Brace Yourselves…the 2012 Food Budget May Shock You! {Eating Well, Spending…Hmmmmm…}

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REAL FOOD budget grows

When our now-toddler boy started eating in earnest mid-last year and his carnivorous tendencies became apparent, we joked that our food budget would double because he ate so much meat.

When our 7-year-old seemed to suddenly have the proverbial “hollow leg” and eat thirds of soup, fifths of pancakes and surpass his dad on pizza night, we cracked the same tired old joke about our doubling food budget.

When I finally crunched all the numbers and saw the food budget totals for 2012…it wasn’t much of a joke anymore.

When I read the final figure at the bottom of the computer screen, my heart nearly stopped. I thought I must have made some horrible accounting mistakes. Seriously, it’s almost embarrassing to share the figures, especially in the context of “Eat Well, Spend Less,” since I clearly spent more and more and more.

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the series, and the other ladies on the team and I are looking back at our past EWSL posts and pondering how things have changed for us over the years.

Our family spent $469/mo. on food in 2011, $477/mo. for 2010, and a mere $350/mo. in 2009, just as “real food” was becoming a new focus for us (also before two of our three children were eating anything of consequence).

When our budget made that initial jump from $350 to over a hundred dollars more, I described my reaction as “shocked” and listed some excuses, reasons for the increase.

I think I can safely say that the increase this year is more serious and deserves even more explanation!

I Still Practice Frugal Habits in the Kitchen

As a frugal person by nature, of course I’m still doing many of the frugal practices I preach here at Kitchen Stewardship, especially as part of the EWSL series:

  • I still regularly rely on my 5 Frugal Must-Have Foods, including homemade yogurt, chicken stock, dry beans, oatmeal, and potatoes, although I admit the potatoes are less “frugal” now that I’m really trying to only buy organic – good GRIEF that’s a price hike! That is a new choice I’m making this year, one of many that doubles or triples the price of a certain food or food group on our table…clearly.
  • I still practice these Cutting the Budget on Whole Foods strategies, including using cabbage instead of lettuce every other week. We just eat more produce and food in general nowadays, at a rate that seems to be growing slightly faster than our family size!


  • I continue to stretch the budget by using a half pound of meat instead of a full pound in soups, chili, and casseroles, but I admit that our meat budget has burgeoned. John’s carnivorous habits certainly impact that, as has a decision to focus even more on well-raised meat (I bought conventional chicken when we lived with my in-laws for 5 months in 2011, for example).
    John where's the meat

I also make more “Paleo” style meals which might include two pounds of meat for breakfast muffins (from Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed, so tasty! Find the paperback or Kindle at Amazon) or a pork roast in the crockpot (from Crock On!), and I’ve made the conscious decision to buy (organic) chicken breasts at Costco, my version of “convenience food.” They come, of course, at a price.

  • I further stretch the budget by making The Never-Ending Chicken Broth, even more regularly lately (hopefully that will help 2013’s budget!), and I buy a lot in bulk as I detailed in the food resources for the Midwest post.
  • I practice meal planning every week and use the KS group at Plan to Eat, one of our sponsors, to search for recipes to use up food I might otherwise not know what to do with. I am vigilant about not throwing away food, and it kills me when I have to, like last night when I discovered I didn’t refrigerate leftover cornbread quickly enough and it molded. Sad smile

Some Things are out of my Control

grain free coconut muffins sm

grain-free coconut muffins from Healthy Snacks to Go 

From kids growing older and simply eating more, to cutting almost all wheat from our diet, to food prices quite simply increasing, there are a lot of factors that increase the food budget as a fact of time moving forward. We also had a horrible year for berries and apples in Michigan.

  • We used to use 6-7 eggs for a scrambled egg breakfast; now people are still a little hungry after cooking up a full dozen. Yikes. Besides that, in 2008 and part of 2009 I would have been paying an average of about a buck a dozen conventionally, which increased to $3/dozen once a week during 2009. Now our eggs come in at $4-4.29/dozen and we go through 3-4 dozen a week or so.
  • I used to soak 2 cups of oatmeal for a family breakfast; now we’re getting up toward 2.5-3 cups, plus the raisins, coconut oil and raw milk to finish the bowl.
  • Gluten free grains are undeniably more expensive than wheat, especially since I bought wheat berries in bulk and ground them myself. Grain-free baking with coconut flour and almond flour costs about five times as much as your average whole wheat homemade baked good. Besides that, you end up eating a lot of eggs, meat and cheese, which are expensive line items compared to breads and rice. There’s no getting around that sort of lifestyle increasing the budget, unless you simply eat less and make changes in other areas.
  • The 400 pounds of apples that made up most of our fall snacking in 2011 became about 50 pounds of apples for about the same price. There was no U-pick available, at all. I had to buy other foods to make up the difference, which were certainly more expensive than the U-pick apples.
  • My meat sources have also all risen in price, following the trend of food across the country, I believe, further compounding my increase.
  • Nuts and dried fruit have taken a huge hit with inflation – I remember buying about 60 pounds of almonds at Meijer in fall 2009 for $2.99 a pound and using them all the way until the following fall. Now I’d never, ever see that price. I paid $137.50 for 25 pounds direct from the grower, and we went through them in less than a year. Raisins, dates, and dried cherries have also become far more expensive, even buying in bulk, than they used to be. All those 50c to a dollar increases are adding up.

Here’s the 2012 Food Budget

Enough excuses. You may want to make sure you’re sitting down…

Our family spent about $800/mo. on food last year, for a total of almost ten grand. On food.

I think I need a nap…

Here’s the breakdown by category, which you can compare to 2011 and 2010 to see changes:

  • health food store:
    • HH (the one I always went to before): $222.15
    • SC (the new one near my house): $237.41
  • Farmer’s Market: 17 trips, $390.25
  • U pick fruits: $125.03
  • CSA: $450
  • raw milk and pastured eggs: $239.50 (thru 5/4)
    • raw milk new share: $450
    • eggs: $276.12
  • cheese: $309
  • Country Life bulk foods: $906.95
  • Tropical Traditions: 9 orders $303.42
  • other small grocery stores, meat stores: 165.37
  • farm stands: 84
  • Vital Choice: $238
  • bulk almonds: $275
  • quality meat: $803.51
  • bulk oils: $203.58
  • maple syrup: $90
  • eating out: ?
  • Costco: 4 trips $1080
  • Aldi: $525.83 6 trips
  • Family Fare: $283.72
  • other grocery stores: $2130.57

Total spent on food, 2012: $9781.91

Ack! How can that even be possible? I looked at some of the increased line items and plumbed the depths of the numbers. It comes down to some of the excuses above, yes, but mostly, because we chose to loosen our belts.

Choices that Increased our Budget

lunch - egg with greens sausage and peppers (5) (500x375)

For many reasons, we’ve made different choices this year than previously. Sometimes, I would choose the more expensive food that is faster, because I’m getting to the point where my time is worth more than it used to be. I’m lower on time, so rather than spending time to make everything homemade as I used to do, I have the funds to be a bit more extravagant and make the choices I want to make instead of those choices fueled only by price.

  • When we moved, we lost our raw milk source for a few months. For 3 years, we had paid $6/week for one gallon of milk with occasional “extras” when the cows produced more, bringing the yearly average to about $4.50/gallon (I kept track, because I’m strangely meticulous like that even in the midst of my messy house). I made yogurt from conventional milk most of the time.

One of the gals in my milk driving coop got 3 gallons a week, and I always felt that the family must be super rich to spend that much on milk.

Now our raw milk is $7.50/gallon, and we took the plunge to 3 gallons a week. This enables us to allow the kids to drink milk at more than one meal a day (we were pretty stingy when we only had one gallon a week), and I can make yogurt from organic, grassfed, unhomogenized milk, so it’s a huge improvement over the former system, but with a price. Raw milk alone costs over $1000 a year now. And yes, my breath does get short when I consider that.

Hopefully the WAPF is right that raw dairy is good for us and not the speaker from the probiotic teleseminar last week who listed dairy, of any kind, as one of the top 4 foods that will poison you. Hmph.

I do not feel super rich, but apparently I’m spending – on food – as if I am. (My shoes are still either 5+ years old or less than $40 a pair, for example, and my new clothing purchases this year were from Meijer or a consignment shop, generally.) I do still believe I save over $1000 a year by making my own yogurt. Thank goodness!

  • As I mentioned above, I’ve place a higher priority on high quality meat and cut fewer corners/make fewer compromises in that category. It’s an expensive one. It’s interesting to me that I spend more on milk than meat though…
  • I also have chosen to buy more local, grassfed cheese than ever before, and even though I get it in 5-pound blocks, it’s still more than I’d pay at the store. Butter is another “upgrade” over our 2011 budget. [inc links!]
  • Avocados. Seems kind of crazy to have a whole category for one vegetable, but it’s a good example of how you can eat something inexpensive – say homemade ranch dressing or blender hummus, especially if made with a tahini substitute – or dip your carrots in guacamole instead, when avocados cost $1 or more apiece. We’ve purchased a lot of avocados this year, particularly because John loves them, and I know they’re good for us. I’m sure there are a number of other fruits and vegetables I could pick out and say, “I never used to buy this at all or only seldomly, only when on a really good sale, and now I buy them far more often.”
  • Preparedness had taken a backseat when we were in the moving process for obvious reasons, but now I’ve stocked up on canned salmon and tuna, bulk grains, beans, and popcorn, and some canned beans and jarred tomato products. Hopefully that made the 2012 budget have a little bulge that will not need to be repeated next year.
  • I did can some tomatoes last summer, but not nearly enough to get through the winter, so I do purchase canned tomatoes in glass jars – this used to be a “sometimes” expense and I’d still get BPA-lined cans for about half the time, but now I choose to use glass exclusively.
  • Although I know how to make The Gift of a Meal a frugal opportunity, the ingredients I have on hand are more expensive, and I’m in a position to worry less about the expense of what I give away. I use my fancy glass-jar tomatoes, for example, or nice Farm Country cheese, even when giving food away, where in the past I would have used store stuff since I was using it much of the time for our own family anyway.
  • I also have been having fun taking things like an avocado-goat-cheese veggie dip rather than Cheap and Easy Party Foods every time, and even our healthy Valentine’s Day cards were clearly much more generous/extravagant/expensive than the free, homemade cards without a treat that we’ve passed out in years past.
  • This is my first year (since May) with a membership to Costco. Costco sounds like a great deal, but mostly, I just end up paying more for better quality foods. I can get more organic produce, etc. there for a lower price compared to the grocery store, but when I’m coming from buying mostly conventional produce at the grocery store in years past, it’s still an upsell. The nitrate-free sausages pictured with the egg above are certainly more than I’d usually spend on lunch for myself previously. I also am a sucker for some of the “fun” stuff at Costco that is more expensive than I’d spend if I made it myself but still feels like a “good deal” just because it’s Costco. However, I make a choice to be a bit extravagant there because I know we can afford it now.
  • Tropical Traditions has a referral program where for any new customer who orders through my unique link (like this one to dark chocolate bars), I get a $25 gift certificate to TT. The bummer is that I can’t also take advantage of free shipping, but I got a whole lot of expensive food for $300 last year. If I bought lesser quality stuff, like spaghetti sauce for $1 a jar instead of the TT organic versions at upwards of $5 a jar, I sometimes wonder if I’d spend the same…or even less.I’m very thankful to be given the opportunity to afford the quality upgrade for my family, but the amount of packaging and fuel used to deliver food by mail is something that really bothers me. I do have enough coconut oil to last well over a year, though, so I’m not complaining about that. (You can sign up for the referral program, too, and use the power of Facebook or your email list of like-minded friends to share the free shipping deals or other specials at TT and earn gift certs too, especially if you’d buy a few items there anyway.)Buying through Tropical Traditions with these certificates means that my numbers are actually a bit off – I’ve even purchased meat through them once or twice, so I would have spent MORE on the regular budget if I had bought that meat (even lower quality meat) here in town.


