The Cost Of Food & Tips To Save Money
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
February 14, 2023
I don’t know about you, but it pains me to go to the grocery store and see the price of food nowadays. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food costs have increased by 11.4% over the past year. Feeding my three children real food is extremely important to me, but let’s face it, it gets expensive, so I am even more conscious of the food I’m buying to keep our grocery bill affordable. Eating real food doesn’t need to be more expensive than eating the Standard American Diet. It’s all about prioritizing what is worth spending extra money on. Above all else, the top priority is to eat real food at home and beyond that you just make the best choices you can. Remember, eating real food at home is a huge win no matter what!
Here are some tips:
- Prioritize what you purchase organic. Yes, organic food is ideal, but it’s not always realistic to purchase all your food organic. To save some money, don’t buy ALL fruits and vegetables organic. Just prioritize the Dirty Dozen. If you’re not familiar with the Dirty Dozen, The Environmental Working Group comes out with a list each year of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables with pesticides and herbicides. If you’re not able to buy all the Dirty Dozen organic, that’s OK! We still want you to eat your vegetables. Again, eating real food no matter if it's organic or not still provides lots of benefits! For more information on organic food check out our article Why Buy Organic.
- Purchase frozen fruit and vegetables. They work great in a smoothie, soup, stew or casserole where the texture doesn’t matter as much. Frozen fruit and vegetables are often cheaper and sometimes more nutrient dense. Especially here in Minnesota where our offices are located, during the winter months fresh vegetables could be traveling a long way to reach our grocery stores, whereas frozen vegetables are picked when they’re ripe and flash frozen to maintain their color and nutrients. Another huge benefit to frozen fruit and veggies— less chopping.
- Prioritize the quality of meat you buy. Organic grass-fed/pasture raised beef, free-range chicken, free-range/pasture raised eggs, free-range turkey and wild caught fish are ideal. Toxins are stored in an animals’ fat cells and then when we eat that animal those toxins are then stored in OUR fat cells. So, if you aren’t able to purchase those higher quality meats then I would choose the leaner cuts of conventional meat, so you are limiting the toxin exposure from the fat.
- Purchase cheaper cuts of meat. Protein is often the most expensive part of a meal. For example, instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breast opt for chicken thighs, a whole chicken or chicken legs to save money.
- To save even more money on meat, consider purchasing part of an animal. Use the eatWILD website to find a local farmer. Many local farmers are not certified organic, because it’s very expensive to get the certification, but many still use organic practices (the same is true for farmer’s market local produce!). This not only saves you money, but it’s so handy to have your freezer stocked with meat.
- Buy foods in bulk. For things you use often, buying food in bulk can save a lot of money. Nuts, grains, canned coconut milk, broth/stock, canned tomatoes, beans, chia seeds, flax seeds are all good items to buy in bulk. Shopping at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club are great places to find bulk items even cheaper. Pro tip: if you aren’t going to use the nuts and seeds fast enough, store some of them in the freezer so they don’t go bad.
Like I said earlier, eating real food doesn’t need to be more expensive. Here are three affordable real food meals:
Hamburger Soup + ½ c. sweet potato with butter on the side (or you could add it in the soup too):
Using ideal ingredients: $25.15 = $4.19 per serving using grass fed beef, grass fed butter, organic free range chicken broth, organic canned tomatoes, organic carrots, organic celery and conventional zucchini (zucchini is not on the Dirty Dozen list and the organic version was twice as much as the conventional).
Using conventional ingredients: $22.43 = $3.74 per serving using the leanest conventional beef (chose leanest to avoid more toxins as noted above), conventional vegetables, broth and butter.
Pro tip: Shop in season. Zucchini is more expensive in the wintertime so to save money I would choose a different vegetable. You could use frozen green beans instead (organic is only $0.89) which would save you $2.29 bringing the recipe total to $22.86 ($3.81 per serving) for the organic ingredients and $20.14 ($3.35 per serving) for the conventional ingredients.
Using ideal ingredients: $14.65 = $3.66 per serving using local pasture raised pork.
Using conventional ingredients: $12.35 = $3.09 per serving.
Using ideal ingredients: $21.05 = $3.51 per serving using organic pasture raised eggs, organic pasture raised heavy cream, organic hashbrowns (potatoes are on the Dirty Dozen), organic grass-fed butter, organic spinach (spinach is on the Dirty Dozen list), local free-range turkey sausage and organic, pasture-raised cheese.
Using conventional ingredients: $11.47= $1.90 per serving.
Pro Tip: I recognize that the conventional recipe is much cheaper than the ideal recipe. Since there are more animal products than vegetables in this recipe, I would still prioritize the quality of the animal products. To make the ideal recipe cheaper you can choose free-range organic eggs instead of pasture raised organic. This basically means that the hens don’t have as much space to roam as pasture raised eggs, but they are still much better quality than conventional eggs.
Another way to make the recipe less expensive is to swap the vegetables for those found on the Clean 15 list, a list of vegetables and fruits with the least amount of pesticides and herbicides, or for a vegetable that is in season. Sweet potatoes fall on that list so you can swap the hashbrowns with a diced large sweet potato. In winter, the frozen organic spinach is a cheaper option than many other vegetables, but in the summer, you could probably find a cheaper vegetable to swap. Changing to free range eggs and sweet potatoes instead of hashbrowns reduces the cost of the recipe by $2.85, which brings the total to $18.20 = $3.03 per serving. Now you’re only spending a little more than a dollar more per serving for much higher quality ingredients than the conventional recipe. This is an example on how you can take a recipe and play with the ingredients to give you the best , most affordable option while still eating real food at home.
We know that making changes to your diet is difficult. If making these changes to eat more real food and planning meals sounds overwhelming, we’re here to help! Visit our Nutrition Counseling page to learn more about one-on-one appointments. Or take one of our classes: we have many different options from our 12-week Nutrition 4 Weight Loss class to cooking classes.
Check out these articles for more money saving and food prep tips: