Balancing Healthy Eating with Affordable Grocery Bills

by Debra Karplus
Balancing Healthy Eating with Affordable Grocery Costs photo

Has eating more healthfully increased your food costs? We explore creative ways to balance healthy eating with an affordable grocery bill.

A family of five eating a vegetarian diet and living in a college town in the Rocky Mountain area claims to spend about $2,000 each month for groceries. They are a husband and wife with two active children in elementary school and a toddler, who eat most of their meals at home and seldom dine out. This averages out to about $400 per person per month, if you make the assumption that each family member eats about the same quantity of food, which obviously they do not.

Their cousin who lives on her own in a Midwestern college town was shocked by their enormous grocery bill. She spends approximately $150 monthly eating very little meat other than a weekly serving of salmon and sometimes shrimp. She, too, mostly eats at home. Granted, the cost of living in the Midwestern town is lower than the town out west, but not more than 50% lower as the grocery bill differential might imply.

So, what types of grocery shopping drives up the cost of the average trip to the market?

Buying groceries on sale saves lots of money over time.

The woman who spends about $150 monthly shops mainly at one store that only sells food; it is not a big box store or discount store that also sells grocery items. She keeps a master grocery list, organized the way the store is laid out. Each week, she makes her shopping list of foods needed for the week, staple items such as oatmeal, non-fat dried milk, peanut butter, green tea, cheese, and so on. Her diet is heavy in fruits and vegetables, cooked and in salads.

Though she always likes to keep foods in the house such as oranges and potatoes, she buys greater quantities when these items are discounted. Additionally, foods like mangoes or avocados are purchased only when they are on sale, as they are generally higher priced produce items than broccoli or carrots.

She also tends to buy larger quantities of her groceries, such as the value package of salmon, which includes eight servings instead of four of the regular size. But she always has a small calculator in her purse and checks when it looks like the bigger quantity may not be the better value. (See Digital Grocery Price Book Solutions and Apps.)

The family of five eats nearly all foods that are organically grown. They value good produce and purchase items whether they are in season or not. Their high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is part of what makes their food bill so high. And though their family enjoys above-average health, one has to wonder how much their produce choices contribute to this overall health. (See 14 Ways to Buy Produce for Less.)

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Packaged foods can add dollars to your food bill.

The Midwestern woman living on her own buys essentially no packaged or convenient foods. If she wants macaroni and cheese, for example, she buys them as separate macaroni and cheese not together in a box. She also stays away from the prepared meals in the freezer section. The bakery and deli area of the supermarket are never part of this woman’s grocery trip. (See 6 Things You Need to Know About Grocery Store Aisles.)

The Rocky Mountain family is a very busy family and though they strive for the seemingly healthiest foods, convenience is something they seek also. Though they do prepare many healthy meals from scratch, you won’t be surprised to see veggie sausage links at their breakfast table or soy chicken nuggets at dinner. (See Weighing the High Cost of Convenience.)

Where you do most of your grocery shopping can make a big difference in your family’s food costs.

The woman, who is living on her own in the Midwest, shops predominantly at Aldi. Aldi is located around the world and can keep prices down because they have limited hours of operation, do not typically sell specialty foods, and do not bag or provide any bags for your purchases. You do the work, so you save money.

The family with the significantly large grocery bill buys many specialty items and shops at many places including Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market is an extraordinary place to find anything and everything you would want for healthy eating, but low prices is not their marketing niche.

The woman living on her own seldom discards food. She buys the amounts she needs and takes pride in finding creative uses for leftovers. The bigger family seems to have more wasted food, more foods lost in the back of the refrigerator that end up being discarded, and more uneaten food from kids’ plates.

Take some advice from these two families and find your own creative ways to balance healthy eating and an affordable grocery bill.

Reviewed September 2020

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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