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Monday, September 20, 2010

Coupon Counter-Culture and How I Feed my Family of 4 for Under $100 a week

I like to save a buck as much as the next gal, and for YEARS prided myself on the ability to drop $50 easily off my grocery bill with the use of coupon, sales flyers and judicious product selection.  While I was saving money on all those thing, what was the real cost to my family and my health?  Coupons are offered for things such as canned soup, boxed and pre-packaged meal solutions, bottle salad dressing, granola bars, boxed cereal, fruit snacks.  Basically all nutritional G-A-R-B-A-G-E! 

Sure, I can get that bottle of genetically modified soybean oil-based dressing basically for free, but as someone with thyroid disease and a history of anxiety and depression disorders - do I really want to be putting that in my body?  Yes, I pay more for the organic cold pressed olive oil I use for salad, but I know what it is, where it came from, how it was grown, harvested and pressed.

Canned soup, in additional to having ridiculously high levels of sodium and additives, often contains hidden starches as thickeners, soy (see above), and are virtually void of nutrients.  Besides that, homemade soup is so easy to make, and can be so deliciously comforting.

Fruit snacks just crack me up.  Take something nature has gloriously provided us, smack the work "snack" on the end, charge $3 for a box...and parent think they are giving their kids the best of the best.  "Why, it can't be bad, it has the word "fruit" in it..."  You know what is in "fruit" snacks? (I can assure you, very little fruit): Pears from concentrate, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Acetylated Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Vitamin C (hey guess what, this is also found in REAL FRUIT!), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Color (red 40, blue 1).  Here's an idea.  Buy the apple at about $0.20 a piece and call it a day.

So here is what I do buy with my precious grocery dollar each week (the products may vary contingent upon price and special offered by my providers, as well as by season, but the average budget remains the same):
  • An organic pastured chicken, at approximately $15 will provide a roast chicken dinner, leftovers for sandwiches or another casserole-type meal, and the carcass will be put in the crock pot with fresh water for soup broth x 4 people in my family. 12 meals at $1.25 per meal
  • A little over two lbs of grass-fed eye roast for roast beef set me back about $14, and at a four ounce serving per person (grass fed beef tends to lose much less weight when cooking - and has a way better nutritional profile than -  than does conventional grocery store beef) will be about 8 servings at $1.75 per meal
  • One dozen pastured eggs $4 (farmer's market)
  • One pound organic grass-fed butter-$7 (farmer's market)
  • $3.75 each week on organic lettuce and wash it myself, spin it dry in my salad spinner, and bag it with lint-free towels to absorb moisture.  That provides my husband and I salads for the work-week lunch. For a little over 37 cents per meal (farmer's market). 
  • At my local farmer's market, a 2-quart basket of  honeycrisp apples (or peaches, or pears, or whatever is in season) runs about $6.00 for roughly 12 pieces of fruit (farmer's market)
  • For the sake of argument, lets say I spend $15 a week on vegetable/grain produce in each item's growing season.  As an example, last week I bought 4 acorn squash for $3.  Halved, 8 servings at a little over 37 cents each. Corn when in season is $5 a dozen (41 cents per serving). Farm stand near me sells zucchini & yellow squash during its peak at 25 cents per piece, and eggplant for 50 cents. Tomatoes & herbs in season are free because I grow them.
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese $25: I grew up running underfoot on my grandfather's dairy farm, so the idea of unpasteurized milk is not something that concerns me as long as it is sourced carefully from reputable farmers.  However here in NJ I have yet to find a good source, besides the fact that the sale unpasteurized milk is illegal. So we do our best to find organic, NOT ultra high-temperature pasteurized sources of milk.The kids drink whole, my husband drinks 2% (and I couldn't convince him to change if I tried) and I stick to mostly yogurt and cheese for my dairy, since I am not very fond of the milk as a beverage thing.
Keeping in mind that there was a lot of estimating above, the total comes to: $89.75.  I will allow myself that extra $11.25 a week for staples like whole wheat flour, an extra dozen eggs, olive oil, coffee, seasonings.  I also bake my own bread, breakfast foods and snacks/cookies, stock up and freeze/can/preserve when there is a great deal on something.  I also spend significantly less in winter when I am relying on my pantry & freezer to supply us from the summer's bounty.

