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The Real Food Grocery Budget Challenge

 Lately I’ve seen a lot of discussion around the web about the financial cost of a real food diet.  Of course, compared to the eventual cost of the Standard American Diet and its devastating effects on one’s health, a real food diet doesn’t seem so spendy.

Regardless, there are a lot of American families who are living paycheck to paycheck and who buy snack cakes and $1 boxes of pasta because, despite a lack of nutrition, they contain the filler ingredients needed to keep tummies from growling.

Currently, our grocery budget for a family of five (dad, mom and three boys ages 11, 9 and 7–dad and oldest son are athletes; middle son can out-eat them both) is $1200-1500 per month in a low cost of living area.  I do think that is a little more than it should be because during soccer season (Spring and Fall) I rely on more convenience foods.  Real food convenience comes at a very high price and, frankly, not many true real foods come in a box or bag.  The goal is to make grab-and-go snacks myself, which is less expensive and much healthier, but adjusting to a new job has forced me to rely on pre-packaged foods more than I’d like.

Now that we’re in between soccer seasons, I have more time to make large batches of real food snacks and freezer meals so that our diet improves and our grocery spending is lessened.  However, eating a clean diet is still not easily done on a tight budget.  While there are many things that a family can do to eat less processed food and more real food while on a budget, there are some sacrifices that they may have to make in regard to food quality.  I don’t say this to discourage anyone from attempting to eat a real food diet while on a strict budget, but instead to encourage families to do the best they can with what they have and realize that making even small dietary changes can bring big results.

In order to decide how much I would spend during this grocery challenge, I first determined the poverty rate for a family the size of my own.  For a family of five an annual salary of $27, 010 is the poverty guideline.  Next, I plugged the information into the SNAP calculator for our state.  With an annual salary of 27, 010, a rent/mortgage of $600/month, and no other income we would receive around $568 in food stamps each month.  Frankly, there is no way we could consistently eat a real food diet that meets our current standards on $600 a month.  We definitely couldn’t do it for more than one month!  If we had no money to buy grass-fed meats in bulk, we simply couldn’t eat grass-fed meats.  I’m not sure we could keep up a wheat-free diet at home, because I’d need cheap wheat products to fill in the gaps. (I don’t restrict my family’s wheat consumption away from home, but we try to stay wheat-free while at home.)

I’ll admit it.  I could not feed my family a high-quality, real food diet if we had to use food stamps.  Of course, I could skip buying processed foods, but I’d have to feed them less food overall and I’d have to use wheat and other grains to fill stomachs.  Buying in bulk on $27000 a year would not be feasible either.

For one month, for research, for everyone who says that anyone can make real food affordable for any budget, I will attempt to feed my family a real food diet on $600.  To be completely transparent, I have several pastured chickens in my freezer, left from a recent bulk purchase from a local farmer. I also have several quarts of bone broth in my freezer that will allow me to use soups to stretch the budget. I have a spice cabinet full of organic herbs and spices.  I have a few pantry items like coconut flour, coconut oil, ghee, almond flour, etc that I won’t have to purchase too often within the next month.  Other than that, I will work hard to make the best choices I can make on a limited budget.

Undoubtedly, I will have to give up my grass-fed butter and cream because it costs too much.  (I’m not giving up my local, raw, grass-fed milk, though, but on $600 a month I can’t afford to buy enough of it to use the cream for anything but drinking with the milk.)  I won’t add wheat back into our diet at home, but if coconut flour doesn’t fit into the budget, I don’t know what I’ll do for our favorite baked goods.  We will definitely have to compromise on meats, with the exception of the chicken I have on hand.  We will consume less beef overall and it will not be grass-fed.  That one probably breaks my heart the most.  But again, the point is to see whether or not we can eat as close to a real diet as possible without relying on cheap, processed foods to fill in the gaps.  Nutrition is the focus and I believe we can have a nutritious, wheat-free diet on $600 per month.

I will post each week about what we’re eating and how much I spent at the grocery store.  Stay tuned to see how it goes!

$600 Real Food Grocery Budget Challenge First Post

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