In 2022, my family of four spent $10,209.68 on groceries. That averages out to $850.81 per month, which is $212.70 per person. We are two adults (ages 39 and almost-39) and two kids (ages 7 and 5). Today I bring you an exposé, a deep dive into what we eat, where we buy it, how we prepare it and how much we spend on it. Ever wondered what I eat? Wonder no more!!!
Do You Actually Know What You Spend on Food?
I walk around with an idea in my mind about what we eat and how much we spend on it, but I wanted to interrogate that assumption. Did I actually know what we spent last year? And how much that was per person? NOPE I did not. Despite rigorously tracking our spending with Personal Capital each month–and sharing it here on Frugalwoods for the world to judge–I haven’t been in the habit of tallying up our annual expenses by category.
I know what we spend in a year, but I hadn’t done the granular breakdown. And what could be more illuminating, more tantalizing than knowing what we spent on FOOD?! It’s the frugal hallmark, it’s the encapsulation of the cliche “you are what you eat,” coupled with my personal favorite cliche “how you spend your money dictates the type of life you’ll lead.”
Groceries and menu planning are the most commonly discussed topics amongst Frugalwoods readers.
I know this because they come up in:
→It’s omnipresent because we must eat.
Groceries are the prime example of a “Reduceable” expense. When looking at someone’s spending, I like to categorize everything as either Fixed, Reduceable or Discretionary:
- Fixed expenses are things you cannot change. Examples: your mortgage and debt payments.
- Reduceable expenses are necessary for human survival, but you control how much you spend on them. Examples: groceries and gas for the cars.
- Discretionary expenses are things that can be eliminated entirely. Examples: travel, haircuts, eating out.
The Venn Diagram of Frugal and Healthy
As you will note, I do not have the cheapest, most bare bones food budget. Rather, I try to hit the intersection of frugal, healthy and delicious. I can’t put a price on my health–or my husband’s or children’s health–so I do indeed spend more on foods we view as healthy.
Q: Liz, do you think you’re a nutritionist?
A: No, I do not. I know our diet is imperfect, but it works for us.
As you can see in the below Venn Diagram (which I 100% made up… ), the goal for me is to hit the crossover point where I feel like we’re getting “healthy” foods–the kales of the world–but avoiding the most expensive ways to deliver these kales into our lives.
Here’s an example: at our warehouse store BJ’s (akin to Costco or Sam’s Club), I buy 1 lb of ORGANIC generic super greens (kale, spinach, etc) for $4.99. FOUR DOLLARS & NINETY-NINE CENTS (this would be so much easier if they just charged $5…). Were I to purchase this at Whole Foods or our local Coop, I’d spend double that for a smaller container. This is what I’m talking about when I caution against expensive grocery stores!
Our Grocery Shopping List by Store
I initially wrote out this list–and meal plan–at the request of one of my private financial consultation clients. She wanted to see what we eat and buy and so, I tried my best to write down everything we eat and where we buy it.
We shop approximately twice a month and don’t buy all of this stuff each time. Rather, this is the total overview of everything we buy and our bi-weekly lists change as needed. Plus, this doesn’t account for specialty meals, such as at Christmas and for birthdays. The cost spreadsheet (below) does include those meals, but I didn’t put the ingredients here since they’re infrequent and sporadic.
Q: Liz, are you aware there’s a lot of privilege in having the time and money to buy bulk, raw ingredients and cook them from scratch?
A: Absolutely, which is why I contextualize this as what I do and what works for my family. I cannot combat systemic economic disparities, much as I would like to.
Ok, here’s our list divided by source:
Purchased from the Co-op (ordered from their bulk department roughly once a quarter, see spreadsheet for precise dates):
- Organic Rolled Oats, 25lb bag (what we eat for breakfast)
- Organic White Whole Wheat Flour, 50lb bag (what we bake our bread with)
- Dried Garbanzo Beans, 25lb bag (what we make hummus with)
Purchased from our Farmer Neighbors (see spreadsheet for dates and quantities):
- Whole free-range chickens (we bought 14 in 2022)
- Grass-fed, free-range ground beef (we bought 8 lbs in 2022)
- Maple syrup (when we run out of syrup we’ve made)
Purchased from Hannaford’s (standard grocery store):
- Garlic (fresh)
- Ginger (fresh)
- Onions (yellow and red)
- Red cabbage
- Green onions
- Whole wheat pasta
- Baking supplies as needed (sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, etc)
Purchased from our local Asian Market:
- Fish sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Toasted sesame oil
- Red miso
Purchased from BJ’s (a warehouse store similar to Costco and Sam’s Club):
- Organic salad greens
- Organic apples
- Sweet potatoes
- Organic carrots (whole)
- Snap peas
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Goat cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Feta cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- ½ n ½
Greek yogurt (plain)
- Chicken thighs (as needed to supplement the local whole chickens we buy)
- Frozen berries + kale mix
- Pizza cheese
- Pepperonis (for pizza)
- Brown rice
- Organic quinoa
- Dried cranberries
- Organic raisins
- Some kind of cracker/chip for the kids (cauliflower sticks, veggie sticks, goldfish, etc)
- Organic peanut butter
- Organic olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Popcorn kernels (in bulk)
- Hot cocoa
- During ski season only: granola/protein bars for the kids to have in their coat pockets while on the slopes
Food We Grow and Preserve on our Homestead:
We’ve made other stuff from our gardens over the years–including kimchi, dried tomatoes, and currant cordial–but the above is the stuff we consistently eat and make. The kimchi, dried tomatoes and currant cordial all tasted kinda weird… so, live and learn!
