Sunday, February 23

The High Cost of Healthy Eating

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Many people cite the high cost of healthy eating as a reason they cannot eat right, but you should think of the groceries you buy as an investment in your health.

In my last $0 Weekend Post, I was singing the praises of the iPhone app MyFitnessPal, which alerted me to the fact that I was not getting nearly enough protein in my diet. No wonder my muscle-building was stagnating! I made some adjustments to my diet, but I’ve decided to take it one step further and follow the Blogilates 90 Challenge Meal Plan with some modifications*. I realize I won’t see perfect results by cutting corners on some items, but I’m not doing this to enter a fitness competition, I just want a better diet!

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My most decent grocery haul — almost $60!

The Blogilates Meal Plan is seriously heavy on protein, so it’s going to go over and above to solve my problem of not getting enough. There’s only one big downside:

Eating healthy is expensive.

And eating a protein-heavy diet is even more expensive. As a general rule I’m not one to cheap-out on food, but even I’m finding my new grocery bill hard to swallow (no pun intended!). Thankfully, fruits and vegetables are typically very affordable at the grocery store, but you do need a lot of them to ensure you’re consuming enough calories. Ideally, you want to choose organic produce, preferably from your local farmer’s market, but this can significantly drive up the costs. Try to find balance between buying the healthiest, most nutritious food you need without breaking the bank!

How much does a fitness-focused weekly meal plan cost?

For fun and spreadsheet-love, I actually calculated the weekly and monthly cost of following the Blogilates 90 Day Challenge Meal Plan:

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 5.27.47 PM

Your own totals might be more or less depending on where you live, and the prices in at your local supermarket. Calculating the cost per item will let you utilize the data however you want — you can calculate price per meal or per week, depending on how you want to manage your food budget. Since I set a monthly food budget, and shop for my groceries weekly, determining the weekly and monthly costs made the most sense for me.

My meal plan costs $360 per month

A $75/week grocery bill is big for one person, but as you can see, protein is the biggest culprit. My chicken and tilapia cost nearly half of the total at $30/week I’m spending at the grocery store. I realize you’re looking at this and thinking there might be some places to cut costs but…

  • I know almost $5/dozen for eggs is expensive, but I prefer to select omega-3 enriched eggs. You can recognize them by their dark, almost orange-colored yolks. These are healthier and more nutritious than cheap eggs with pale yolks.
  • I’m loyal to 2 brands of yogurt, and these are more expensive than generic brands.
  • I’m limited to what grocery stores I can go to because I don’t have a car, so travelling far for marginally cheaper items doesn’t make sense. Additionally, I’m morally opposed to shopping at Walmart, so I do not frequent those type of big box stores for my food spending. Shopping at local, smaller stores makes my food more expensive.

I could elect to eat less healthy in order to save money, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I know buying healthy, nutritious food is a long-term investment — in my health! This will pay off financially in the future when I avoid costly health issues that are related to a bad diet. There really is no reason to go undernourished for the sake of having a few extra dollars in the bank. Doing so just ends up being more expensive in the long run when you have to deal with a myriad of health issues from years of poor nutrition.

o-a-place-at-the-table-570_custom-91ecc63205db5013bf502f1bc7a653eb09983583-s6-c30I’m lucky that I can afford to change my diet with my budget, because many people can’t. I recently watched A Place At The Table, a documentary about how many Americans are underfed and malnourished — often going hungry while being morbidly obese. How is that possible? Simple:

Bad food is cheap.

Calorie-wise you get more bang for your buck when eating like garbage, which isn’t right and certainly isn’t good. While the film highlighted poor Americans that couldn’t actually afford to eat better, I think there is some conversation to be had about what we perceive is reasonable to spend on food. Food accounted for 30% of household spending in 1950, and now is down to only 13%. We don’t want to spend a lot of money on food anymore because we want to spend it elsewhere: houses, cars, leisure, etc. Not ok!

Culturally, we have a disconnected, inconsistent, and often toxic relationship with our food.

Fixing our bad eating habits and improving our health has to start with changing our perspectives and values. While I’m not as interested in food culture as I am consumer culture, I really did enjoy a few books by Michael Pollan on the topic (though he’s a little too hardcore veg for me).

Ultimately I just want to eat food that will be used as fuel for my body. Whatever makes me stronger and healthier is going into my grocery basket and onto my plate — even if it’s a little bit more expensive.

What do you think is reasonable to spend on groceries?

