Affording Real Food

Real Food Economics 101: Eating on $6.25 a Day

This post is part of a series, Real Food Economics 101. The series covers the cost of real food and applying the 80/20 rule to managing your time and money in the kitchen in depth. Click here to start at the beginning.

I’ve had a few questions come up about the details of what we were eating to get by on $6.25 a day. A few seemed skeptical that this figure is correct. I thought that today, we could go over it in some detail. Now, mind you, I’m mining my memory to recall the details of what our meals were like, since the figure is based on the previous years food expenses. I am quite sure the figure is correct though. I keep very careful records :-).

During this year we had a houseguest for a few months and he ate all his dinners with us. My sons ate out with friends periodically which isn’t included in the budget. I think the houseguest offsets their occasional absence from the dinner table.

So, what exactly did we eat? Well, first let’s talk about …

What Didn’t We Eat?

When most people think real food, healthy food they imagine meals similar to the ones celebrity chefs make on TV. Things like salmon, good cuts of beef, fresh salads, artisan cheeses and breads, etc. While it may be possible to eat these regularly on $6.25 a day, I think it would require a black-belt in frugal shopping to pull off. Besides, eating this way has gained popular support because of the erroneous belief that low-fat diets are healthy. There’s no need to go to the extra expense for these items for health reasons. There are plenty of more nutrient dense, cheaper foods to choose from. We did very occasionally indulge in some artisan cheese, for example, or a good steak. But since we were on a tight budget these were rare departures from our everyday diet.

What Did We Eat?

Keeping in mind that our diet was somewhere around 70/30 real foods at the time let’s take a peek at what we had a whole lot of:

  • Eggs – Often considered nature’s most perfect food. We typically eat lots and lots of eggs. We have eggs for breakfast, we have eggs sometimes for lunch and dinner. Quiches, omelettes, scrambled, boiled and fried. We used lots in baking. We have chickens, so the cost of pastured eggs is offset for us. This particular year, though, we bought almost all of our eggs. The drought here in Texas led to a bad laying year for the hens. Not enough bugs for protein ;-). The eggs we bought were about half cage-free grocery eggs, and half bought from a chicken farmer in a neighboring town.
  • Grassfed Beef – ground usually, with some cheaper cuts of steak, roasts, hanging tender and liver.
  • Hormone Free Chicken – from the grocery store.
  • Milk – Lots of fresh raw milk. Made kefir from this as well.
  • Cream – This I’m embarrassed to admit was not the best cream, though kinda expensive.
  • Butter – Organic butter.
  • Cheese – Pasteurized sharp cheddar, mostly.
  • Beef Tallow – For frying and in stews.
  • Bone Broths – We had soup about once a week, with bone broth as the base. Bone broths were also used to make gravy and as the cooking water for some vegetables.
  • Vegetables – a mix of fresh veggies, some organic, some local, some conventional. Mostly we had carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes.
  • Potatoes – lots of fresh potatoes.
  • Beans – some beans every week, usually in a soup.
  • Pasta and Bread – I didn’t make bread often during this time, mostly we relied on a non-soaked bakery bread and standard issue grocery store noodles.

In addition to these foods that made up the bulk of our diet we had smaller amounts of ham, bacon, turkey, peanut butter, lunch meats, salads, chocolate, coffee, wine, beer, artisan cheese,  and a few supplements.

What Did the $6.25 Diet Look Like for Each Person?

You might wonder what the macro-nutrient levels looked like. I came up with a rough guide to the proportion of meat, milk, cheese and eggs in our diet to give you some idea of how animal food we ate in proportion to carbs like bread and potatoes.

Animal foods took about 70% of my food budget. On average each person ate $32 worth of animal foods each week. This worked out to be about:

Amount of Food Cost Weekly Calories Daily Calories
a gallon of raw milk $10 2,400 340
1/2 lb of organic store butter $2 1,600 230
1 1/4 lb of ground grassfed beef $6-7 1,200 170
1/4 lb of cheese $2 500 70
1 1/2 lbs of chicken $6 50 7
1-2 dozen eggs $4-6 1,200-2,400 120-340
2-4 tablespoons of beef tallow $.32 600 85
Extras like bacon,ham and lunch meat $1 200 28
Total $32 est 7,750-8,950 1,050-1,170

 

So I think everyone got a little short of 3 lbs of meat each week with a daily couple of glasses of milk, 1-2 dozen eggs and a little butter and cheese. So this was about 1/3 to 1/2 of each persons food intake, by calories. Some, of course, ate more animal foods and others ate less. The boys had a big appetite, while my husband and myself less so.

