Whole Paycheck and the Cost of Real Food

Last week, a Facebook friend commented on this article that Koos had posted on her wall:

[Koos]…we are on a pretty tight budget…Ive shopped at places like Whole Foods, etc. and it seems SO expensive…I know health is most important…but how do you feed all your peeps without breaking the bank?  Melissa you too…been reading your blog…how does food shopping not crush you?

I am so glad you asked, amiga.

Here’s what I’ll tell you: eating this way is expensive, especially when you buy organic.  Groceries make up the largest portion of my budget, and we always exceed our target.  A few reasons:

  • Organics are pricey.  Period.
  • Real food spoils.  Organic foods spoil even faster (none of those pesticides and waxes to preserve).  You’re on the clock when you buy it.  You need to consume quickly.  We’ve unfortunately had some waste (I’m looking at you, organic baby spinach you traitor).
  • We eat a LOT in this house.  I mean: WE EAT A LOT IN THIS HOUSE.
  • Whole Foods is lovingly nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” for a very good reason.

My motto around our house is something akin to: you can pay the cash upfront now, or you can pay the cash later in the form of blood pressure meds and insulin shots and bypass surgery.  That’s when J leaves the kitchen cursing the lack of Baked Lays in his life.

Here’s the bright side: there are many things to do to keep costs down, and there are lots of fun trade-offs.  Some ways we find the extra cash around here:

  • I can purchase A LOT of the organic foods I would typically purchase at Whole Foods at our local Target now for much less.  Things like Horizon Organic Cheesesticks are $2 cheaper; I also pick up our Cascadian Farm strawberry preserves, and lots of organic produce.
  • I am a disciple of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.  I stick to buying organics on the DD list, and we go conventional on the CF.
  • We look for cheaper alternatives.  We sometimes forgo the organic strawberries (6.99) for a cantaloupe (2.29).  Thicker-skinned fruits and vegetables are the way to go when trying to avoid pesticides.
  • We buy frozen.  We always stock the freezer with organic and conventional frozen veggies.  They’re great in a pinch, and may even be more nutritious.
  • I keep track.  I maintain a pretty meticulous budget, which allows me to see where we could be a bit more frugal day-after-day.
  • We read labels.  Last night, I wanted nothing more than to make burritos.  But our store didn’t carry these sprouted alternatives; and I didn’t have time or the inclination to make my own tortillas.  So I spent 10 minutes reading labels for every tortilla under the sun before I threw the last package back in defeat, exclaiming to H, “We can’t eat these!  They are just no good.”  Read a sample ingredient list here.  You’d be amazed at what you save refusing to serve calcium propionate and sodium metabisulfate to your kid.
  • When Hendrik was born, I chose to cloth diaper. (For more on cloth, check out Amalah, who is – in my opinion – the queen of cloth.)  Back then we were an adorable two-income family trying to be environmentalists.  These days?  Those cloth diapers save us loads of cash.  It’s a roughly $400 upfront investment (plus another $200 for Ailie), and some Charlie’s Soap.  If you are extremely conservative with your disposable cost estimates at .15 per diaper and 8 diapers per day, diapering one child over 3 years will cost you $1310.4.  That’s $900 cost saving alone, and you’ve just freed up $300 annually, or $25 bucks per month.  (Plus, you don’t have to do all or nothing.  We definitely use disposables when traveling or when Mama has wicked morning sickness.)
  • breastfeed.  I realize that this is not always possible for every woman, and I want to stress this is a judgment-free zone.  But if you are so inclined, the BFing will will save conservatively $1150/year on formula costs.  That’s nearly $100 a month to save for when they start eating a package of organic raspberries (4.99!) in one sitting.
  • I make my own baby food as often as possible.  (Suddenly I am Diane Keaton in Baby Boom.) But even at Whole Food prices, I purchased one large organic sweet potato for A last week for 2.27.  It made 7 meals.  The organic packaged foods on Ailie’s level are roughly 8.12 for 7 meals.  That’s 5.85 saved per week, or $304 annually.

A lot of the “real food” stuff is overwhelming, and I want to stress that WE ARE NOT PERFECT.  Last night, I finally picked up some tortilla chips (a splurge) so we could make nachos.  Then J suggested we just go to Corner Bakery, and we indulged: breads, mac-and-cheese for the lad, chicken and penne marinara for me.  I knew what we were eating likely had many of the ingredients I had just hours before eschewed, but I decided to stop caring for a blessed evening.

Here’s the thought: if we eat this way MOST of the time, we can indulge every so often.  We’re raising kids, and J and I often debate where the line is with their diet.  What happens when their eyes are opened to candy and cookies and Yodels and all of the delicious crap I had growing up?  Will they revolt with contraband Cheetos hidden in their bedrooms?  We don’t know the answer, but every day we strive to make the healthier choice, and hope to lead by example.

We fail sometimes.  To err is human, right?  When we arrived home last night, J got H a snack while I put Ailie to bed.  When I came back downstairs, I froze.

“J!  What is GOING ON here?  I didn’t know we still had those in the pantry!”

Yes, my friends, I must confess: my child and my husband were eating the Frosted Mini-Wheats of DEATH AND CANCER.

“Relax,” J said.  “They are four months old.  I gave him three.”

Live and learn.  And toss the mini-wheats.

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Good luck, guys.

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