I also want to be crystal clear that all of this would be cheaper if I bought it from a store.
Chickens have to be fed and cared for, garden seeds have to be purchased and planted and maintained, and canning is a real pain. I do these things because I enjoy them, certainly not because they save money. Potentially this could save me money over the VERY long term. Like if I’m still using the same canning jars and chicken coop in 40 years maybe I’ll break even. Not a joke, folks, not a joke. So don’t fret if you don’t have the time or space to garden or chicken–you’re not missing out on some major money-saving cabal.
Our Meal Plan
And here’s how we eat those foods. We are kind of boring in that we have a pretty standard rotation of foods. But we like it that way.
I am uninterested in spending a lot of time on meal planning and cooking; thus, I’m very content with a simple rotation.
I’d rather have more time and less variety, which works for me, but might not work for you! The key with food–and all things–is to figure out what works for you and what you’ll be able to stick with.
- Organic rolled oats with cinnamon and a banana
- This is the same for all four of us every single day
- Seasonally, we include berries from our yard
- Cheese on toast (from our homemade bread) and an apple
- He is also a boring person who eats the same thing every day.
Adult snacks options:
- Fruit, veggies, smoothies with plain Greek yogurt & frozen berries + kale from BJ’s, almonds, homemade hummus (using the bulk garbanzo beans from the Coop), cheese.
Kids’ food packed for school:
Snack example: carrot sticks, apple slices, goldfish crackers/veggie straws/cauliflower chips (bought in bulk packages from BJ’s)
- Lunch example: PB&J (homemade bread, homemade currant jam, organic PB from BJ’s), grapes, cucumber slices
- They don’t get exactly this every day–it rotates based on what fresh fruit and vegetables are in the house:
- When we’ve eaten all the fresh stuff, they get things like: raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, etc. Then, we know it’s time to go grocery shopping.
- Sometimes I pack lunch meat and cheese sandwiches OR peanut butter and banana sandwiches OR leftover dinner items.
- The kids get whatever’s leftover in their lunch boxes plus–depending on how hungry they are–carrots, snap peas, cheese, homemade apple sauce, almonds, toast, plain Greek yogurt, etc.
- We have apples, bananas and oranges on the counter that the kids are always welcome to free-snack on:
- Consequently, I find apple cores, orange peels and bits of banana all over my house.
- Recently found a desiccated carrot behind our piano… Kids are great.
- Last night it was whole wheat pasta, ham (taken out of the freezer from the ham we cooked at Christmas), snap peas and banana slices.
- Other common kid dinner items:
- Salmon burgers (purchased frozen from BJ’s)
- Quinoa or brown rice (served with salt and olive oil)
- Roasted sweet potatoes (or other roasted veggie: carrots, cauliflower, etc)
- Leftover homemade pizza
- Whatever fresh fruit/veggie is available
- Asian-inspired: greens, chopped red cabbage, shredded carrots, sesame seeds, green onions, protein (tofu, chicken or salmon) and Asian salad dressing.
- I’d say this is probably the yummiest of the three, but it also takes the longest to make on account of chopping up all the ingredients and making the dressing.
- Here’s Nate’s recipe for this dressing:
- Minced fresh ginger, minced fresh garlic, lime zest, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, mirin, toasted sesame oil, red miso, and gochujang.
- Combine ingredients and blend until smooth.
Cranberry & walnut: greens, cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese, roast chicken OR salmon, balsamic vinegar.
- This one is BY FAR the fastest and easiest. It takes ~3 minutes to make.
- Nate will roast/smoke a chicken once a week and slice it up. Then, I dump the ingredients together right before dinner.
- The dressing for this is just straight balsamic vinegar, which adds to how quick and easy it is to make.
- Greek-inspired: greens, garbanzo beans, feta cheese, cucumbers, green onions, white wine & garlic vinaigrette.
- We prefer this one during summer months.
