The Price of (Healthy) Food

Today is Monday and, as every Pinto-Atticus family knows, that means that Newsweek is coming in the mail.  And from the looks of its preview articles online, the main story this week is about the Food Gap in America.  You know, things like:  “How is it that Americans on welfare are at a huge statistical risk of being obese?”  or “The new American elitism–buying local/organic.”

I’m hugely interested in the whole thing, to tell you the truth.  But, I’m especially interested in, of course, what a “healthy” diet costs.

Last year, I did the great CSA experiment wherein I discovered that for a family of 2 living in semi-rural Oregon, paying $500 for a produce share in a local organic farm actually kept our total food costs the same or up to $25 a week lower (including that initial big pay-out into the analysis).

Which was innnnteresting.

Today, I bring you another tidbit from the fruits of my research on the cost of a healthy, American food budget.

In 2008, the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion published their “Food Plans”– averaging food costs in the United States and delineating what a “thrifty,” “low-cost”, “moderate-cost”, and “liberal” family menu would run out to be on a weekly and monthly level.  You may think that “thrifty” is a good thing to aim for, except for the fact that it is the plan that the USDA uses to denote a family on food stamps (1). Much more PC to say “thrifty” than “food-insecure.”

Here’s a link to its basic, summarized table.  See where you land in the USDA scheme of things.

Now, never the coy one when it comes to talking personal finance,  I skipped over to my mint.com account and discovered that Atticus and I have spent, on average in the last year, about $393 per month in groceries and eating out.  Surprised?  Does that sound like a lot?  It does to me…

Looking closer, our weekly grocery bill actually turns out to be around $60-$80 per week, but since I’m an Asian food addict, we usually go out on a sushi/tonkatsu-don binge once a month or so, bringing up the weekly food average overall.

Now, we deal with inflation.  Using inflation calculators to figure what these same food plans would cost today vs. 2007 (when the data was compiled), the plans for a 2 person family per month (my bracket) would fall out:

Thrifty (aka “this needs some food stamp supplementing to be healthy”):  $359.70

Low-cost: $457.27

Moderate-cost: $562.65

Liberal: $703.99

Now, comparing that it to our average $393, and considering that we don’t live in a place were food is particularly expensive (though, since we aren’t near a major interstate, many food items actually are more pricey than in your typical suburb):  well, we’re somewhere in between food-stamps and being healthy but low-cost shoppers and eaters.

Or…we’re not eating very healthy.

Because the fact is that an unhealthy Stouffer’s lasagna on sale is actually way cheaper than making your own large lasagna…with the wheat bread…with the fresh salad…

Glancing at our menus, we aren’t health nuts, it’s true.  But, we eat well and the vast majority of our food is homemade, from scratch, diverse, and colorful (and eating colorful food –as in, not artificially colored– is an easy way to tell if you’re eating well– so speaks Trainer Bob). Plus, apart from the once every two months Taco Bell “side of nachos” midnight run, we eat out at established establishments and make “ew” faces at the McDonalds when we drive by.

The USDA is right on one thing though: in our particular “starving student” economic state, we really are shopping somewhere between thrifty and low-cost.  Right on the money, I’d say.

So, where do you think you fall out in the USDA scheme of things?  Does it make sense to your budget and your location?  Do you think it’s right on or totally off?  Why?

(1)  http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/MiscPubs/FoodPlans2007AdminReport.pdf; ES-1

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Price of (Healthy) Food

  1. Pingback: The Price of (Healthy) Food « Pinto's Beans | Cheap Healthy Foods

  2. Interesting post. I’m going to come back and spend some time reading the links. I just did the Food Stamp Challenge in my house to see if our family of 5 could eat well on the food stamp allocation for a week. It was hard for a lot of different reasons but we were able to come close. Eating out was definitely not part of the equation and our CSA provided great value and variety.

  3. Laura

    How interesting!!! I think of our family as quite thrifty. We have to be! :)
    We have three children…two adults; our budget each month is LOW for food, but we still get fruits, veggies, etc fresh from the local co-op. For the ages of each of the people in our household, we should be “thriftily” spending about $550 on groceries! Let’s just say that I guess we are saving a LOT of money. :)
    That makes me feel good though, to know that my kids are eating good food and not going hungry and yet we are not spending as much as this chart says we could be on healthy food. Hooray for food storage, coupons, and price-checking various ads!

  4. Missi

    So, My Man and I went on a very conservative budget when I got pregnant and we knew the end of the second income was coming to pass. We budgeted $320/month for food, which we broke down to $50 for groceries and $30 for eating out each week. We shop every other week so we just never spend more than $100. We have made our budget every month and sometimes only spend about $85-$90 at the grocery store. Yay! We make pretty much everything from our version of scratch, meaning I’ll use cans but not a Hamburger Helper. I like coupons but don’t go out of my way to find them, and we use the store’s reward system and pay for it with the rewards credit card. Evidently we fall below the thrifty category. Yay! We also have the added luxury of getting fed twice a week at family gatherings. BTW, I loved the earlier finance column. I’m looking at ours more and more, due mostly to My Man, who has an awesome head for numbers.

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