fantastic dream!

    I think eating healthy can be done in less expensive ways than I currently do it, but I agree that the cheapest things (white bread, a bag of chips, canned veggies) are not always the best. Re: spending. I am actually not sure. The last time I was in charge of buying my own food, I had a big paycheck coming in and didn’t think about it. I know I spent a ton on gourmet health foods in NYC. Now, I am planning to move back to NJ with Mark and it’s something I’ve been thinking about again. Like you, I think we will make the conscious decision to cut in other places, but I really need to keep it in check!

    Also, I think along with the price of healthy foods is the availability of healthy foods. What kinds of foods are stocked at food stores in poorer neighborhoods? What kinds of food stores are there? Whole Foods is a luxury, but it shouldn’t be that way!

  • Meghann November 4, 2008, 6:47 am

    Wow this is a great post! And that is exactly how I rationalize how much I sepnd on food. I mean it may seem a tad much, when people see how much I spend at the grocery store on just me. But I live by myself, have no children, no boy friend, rarely go out to eat, and have drastically limited my shopping so I can enjoy the good nutritous foods I like to eat.

    It is sad when i used to work at the grocery store I would see these families come through all the time with food stamps and purchase cheap, processed food becuase that is what they could afford. The food was not very good for them and the families tended to be on the heavier side. I mean look at the $1 menu at all of the fast food places!

    I think its weird how America has changed. It used to be the well off were larger and the poor were thin becuase they could not afford to eat, but not the well off are smaller due to healthier expensive options and the not so well off are on the heavier side because of the cheap bad food.

    Where will our society go next?

  • Meghann November 4, 2008, 6:48 am

    I should be coming over, I am eating dinner with my Dad so I will call you when I leave. Luckily you are on my way home 🙂

  • Carolina John November 4, 2008, 6:49 am

    great ideas. We need to scale our food budget back more. What helped a lot this year was that I really got hooked on organic gardneing. If you guys even have a patio, you can put 2 or 3 containers up there to get some home grown veg. We also added in 2 vegetarian dinners every week to keep the meat cost down. Lentils have been a great source, they have as much protein as steak. Give it a try, i’d love to see one of your lentil recipes.

  • amanda November 4, 2008, 7:06 am

    what a great post!

    your obama dream is funny – i had a dream about him a few months ago, and we actually kissed … odd, i know!

    coming straight out of college and living on my own, my grocery bills are probably one thing that i did not totally anticipate. i knew i’d pay rent, etc. but it’s been fun trying to budget my food. i won’t sacrifice healthiness to save money, but i find that i will seek out sales, enjoy clipping coupons (dorky, i know!), and really like having leftovers and packing my lunch. although the bill at the store may be high, i feel like i really stretch what i buy and it’s worth it to take care of my body!

  • Balance, Joy and Delicias! November 4, 2008, 7:14 am

    Definitely eating healthy is more expensive then unhealthy because you need more food if you’re diet is based on veggies and lean proteins. But I think it worth, because our healthy, physically and mentally is our best asset. I put healthy is my first priority and I’m ready to give up other things (less eating out for example) in order to keep this life style.
    Of course, some economics in groceries shopping is needed, as using buying produce that in on sale, or use coupons.

  • just me November 4, 2008, 7:19 am

    i know i spend way too much on food…which is probably why my savings account is on the fritz! hahaha!

    girl’s gotta do what a girls’ gotta do to eat what she wants!

  • Kimberly November 4, 2008, 7:20 am

    I find that eating healthy is pretty affordable — after all, a pound of tofu is $1.19 and a box of whole-grain pasta is $1! Personally I think the key is being willing to invest a little prep time — fresh produce, canned beans, grain products, even frozen vegetables are all super-cheap if bought in whole form. Of course, the minute you start buying convenience foods (pre-cut fruit, canned soups, bagged salads, those frozen Amy’s bowls of oatmeal), the mark-up jumps about 500%. When I’m seriously broke, I throw together a box of pasta with a bag of frozen veggies and some sauce, and I have four nights of dinner for less than $5.

