Out of touch or out of wack? – food costs.

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After our weekly grocery trip this past weekend, I started wondering about the new method we had been using to get our groceries.  Basically I have started making a monthly menu along with a monthly grocery shopping list.  Those items that we can buy in bulk and will not go bad before we use them (think meats, canned goods, etc) get purchased in one trip and then we go weekly for the perishables needed for that week as well as needs for snacks and packing lunches.

We implemented this idea 2 months ago to save on time spent every week and to hopefully cut down on cost by reducing eating out as well as trips to the store and being able to use our local club store to purchase in bulk where appropriate.

At any rate, the only way to know if this plan actually served the above purposes was to do a little math.  So I averaged out what we spent per week (about $95) which led to further curiosity, what does the average family of 3 spend on groceries?  I was slightly shocked to see that the USDA puts cost of food for a family of 4 (two adults and two school age children with all meals and snacks prepared at home) on a thrifty plan is $146.  They did caveat that by saying the diet was ‘healthy’ according to choosemyplate.gov, but I would argue that my family gets a good amount of fruits, veggies, and more whole and organic products than a typical american diet (and more than what we had been using in the past) and we are seeing a spend of approximately $51 per week less.

In addition to feeding my family 3 meals a day on that budget and having snacks available, we have also been stocking our freezer full of ready made meals for our new baby’s arrival.  We have been getting an average of 2 freezer meals per week on top of our meals.  And the majority of the time both the freezer meal and the cooked meal give a total of 1 family meal plus leftovers for lunch the next day.  In the past we had been focused on a tighter budget – and I would expect to see us trend lower over the summer as our garden starts to grow and farmer’s markets are widely available again.

So, here is the question – Am I completely out of touch or is the USDA’s estimate out of wack?

I realize these number are based on a national average and that the general populations overall expanding waistline increases individual food demands.  I am also aware that we are a family of 3, not 4, and our little one is still a little one who doesn’t eat as much as an older child or teenager would – but I think that is well balanced by purchasing extra items that my picky eater will eat that wouldn’t otherwise come into our home.  Clearly the area in which you live greatly dictates the amount you spend per week but I had always assumed I lived in an ‘average priced’ food market.

And when you consider a liberal food plan sits at $289 per week … well I don’t even want to think about that.

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