March 06, 2009

Whole Foods, not whole wallet

Time and time again I hear the same story: "I want to shop at Whole Foods [or other health food grocery store] but it's too expensive."

Let me start by saying this: Food Should Cost Money. The only thing in your life more important than food is water. Not TVs, not cars, not even heating your home. Not even that cute little dress in the catalog that came in the mail yesterday. The one with the V-neck and shirring... wait... No. Food and water.

Ok, so I understand the shopping dilemma. Milk and Cheerios at the conventional grocery store cost less than their counterparts at Whole Foods. But what if it's more about shopping habits than the store you happen to shop in? When you really start to shop smart you'll find that it is the conventional grocery stores that cost you more. The photo above is a week's worth of food for Max and I from Whole Foods. It was actually a big shopping week: $75. I don't usually buy a bottle of organic olive oil, or boxed cereal, or meat. (The week before was just $35.)

So start planning, sista
This is maybe the most important step to eating well/spending less. Before you hit the store, decide what you are going to cook and make a list of things you need to buy. Do this in your kitchen so if a recipe calls for garlic you can look and see if you already have enough. And this is a great point – make your meal plan around things you already have in the house and you will need to buy much less. And learn from my mistakes...the list only works if you remember to bring it to the store! This photo is last week's grocery list. Luckily, it doesn't have to be pretty.

Spinach or arugula? Who cares?

Let's say your handy list says to buy a bunch of spinach. But at the store, arugula is on sale for half the price of spinach. Buy the arugula. I'm betting that the recipe will turn out just fine and you'll save a few bucks. You may even find yourself getting more creative and eating new foods this way. Don't be afraid to be flexible and creative with your plan. If you REALLY think ahead you can create meal plans based on your store's weekly sales. Then you are a money saving ninja!

Ditch some nice-to-haves
Last week I bought meat for the first time in a very, very long time. Meat is expensive. Buy less and save money. But this week I decided it was a must have. That means other things became less important: crackers, cookies, or that yummy tea. Those were nice-to-haves that I didn't absolutely need. So I got the meat, but it meant sacrificing a few other things. Makes sense, right? Audit your shopping cart as you go.

Buy less. Duh.
I used to buy a lot of fruit because I wanted to eat more fruit. But over the course of the week I'd forget to eat it, or ultimately go for the cookies instead. The fruit would go bad. That is not money well spent. Now I buy less fruit and if we run out, I buy some more.

I love bulk, unless it's my thighs
Now here's an example of why you might choose to shop at Whole Foods or another health food store. The bulk section is amazing. Instead of spending $8 on a whole bottle of dried tarragon, I can just buy the 1 tsp. I need. Forget buying more because you might need it later. Unless it's a staple item just buy the amount you need NOW.

And now the obvious stuff...
Well, at least I think it's fairly obvious: buy the store brand whenever possible, buy more fresh ingredients and less processed or prepared food, and don't shop when you are hungry!

So why do conventional grocery stores actually cost more? Well, when you are shopping for healthy food at the A&P you will be lucky to find it. Say, whole wheat flour. And when you do find it, they will probably only have one brand and one size. So immediately you are going to buy a more expensive brand and way more quantity than you need. So the overspending begins...

Let's go back to our original example of milk and Cheerios. If you follow the guidelines here, you'll buy organic milk and spare your body the hormone and antibiotic additives. Instead of a processed food like Cheerios you'll buy organic rolled oats in the bulk section for half the price. In the end your spending the same amount of money on much, much better food choices. Happy Shopping!

Need some frugal recipes? Try these:
Six Veggie Salsa
Taco Style "It's Just Like Hummus"
World's Most Flexible Chili Recipe

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Frugal Recipes Carnival.


Sarah said...

Great tips and great post!


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! So many people I talk to fear the $$ part of healthy veggie based eating. Thanks for putting up all of these handy examples and tips!


Anonymous said...

Fabulous, fabulous advice--and a great looking haul. (And boy, do you ever have beautiful handwriting!) ;)

michaela said...

i totally agree with you. bulk, less meat and going back to the market or farm stand if you run out, you don't need to buy a month's worth of produce.

for such a wealthy nation, we spend a very low percentage of our income on food. countries like italy and france allocate more of their budget, which isn't surprising as they favor quality in their foods.

Torrie said...

Brava! I wholeheartedly agree! My DH and I do spend $$ on fresh, healthy, quality food. As Will says "it is an investment in our long-term health."

Not Another Omnivore said...

Fabulous entry! Lots of great points!


Darya Pino said...

Great post! We should have collaborated ;)

I do want to point out that my cereal is (Flax Plus) $4.50 at Safeway and $2.25 at Whole Foods. Add that to everything else you said and you see how full of holes the "healthy eating is too expensive" argument is.

Also, our groceries look almost identical ;)

Erica said...

What a great article! I would add that the one thing that has saved me considerable money has been to plan my meals out for the week. Saves me from throwing out stuff that would otherwise go bad.

Erica @realfood2health on Twitter!

cook4seasons said...