    Also, I take note of my pricier items and try to use them sparingly. For example, organic nuts, kefir, and breads are all sort of pricey, but one purchase lasts the entire week or so. I can’t imagine feeding an entire family on a budget, though.

  • Betsy November 4, 2008, 8:07 am

    i got up at 4:45 so i was able to work out this morning because there is no way i’m leaving the tv tonight!!! go obama!!

  • magpie November 4, 2008, 8:11 am

    We’re actually doing Kath’s challenge too. We regularly spend at least as much as Kath does on food, and probably more. Bobby and I are both software engineers in silicon valley and I think we’ve become much too accustomed to buying whatever we please – which is why I convinced him to do the challenge with me. I hope it’s an eye opener 🙂

  • ashley (sweet and natural) November 4, 2008, 8:40 am

    It’s such interesting timing to me that you and Kath are bringing this topic up right now! Back in September, I did a bit of a self-challenge to see how little I could spend on food. I brought my lunch to work everyday and only ate one dinner out. I made a point to trek it to Trader Joe’s each weekend because you can get MUCH better deals there than at normal grocery stores. I bought the less expensive types of produce (e.g. bananas rather than berries, or canned tomatoes instead of fresh). My food bills totaled less that $150 for the whole month – not bad considering crazy NYC prices! I did have some repetitive meals so as not to waste food, but after seeing how much I could save, I’ve been trying to keep the spirit alive. 🙂

  • bitesoflife November 4, 2008, 8:40 am

    I love the topic for today. It’s a sad thing when people cannot afford to eat right. I know that a news station did a study about the food stamp program up in WI a couple years ago, and the guy got sick from malnutrition from not getting all his nutrients.

    I cook for myself and the boyfriend most of the time and it takes some work. I study the grocery ads that I get in the mail and deal compare. I don’t usually shop at one store but go to a few, including the dreaded Wal-mart.It takes some work, and I’ve always been willing to do it, because it’s better for my health! 🙂

  • BOBBI McCORMICK November 4, 2008, 8:47 am

    I love this post very interesting! I think that eating healthy can be more expensive sometimes, but you just have to keep in mind what you WANT might not be what you NEED…we are the same as you guys, with the meat at Costco and veggies and fruit on sale.

  • Andrea (Off Her Cork) November 4, 2008, 8:58 am

    Oh yeah, our grocery bill is crazy. We’re lucky to be able to afford to eat the way we do. I buy a ton of fresh fruits and veggies at the store and that’s what jacks up the price. I get meat in bulk and from local farmers which saves a bit of money but mostly makes us feel better about what we are eating.

    Both of us work from home, so I’m literally cooking us three meals a day. We hardly ever go out because we’d rather stay home and cook then use that money elsewhere.

    I know I couldn’t do $126 for the entire month, but I’m okay with that because I know we aren’t buying junk. 😀

  • arielle November 4, 2008, 8:58 am

    I spend waaaaaay too much on groceries. I am embarrassed to admit how much.

    Go Obama!!

  • Katy November 4, 2008, 9:01 am

    Your dream made me laugh out loud at work.

    I have weird ones, as well. I think my favorite was the tap dancing baby chicks one.


  • Oh She Glows November 4, 2008, 9:06 am

    Great post today Caitlin!

    My husband and I definitely spend most of our money on buying health, organic food. It is the one thing we chose to splurge on. When we got engaged last December, we decided to stop going out to eat entirely in order to save for the wedding. We also pack our lunch everyday. Most of our coworkers eat out for lunch everyday and I would guess that most of them spend 50-100 a week on lunches alone! It is crazy how it adds up. We buy things on sale and ‘coupon clip’ as much as we can to help with the cost. We also don’t buy meat much anymore (maybe once every 2 weeks).

  • Nikole November 4, 2008, 9:33 am

    I love your blog. I work out of my house but I travel most days. When I looked at how much I was spending on lunchs it was crazy. I now pack them and take them in a cooler. If it is something that needs to be reheated most gas stations have microwaves they don’t care if you use. I also have decided that I think the middle of the road food places such as Applebees and Chili’s are such a waste. If I am going to eat out I want something amazing that i wouldn’t eat at home and is worth the splurge. That has kept my cost way down. Buying for one is really difficult though. I have found that having a separate freezer has helped. That way I am not stuck eating leftovers all week but I can freeze them separately and reheat later so I dont’ get burned out.

    Great topic though…and your dream was fantastic!

  • Jordan November 4, 2008, 9:46 am

    I keep my grocery bill down by planning out meals. I pick 7-10 meals to last two weeks. I work till 10 some nights, so on those nights, I eat at work and Jim eats on his own, usually. On the nights I'm home, I cook every night. Picking out meals to make for the two weeks & buying only the ingredients for those + snacks & breakfast/lunch foods, I'm able to run on about $300 a month. $150 every two weeks is next to nothing for food. I can't imagine trying to do $126 for a whole month!

  • tfh November 4, 2008, 9:48 am

    Great post! Great discussion, too! I think my husband and I are a little like you and FH: we live pretty frugrally but the one thing I’m willing to splurge on is good, healthy food. We rarely go out to eat but lately groceries for 2 people have been around $150/week– and we’re vegetarians who eat lentils/soaked beans most days and leftovers for lunch! I guess there are some things, though, like dairy products and eggs, that I insist on buying organically.

    I think we could cut health care costs a lot in this country if we committed to programs to help EVERYBODY eat the way we do, in terms of gov’t subsidies to agriculture and the like!

  • Katie November 4, 2008, 9:49 am

    Kath’s challenge really intrigued me, too. Even though I’m just a college student and am pretty much only buying groceries for me, the receipts have really been adding up. It’s so easy to buy a bunch of nutrition bars, yogurt, milk, etc (just staples for a week or so) and spend upwards of $50. I’m going to try to buy more in bulk, make more bean-based soups (my whole pantry is filled with beans and lentils) and make use of what I already have. But it’s so easy to go into the grocery “zone” and mindlessly add pricey items to the cart!

  • greendogwine November 4, 2008, 10:05 am

    That is a freaking funny dream! I dream about excel all the time (its what I use all day every day) – too funny 😛

  • Katerina November 4, 2008, 10:10 am

    Great post. One thing I have to add is that making your own bread is extremely cheap and it doesn’t have to be hard. I made three huge loaves of whole wheat flax bread this weekend and stuffed my freezer full of them. It probably cost me 3$ and will last a week or two depending on how much we eat. Some is already pre-sliced for instant toast and peanut butter needs. Of course white bread is cheaper to make then whole grain bread is just like it is cheaper to buy, but not by much! Plus if you are making your own white bread it is much healthier for you as you can control what goes into it and even add a bit of wheat germ or a dash of whole wheat flour to bump it up a bit.

  • Caitlin (see bride run) November 4, 2008, 10:17 am

    katerina – great suggestion! i’ve never tried to make bread before, i must give it a go one day!

  • blueberryhil November 4, 2008, 10:19 am

    Great tips. I totally agree about making food a priority over other things…I’m the same way. Kath’s $126 challenge has been hard for me, but I’m amazed at how well I’ve been eating in spite of everything!

  • emily November 4, 2008, 11:46 am

    Interesting topic! We spend quite a lot on groceries. We go to anywhere up to four places a week to get the best quality food we can and we eat a lot of fresh produce. The only way we afford this is to cut back on other things, which we do happily. We rarely eat out, but we invite friends to dinners at our home and go to dinners at friends homes and have fun that way 🙂

  • Erin of Care to Eat November 4, 2008, 4:41 pm

    We’re out of control. Our bill is like $700. Food here is so expensive because we live in the middle of nowhere. We don’t even buy organic!
    I guess we eat a lot. But we never eat out – maybe 3x a month, if that.

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