So am I going to get kicked out of the Eat Well, Spend Less team? I’m in the Eat Well, Spend MORE boat this year (but hope to bring that number down a bit for 2013, sheesh). John might have to learn to be an omnivore a bit better and cut down on the avocados!

Next to Jessica at Life as MOM who spends $800/mo. on food for EIGHT people instead of FIVE, I feel sheepish. Granted, I understand that perhaps California has less expensive produce than I do in Michigan, but still.

If anyone tries to tell you that switching from a conventional shopping lifestyle to 100% organic groceries will not impact the bottom line very much, they’re lying (unless you’re eating out a few times a week and switch to making all homemade – but there’s always the sacrifice of time to consider).

The real food lifestyle isn’t easy by any means, and I’m just praying today that it’s worth the investment of my time and money

How do you prioritize healthy food and balance your budget?

Read what the other EWSL ladies think about looking back at the past two years of the series:

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157 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I think you hit the nail right on the head: switching to organic does cost more.

    Switching from processed foods to “whole foods” doesn’t have to cost more, if you’re still buying conventional produce and can use wheat. But I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t wrong in thinking that organic and other “best choices” had to cost more! :)

    You’re not throwing away money on junk or stuff you don’t eat. So no worries. Also, if most people added in their eating-out budget, their number might be a lot closer to yours 😉

  2. Amanda S says

    Thank you for sharing this. I normally spend between $800 to $900 a month on whole foods for my family. We are a family of four, however, my husband consumes twice the normal adult because of how physical his job is, so I like to consider us a family of 5 or 6 when comparing budgets LOL. I always have felt like I’m doing something wrong when people say they only spend $300 to feed a family of four real food. The biggest chunk of our budget goes to organic dairy as my husband *loves* his cheese. We currently have the finances to pay for it, so I just roll with it. He’s the one who works for the money, and he feels it’s worth it, so I’m okay with it. We also do no meatless days as he needs a lot of protein because of the muscle required for his job and many of the health problems I’ve had could be attributed to a nearly vegan diet.

    HOWEVER, since we made this complete change 8 months ago (I was only a foot in the door for several years but 8 months ago decided to do it right, completely), we’ve BOTH noticed a HUGE difference in our health. And anytime someone says to us “oh, but it’s so expensive!” we say without missing a beat, “but it’s not…you pay for it in either finances or quality of life….we chose to pay more for food to enjoy life much more as we feel SO much better.”

    Thanks for sharing your numbers – I now don’t feel guilty! LOL (I never felt guilty before, but I don’t feel alone now)

  3. Rebecca says

    Girl, you are not alone! 3 years ago I had two babies in diapers and one in formula, and my budget for food and everything was $300/mo for our family of 6. I clipped a lot of coupons. Now we eat a whole foods diet with pastured grass-fed meat and almost all organics. I purchase our meat in bulk a few times a year from the local ranch(at $1200 or so each order) and my grocery/household budget is $800/mo. Our income has not changed. Yes, it hurts to think about all that extra money being spent, but I feel good to know that we’re investing in the health of our family. It is money well spent!

  4. Steph E. says

    Thank you for sharing! We live in CA (we pay $15.79 for one gallon of raw milk here!) and our family of four includes a seven year old and a three year old. Over the past year and a half I have been working hard to lower my real food spending and have managed to get my average from $950+ to $840 a month. My husband is a teacher and I’m a stay at home mom, so we make a lot of sacrifices to eat like this, but we wouldn’t change anything.

    • Lora R. says

      Where in Ca. do you live? I live in Ca. and it is $12.00 a gallon for raw milk, though we do live near Organic Pastures dairy which provides a lot of the raw milk in Ca..

    • Lynne says

      $9.50 for HALF gallon raw milk Organic Pastures here in San Diego. I almost choked when I read that the food budget might be less if you live in California! I buy in bulk, eat seasonally, make everything from scratch (1 child on GAPS) & we spend over $1200/month. We are more Primal (no grains, but some dairy) though, so I’m sure that makes a big difference. Great article & comments -thank you!!

      • Cathy says

        I had the same thoughts about the California prices. Even the U-Picks up here in the Sacramento-Davis area run $2 a pound for most fruits (more for berries). Gardening can be cost-effective for some, but now that our water rates are going way up, I think we will end up paying as much or more for home-grown produce as we would at the Farmer’s Market.

          • Cathy says

            It may be that produce is cheaper in rural areas of CA. Part of it is that if you live somewhere where a lot of people want to buy organic and are willing to pay for it, the prices tend to go up. I live in a university town outside Sacramento and if we drive to Sacramento for Farmer’s Market we can get things for $0.50 to $1.00 a pound less (often from the same farmers). The difference has to do with how much people are willing to pay. Even knowing this, we pay more because otherwise we would have to drive 30 miles instead of biking or driving 3.

  5. Caitlin via Facebook says

    im at $800 a month for 2 adults and 2 toddler girls and i’m not buying nearly as much organic as i would like.