- The dressing for this is kinda made-up, by which I mean it is 100% different every time I make it, but basically… I whisk together olive oil, white wine, minced garlic, a drop of maple syrup, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. It would make sense for me to write down the quantities, but eh, life is too short.
- Asian-inspired: greens, chopped red cabbage, shredded carrots, sesame seeds, green onions, protein (tofu, chicken or salmon) and Asian salad dressing.
Another typical dinner option (for kids and adults):
Saturday night special dinner options:
- Homemade pizza! Nate uses the following recipe to make his crusts:
- 454 grams water
- 12 grams sugar
- 25 grams olive oil
- 1 tblsp yeast
- 690 grams flour
- 1 tblsp salt
- Spaghetti and homemade Bolognese sauce!
Weekly Bulk Cooking
All of our “core” cooking happens in bulk so that on a daily basis, I’m just throwing things together.
Nate is in charge of all core cooking, which includes preparing:
- Salad dressings
- Homemade pizza
- Making jam over the summer
Daily Minimal Cooking
If I have time, I’ll do minimal daily cooking of things like:
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
A Note On Kid Meals
Q: Liz, how do you get your kids to eat that stuff?
A: We follow the Ellyn Satter Institute Division of Responsibilities eating model.
When Kidwoods was about two years old (and Littlewoods was zero years old), we began to implement The Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding protocol. That makes it sound super serious, but it’s a straightforward, simple framework for feeding kids that really resonated with us, made intuitive sense to our family, and that we continue doing to this day.
Here’s the rundown of the program, per their website:
Your [parent] jobs with feeding are to . . .
- Choose and prepare the food.
- Provide regular meals and snacks.
- Make eating times pleasant.
- Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
- Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
- Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
- Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .
- Eat the amount he needs.
- Learn to eat the food you enjoy.
- Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.
- Learn to behave well at mealtime.
As a result of following this approach, our kids are adventurous, eager eaters. Yes, they absolutely complain about some foods. Yes, they sometimes completely avoid eating a particular food on their plate. But, no, they have not starved and no, I do not deviate from Satter’s methodology. Does this approach work for every child? Of course not! Does this approach work for my kids? Yes.
I think the key for us is that we started when they were very young and have been 100% consistent. I find this approach SO MUCH EASIER than catering to specific likes/dislikes/complaints. My kids have preferences–which they’re free to voice–and I try to take those into consideration when preparing their meals. But, they do not dictate what or how our family eats.
How Do I Deal with Kid Complaints About Food?
The less said, the better.
Here’s a sample conversation from last week:
- Littlewoods (age 5): “I HATE Brussels sprouts! I WILL NOT eat them! UGGGHHHHHH! Ewwwwwwwwww!!!!”
- Me (age almost-39): “Ok.”
THAT’S IT. No need to engage, contradict, force or offer alternatives. If I force her to eat them, that’ll build resentment and potentially an unhealthy/bizarre relationship with food. If I contradict her and say, “you loved them the last time you ate them,” I’m just adding fuel to her preschool rage and she’ll see this as an invitation to dig in and fight harder. If I offered an alternative food, that would teach her that when she rudely whines about a food, she gets rewarded with a different food.
Conversely, if I am totally unbothered and either don’t respond or just say a breezy, “ok,” it diffuses the situation almost immediately. She still didn’t eat the sprouts, but it didn’t create a scene or a struggle. And for what it’s worth, she ate them the next night because she’d forgotten she hated them, in part because I hadn’t made an issue out of it.
If one of our kids declares they don’t want to eat ANYTHING on their plate, our response is also, “ok.” If they persist, our response is, “Then you must not be hungry. If you are hungry, that is the food you can choose to eat. It is up to you whether or not you eat it.”
I cannot remember a single time in the last seven years of parenting when a child didn’t eat at least some of their meal. Turns out? They’re usually hungry enough.
Do I Ever Force My Kids to Eat Something or “Try One Bite”?
Nope. Per the Satter model, it’s up to my kids what and how much they choose to eat of the foods I provide to them. I’m not in their bodies and I don’t know how hungry or full they are. Most importantly, I want them to develop their own satiety cues. If I constantly forced them to eat more or less, they wouldn’t develop the self-regulation that’s so crucial to how we nourish our bodies and enjoy food.
Regarding the “try just a bite” prompt, what do you think would happen if I’d forced Littlewoods–in her enraged state–to take a bite of sprout? She would’ve spit it out and screamed. It wouldn’t matter how delicious it was, she wanted to prove a point and BE IN CHARGE.
Once I realized that this type of prompt is about power–and has nothing to do with nutrition–it became a lot easier for me to disengage and diffuse.
Additionally, our wise pediatrician reminded us early on that children are physically incapable of starving themselves before the age of 7. In other words, if a neurotypical kid is hungry enough, they will eat what’s on their plate.
