Strained Wallets and Waistlines

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I read an article in the June/July issue of Cookie magazine. The author, Sally Schultheiss, and her husband were fighting about food. Specifically, she wanted their family to be all natural, all organic all the time.

He saw nothing wrong with the occasional bowl of Cocoa Puffs. He wants Duncan Hines, she wants made from scratch with Valrhona chocolate ganache. He wants American cheese slices, she wants blocks of goat's milk Camembert. Reading the article, my thoughts kept straying to "how can they afford all that organic food?!"

I don't think it's speculation, conjecture or marketing hype that our society is getting fatter. Our weight and our health is a pressing issue, particulary for our children. Personally, I would love to include more organics into our diet but honestly, I just can't afford it.

Which makes me wonder, when is the cost of food and the strain groceries can create on the family budget going to be touted just as heavily as a reason behind American's expanding waistlines as fast food?

The cost of living is going up. Housing, utilities, gas, health care and everything else associated with running a household is rising. And I would argue that one of the things most families find it easiest to cut back on is their grocery bill.

But, on our most recent trip to the grocery I noticed something. The boxed, pre-packaged, preserved, unnaturally colored unhealthy stuff? Some of which I have in my pantry right now? The prices haven't really gone up that much since the first time we were buying it as broke newlyweds.
Consider this: on our last major grocery run (6/14) I bought three boxed "Helpers" for .90 each and I used an in store coupon for .75 off three. The three packages of ground beef were $1.69, $1.71 and $1.73. That's three meals (more if there are leftovers, not including sides) for $7.08.

If a family is on a budget (and who isn't?!) the financial benefits to shopping in the center aisles, rather than the perimeter as the health experts advise, is pretty clear. At least to me.

But all that stuff in the center of the store is generally the unhealthiest. Yesterday at Henry's, I saw a package of organic lunch meat for $6.79. I'm sorry but that's just insane.
However, I don't know anyone who, could they afford it, would say "nah, organics are great and all but I think I'll stick to the high sodium stuff."

Now, I realize no one is holding a gun to my head. We don't have to buy pre-packaged. The same goes for fast food. No one made me go to El Pollo Loco for lunch (BRC burrito and quesadilla for $1.28 each).

And I know there are places I can shop where the prices are reasonable and the food is healthy and high quality (Trader Joe's and Henry's are my two faves). But I wonder if the same is true in other cities?

While I believe everyone needs to make informed choices, read labels, have a balanced diet and excercise, I don't believe poor impulse control and fast food are the sole reasons people have ballooned.

I don't have any answers and I'm not really sure what the solution is. What's happening in your family? Are groceries a big strain on your budget? Have you had to compromise on the things you buy?

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  1. You have got to read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She addresses these issues and a lot more.

    I find the biggest thing that saves me money is cooking largely vegetable based dishes from scratch. When I'm on my game and do this we save money and eat healthier. When I get lazier, the opposite happens.

  2. I won't argue any of this - I would say, though, that since we've started going "old school" with meal prep, it's helped. I can only imagine who much better it would get if we could afford to go organic.

  3. Okay, tryin' this again - Blogger ate my last comment.

    I don't feel too badly about not eating organic. I can't get over the idea of veggies grown mainly in POO. I'll take my chemically enhanced CHEAP veggies thank you.

    But then again, that's probably the OCD talkin'.

  4. The processed stuff can be cheaper, but let's face it, if you're just buying produce, dairy and bread it's not that expensive at Henry's or TJ's. It gets pricey when you start taking short cuts. Whole foods are cheap when bought locally and in season. My prob is grabbing for the crackers, chips, special sauces, frozen stuff, etc. And wine.

  5. I agree with Jenn and Mommyrella. The individual ingredients I use to cook -- the veggies, brown rice, tomato sauce, etc. -- aren't expensive (especially at Trader Joe's)...but it's when I buy the pre-packaged, prepared meals that I pay through the nose.

    I do like to buy organic, but I'm willing to compromise if it's just too pricey. Farmer's Markets are even expensive these days.

    I find that buying in bulk too (from Henry's and Costco) saves me tons.


  6. I am a person that has always struggled with weight. Whenever I choose to diet I always know my grocery bill is going to go UP! Eating healthier is definately more expensive. I am not a person that goes organic in my grocery shopping. Maybe I'll regret it one day but for now, this is what I do.

    Great post.


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