The Economics of Eating Well


I was thinking about my grocery bill the other day. This isn’t the sexiest topic, obviously, but it had been on my mind. I was wondering whether my commitment to healthy eating was going to put me in the poorhouse, to be honest.

After all, it isn’t cheap to buy wholesome ingredients, and I was exercising sufficiently that I was eating what felt like a heck of a lot of wholesome ingredients throughout the day.

I figured that I spent about $300/week on groceries for myself and my parents while on the farm. This isn’t a negligible sum, especially when I considered that I wasn’t shopping at Whole Foods but at the local Superstore.

But when I ran the simple math, I felt better. Three hundred dollars a week for three people means a hundred dollars a week for one person. Which means approximately fifteen dollars a day per person, or five dollars per meal.

I could definitely live with five dollars a meal. Even if I bumped breakfast down to three bucks, that still gave me a healthy, nutritious dinner (and healthy, homemade dessert!) for seven dollars per person, or just over twenty bucks for three. Show me a restaurant that can match those economics!

When I ran down my grocery bill, I couldn’t find many leaks, either. (Or leeks, for that matter. #DadJoke) I spend a significant amount on fresh fruit and berries, and I eat plenty of raw nuts and Greek yogurt, too.

And spinach. Lots and lots of spinach. We eat plenty of lean protein like ground turkey, chicken and fish, and obviously that adds up, too. But not as much as I’d expected.

The other thing I noticed was that a lot of the groceries I was buying were “starter” ingredients and longer-term investments, like a bag of whole grain flour, or a bag of quick oats, or various spices and healthy cooking oils. Or even adequate measuring cups, which we’d been sorely lacking!

I’d also spent $50 on a food processor, which seemed like a big investment at the time, but it’s paid for itself a few times over in healthy avocado fudge brownies at this point.

What I didn’t find on my grocery bill were junky indulgences like chips, candy, cookies and pop. I don’t even generally buy frozen lasagnes or chicken pies anymore, when they used to be among my weekly staples.

When I used to grocery shop with my partner, we would each take a basket, and meet up at the cash register. Her basket would come back full of kale and beets and carrots and berries and yogurt. Maybe some good cheese. Mine would feature a lot of boxes: crackers, cookies, candy. Lazy-man meals like those two-minute rice packets, Annie’s mac and cheese, the aforementioned frozen meat pies.

I’d grab a thing of oranges, sure, or bananas, but often I’d chuck a bag of chips in there, too.

I remember thinking what a contrast we made. Not much of what she brought home looked as immediately appealing as a container of fresh-baked chocolate cookies, but she was clearly approaching the nutrition question from an entirely different tack.

Of course, she was doing most of the cooking, and if she wasn’t around, I would look for the easiest way possible to feed myself. I ate in restaurants a lot. Or I ordered like $90 worth of decadent Indian food and ate butter chicken for three days. Neither of these options was healthy, or economically wise.

Obviously there is a time component to cooking your own food, and I’m lucky enough that lately I’ve had sufficient time to research and to do the actual cooking.

But I still try to optimize my time; I make a huge pot of whatever I’m making and usually it’s enough to last two or three days, or longer if I’m cooking for myself. If it tastes good, I don’t mind eating the same thing a few days in a row, especially if it means I don’t have to make something new right away.

I guess the point of this post has been to illustrate that despite what initially struck me as a really large up-front grocery cost, my commitment to healthy eating has been good for my body and for my bank account. Which means I really have no excuse for ever going back to frozen pizza and greasy burgers again!