October 14, 2010
I’ve seen websites and forum postings in which people share how to feed their families of 4 on $600 a month. Generally these folks rely on co-op style sources for bulk items and make their own breads, jams, etc… My initial reaction to these claims was that it didn’t seem plausible. That was before 3 weeks Eating in 3D.
I know that everyone does not have a Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood. I am fortunate enough to have two within a couple miles. I’ve been a TJ shopper for a few years but off and on. I struggled to shop in the cramped aisles with throngs of people during peak evening and weekend hours. Inevitably there would be items for which I’d have to go next door to Vons. And, many TJs products are not packaged in the right increment for a family of three. But, as I planned for my first grocery run for this experiment, I saw a trend among cost-conscious, nutrition-minded bloggers. They all rely on TJs for staple ingredients. So, I joined the TJ masses to fill my cart with roughly enough food for 2 weeks.
At the checkout I asked the amiable, well-pierced clerk to ring my alcohol purchases separately so I can have a clean receipt for the food. When the last food item slid across the scanner, I stood speechless at the total glowing on the digital display - $167.26. I hadn’t seen a grocery bill that began with a 1 in years. My first thought is that I must have misjudged and not purchased enough food. But as I packed it all into bags, I could clearly see that I had everything I needed. I mentioned the experiment to the clerk. His eyes opened wide and he said, “You’re going to mention Trader Joe’s, right?”
Within the first two weeks we returned to a store once for more staples: milk, cream, parmesan, peanut butter, yogurt and fruit. These mid-month needs totaled $27.94
In week three, I went back to TJs and loaded up again – this time for $154.38.
So – without shopping in vats of bulk grains, baking my breads, canning or preserving anything, our grocery bill for ONE MONTH was $352.58. Hard to believe? I wish I had recorded all the actual product names because I would the vast majority. In particular, the Salmon Patties are a huge favorite with my family, the Thai Red Curry is yummy and the frozen cod fillets were surprisingly fresh tasting.
Our total expenditure for the month was slightly higher – including our few meals out, all the food items that were already in the pantry, coffee, etc...
I now feel certain that a family can eat for $10/person, meet nutritional guidelines, and not dedicate precious hours to the enterprise. So, yeh! for us. But what about the significant portion of our society that can’t afford $10/person/day? Remember – according to the median household income the realistic number is more like $5.60/person/day. How low can you go?
At just over $20 dollars for the family for the day we are on the right track. With a couple minor changes, this day had the potential to reach the the Eating in 3D goal.
Granola with vanilla yogurt
Peach Yogurt with a banana
Total Daily Expenditure: $6.71
Meatballs and Swiss cheese on 1/2 a bagel
Cod (4 oz)
Total Daily Expenditure: $6.39
1/2 syrup (1/4 cup)
Broccoli & Cheese Baked Potato
Pineapple and apple slices
Cherry tomatoes and baby carrots
Total Daily Expenditure: $7.15
Lessons Learned and Observations
I have a friend who will not eat leftovers. If and when she ever joins us in this eating adventure she will change her tune. Eating last night’s dinner for lunch tomorrow is the easiest path to cheap, effortless, nutritious eats. Once I realized this I started cooking 5 servings of each dinner and immediately putting 2 servings aside in storage containers for the next day.
1) Fill the gaps. Assuming you are well within budget, if you come to the end of dinner and you are short a fruit – have a piece. If you’re missing a serving of whole grains, have a piece of toast before bed.
2) Don’t eat a meal that misses the mark. Celia’s waffles with syrup were woefully inadequate from a nutritional standpoint. Her chart at the end of the day looked like she only had 2 meals. No fruit, no veg, no milk, no protein - just grain and sugar. That is not an effective meal unless the goal is simply to fill ones belly.