  6. CM says

    My budget was similar this year; my husband almost freaked. I’m still trying to go through options for cutting back. I really don’t want to go backwards where quality is concerned, but we can’t afford another year with a ten grand grocery budget. I’m in south FL where local farms are few and far away. We can’t get raw milk and the organic I buy has almost doubled in price. I don’t have too many solutions yet – still trying to plow through the details to see how I can save. It’s terrible, but ‘misery loves company’; I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who blew the budget this year – lol

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      One comment I’ve heard more than once this week in different places was: Don’t eat snacks. It’s a thought! Although my kids would probably practically die… 😉 Katie

      • says

        Hi all,
        As a dairy goat owner and a chicken owner, I can so agree with you on the cost of everything you eat going up. The cost of grain to feed my goats and chickens has more than doubled in the last few years because of droughts and excessive rains. That will increase the cost to consumers.

    • Sandi says

      Hi, I live in Homestead and at the Harvest Market near the air base you can most certainly buy raw milk. I buy 4 gallons every Saturday, straight from the cow, milked and bottled the same day.

  7. says

    Thanks for being honest about it. I read so much about how these other ladies are doing it “on a budget” and still able to make it happen, but I have a hard time seeing it. The best I can do is just try to make everything at home- with conventional store-bought goods. I get my meat at the local grocery store, along with everything else. It’s the option that is available to me at this time. Sometimes it’s depressing and only serves to reinforce the idea that “healthy/organic eating” is an elitist option… because for many, it isn’t an option at all. I wish I could spend that much on food. I dream of the day when I could get all my own food and choose what I want and wear. But that amount you name- it’s nearly the same amount my husband made in a single year at his nearly full-time job. It’s depressing, seeing the numbers- but I appreciate you being honest about it, rather than saying that it doesn’t hurt the budget. Because it does…

  8. Heather says

    Do you know that I used to spend $800/month on groceries for *just* my husband and I? For conventional, processed food? And we were considered frugal by our friends? We could afford it because I worked full time but now I cringe when I think of it as I feed our three kids real food.

    I’m always grateful for your honesty about your priorities, choices and imperfection. It makes trying to eat real food in the real world so much easier when you know you aren’t alone.

    • Tammy says

      Thanks for sharing, Theresa! I checked that and even at what I consider “liberal” for our family’s spending on food items based on the actual costs of food, we come in just $22 / month over “thrifty.” My goodness! This is with me cooking 3 meals a day for four people. (I home school, so there are no school lunches.)
      I have cut out processed foods, except for a couple of small, infrequent treats for my girls – graham crackers that they add peanut butter to for a quick and easy snack or cereal for a quick breakfast.
      I’ve had to use grocery store milk the past few weeks instead of our local dairy. The price difference is $2.50 for supporting a local dairy that provides low temperature pasteurized and raw milk. Their meat – grass fed – is competitively priced with the local grocery store, but both are more expensive than Sam’s by $2/lb. Even at that, Sam’s is an hour drive away. I have to weigh that extra gasoline cost into the price for the foods I will purchase there to see if it is cost-effective. For me, that extra gasoline cost has to be taken out of the food budget.
      I read a comment about living on $50 with grains. Honey, I’ve done that – under duress. My husband began having high blood pressure in his mid-thirties before we married. His blood pressure has gone down, but he still has high cholesterol for which he takes medicines. My cholesterol is on the high end of normal and my blood pressure has been gradually moving up to be high for me. (My husband laughs at what I call “high,” but for me it is.)
      Eating grains – breads, cereals, pastas, rice, beans – all those low cost items have negative effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and the propensity to have Type 2 diabetes later in life. My husband’s dad did. My grandmother did and died from it. I don’t want that for my husband.
      Yes, we can eat a little cheaper, though those “cheap” foods we ate when we were making pennies scream are not as inexpensive any more. Those are at least triple the price for all of it. I cannot make homemade bread as cheaply as I can buy the store brand’s bread. I don’t have health insurance. I do have to take care of my health myself and the only way for me to do that is through the food I eat. I am hopeful that by losing the weight gained by eating the cheap foods – breads, pastas, etc. – and skipping meals so my children could eat will go away by eating healthy, albeit more expensive meals, so that I can find reasonably priced insurance, though at the rate it is going, that seems to be a pipe dream, but that is a whole other can of worms.
      One other quick note: We do eat fish we catch, venison we are able to acquire from friends and family who have too much, and feral hogs that we are able to kill on our property and have some local friends process for us in return for part of the meat. Even with that, we are still struggling and I pray for those who are in the boat we were when we were first married with the prices of food being even more outrageous now than then.

      • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

        What an inspiration! You’re right on so many things:
        – prices of everything are doubling and tripling, scary
        – cheap food is rougher on the health, such a tricky thing!
        – worth it for health to eat right now…

        You’ve found some wonderful, creative solutions to eating well, and I applaud you!
        :) Katie

  9. Jolene via Facebook says

    It is more expensive to eat better unfortunately. Do you have a garden? Potatoes are super easy to grow and that might help with your budget.

  10. Terri via Facebook says

    We are there too, prices are just going up and eating the right foods is not cheap. A gallon of pasturized milk is $3 at the grocery store, unpasturized, grass fed milk is $8.50. That’s why we buy a side of beef every few years, that’s why we hunt, raise ducks, try raising a garden, grow herbs. To cut down on the cost. To be honest, the biggest savings was when my 18 year old son joined the Army. But I need to get back to baking bread, and few other little things to make things cheaper. I am ever so grateful for where we live because we can hunt, fish and go crabbing to supplement our grocery bill relatively cheaply and alot more healthy. some places you just don’t have that option.