*For those interested in my modifications to the Blogilates diet this is what I’m changing:

  • Keeping my yolks in my eggs! I’m not eating only egg whites, yuck.
  • Sometimes I’ll eat only 1 chicken breast or tilapia filet per day, because let’s be real, 2 per day is just too much of the same thing.
  • Making up for some of the deficiency in skipping 1 chicken/tilapia per day by 1) adding 1-2 tbsp of ground flax seed to my oatmeal and 2) adding 1-2 tbsp of hemp hearts to my salad 3) eating hard-boiled eggs with my salad or by themselves.
  • Making up for caloric deficiency of skipping the protein shake and one meat portion by consuming extra veg (mostly baby carrots, cucumber, and steamed asparagus) or extra fruit (berries, apples, bananas), extra eggs, and snacking on things like the energy bites I listed the recipe for in this $0 weekend post or nuts & seeds.
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About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary. CEO x 2 and MOM x 1. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.

41 Comments

  1. A fellow blogilates lover! I do her workouts, but never followed her meal plan (working out because my muscle tone is low). I think I need to increase my protein for that reason. Eating healthy, especially when you get into the nitty gritty (where did this come from? Is this really all-natural etc.) can get pretty pricey. My food budget is around $120-150 a month and I eat pretty healthy, but if I wasn’t budgeting myself so tightly, I’d probably be spending more on more expensive healthy foods (looking at you Whole Foods) and buy fish (pescatarian). It’s sad that the bad foods are cheaper and good foods more expensive (generally). It kind of says something about the American diet.

  2. I totally agree that we should never sacrifice our health for the sake of frugality and saving a few bucks. If you get your desired results from this meal plan, then you can probably make adjustments down the line to lower your grocery spending.

    • That’s what I’m hoping! Getting results is hard, but maintaining them is a lot easier so if I just get to where I want to be I can probably tone it down (and keep a few extra dollars in my pocket!)

  3. We spend about $400-500 for the two of us, I normally want to spend about $100 a week but we usually go over. I don’t eat out a ton though and bring my own coffee to work along with breakfast and lunch most days and we cook at home. I also try and follow the shop the outside of the store rule as much as possible.

    • AMEN to the shop-the-perimeter rule!! I try to avoid the aisles (with the exception of picking up condiments or baking supplies)

      $500/mo for 2 is great!

      I brew my own coffee at home but I usually get 1-2 out from a cafe every week. I used to do it every day but I’ve scaled back as a student 😉

  4. I’m in the same boat, not about to risk my health to save a few bucks! I’m a vegetarian so luckily that helps keep costs low but then I blow it by buying organic 😉 Haven’t tried the Blogilates meal plan but I follow Tone It Up and am a huge fan, check them out if you haven’t already. It’ll be worth it come summer!

    • So many people having been telling me about Tone It Up… I looked yesterday and it is AMAZING but I’m not sure about the $150 pricetag. Worth it for a meal plan?

      • I don’t have the meal plan but from what I have read online, it’s REALLY good. Like, you get a huge booklet that breaks down everything about healthy eating, the science behind it, why you need certain foods at different times of the day, etc. Also, I’ve found a lot of recipes from TIU online and they’ve all been delicious. I’d say just look around online for for the recipes for now but follow the weekly workouts- they’re awesome! Tons of videos on youtube that you can find or they have printout versions of a lot of the routines. Haha can you tell I’m a huge fan?

  5. Yes! Thank you for this! My grocery list as always looked liked this and my grocery bills have always been around this amount, or higher. A few months ago I started paying attention to what other bloggers were spending on groceries every month. How were they managing to keep things under $200 when I was STRUGGLING to get under $300? What was I doing wrong? And now I feel redeemed! 🙂 Healthy eating is costly, but there is no way I’d change it.

    • Woot! Healthy eaters unite in our spendy ways! If there’s anything that’s going to justifiably cost a few extra dollars, it’s food.

      Now I’m just worried about all the bloggers boasting super low grocery bills?

  6. I just recently started reading Blogilates and the meal plans are certainly intriguing. Boyfriend and I want to start getting organic chicken and ground turkey but the cost is just so high. Then I feel conflicted about paying off debt vs eating super healthy.

    • Organic food is SO expensive. Personally it’s out of my budget for the most part, but if it’s on sale or not that different from regular (ie. $1 more) I usually make the splurge. Debt can take priority over everything except your health.

