It’s the morning of the final day of my family’s 30-Day Whole Foods Thrifty Challenge. For this entire month, we have eaten only food purchased solely at Whole Foods on a budget of $491.10 for our family of three. Our final food tally came in at $488.12, about three dollars under budget.
The first two weeks were harrowing; a big chunk of our budget was stocking up on staples and it took a while to recover from the hit. We were saved, quite literally, by a $2.99/pound sale on chicken breast. We stocked up and used the freed-up cash to focus on fruits and veggies. The last two shopping trips were a comparative breeze; I literally went from tears because of our tight budget one week to dancing in the aisles the next as I happily piled pineapple and cucumbers into my shopping cart. As we sat around the table for dinner last night I asked everyone what they had learned …
Alex (son): I learned that having breakfast together is nice, and we should; we’re a family.
Greg (hubs): I learned that I like fruit more than I thought I did and I’m going to control snacking from now on.
Me: I learned that it’s possible to eat healthy on a tight budget, but it takes patience and planning
Here’s what we did:
Shop as a family so we could make decisions as we went. Our son wasn’t always with us, but with Greg and I together, we could make on-the-fly decisions as we spotted sales. That meant I was more likely to cook it and Greg was more likely to eat it (even though, ultimately, neither of us had a choice).
Bravely tried new recipes. I added a homemade bread recipe, banana bread, chocolate chip cookie recipe, shepherd’s pie, and meatball recipe to my arsenal of family dishes. Not all of them are “healthy,” but we definitely enjoyed them, and the sweets I cooked are healthier with lower sugar than what I would have picked up at the store.
Self-imposed limits produce results. I’m not sure we would have stuck to this budget if we weren’t blogging about it. I had a night or two when I felt really tired and, normally, I would have skipped cooking dinner and ordered in. But I couldn’t. The end result was about a minute of whining (at least in my head) and then I just got up and went to the kitchen. (And Greg did handle dinner a couple times during the month; plus ALL the cleaning.) Cooking dinner really wasn’t any more difficult than ordering in food and it was healthier.
We lost weight. My husband lost nine pounds and I lost five! We attributed it to no longer snacking that we were unconsciously doing. We both feel great and my husband is looking pretty darned hot!
Almost no processed foods. We barely ate processed food. The only thing we had was macaroni and cheese, crackers, pasta, and one bag of potato chips.
Here’s what we didn’t do: menu planning! I had a rough idea of what I wanted the first week and then realized quickly that (a) I know how to cook and didn’t really need to plan for it and (b) there were so many unadvertised specials that it didn’t matter what the menu in my head said, it was better to go with the flow. So that’s what I did, varying fruits and vegetables depending on the sales, and worked with the staples to create food my family would eat.
We are wrapping up the Challenge with a dinner party tonight. I’m still not sure if it’s 8 or 10 people, but I’ve got enough regardless. We’re doing roasted chicken, rice and veggies, a side salad, homemade bread, and two kinds of brownies (lemon and chocolate). We even had enough money to buy three bottles of wine, a chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet ($8.97 total).
I’ve learned a lot these past 30 days and I’m proud of myself and my family for achieving this. The experiment has touched me. I’ve learned how hard it is to feed your family healthfully on a tight budget. I have a new appreciation for the struggle of families near the poverty level as they fight obesity plate by plate. It’s not easy, folks, and there are no simple answers.
I hope you learned something too. Whole Foods isn’t necessarily more expensive than any other store, you just have to learn how to shop there. I suggest signing up for a Value Tour at your local Whole Foods and get to know the staff; they are always super nice and will steer you to the right cut of meat or the best ingredient for your dish. I need to say an official thank you to Whole Foods for taking our bet (Yay!!) and for providing gift cards to four weekly winners so they could get a chance to try to live a little more healthy too.