  11. says

    When we first made the switch to real food, I compared prices to what I would normally pay for something, and the organic, grassfed, local, whatever, versions typically came out to 4x more than what I had been spending – and that was the absolute best prices I found. Sometimes I can find things that are around 2x more. It definitely takes a monetary commitment. I think people who make the claim that you can get the real food and keep your grocery budget the same think that everyone on the SAD spends their dough on expensive pre-made meals, boxed cereal, and the like. We were already eating beans and rice, stretching $.79/lb. whole chickens as far as they could go, etc., so switching to raw milk, grassfed beef, and organic produce was a jaw-dropper for us price-wise. Thankfully my husband got a raise right around that time, so that’s where pretty much every extra penny of that raise went. Now we’re dealing with gluten-intolerances too, and the heavy-on-the-meat-and-vegetables meals are adding up, as well as growing kids. We’re coming in at $400/mo., though for our family of 5, which is awesome. I don’t know how we’re managing that, other than the fact that I still don’t buy 100% of my produce organic- I stick to buying the dirty dozen organic in the store and try to go heavy on whatever in-season local produce that usually comes out cheaper than store. My kids are also still young, so I’m sure as they get a little older the budget will increase exponentially.

  12. Angie via Facebook says

    milk is 1.99 at aldi’s here, $3.60+ at the other stores. meat starts around $4 a pound for hamburger and skyrockets after that. Hubby fishes, we’re on the list for deer that are freshly hit (lists are from city and county police/EMS, they call if there’s a deer hit, they found it, and the one who hit it don’t want it), we make use of eggs (buying from a lovely local lady!) for protein and make the meats stretch, use beans, I bake our breads 99% of the time, we put in 2 garden plots and use pots for some things, use rice and other grains to supplement. We are a family of 5, the 3 kids are 2 boys age 11 and a girl 9, and they can eat us out of house and home. I’m learning more whole grain and veggie recipes as the ingredients are available on the $200 a month budget for food–gotta make the dollars stretch til the lincolns scream in agony.

  13. Angie via Facebook says

    If you have a place to put pots, you can grow your salads, potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, just about anything. Check also your locally owned grocery stores, as they tend to buy their beef/pork from local farmers–at least ours does, they buy from the farmers at the county fair and scoop up all the prize winning livestock to butcher in their own store, and also buy produce from local farmers. Also, eat what is in season and don’t be afraid to experiement, do canning, freeze for later, etc.

  14. Colleen B says

    Well, I haven’t completely totaled up the numbers for the whole year, but after the initial hit our budget took when we switched to organic, I really do feel like it has come back down, maybe not to exactly where it was, but not terrible. Here are a few of my tips.

    1) I coordinate buying trips often for a group. While I don’t get anything free for it (I don’t actually want to so this is purposeful), we ALL get a discount because of quantity. Or we are buying direct from the farmer/manufacturer so we get wholesale. That has helped a lot! It is some work, but I feel like the savings I get, and allow other families to get, is worth it. Bonus is that much of it is delivered to my door or somewhere close. Also, we can buy 25 or 50 lbs of something and split it rather than pay more per pound for smaller packages. (We had 20+ families buy 5+ cows this spring…what a site in my driveway!). Bonus is that I am making friends with a lot of wonderful people in the food world.

    2) I don’t shop at the big box stores anymore (except for Costco…where I buy about 5 things). I find their prices are not as good and their quality on fresh items just isn’t there (fruit and veggies go bad WAY faster!) I shop at the Farmer’s Market (and I go in the last hour…I might not get everything I want buy many times I get things on sale because they want to move it). And I shop at our local co-op or organic grocery store. If you are comparing full price to full price, the organic grocery store is more expensive than the co-op, BUT they have pretty good sales. I watch the sale fliers most weeks and go get a large quantity of stuff when it is on sale (I bought like $75 of rice a few weeks ago for almost half off…it will last me for a year but it was the best price I have ever seen).

    3) Our raw milk is CONSIDERABLY less…$4 per gallon . But I don’t make yogurt right now because I found Trader Joe’s has a really good organic whole milk yogurt with only milk and probiotics and it is probably about the same price that I can make it for with no work. I have not perfected yogurt so this is wonderful for me!

    4) This one I am excited about…I just learned about Azure Standard…a wholesaler of organic foods that has delivery routes around the country. You order and they deliver near you and you go pick up your order once a month at the truck. Unlike some other wholesalers, you only need a $50 order to do this. I am placing my first order this week but I have been taking the catalog (the regular priced one AND their monthly sale catalog) with me to price things and it really is cheaper. You might want to check it out. Yes, it is trucked, but since they specifically do their routes to minimize driving, I feel like it isn’t the worse thing ever.

    On the other side of this issue though, is that we had ZERO prescriptions in 2012…the first time in my adult life that I can say that (and possibly the first time in my life). So, for 4 ppl, who were sick every 3-4 months, to go for 14 months without an illness that needed any medical attention is WAY worth it to me for my food budget to go up. One of my asthma meds was $180 per month. Never mind the physical toll that drug took on my body while it was “helping” me. So…gotta look at the big picture too.

    Now you have made me very curious to go add up my numbers. Who knows, I might come back and tell you to forget everything I just said…that mine was way higher than I thought. Thanks for being willing to share. I am going to forward this to some friends who I know are in the same boat!

    • Lizi says

      Thanks for sharing! You have inspired me to do more to gather people to buy in bulk. I already do some, and sometimes I feel like I may be pushing people, but I really just want everyone to have access to healthy, whole, fresh food. I like being able to share in savings, but like you I don’t want to profit from it one penny, but even for my time or effort. I encourage everyone, everywhere let’s all get together With our friends and neighbors, to buy food in bulk, preferably locally when available. It’s a great way to connect :)

  15. RJ says

    Mine is about the same for a family of three, one of which is two years old. We can’t eat dairy, eggs, or nuts so we spend a lot more on meat. We get all our meats local and that cost more. I pay about twenty bucks per whole chicken. I just ordered fifty chickens! Real food cost a lot more but it is worth it.

  16. Rebekah via Facebook says

    It is NOT more expensive to simply eat whole foods. It is more expensive to buy organic and pastured foods OR packaged and premade junk. We do what we can and spend $800/mos for our family of 6 and I know I could spend less if we cut out some special items we enjoy.

