Does It Really Cost More To Eat Right?

One Cheap Guy

Before discussing the cost of eating right, I should state my qualifications.  Everyone knows I’m a cheap guy.  I won’t deny it—in fact, on most days I consider it a virtue.  Readers of this blog know I’m also a contrarian, I question the accepted wisdom, and yes, that’s also a virtue, most days.  The beautiful wife accepts all this with scarcely a murmur.

As a contrary and cheap guy, I believe it’s no more expensive to eat healthy food than to eat the modern American diet (MAD).  Yes, I know how cheap you can buy Top Ramen.  The MAD is dominated by fast food and processed factory foods, all so affordable that in America even the poor people can be obese.   What a great country. 

Unlike the so-called experts, I maintain that it’s cheaper to eat healthy (if you’re willing to organize and cook) than to eat the MAD stuff that leads to chronic disease.  Of course, I also believe that it’s cheaper to be healthy than to be sick, but everyone knows that.  It’s also more fun.

The Cost of Eating The MAD Diet

The USDA keeps data on the cost on the MAD style of eating.  They divide the population into four socioeconomic eating groups:  Thrifty; low-cost; moderate and liberal (most expensive food).  I figured we were in the moderate group because though I’m cheap, the beautiful wife likes everything nice.   So on average we’re moderate.

In the month of June I collected receipts for every food item, including the three meals we ate out.  I laboriously added up the cost, dividing it into food groups.  Then I compared our total to the USDA costs for MAD eating.  Here are the costs to feed two adults for one month:

Thrifty plan                             $323

Low-cost plan:                        $418

Moderate plan:                        $516

Liberal plan:                            $621


Skip & the BW:                       $428

So there’s the evidence.  I figure the USDA bases its data on the MAD, after all they’re the chief enabler.  One thing you readers know is we work hard at eating healthy (more on that below).  So ipso facto, if you’re willing to write a menu, follow a shopping list, and do your own cooking, it’s cheaper to eat healthy than to eat the MAD food that will make you chronically ill. 

And that doesn’t even consider the dreadful cost of health care, or all the fun you’re going to miss being sick.  Did I mention that we also had the family over for Sunday dinner once, and had guests over to dinner twice?  Subtract those costs and our cost for June drops below $400.  We also ate out three times, though I don't recall any white linen on the tables.

What We Spent on Food in June

Our shopping’s done for the month so I went through the grocery receipts and made a spreadsheet.  Here's how we spent our $428 in June:

Vegetables:                 $65

Fruits:                       $107 

Nuts:                          $14

Dairy:                         $52

Meat:                          $54  (Including a $20 roast for the family dinner.)

Grains:                        $56  (I only made bread once.)

Misc:                           $33 

You can get a lot of vegetables for $65, but just a little meat for $54.  If you divide this into three meals daily and subtract the food for guests, we ate for $2.16 per meal, each.  Bottom line for concerned budgeters:  A healthy diet doesn’t cost more than the MAD diet, in fact you can save money while saving your health.

Recipe of the Week

The beautiful wife is rolling her eyes but all I’m trying to do is improve our health by getting more vitamin K-2 into our diet by rediscovering . . . liver.  Yes, eyes are rolling.  I’m starting with chicken liver because it has more K-2.  The idea is to sauté it with onions, mushrooms, maybe some apples, perhaps a little curry, and serve it over wild or brown rice. 

I think you’ll like it.  Eating liver has gone out of style but it’s rich in the fat-soluble vitamins that can make you naturally healthy.  It's also very affordable—I paid just $2.98 a pound for my chicken liver.  Stay tuned—and keep an open mind.

Please Comment:  If you have a recipe you like for liver, please share it.

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Reader Comments (7)

I'm going to make meatloaf for dinner tomorrow with ground liver mixed with ground beef. I will just grind it in the food processor.

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNajma

The cost of food is still something I'm struggling with. I feed my 2 toddlers (who seem to each have a hollow leg) lunches that consist of: organic raspberries, strawberries and some watermelon, avocado, organic wild rice, free range chicken that i roasted, mozzarella chunks, green beans and peas and some raw milk. Their dinner menu is similar. My friends give their kids some dino shaped nuggets, fruit snacks and milk that were all bought with a coupon. Definitely cheaper, definitely easier. But I can't, in good conscience, feed my kids like that. Will I let them have nuggets? Sure! I'll let them help me make some homemade nuggets :)
Also, ive never tried liver so no recipes here.

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee

This post is reminding me of a photo exhibit I saw a year ago in Quebec City. After doing some research online, it turns out the source is the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Menzel and D'Aluisio. The photos show families from different countries surrounded by their weekly food purchases and tells the cost of the purchase. Of course families from poorer countries eat mainly non-processed food, and mostly vegetables and grains. I can't wait to get a hold of the book to study this further. The following link shows some of the photos:

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenae

Denae, thanks for the link to the pictures to what people around the world eat each week. This is a great demonstration of how factory food replaces real food in the more industrialized societies.

I went back to my spreadsheet and looked for whole vs. packaged foods in our June diet. We had very little packaged food, considering that most dairy and meat is minimally processed but does come packaged.

The pictures demonstrate the great goal taught by the traditional (less industrialized) societies: to return to eating food close to it's natural form. We can have the best of the industrial revolution without giving up the best of traditional life.

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Hi Najma

So we tried the chicken livers, fried with lots of onions. The BW liked them better than beef liver, which causes her to gag. Not a big fan of either though. So maybe your meatloaf is a good idea. Got a recipe to share?

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

I totally agree about being healthy not costing more. It really just takes some time and planning. The only time I'm tempted to eat out (and even then it's not very tempting) is when I haven't planned a meal and it's dinner time. Frozen dinners and other processed foods really don't tempt me... it is much tastier and healthier to have fried eggs and toast than a frozen pizza if you're in a hurry.

That is so funny that you mention liver... I cooked beef liver for the first time last month and have some chicken livers waiting in the freezer. I'll admit, I had a hard time eating the liver, but maybe I can get used to it. I want to have another baby soon and I've heard eating liver once a week is fabulous for pregnancy.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

Thank you for keeping track of this so I can reference this for others! I think is a major reason why people feel discouraged to start eating right, but it doesn't have to be that way!

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

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