You, the parent, are in charge of buying and preparing foods. You, the parent, are responsible for determining the diet your family will eat. It is not the role of a child to demand, threaten or beg for certain foods.
DISCLAIMER: Of course there are a number of sensory disorders, neurodivergent experiences, disabilities, food allergies and other issues that make this an unsafe, impossible or even dangerous approach for some children and families. Again, I’m sharing this because it’s what works for us.
Do I Ever Let my Kids Eat Junk?
Absolutely. At birthday parties, cook-outs, Valentine’s Day parties, etc, they’re allowed to eat whatever’s on the menu: chips, hot dogs, cake, candy, soda, juice, etc. They understand that these are special occasion foods and I let them self-regulate (to a degree) how much of this food they eat.
There was a memorable experience when Kidwoods was 4 and she ate 4 hotdogs at a cookout and very nearly threw up… I will tell you that taught her A LOT about satiety and self-regulation.
On a daily basis, we let our kids have a “treat of the day,” which can be whatever they want and isn’t linked to a meal. Treats are consumed after school during our family “tea time” when we sit down and share about our days.
The girls can pick a piece of candy from their Halloween/Valentine’s/Easter/Birthday Party bags, a homemade baked good (if we have any), a cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows, or something like toast with maple syrup on top.
I like having “treat time” divorced from meals because it obviates the “you need to eat your healthy food first” conversation that can surround after-meal desserts. Again, I don’t force my kids to “just take one more bite” or “stop eating” or “try this please.” Having the treat exist on its own–and not as a “reward” for eating–seems to work well for us.
What We Spent in 2022
Alrighty, what you’ve been waiting for… here’s the breakdown of how much we spent on food during each month of 2022:
|Month||Groceries from Grocery Store||Bulk Foods & Farmer Neighbor-sourced Foods||Bulk & Farmer Neighbor-sourced Items Purchased|
|February||$770.08||$172.54||50 lbs of organic oats
50 lbs of organic white whole wheat flour
|April||$899.65||$160.10||50lbs of organic oats
25lbs of dry organic chickpeas
|July||$601||$265||8 whole, frozen, free-range chickens (plus maple syrup and some misc. produce)|
|August||$630.56||$50.00||8lbs of local organic, grass-fed beef|
|September||$636.70||$83.29||50 lbs of organic oats|
|October||$673.97||$8.57||Yeast for bread|
|November||$810.64||$110.12||Thanksgiving turkey + maple syrup|
|December||$939.03||$142.00||6 whole, frozen, free-range chickens|
|Subtotal Spent Per Category:||$9,218.06||$991.62|
|Total Spent in 2022:||$10,209.68|
|Average:||$850.81 per month||$212.70 per person per month|
Q: Liz, do you realize that a lot of people spend a lot less than you on groceries?
A: Yes, I do. As I noted, my goal is not to spend the absolute bare minimum on food. Rather, it’s to hit that central point on the Venn Diagram where frugal meets healthy (and delicious!).
How To Save Money On Groceries in 8 Easy-Peasy Steps
In closing, here’s the briefest possible list I could come up with:
Shop at inexpensive stores:
- Eliminate the Whole Foods and fancy Co-ops of the world from your routine.
- Buy bulk, raw ingredients:
- Always aim for the base-level ingredient.
- You want bread? Buy flour. You want carrot sticks? Get whole carrots. You want hummus? Buy dry garbanzo beans.
- Be selective about organic products and locate generic organic options.
- Limit meat and fish consumption.
- Always shop from a list. Do not try to wing it in the store.
- Be brutally honest about what, and how much, your family will eat.
- Nobody cares what you eat. Do what works for YOU.
- Devise a simple rotation of meals that you can easily, repeatedly execute.
- Do not waste food. Eat it up or freeze it.
- Avoid packaged and heavily processed foods (see #2):
- When you do need packaged foods, get them in bulk, i.e. giant bags of raisins from BJ’s as opposed to small, individually packaged boxes.
Create Frugal Food Habits
All of this is about creating routines and habits. Once you’re in this groove, it’ll be easy to iterate on. Yes, it’s a slightly painful learning curve at first, but once you go frugal, you rarely ever go back.
Take, for example, how we bake our own bread in our yard sale bread machine. Was it a learning curve at first? Obviously yes. Does it now take me 2 minutes to prepare? Also yes. Will I ever go back to buying expensive whole wheat organic bread from the store? Never ever.
Now that I know how to make organic whole wheat bread at home in 2 minutes for super cheap, why would I ever revert to my previously expensive ways? It’s cheaper, healthier, tastes better, engages my kids in cooking and makes my house smell AMAZING. The trick is to start these habits, engrain them into your routine and then keep on keeping on.
What are your tricks and tips for eating frugal and healthy?
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