Great minds think alike (again;-) I am constantly hammered on the 'Whole Paycheck' topic, and just as you have pointed out - there are deals to be found there. Now that Whole Foods has such massive buying power, they can pass those savings along to the consumer. And like in any store, it's the savvy shopper who reaps the rewards ;-) Thanks, Michelle!

Anonymous said...

Great tips there. I think the temptation of food is some time too great to avoid the tasty food, i prefer having all the food and later work it out.

Lori said...

Very good tips! I think the best thing that can be done is cutting out processed foods. It really cuts the budget.

We stick to an incredibly tight food budget so that we can travel more. (Travel is the one thing that is on the same level of importance as food for me. I need it for well-being. :)) While I don't do all my shopping at a place like Whole Foods I have found that I can find better deals on some things at those types of stores. Almond butter is a good example. I tend to do combo shopping - chain grocer, health food stores, farmer's markets, local orchards in season and a garden when I have one. Time consuming, but I save the most money.

Planning meals ahead works for me and others I just let myself be inspired by what is on sale or in season.

tamamoo said...

Great post. I found my way here from Nourishing Gourmet. Question: how many people does that feed? I do a lot of shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, trying to get quality not just low cost. Just curious how many you are feeding on that.

The Blonde Duck said...

We don't have a whole foods here. And I'm afraid I'm a meat-a-holic. I'd pitch a fit without it!

Culinary Wannabe said...

Great tips! I find we spend SO much money on groceries (a box of cereal at our local grocery is $8!), mostly because prices are jacked way up in the city. My question for you though is - At WF, is it better to spend a little more and buy the organic version, or just buy the conventional one? I'm always confused by this!

Michelle said...

@Sarah – thanks for stopping by!

@Hello Veggie – thanks, glad you enjoyed!

@Ricki – I know you must be joking about the handwriting bc I can barely read it!

@michaela – true stuff. seems like Americans feel entitled to cheap food because of years of it being that way.

@Torrie – I wish there was a way of putting a dollar amount on avoiding future health issues. might help folks. good for you!

@NAOmni – thanks! looking forward to meeting you!

@Darya – cheers to that :-)

@Erica – yup, my meal plan and grocery list are essential to not overspending

@cook4seasons – I find WF usually has the cheaper price on certain items, but our local co-op is cheaper for others. I comparison shop like mad :-)

@Car Blog – So, how do you keep from overspending on groceries?

@Lori – good call. Whole Foods and our local co-op in the winter, but come summer I'll have the heavenly Farmer's Market...mmmmm

@tamamoo – thanks for stopping by from the Nourishing Gourmet carnival! our groceries are just for my husband and myself.

@BlondeDuck – I think most of these tips apply to wherever you do your shopping. If meat feels good to your body, then go for it! In that case, cheaper cuts for use in stews and such can help save some money in tight times.

@CulinaryWannabe – great question. there are a handful of items I either buy organic or not at all (like bell peppers). But for the most part I try to split the difference, buying some organic and some conventional. There's lots of info out there about what is MOST important to buy organic...maybe an upcoming blog post? We'll see :-)

Erica said...

Love whole foods! I agree, money should be spent on food. I spend quite a hefty amount each week (mostly due to my husbands meat eating needs). I make a list of what I will make for din din each week, make a list of foods needed to make those dinners, and go out and buy! We eat home cooked meal for every meal except 1 dinner out a week.

My Year Without said...

Not only is healthy food cheaper (nutrient per cent spent), the so-called expensive food is actually what we should all be paying for food. The industrialization of our food supply actually makes food unreasonably CHEAP. When people argue that organics are "expensive" I explain that actually, it's the price that food SHOULD be at. All of those cheap, industrialized foods are over-produced, while leaving giant footprints.

And there are people who see my bag of $75 groceries and say that's way too expensive, but actually, because ALL of the food I buy is healthy, I am getting more nutrients than their WinCo bags of groceries of sodas, frozen meals, and other junk food. Nutrient per nutrient, health food is actually cheaper. You can eat 10 hamburgers at McDonald's, but you will never get the nutrients that a handful of almonds deliver.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michelle, great tips especially the bulk section! If I may add that WF is great for organic baby foods as well, much better than the conventional supermarkets.

vicky said...

I have to disagree with you. For $75 I could buy a heck of a lot more than that - and I don't buy junk foods and frozen dinners either.

Whole Foods can offer some decent prices on occasion but really, for $75 that's a waste of money.

Organic Food said...

I agree so much with the piece. We avg about $800.00 a month for a family 6. Take the Organic Food Challenge with us.

Jennifer said...

This is such a great post! I'm definitely learning that eating good quality foods is not as expensive as I once thought.

Anonymous said...

I would spend at least $100 and have to travel 4 hours by car to get all the food you have in your picture....for this reason we eat a lot of whole foods, but many aren't organic. However, your shopping tips are very good. I wish we had a Whole Foods even in the location we grocery shop at, 4 hours away.

Laura said...

I live in South Florida and I do most of my shopping at Whole Foods.Nuts,sprouts...ordering on line,since Whole Foods sells only pasteurized almonds..
I wish I can find a source for raw milk...
Sprouting is a great way to add living foods into your diet..
Great post!!

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