The Cost of Eating Well

12 Jul

According to the USDA’s Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotions May 2011 analysis of cost of food at home (on which food stamp allotments are based), a household of two adults 19-50 years of age is expected to consume $84.60 worth of food each week on the “thrifty” food plan — a plan that covers the recommended daily allowances of each food group as determined by the USDA. This factors out to an average of $6.04 per adult, per day. In short, this is what the USDA expects a “healthy” diet to cost if the household is eating according to MyPlate guidelines. By comparison, a 2008 New York Times blog posting (the most recent daily breakdown data I could find) quotes a research study completed at the University of Washington that reports the average American eating a mix of “healthy” and “junk” foods spends approximately $7 per day on food — $4 per day for those classified as low-income.

This week was BIG grocery shopping, a trip requiring the purchase of essentials — ketchup, mayo, flour, sugar, coffee and such — so I figured it would be a good week to do the math and see where exactly we fall in the numbers. The results actually ended up being quite suprising — even to me, knowing our pattern of spending in the past. Here’s the breakdown, after a quick stroll through our shopping habits.

Generally, I grocery shop at three locations: Trader Joe’s, our local Chain Grocer, and farmers markets. Most often I buy enough to food to fill our (apartment sized) freezer and cupboards with the intention of it lasting 6-8 weeks for 3 meals per day per person. (We never buy lunches out; we always brown bag it — money saving tip #1!) In that time period I make, on average, two more small trips for perishables like yogurt, milk, and fresh fruits and vegetables. I try to focus on ingredients that can be assembled into meals as opposed to stocking up on convenience foods, though we do usually have some things like boxed macaroni and cheese, cans of tuna, and snack items like cookies and cheese crunchies on hand for when we’re in a pinch. We do not drink soda unless using it as a mixer, so rarely do I buy any (this is strictly a water, coffee, tea household by taste preferences). During that 6-8 weeks between grocery trips, we eat out in restaurants approximately once a week so, for statistical purposes, all calculations will be based on a 7 week time period though most likely this grocery trip will feed us for slightly longer. (I’m not an economist, so this is bound to be less than scientific).

First, the cost of fresh fruits and veggies for the next 7 weeks will total $100.89 for three CSA disbursements and three farmers market visits (estimated at $10 each).

My trip to Trader Joe’s (for items such as ground turkey, ground beef, crabmeat, Fair Trade organic coffee, cereals, blocks of Manchego, parmesan, and Havarti cheese, canned/dry goods, and nuts/dried fruits/mini chocolates for trail mix) cost me $144.37.

My trip to the Chain Grocer (for items such as ground lamb, salmon fillets, 2 lbs of raw shell-on shrimp, 6 large steaks, just over a pound of olive bar olives for tapas snack platters, 5lbs of all natural chicken breasts and a dozen containers of Greek yogurt) came to $173.09 but was reduced after applying card member savings, doubling a few coupons on name-brand condiments, and the 10% discount earned through their gas/food perks program. My total cost after a combined $20.59 in savings amounted to $152.50.

I expect that in the next 7 weeks I’ll spend approximately $50 more, $25 for each of those small trips for perishables.

This brings our food cost total to $447.76, or $63.97 per week for two adults. Breaking that down further, that’s $31.99 per week each, or $4.57 per person per day — right around the estimated low income expenditure, according to the NYT article, and $1.47 less than the number quoted by the USDA.

Not too shabby. The question now is: is it possible to increase our consumption of farm to table items (reducing the grocery store’s role even further), maintain our current healthy food philosophy, and continue to save money?


One Response to “The Cost of Eating Well”


  1. Additional bookkeeping « The Grocery Project - 02/05/2012

    […] of food per person a month. According to the US government’s food stamp criteria data that I posted back in July of last year, we are still $0.53 under what is deemed a “low income” […]

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