Monday, March 14, 2011

FAQs: Part 3--The cost of eating healthy

Did you ever have one of those emotional, over-worked and under-slept days?  I'm having one of those.  My little girl has been sick going on three weeks now and nobody in the house has had much relief or sleep.  My weekend was non-existent because of all the work that needed done.  And then I just wrote a letter to my son about how proud I am of all his accomplishments (for a school project).  Now I'm sitting here in tears.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not sad or depressed.  I'm just drained from all the worry and feelings of helplessness a mom gets when we can't make the boo-boos all better with just a kiss.  I'm exhausted from the lack of sleep, and I'm emotional because I have really great kids.  Usually when I feel this way I go straight for the munchies.  Ice cream?  Candy bars?  Chips and salsa?  Sweet or salty--what's your comfort food of choice?

But I don't have the munchies, and I don't feel like eating.  This vegan diet is screwing up my whole life! (wink wink)  I can't even have a mom-fit the proper way today because I feel full and satisfied from the bean and potato salad I had for lunch.  Since I've started eating vegan, I haven't been snacking or sneaking bites here or there.  I do occasionally find myself standing in the kitchen arguing with myself.  See, one part of me feels this full and satisfied feeling.  But the other part of me is so used to rummaging in the kitchen, grabbing just a nibble of a cookie or just a few Cheetos.  That's a hard habit to break. 

The other night, Eli came home from the school carnival with a cake he won in the cake walk. He was so proud to bring it to us and he insisted we try it that instant.  So I served up a piece for everyone, but I just couldn't eat it.  I wasn't having any adverse reaction to cake or the thought that it was probably made with eggs and/or milk products or anything like that.  I just wasn't hungry.

(Yes, I have a point.  I'm getting there, stick with me!)

Many people have argued with me that eating healthy is too expensive.  But I've found that to be untrue for my family.  We actually eat less and we are much more contented by what we do eat.  That first week I purchased and cooked WAY too much food.  I thought we would be hungry eating vegan, so I attempted to make up for it by making a mountain of food.  But in a few short weeks, I've adjusted my cooking and my meal plans to better fit the portion sizes we need and want.

My monthly food budget is lower than most. And keep in mind that I'm feeding my family AND feeding my child care kids.  I plan on breakfast, 3 snacks, lunch and supper seven days a week (feeding at least four people at each).  There are a number of reasons that I spend less money than most, and it's not just veganism.  Rest assured I feed everyone proper amounts of food and nobody goes hungry.  I don't deny my family anything.  It's about being smart with your budget and plans. Saving money on groceries has very little to do with what you eat.  And things like coupons and savings tend to cost more in the end, or you end up throwing away food instead of using it.  I have very little food waste in my home.

My biggest advice for saving money on groceries is to make a meal plan and a grocery list and to stick to it.  Be disciplined to purchase only what you need and to use what you have.  That doesn't mean you never buy goodies or chips or extras.  But if you buy them, have a plan as to when you will eat them.  Just having them in the house leads to one of two results--you either eat it without any thought (thus gaining weight and being unhealthy) or you end up throwing it out because you didn't really need it (thus wasting money and food).

My weekly menu is a way for me to use up what I buy.  If I buy lettuce and tomatoes to top off fajitas, I schedule to have falafel pitas with those toppings or a salad the next day.  If the spaghetti squash is too large to use up in one meal, I either freeze half for another time or I plan on using it as a lunch the next day.  I use up the fresh ingredients that are more likely to go bad early in the week, and save up the frozen, canned or pre-made meals for later in the week.  Also, if I need one tomato, I buy one tomato--even if the package of four is on sale.  What good does it do to buy four at a lower price if I'm just going to end up throwing it away?  There is very little food in my refrigerator/pantry that doesn't have a plan that goes with it.  Of course, I keep the staples around (flours, butters, canned goods, dried fruits, etc.).  But most everything has a purpose and a time-line for it's use.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issues national standards for 2010 in various spending categories, including food. 
For two people, that amount is $537 per month.

I did a check on my food budget and costs for the last few weeks.  Normally I spend about $550-600/month on food.  That's an average of about $20/day or $140/week.  This is ALL food for my family and child care--even our dining out and party/liquor budget.  But as I look back on the last few weeks of grocery bills, they were $89-122/week.  Without even trying, I'm saving money on my food budget.  

FYI: I looked up a lot of stats on the internet.  Most listed that a food budget should be about 13% of your income and should include all food including groceries and dining out.

If you are interested in talking to me more about a weekly meal plan or need help setting up one of your own, just let me know.  I'm happy to work with you on a more individual basis.  I have a blank menu plan I can send for you to use, or I can send you examples of my own weekly menu (even pre-vegan for those carnies out there). Keep in mind that one meal plan will not work for every family.  Mine wouldn't work for most because I am planning meals for my work.  But there are ways to make a plan fit for your family that can help you to stay disciplined with your budget and your eating.

Oh, and I'm taking a "Happy Mom Day" with the money I saved!

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