Reader Lindsay brought up a great question on my book review of “Strategic Eating.”
I just turned 30 and am learning what weight gain is like. I need to save money but I need to eat healthy. Doing both of those things is seriously not easy!
For anyone who wonders if eating healthier is cheaper than filling up on junk, the answer is a big, fat, NO!
Let me explain. I headed to my local grocery story armed with a list of typical grocery items. I grouped the list into eight categories, including bread, beverages, breakfast, snacks, vegetables, meat, dinner, and dessert. For each category I listed healthy and less-healthy options.
My goal was to compare how much my weekly grocery trip would cost if I filled my cart with fresh veggies and lean meat, versus frozen fried foods and soda. I listed typical healthy and junk foods while realizing that everyone eats differently and that most people mix healthy and less-healthy foods. I certainly do!
I compared prices for each item, ignoring calories and grams of fat. (We all know that broccoli is better for our bodies than onion rings, but perhaps not as pleasing to our taste buds.) I did not lower prices for items that frequently have coupons, so readers who clip can adjust the comparison according to how much they typically save using coupons.
I balanced the servings so they match on each list, then adjusted the prices accordingly. For example, a five pound bag of rice cost $4.29, but since I was comparing a single dinner of rice and beans to a single microwaveable meal, I pro-rated the cost of the rice to a single serving, roughly $.12.
The healthy grocery list included a loaf of 100 percent whole wheat bread, Lays baked potato chips, fresh salsa, Cheerios, granola, whole milk, orange juice, string cheese, apples with peanut butter, trail mix, fresh broccoli, green salad, skinless chicken, lean ground turkey, rice and beans, salmon with beets and potatoes, strawberries with mint and lemon.
The less healthy grocery list included a loaf of white bread, Lays fried potato chips, cheddar dip, Frosted Flakes, Pop Tarts, Coke, fruit juice, frozen fried mozzarella sticks, fruit roll ups, a candy bar, frozen broccoli, frozen peas, Bratwurst sausages, steak, a Hungry Man microwave dinner, Kraft Mac -n- Cheese with frozen peas, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
My healthy grocery cart cost me $92, while the less-healthy cart rang up to $61, or one-third less. Another way of looking at it is that going from eating junk food to healthy food costs 50 percent more. Surprised? Eating organic costs even more than the healthy list I created, though there are ways to eat organic on a budget.
Will these numbers make you buy fewer greens – or make it easier to eat fast food?
I want to continue eating healthy, despite the additional costs, because of the long term health benefits and because I feel better when I eat right. Plus, I am committed to buying meat and vegetables through my local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through the winter. That said, I recently bought a 12-pack of mini-ice cream sandwiches. I may not be able to cut out junk food from my diet entirely, but I can eat it in moderation.