At the end of the day though, the biggest savings is that of our health,  I no longer struggle with mood disorders.  I eat whole foods without hidden ingredients, including olive oil, butter and full-fat dairy, and I have LOST nearly 20 lbs. My son's delays are improving with good nutrition and the total elimination of food dyes.  My daughter's endurance when playing sports has improved,  My husband no longer craves sugar in the way he once did.  We are all better for eating this way, and if it cost us $500 a week to do it, we would find a way.

(This post is part of REAL FOOD WEDNESDAYS )


  1. Wow, that sounds excellent! I spend half that much, but then again, there are only two of us. I find there's so much more money available to buy good foods with once you cut out all the junk. Even with a coupon, it's still not worth what you're paying. (You'd have to pay ME to get me to walk out of a store with some of that stuff! And even then, I probably wouldn't eat it!)

    I too am on a low budget, and people kept telling me, "But it's WORTH it." That wasn't very convincing to me when I just didn't have an extra $50 to spend on groceries each week. What does convince me is knowing that you CAN do it on a budget, if you're smart about stretching the food and you cut out worthless purchases. Good job!

  2. Great post! I shared the link on facebook.

  3. Man, it makes me a little crazy when I hear what you folks can get down in the lower 48. Here in Alaska food is so ridiculously expensive! At PEAK zucchini season, they are still about $2 each at the farmer's market, and local apples are $4.50 per pound, and my raw goat's milk share provides a gallon a week for $65 dollars a month. Just a taste of what I deal with! (I won't even go into what grass-fed beef costs) I do my best, but like you said, I'm willing to spend the extra money on REAL food and sacrifice in other areas because I'm not willing to feed my family garbage. But go you for feeding your family real food on so little! I'm jealous!

  4. Kelsey it has to be tough where you are! My zucchini for a quarter is an anomaly even here;at the grocery store it is easily $1.99. I just lucked out with my vendor. Her grandparents used to farm the land she now does and the quarter squash and half-dollar eggplant are her homage to them at peak season. The NJ heat gave her a bumper drop of tomatoes and corn this summer, but her squash suffered. But she still ran the special.

  5. I just found your blog through Real Food Wednesdays. I also live in NJ. I am not sure where you live, but you can raw milk from farms in Pennsylvania. I live about 15 miles from the PA border and work in Easton, PA and there is a farm pretty close so I can go about once a week. Of course depending on where you live it might not be an option. Just wanted to let you know!

  6. susu, you are near Phillipsburg, then? I am near Philadelphia, and I have gotten raw milk from one of the farmer's markets there, from a vendor I know through a NJ market. But I cannot get to the city consistently enough to be feasible. NOW...when my office moves into the city in January, I will be just a few blocks form Reading Terminal Market, and the Fair Food Farmstand; THAT will make all my real food purchases (milk, pastured meats, produce) so much more convenient! I can barely stand it I am so excited.

  7. i saw your comment at mom101. i'd love to check out your bread recipe. i make bread, too, but am always on the lookout for something different.

  8. Mommymae I do two, I do a weekly 100% whole wheat sourdough, with a starter I inherited from my mother, and that one doesn't really have a recipe so much as it has a feel to it. I have worked with dough so much that I kind of just know how it is supposed to feel. The other, is a loosly interpreted soaked version of Peter Reinhart's 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich bread (you can find it if you google) in which I substitute buttermilk for the milk in the soaker and whey for 1/3 of the water in the biga. That loaf takes some planning as it all has to be mixed the night before baking and soak at least 12 hours, but it is worth it in my opinion.