  7. We spend around $400 on groceries for two people. But, this excludes our eating out budget (We eat about two meals out on weekends). We are vegetarian, but my husband is lactose-intolerant so we save money on expensive cheese (I eat yogurt and cheese, but eat way less than he does). I guess you could reduce your grocery bill in a few different ways – buy almonds in bulk once a month (they will not go bad that quickly). Substitute Chicken with green lentils a few times a week (have lots of fibre and soaking them gets rid of a lot of the anti-nutrients present in them).

    • $400 for two people is amazing!! Even with eating 2 meals out.

      Lentils is a good idea as a substitute for chicken… I don’t want to eat as much meat as the Blogilates meal plan calls for anyway so this is a perfect modification.

  8. Fellow single girl here. One of my new year’s resolutions was to buy/cook more food because I was going out for most of my meals. I was really bummed to find out that I haven’t actually saved that much money. I was trying to stick to $50 a week, but that was not possible, and I don’t even eat much meat. It’s really hard to buy and cook for one person, especially when you’re buying healthy things as you mentioned. I often feel like I’m wasting my time, but on the bright side, I’ve been feeling much better physically since I’m actually eating nutritious things.

    • Buying food as a single person is expensive no matter what =\ Grocery store bundles and portions just aren’t made for one person. I’ve made it on $50 a week before, but not happily. I don’t think you’re wasting your time at all. Health > debt repayment (truly!)

  9. Would buying a whole roasted chicken, instead of chicken breasts, help? I don’t eat most meat, so I don’t know how the cost works out, but people are always suggesting that. And with a whole bird, you have bones and stuff for stock, which you can use when making lentils or rice or soup or….

    As for protein, my go-to is cottage cheese. That with some frozen berries for breakfast makes me happy.

    You think your budget is high, try buying formula for an infant! 🙂

    • hahaha true enough! I’ve seen what babies cost, it’s terrifying =p

      Buying a whole chicken is a good idea.. I think it might actually be cheaper because those go for about $8-$10 and you get way more food..

  10. Those are the same eggs I buy too. The other ones taste like crap. These are the only ones with any flavour.. although they still aren’t perfect 🙂

    As for saving money on groceries if you cut the meat out, it’d be a lot cheaper but you already knew that.

  11. We aim for 160 every two weeks for two people. (We do one big shop and then the next week is usually just produce) Meat, eggs, beans, grains and other staples are all bought on sale and we also go for the sale produce rather than buying the same things each week.

    That, combined with not wasting a single thing helps us eat pretty well without spending too much most of the time. But other times there is nothing on sale and we spend 100 per week. Do your produce costs go down much in the summer?

    • That’s a really good number!

      My produce costs will go down a bit in summer but it’s still just expensive here vs. the USA =\ oh well

  12. passionatelysimple79 on

    Protein shakes can be super expensive, but I buy organic shakes that really helped me through my long restaurant shifts. Without them, I probably would have been way skinnier than I am now. But, it’s definitely expensive to eat healthy, but have you tried buying from one of those warehouse clubs, like Sam’s club? I’ve bought a bunch of organic/natural food from there, saving us a bunch of money. Even the eggs come out cheaper there over the long run.

    • The big box warehouse stores aren’t accessible to me because I don’t have a car =\ so even if membership was affordable, it’s not because of the necessity of having a vehicle!

  13. We have started to eat much better in recent years, but it does add up. Our groceries are roughly $400 per month, for the two of us. And we go out occasionally. 🙁 As I get older, eating better is more important to me, both for my health, but also for the environment.

  14. People forget that you live in Canada, so our food costs are more expensive than in the States, or even province to province. I love BC produce but because it has to be shipped to Alberta, it’s going to cost more.
    I personally spend ~$400/month just on myself on food, but I make a conscious decision to shop at the Farmer’s Markets on the weekends to get my food. I could maybe get down to $300/month if I went to Safeway or Superstore for everything but I only go to those to get big bulk items like 1kg jars of Coconut oil.

  15. We spend a ridiculous amount on food. For normal months, it seems to run around $500 per a person (including meals out). That said, we make basically no efforts to be frugal at the grocery store, and are pretty liberal with eating out as well.

    Interesting meal plan – let us know the results!

  16. I’ve been moving towards a healthier diet as well. I am now thankful to live in Toronto because I can’t get how expensive produce is for you. O_O; I wouldn’t be able to eat like I do now (similar to your grocery list) within my budget.

