Experiment in Frugality

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | April 9th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living, Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

It doesn’t look like the economy is improving any time soon, so let’s revisit the concept of healthy on a budget. Can it be done?

I came across a blogger, Rebecca Blood (her blog’s called Rebecca’s Pocket), who embarked on an experiment long before the recession was causing us to look twice at our grocery bills. In May 2007, she subjected herself and her husband to The (Organic) Thrifty Food Challenge, a month long attempt to spend only around $35 a week per person for food, the same amount as the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is the basis for food stamp allotments.

Blood’s twist was that, as one who tries to eat organic and local food as much as possible, she would attempt to eat on the $35/week allowance while maintaining her usual high standards of the ingredients she buys.

In her daily reports, Blood struggles with having to keep such scrupulous track of food costs, stresses at the checkout counter about how much her grocery tab is, and wistfully passes on expensive treats that aren’t within her budget. But she ultimately finds that with careful planning, and diligent consuming of leftovers, she’s able to stick to her plan. She makes her own yogurt, vegetable stock and bread, and uses her freezer to full advantage, buying foods in large quantities while they’re on sale, and dividing them up and freezing for later. Miraculously, she always comes in under the $74 weekly budget that she has allotted for herself and her husband. And, judging from her mouthwatering descriptions of the meals she makes, she eats very, very well, even with such financial restraint.

Here are some tips from Blood’s experiment that can help the rest of us cut down our food bills, although possibly not to the bare-bones budget that she was able to follow:

  • Become a vegetarian, or at least eat less meat. Chicken, beef and fish can really pad your grocery bill, especially if you’re trying to buy responsibly raised meat. Look for plant-based sources of protein, such as tofu or legumes.
  • Join a CSA or a food co-op. You’ll get great quality produce and bulk items for far less than you might pay at a natural foods store or a regular supermarket.
  • Eat lots of beans. As Rebecca says, “They’re cheap, nutritious and delicious.”
  • Don’t buy processed foods. Rebecca makes a lot of food from scratch, even vegetable stock and yogurt.
  • Pack your lunches. It’s easier to make sure that you’re eating something nutritious and that fits with your personal quality criteria, and it’s far cheaper than getting food at a restaurant.
  • When items you regularly use go on sale, stock up, and freeze or store the excess until you need it.
  • Have an arsenal of simple, quick, healthy, satisfying recipes. If it’s difficult or time-consuming to make a meal, you might be tempted to just get take-out, or to eat something less healthy.

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