    • says

      In the particular town in which I live, in the Pacific NW, it does cost $800 per month for a family of four to simply eat whole foods. While I’d love to buy organic, I typically can’t afford it, or we’d be spending $900 or $1000 per month on food. We’re not buying packaged/pre-made junk. The only thing I’ve found that we can buy less expensively here than most areas of the U.S. is grass-fed beef. It ends up being quite inexpensive compared to other areas. Oh, and our $800 per month doesn’t include the 1/4 beef we buy each June, or the whole tuna I buy and can in the late summer. If I include those items, our budget would probably be close to $900 per month for food. We do have to eat with a diabetic food style in mind, because I’m pre-diabetic, and even with eating whole foods, we all needed to lose some weight.

      It may be less expensive to eat whole foods where you currently live, Rebekah, but there are many parts of the U.S. where it is a lot more expensive than other areas. :)

  17. Alaina says

    Thank you so much for this. I can’t even describe how thankful I am for this – wow. I appreciate the transparency, the honesty, and the reality of how our choices do affect the bottom line.

    For us, we are just 2 people and we spend probably…$400-500 per month on food in 2012. Part of that is due to moving literally across country from Alaska to Iowa and having to learn where the cheap places are in the new location. Because of that transition, we paid more in 2012.

    But it is also because of where we have chosen to spend our money. For us, it is an ethical choice to support small co-ops and farmers instead of big grocery stores as much as possible, even if and when it costs more. For us right now, the cost is worth it because we know we are paying for our friends to continue doing the good work of changing the food system in this world. Do I care what other people do? No. But this is what is best for us right now in this time and place.

    Again, though, thank you. So many times you read blogs and it is all about how everything is cheaper and so forth and sometimes….I just want to scream because sometimes it just can’t be true, you know? Things are expensive in this world!

  18. Mandy P says

    Yes, you did spend more. Are you healthier? Is your family healthier? Is your community made better by your decisions? Are you being more kind to Mother Earth by getting organic and healthier foods? We spend more on food now too and I am comforted by stats from back in the day where families spent more of their income on food. I think as our country shifts their eating habits, we will all pay a more equatable amount for our food. You are just ahead of the curve:)

  19. says

    I think if you can afford it, then go for it. Cutting corners is excellent, but I believe in making the best food choices. Can’t you write some of this off for “food research” for book writing? =)

  20. says

    Thanks for your candor! I remember seeing your post with last year’s budget and being floored by how low it was. It appreciate people being honest about costs (not saying you weren’t last year), it’s helpful in this dialogue about how we eat!

  21. Kathleen K says

    Katie, you are on a learning curve, give yourself a pat on the back, not a kick in the seat!

    Your post made me curious, so I looked at our own family’s spending. For the past three years, our grocery bill has averaged a steady $1160. This feeds our family of 5–including 3 boys, ages 14, 12, and 8.

    But this number is also deceptive. Three years ago, a 4# package of boneless chicken thighs could be stretched for 2-3 meals. Just last week, we grilled 4# chicken thighs, made a large bowl of potato salad, a huge lettuce salad, 2# of strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. I thought we made enough for 2 meals. Nope. Not one bite left. Not ONE! (In fact, our 14yo was back in the kitchen 30 minutes later, looking for SOMETHING ELSE TO EAT!) So for the same amount of money, (not even including inflation!), We’re serving MORE food! Of even better quality!

    We buy bulk grains and cheese from Azure, grass fed beef from local ranchers, local chicken (sometimes still buy conventional. We’re careful to buy produce in season, both for price and taste.

    And the payoff? In these three years, our family of 5 has needed medical care 3 times. That’s it. Seems to me we can pay for food we’ll enjoy or pay for a medical care to try to get well.

  22. Cory says

    Ours comes in at about $800/mo for a similarly sized and aged family. Our catch is the kosher meat and cheese. I used to feel badly about the expense of eating kosher real food…but then I realized that the grass-fed, kosher cheese we get is what I would probably buy anyways, because it is just so. much. better. than anything else I’ve tried…We’d save a little on beef if we didn’t keep kosher, by buying pork, but probably make up for it by getting shellfish too…

  23. Ann says

    Very interesting post! We also spend a lot on food (not sure how much exactly, because I don’t really budget), but since we can afford it at this point, I feel good about it because I believe it’s better for us. It is hard sometimes when you’re paying 4 times what you would for conventional, but I really think it makes a difference, so I’ll keep doing it. We hardly ever eat out and don’t eat convenience foods, so I think that balances it out some.

  24. Rita via Facebook says

    I was going to say the same thing as the last post. If we hadn’t moved to a farm and got animals the end of last year I’m sure I could say the same thing happened to our food budget. We now consume 3 gallons a week of raw milk plus more for yogurt, cheese, and butter lots of farm fresh eggs and raise our own meat. I think part of it to is inflation on food prices conventional or organic grown. Its hard to stomach sometimes but so important!

  25. Christina says

    We too have moved into a much more paleo type eating. I wonder if that’s sort of a natural progression from real food? No allergies or anything just feels so much better! Though kids do love their bread…. We probably spend the same amount with two kids and no convenience foods except maybe a loaf of (sprouted) bread and lunch meats.

  26. says

    Don’t feel bad. We spend more than that for our family of 7, but I also include supplements and all household supplies in our “food” budget. It costs a lot to eat well, but I believe the cost of eating poorly is even greater.

  27. Tammy says

    You are not alone. I have finally gotten my husband on board for a reduced carbohydrate, more paleo (but we do include dairy) diet lifestyle. I had to sit down with him this weekend and have a heart-to-heart talk. We are looking at $700 / month food bill. We have successfully had a garden, but that was in 2010, before moving to our new home. 2011 we had unbelievable heat and drought that killed our garden. In 2012, the grasshoppers ate it – and we had chickens. They just couldn’t keep up with the grasshoppers. The chickens that we got in 2012 were eaten by varmints. With this run of bad luck, we are working on sustainable gardens, but are just getting those in the works and they will not be used this year.
    Groceries are eating our lunch instead of the other way around.
    Best wishes to all of us who are striving to eat healthy on a budget. Thanks for allowing me to share and for sharing your situation.