  17. I feel you Bridget! Kudos for consistently exercising for the past 2.5 months, by the way. Buying a whole chicken is a great idea. I enjoy pulling 2-3 oz. of white meat out for a high protein, clean-eating snack. Would any of the produce be cheaper frozen fresh?

  18. I’ve been recently trying to eat healthier the past few months and I have noticed a slight rise in my grocery bill. Our grocery bill for two people is around $300/month, but lately it’s more over $300. Healthy eating is important, so it’s fine to spend more in that area if need be and then cut back in other areas if you can go. For instance, I’m showering more at the gym to bring down the cost of our water bill. (I work out 4-5 times a week).

  19. As someone in the United States, those banana prices are the one thing that stood out to me right away. I never pay more than $0.20 per banana, crazy that you pay more than double.

    I have a couple suggestions. First, I would do a back of the envelope calculation as to how much it would cost you to get to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club vs. how much you think you could save. The difference in price can be huge, and as someone who also eats a high protein diet, I couldn’t do it without Costco. I purchase organic chicken breasts, thighs, and ground beef there and it makes me feel better about eating all that meat.

    Second, I wouldn’t be so afraid of protein shakes. Calling it synthetic is misleading. It’s a natural, if derived, product that provides an excellent source of protein. I mix it with almond milk, spinach, frozen berries, and ground flax seed and I’m not sure there are many healthier things on earth.

  20. forfundssake on

    Great post Bridget. My grocerys have been one of my biggest expenses for awhile. I’ve always been quite the fitness buff since high school. I’m an ectomorph so being the skinny kid I wanted to increase my weight. By changing my diet and working out steadily since high school, I went from just under 140 to 170 lbs. That was fine and I’ve stayed at that weight for a few years until around 6 months ago, I thought I would challenge myself over that plateau. Increasing my caloric intake on a super healthy diet really took a bite out of my wallet. (No pun intended) Slowly gaining that weight at what it was costing me by eating like a horse I realized it wasn’t worth it. Being active and healthy was always my goal in mind, not to be a meathead. I figured it was better to eat like a normal person and save instead of having such a caloric surplus. Considering I made the decision to go back to school and get the university experience, I’ll probably have a diet consisting mostly of peanut butter sandwiches in the near future anyways.

  21. I spend about $250/month for two on groceries, and it’s all pretty healthy stuff from Growers Direct (like a farmers market) and Trader Joes. But our food bill in total is kept low thanks to work travel and free food at work often. I also only buy meat/fish about once a month at most. If I wanted to be healthier than I am now, I would eat eggs more often (eat em about 1-2x week) and less cheese. And no more eating dinner at 10 pm!

  22. The cost of eating healthy is unfortunately what’s stopping me from going full force into changing my diet. I have made a few changes, but sometimes processed food is just cheaper! I’m making one small change at a time in hopes of being able to afford this healthy eating lifestyle eventually.

  23. I am totally okay with spending more to eat right. I spend about $150/week for 2 people. I eat preservative free, no filler, no chemicals, nothing. The amount of packaged or canned that falls into this diet is very small. It is pricy but I have never felt or looked better ;).

  24. You might want to do a little more research about your fish… The state of the talapia industry scared me off it for health reasons.

    As for your bill being small, ours is routinely $900+ for 2 adults and a toddler.

  25. I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time, and have yet to comment. Love your blog!

    Just read this post today, but I can absolutely relate to it. I always wondered how other PF bloggers get by on such a small grocery budget, when I’m spending $350-400 per month. I always wondered if I was doing something wrong, but I think when it boils down to it, healthy food is expensive, and I’m not willing to sacrifice my health to save a few dollars. Great post!

    • Hey thanks for commenting!! Glad you like the blog =)

      You are definitely not doing anything wrong — I’m STRUGGLING to keep my spending in check when it comes to eating healthy, but the cost of protein is just so high whereas processed foods are super cheap =\ I’m with you though, it’s definitely worth it. You really can’t put a price on a long term health and feeling good every day!

  26. I am reading this older post, and I can definitely feel your pain. My husband and I started the high protein, clean eating diet, which essentially cutting the cheap calories (processed carbs from our diet), our grocery bills went through the roof. Party because my husband consumed enormous amount of chicken breast ($30) , turkey meat ($20), and almost 2.5 dozen of eggs ($6) every week, vegetables is $20-30 (sweet potatoes, broccoli), fruits ($10), almond milk ($12) we buy each week. That puts us at $108and plus some miscellaneous items which could put us to $125 dollars per week