“It’s expensive to eat healthy.” It’s something that gets said a lot. Except I don’t think that is true at all. I think it’s expensive to eat unhealthy. Now, it’s faster to eat unhealthy; processed food means less prep time. But not cheaper. If we really look at the price per pound of our food, we can find organic carrots at .60 cents a poumd or Oreos for $2.50 a pound. Some might argue that the Oreos would be more filling. There are more calories for sure, but have you ever tried to eat a pound of carrots? Let alone the 4 pounds you could easily buy vs a bag of Oreos?
One of my favorite personal finance authors is Jeff Yeager. He’s old, irreverent and funny. Just my style. When I first read his $1 a pound rule, I knew it was perfect for me. The basic premise is most of the food you should buy is $1 a pound or less. Crazy right?
Often the food clocking in under $1 a pound is exactly what we should be eating more of. It’s real food. Fruit, veggies, whole grains, beans, eggs. And all the food that we probably ought to be eating less of is conveniently more than a $1 a pound. Processed foods, sweets, condiments, meat or cheese.
So what if we simply ate more of the things that are great for us and less of the other stuff. Our food bill would naturally go down. Probably along with our risk of heart disease. (Which by the way is also very expensive!)
In our house, we don’t’ follow the principle as a hard rule, but more as a meal planning tool. I average out the price per pound on our meals. As with most things that move the needle on your personal finances, it takes a little bit of time to learn. Over 2 years, we learned to cook new meals. We adjusted our habits. We changed our shopping lists.
In 2 years, we cut our food bill in half.
We use to regularly spend $1200 a month on groceries. For a large family, I would say this is rather average. Now our groceries average around $600 a month.
Slow and steady we have made small changes that now save us over $7,000 a year. $7,000 a year!
And we eat better.
Here are the staples that we use to build our meals:
In season I can find these under $1 a pound (and aren’t foods better in season?) Each season brings new fruit for under $1 a pound. For example I eat lots of grapefruit in winter because it is cheap and absolutely delicious. But not in summer (when it is neither of those things). In summer I eat grapes and melon. It naturally adds variety and newness to our menus.
Pears, Cherries, grapes, oranges, plumbs, grapefruit, melons, avocados.
Some things we stock up and freeze to enjoy year round, like the 100 pounds of cherries we pick each summer.
Organic carrots from Costco .50 a pound
Potatoes, even specialty potatoes and sweet potatoes can be found for less than $1 a pound
On sale: Cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, canned vegetables and tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, lettuce.
Everything else I can find fresh or frozen at Costco for about $1.50-2 a pound
Oatmeal: I use it for breakfast and in pancakes
Rice: I make up a big batch of Mexican style rice to add to meals.
Corn tortillas: With eggs, and in casseroles
Whole wheat pasta: I can find on sale for .79 cents a pound
Dry beans are about the cheapest and healthiest food on the planet. High in fiber and plant protein, study after study shows the amazing effect of eating beans for our health.
We buy canned.
Not as cheap, but 100x easier. We add them to soups, salads, eat them as a main meal, put them in other dishes. I can’t imagine a food staple that is more versatile in almost any cuisine. If you don’t use beans 3-4 times a week, find some recipes and start testing them out. When the seasoned canned beans go on sale for .59 cents we buy a few cases. It makes for a very quick, easy and healthy meal.
We raised ducks for the eggs for years. This year it was one of the items we put on “pause” and the ducks found a new home. Although raising them was the healthiest and best tasting option, it wasn’t actually the cheapest. I can’t believe how cheap eggs at the grocery store can be. You can easily find them for less than $1 a pound.
With all of this food clocking in under a $1 a pound, can you see how it can be easy to create delicious, healthy meals.
The rest of the food we sprinkle in. A little bit of cheese now and then. Some meat. This year we scored 140 lbs of free venison. It’s easy to find chicken quarters on sale for .99 cents a pound. We also add a bit of fish now and then. Some spice. Maybe a little bit of condiments? A few boxes of generic mac and cheese as a special treat for the kids. Not only are these the items that can be crazy expensive per pound, but also the most questionable for our health, and the health of our planet. Not that I’m about to give up steak or beef (come on, I am from Montana!). But perhaps once a week instead of 7 nights a week like I was raised.
Looking at the price per pound of the food we eat changed the way we eat for the better. We are richer, healthier, and enjoy a greater variety of food. We eat more seasonally. We eat more locally. And we save $7,000 a year.