Sunday, October 26, 2008

Price of food

I am the kind of uninspired cook that has to have a recipe. Blair can go into the kitchen at 5 and "whip something up," but I've never had that gift. I am also the type who beats herself up about the amount of money we spend on food. There are seven of us, which includes three teenagers, so I never expected feeding us to be a low-cost venture. But I always feel bad if I leave the store spending more than the "$100 a week" some of those other big families out there spend (like I believe them anyway.)

I can spend as little as $250 to feed us for a week. It won't be pretty, though. We're talking the Standard American Diet here, which is sad indeed. Cold cereal, PB&J, frozen entrees bought on a BOGO, chips and chocolate. *barf*

Or, I can spend $350 a week and feed us well. Leafy greens, colorful veggies, lots of beans and a smattering of meat. I know that figure shocks some of you, it shocks me, too. And lest you think I'm buying "goodies," here's this week's breakdown:

Bread: $21.44 (7%)
Canned goods: $16.70 (5%)
Dairy: $30.84 (9%)
Dried Fruit and Nuts: $9.47 (3%)
Frozen: $1.79 (less than 1%)
Grains: $8.97 (3%)
Meats: $42.66 (13%)
Paper: $17.34 (5%)
Treats (crackers, a jar of nutella and a jar of PB): $12 (4%)
Produce: $161.48 (50%)

That $323 will last us close to, but not quite a week. Yeah, I could (and do!) make my own bread. The bread listed here is weird stuff like bagels and tortillas. One of our less expensive snacks is quesadillas with just a tortilla and cheese, but I can't make my own tortillas well enough. And one bagel with a topping is a whole meal. Canned goods includes canned beans and tomato products. I could (and do!) make beans from dried, but canned is an important shortcut for me when time is short. $31 for dairy might seem a bit low for a family with growing children and high for a family with allergies. That total includes soy milk for Papa and lactose-free for Blair. The dried fruits and nuts aren't a weekly expense, but this week we're having a couple dishes that include them. They go a long way and have a good shelf life, so leftovers won't go to waste.

A package of corn is all I got from the freezer section. If we want ice cream or popsicles we'll make it ourselves. Grains includes whole grains to mill at home for bread baking, some polenta and a big canister of rolled oats. I went a tiny bit overboard on the meats this week. Although we are only having three meals with meat at all, they are salmon, lamb and chicken. The lamb was just one pound ground, so that's a chunk. The chicken, too, was a chunk and on sale. But, oh, the salmon! $20 is a whole lot less than you'd pay in a restaurant to feed salmon to 7 people, and I really feel strongly about the nutritional advantage of fish, but $20 for one item really chokes me.

I'm not going to begrudge the kids for asking for crackers and nutella. We're not drinking sodas or juice, and after a week of kale and collards they'll need something yummy. I'm not going to fuss about several boxes of Kleenex when we have runny noses or the cost of toilet paper. It is what it is.

But $161 for produce?!? Yikes! That really hurts! And the individual prices hurt, too. $2.50 for a head of romaine. One tomato for $2.59. One bell pepper for $2.09. That's just wrong. How am I supposed to push fruits and veggies if they are so outrageously priced?

And how, exactly do those other large families get out of the store for $100 a week? I can only assume they're eating the SAD. Our allergies pose a problem in that so many processed foods have corn and casein and other things we can't have. But really, do they just not eat tomatoes? Ever? No salads? What? How do they do it?

I was so spoiled by our CSA program. It was a challenge coming up with ways to serve what I got before it went bad, and I'll confess, the radishes, okra and one of the eggplants went to the neighbors. But paying up front for it made it seem like it was "free food" and that made it a lot easier to swallow than buying at grocery store prices weekly.

I need to figure something out for sure, because when we eat well, our food budget surpasses our mortgage payment.

No comments: