I have written about eating well on less money many times. This post on affordable organic food is a popular one. Even though I think it is totally possible to eat well and not spend a fortune it can be a difficult and delicate process. I asked fans on my Facebook page how much they spend on food, assuming that they eat mostly organic, whole, nourishing foods. The answers varied but it seemed that families with only 2 or 3 managed to get away with spending only $200-400 per month. When the family size went up to 4-5 the amount rose to an average of $750-$800. I had an inkling that I had gotten a little lazy with my own family’s budget and thanks to Mint.com I was able to quickly see that we spent over $1000 on food in August. This month I put a little more effort into it and I think we will end up around $850. That still seems high to me but what we are paying in money, we are not paying in doctor bills. Food, in my mind, is like a supplemental insurance policy. We almost never have to go see doctors anymore. What once was a large annual expense we wrote off on our taxes is now only a couple hundred dollars a year and that is mostly from preventative stuff like teeth cleaning and state hoops we have to jump through (our two boys both have IEPs).
So once I reminded myself of how healthy we are and how we rarely get sick I stopped feeling guilty about that $850 and started patting myself on the back. I don’t feel a bit guilty about the $65 a month we spend on gym memberships or the gas money we use to get to and from almost every day of the week between the two of us. So why feel guilty about nourishing my body, and my family’s bodies, with the best food? I shouldn’t and I have to let that go. But even so, I like a challenge and the idea that I could whittle that down even further appealed to me. I also happened to run across the book Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet–All on $5 a Day or Less at the library and it was a great read.
The author, Linda Watson, was inspired to try an experiment in the summer of 2007 when food philosophy and food politics came to the forefront. It was inspired by the work of Michael Pollan and the Food Stamp Challenge whereby some were trying to live on the national food stamp allowance of a dollar a meal. When public figures attempted the challenge and bemoaned how impossible it was, she talked her husband into doing the challenge with her so they could see just how well you could eat on a dollar a day. She also took a full time job outside the home while this was going on so that her attempt would be realistic to the lives of the working class. She and her husband discovered a lot on that journey but perhaps the most important thing was that they could eat healthy food on so little money AND they felt better physically than they had in a long while.
The book has two sets of meal plans. The “green” plan, which is the $5 plan, involves cooking with organic, sustainable, and kindly raised ingredients. The “thrifty” plan picks ingredients with a focus on cost. All recipes are vegetarian because the author is and I think that is awesome because IMO our society is meat obsessed. Whether you decide to be a vegetarian or not I think it is vital to know how to turn out lots of meatless meals, especially if you are on a budget. The meals plans in this book are compatible with the food stamp budget per person allotted by the state where the author lives (North Carolina).
I thought the book was quite excellent. It walks you through a bunch of educational info and pricing information so that you can get a feel for how to save money while still buying the pricier, healthier options. The recipes also look quite tasty although many of them would be adapted in my house to use less grains. I have said it a million times but veggie based cookbooks and recipe plans are heavy on bread and grains. This one isn’t too bad but I would still make some changes here and there.. mostly using a different sweetener here or coconut flour in leu of whole wheat flour there, etc.
The author also gives recipes for making your own bread, yogurt, and pizza dough. I admit that I do not bake my own bread and that is mostly because we do not buy enough or eat enough to justify it. My 5 year old son is usually the only one who demands bread and buying a loaf every two weeks is not breaking the budget. Still I plan on making bread more often over the winter. My sourdough starter has just come out of hibernation (the frig) and I plan to see if I can get a second hand heating pad for helping dough to rise. We already make our own sourdough pizza though I am going to add some of the seasonal toppings recommened in this book. Kale pizza here we come!
I already make yogurt at home but I could do it more because we still buy some at the store as well. We are big yogurt eaters here. Another recipe I want to try is the homemade burger buns. We have some turkey burger enthusiasts in the house and my hubby is always lamenting the crappy ingredients in his burger buns. I think he might like these.
After reading I made a list of ways I think I can whittle down food costs even more without sacrificing the quality of our food and most of that is all about planning better.
How about you? Do you feel that eating well can happen on a food stamp budget?