  28. says

    I hear of friends spending 200-300 a month for a family of 3 and get embarrassed at our 800+ for ours. But when you spend $7.50 on a gallon of milk for a toddler and eat 4-5 dozen eggs a week at $5 a dozen it adds up.

    But! We’re hardly going out to eat. We eat EVERYTHING in our fridge. And we’ve each only had one sick visit a year as opposed to my previous every six weeks. We’re certainly seeing the improvements. We just had to shuffle the budget around a bit.

    Much thanks to your blog — keep it up!!

  29. Kristi via Facebook says

    Puh-lease! It’s refreshing to have someone be real about the cost of real food! It makes the rest of us feel better about our own budgets and food choices. Am always super annoyed to read the blogs and articles with women claiming they spend $80/wk for a family of 6 only to find that they live on very little real food.

  30. Sarah D says

    Total it as a percentage of your income and then compare with what people would have spent on internet, on food say 50-60 years ago (stats on the internet, maybe?) Maybe that will make you feel better! There’s so much emphasis here in the States on all the other things a family ‘needs’ to do with their money…toys, clothes, entertainment, vacations. I’m guessing those aren’t your priorities! 😉 But great food and great health are at the heart of a thriving family, and you do it with a great heart of humor and balance, Katie.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Thanks, Sarah! I have seen stats on how the percentage of income that we spend has decreased A TON in those decades, so you’re right – I’m sure we’re still way short of the 1950s as far as percentage. I’m glad I am still sounding balanced even though my budget looks a bit elitist! 😉 Katie

  31. Michelle T says

    I love that you wrote about this and can’t wait to read the comments! We are a family of four with two young girls and spend this much easily. We dont eat lavishly, but we eat real food… organic when possible.

    Costco is our primary grocery store. They have
    great deals on produce and organics. You can’t walk out of there without spending $100, even if you just ran in to grab something :)

    Let thy food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I hear you! I go in saying, “We don’t need much,” and then my cart at the end…sheesh…let’s just say it doesn’t jibe with what I said at the beginning! 😉 Katie

  32. Dorie says

    We have a family of 7 at home (1 at college) plus an in home daycare and have been eating organic meat, milk, eggs and produce for years. In the past year I’ve learned so much more about processed foods & ingredients to avoid so I’m only buying selective processed foods as much as possible. I spend at least $1500-$1800/month on groceries but am very good at finding low prices. We go through a gallon of milk each day which really adds up! One thing I have discovered is a local produce co-op which is very helpful in getting cheap organic produce, and similar co-ops are all over the place! We also just got 6 chickens, who we are raising organically so we can get eggs from our yard (although after the cost of their coop & feed, they will be REALLY EXPENSIVE eggs! Thank you for sharing all of your good info all the time!

  33. Angie via Facebook says

    Our personal food budget–averages $50 a week–couldn’t contain “junk”–it’s too expensive to fit in the budget. Homemade meals, from scratch, whole grains, proteins from various sources, desserts from scratch–that is what makes it affordable. Taking the time to cook at home, from scratch, deters from using box meals and prepackaged junk. Learning to can and garden adds so much to your budget, raising your own costs next to nothing–just a little sweat and water from time to time. If we had a higher budget, like those who spend $400, $600, $800 a month for the same amount of people, we’d more than likely venture off into the prepared/prepackaged, which isn’t where we need to go. A small budget demands wise choices to make the dollars stretch and the food be filling. High sugar and prepackaged foods don’t make filling meals like whole grain breads fresh from the oven, a roasted chicken with homemade sides, tea from the stove top, desserts made with honey and whole wheat flour, etc. It’s a lot in how you choose to eat. I’m ok with some sevin on the plants if it saves the crop, or the garden turns to a waste of rotted fruits. I don’t have time to stand and pick bugs off plants all day, nor the money to pay 3x the price for someone else to do it. We have to work within the budgets given, do the best we can, and provide for our families.

  34. Chris via Facebook says

    It just makes me feel better about how much I spend. Like “phew! I’m not crazy. This is more expensive!”

  35. Tonya via Facebook says

    so how does your food spending relate to the national average as far as % income spent on food? GR costco, new? Also, I’d love to see a “what ks buys at Costco” post.

  36. Angela via Facebook says

    My friend says we either pay for it now, on real food, or later, on medical expenses. That always makes me feel better about my $600/month food budget for 2.5 of us (and a breastfeeding infant).

  37. Lara via Facebook says

    i have just started changing my eating habits… i am just buying for me and as i change, my spending went up. i expect it to go down in the summer (i live in IL) however,i have to choose to make eating healthy my hobby. “Processing” my own foods takes time and energy- to learn and to do. i remind myself i am choosing what to support with my dollars.

  38. Judy via Facebook says

    And this is why we don’t do much in the way of grass fed/raw/organic. We simply can’t. There are 7 of us on a teacher salary in one of the most expensive states in the country. As it is, buying mostly conventional, but being gluten free and cooking mostly from scratch with a garden, we are barely making ends meet. Maybe someday we’ll be able to manage it.

  39. Judy via Facebook says

    Wow, Angela, that’s my budget for 7! As for paying for it later in medical expenses…. We still eat healthier than many, and I have health insurance. I do not have food insurance. So we pray and take our chances until the budget eases.

  40. Tanya says

    I am averaging $800-900 for our family of 5 (a very active 5). Since switching to whole foods, and as much organic/naturally raised as possible, my grocery budget has sky-rocketed. We were already pretty frugal and I already made most of our food from scratch, so there’s no way to go cheaper on that. A box of granola bars at the store comes in at around 2.99, when I make homemade using organic EVCO, raw nuts, raw honey/maple syrup, organic oats etc, mine are WAAAY more expensive and time consuming. And it’s the same for most baking I do. My husband can’t believe how much it costs and we can’t afford to up our budget. It can get quite depressing when I need to keep saying ‘no’ to my kids when they ask for more food, or when the cupboards still look empty after spending hundreds on the week’s groceries. It is also frustrating when you have to choose to not buy organic because you are running out of money for the week, so it feels like you are taking steps backwards instead of forwards.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      When I realize something I made cost MORE than the boxed stuff at the store, I kind of “blip.” Like *blip* “That can’t be right.” *blip* “Just going to ignore that and forget I did that math…”


      But yes, frustrating…I’m guessing the saying “no” when kids ask for more food is probably okay in the long run, as long as they’re not running to friends’ and filling up on junk. As a whole, our society overdoes it on food, and I know I’m not alone in that I eat out of boredom and habit instead of actual hunger.

      You’re doing a GREAT thing for your kids! Well done! :) Katie

  41. Valerie says

    I’m interested in knowing more about this “dairy being poison” comment. Our family has been consuming raw cow’s milk for almost two years now. My husband couldn’t stomach the processed milk products, but does wonderfully on the raw milk. We just watched “Forks over Knives,” this past weekend, and they make a similar claim about milk being bad for your health. When I read “The Untold Story of Milk” by Ron Schmid, I was under the impression that raw milk wasn’t actually bad for your heart health. The movie thought otherwise. Hmmm…I didn’t listen to the probiotic webinar, but if you can add any reasons to why they thought milk was poison, I’d be highly interested! Don’t feel too awful about your budget either. Healthy food is worth every penny!

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      The speaker on the seminar is, I think, vegetarian, and described himself as “purist.” He said sugar, dairy, wheat and caffeine are the 4 poisons to avoid but didn’t go into detail. He said has info, and I’m starting to look into it, but so far I haven’t found any arguments to convince me. Forks over Knives is similar – I haven’t seen it yet, but anything that says “eat no meat” like the China Study, it just doesn’t resonate with me, for what that’s worth – totally my opinion.

      You can still get the recording of the seminar here if you’d like:

      :) Katie

  42. Pam says

    THANK YOU! I was recently blogging on another site about how our food budget continues to rise due to growing kids and healthier choices (reducing aspartame, MSG, HFCS, more fresh/frozen instead of canned/boxed, etc.); most folks on these natural living blogs insist that it is NOT more expensive to eat healthier, I have found that to be completely false… if we switched to organic milk (not raw), grass fed ground beef, organic grass fed butter, and farm fresh free range organic eggs, our food budget would go up by $85 a month for just those 4 items! I have not really saved anything by making more homemade and eating out less, the cost just shifted to freezer and pantry stock up. I am guilty of some time-saving choices, but with 3 kids, their school and sports and stuff, 2 jobs, and grad school… sometimes my sanity and my time are well worth the price of convenience food! And I LOVE the comments from Judy, I too have health insurance, not food insurance :) Just doing the best I can with what I have right now.

  43. says

    This post and all the comments have been like therapy!!!

    I used to meticulously keep track of our monthly grocery expenses (body and home products). I would get so frustrated each month as we always went over budget. I stopped. Now I budget for $1200 a month but I think we spend $1500. That’s for a family of 4 which includes 2 adults, an 18 year old and a 14 year old bottomless pit.

    Before I went ‘whole foods’ a year and a half ago, I extreme couponed as much as one can here in Canada. We spent about $800/mo then but so much of that was free/sale crappy processed packaged imitation food. I actually just started a donation bag for my old processed stockpile today…until my son came along and grabbed all the old Kraft Dinner saying “this stuff never goes bad”. (We’re still working on his eating habits).

    Anyways, since going “whole foods”, I’ve gotten a part-time job to help out with the added grocery bill. We do eat very well and I think I buy about 50% organic and 99% non-gmo. I’m currently switching over all my body and home products now. But, the more educated I become, the more it kills me that we can’t afford grass-fed organic meat (Half is hormone-free 100 mile meat), organic dairy products (I buy a smaller local brand, Hewitts here in Ontario, that has no additives to cream, etc), and I wish all my fruits and veggies could be organic but for the most part it’s too expensive here in Canada. I do grow a veg garden each summer for our salads.

    That said, we used to go over budget on other things (travel, etc) until my health started going inexplicably downhill. I had mri’s and loads of tests….no one could tell me what was wrong. This led to a state of constant anxiety. Now, with every change I make, I feel a load taken off my shoulders, my head literally feels lighter each week and my kids and husband are healthier too. I think to myself it is so worth every single extra penny! Family, faith, food and shelter come first…then the rest.

    Therapy done :)

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Those teenage years scare me! We’ll have to make the kids get part time jobs just to feed themselves – builds character, right? 😉

      I love to hear about people improving their health, visibly and for REAL, through real food!!! Yayyyyy for you! Keep up the good work! :) Katie

    • Tanya says

      I am in Canada too – prices are definitely higher here – and most of the places people on these whole food blogs mention as sources for bulk supplies either don’t deliver to Canada, or charge a fortune to do so (before you factor in the risk that customs might not allow it in or the duties and taxes at the border) And you are so right…when I saw this blog post and the responses, I was like ‘Whew!’ Finally I had proof that it wasn’t just me and that I wasn’t totally failing at this!

  44. Heather via Facebook says

    Thank you so much for this post Katie. Our food budget has been increasing every year, and for the same reasons. We’re making the choices that are best for our health and they come at a higher price. I’m gluten sensitive and have been gluten free for a year, and I just eat differently, even without pricey GF substitutes.

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