The remainder of calories came from beans, lentils, whole grain breads, pasta, some homemade deserts, olive oil, coconut oil, vegetables, spices, fruits, and potatoes. The remaining $11.75 per person was spent here. Costs were kept low by buying in quantity and choosing less expensive varieties.

What Did Our Meals Look Like?

For a family of four like mine the cook has a daily budget of $25 for food to feed everyone at $6.25 a day each. What kinds of meals did we have? Generally:

  • Since we’ve got 3 hungry guys + 1 hungry man houseguest, we had lots of pasta/potato/rice/bean skillet dishes and stews to stretch the meat and cheese. Most of the time I made dinner for all with about a pound- 1 1/2 lbs of meat. I’d use beef or chicken broth and/or cheese and cream for flavor. There would be leftovers for lunches. We were very careful to ensure none went to waste.
  • Dinner was cooked with beef tallow, breakfast with butter. Beef tallow is significantly less expensive, we had over a years supply bought for $100.
  • We didn’t eat a huge amounts of produce, and what we did eat were the less expensive choices: carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, broccoli, squash, green beans, cauliflower, peppers … virtually all were conventionally grown, but for a few spring/summer CSA boxes. Almost no salads. Very little fruit, a few strawberries, blackberries and apples.
  • Any and all sweets/deserts were homemade. At the time my teenage son was learning to bake and was more than happy to make something 2-3 times a week as a treat for everyone. Most of these used plain cane sugar and unbleached white flour. The lion share of the butter disappeared into these.
  • While we had meat or eggs for virtually every meal, it wasn’t the majority of the calories in that meal. Our dinners tended to be carb heavy. You may wonder if anyone gained weight … the answer is no.
  • Eggs everyday for breakfast, with bacon/sausage occasionally. French toast/pancakes every now and then.
  • Everyone had eggs, leftovers, soup or peanut butter and jelly for lunches. Occasionally ham or turkey for sandwiches.
  • Soup for dinner about once a week.
  • We drank milk, water, or coffee. We had occasional beer and wine :-).

Is This My Current Food Budget?

Well, no. At this point I’m spending the same amount total (about $750) but since my eldest son moved out this now provides for just 3 of us. Why the increase? We are working to increase both the percentage of real food and the amount of local food we buy. I think we are at around 85/15 or maybe 90/10 at this point. So we’ve increased the amount of high quality food and eliminated some of the lesser choices. Also, the drought has caused prices to go up somewhat since the period this budget was based on. Time marches on and things change. A food budget is always a work in progress. This budget is just an example showing how my family worked this out during one period in our lives. Sometimes we tighten the belt and sometimes we loosen it. It takes time and some experimentation, but everyone will need to work out their own balance that fits their own situation.

Hope the Extra Details Have Been Helpful!

Tell us about where you’re food dollar goes in the comments below :-).

 

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13 thoughts on “Real Food Economics 101: Eating on $6.25 a Day

    1. Personal preference mostly … I’m allergic to seafood and I think as a result have never been very fond of freshwater fish either. Too many negative associations for me. Cod liver oil though hasn’t had any nasty allergic side effects for me, thankfully :-).

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  1. We spend 200-220 each week on groceries for our family of 7 (2 adults one pregnant, 5 kids 9 and under who eat more than I do). We eat about 80% healthy, whole foods, sometimes more if I have more time for prep, and we have a child on the GAPS diet, and one adult who doesn’t tolerate wheat or other grains well. I have to shop weekly because we have no storage space, I can barely store what we need for a week. This budget includes:

    grass fed beef: rarely 1-2 lb/mo always ground beef, or liver
    pastured butter: 1 pound a week
    raw milk: 4 gal per week, at 7.25/gal
    Pastured Eggs: 2-3 doz a week at 4-5$ per dozen
    Store eggs: 2.5 doz a week at 3.00
    store chicken (hormone/antibiotic free, or organic): ~6 lbs per week, in the summer I buy cut chicken for grilling in the winter I buy whole chicken for roasting
    store beef (CAFO or Angus if I’m lucky): ~6 pounds per week, I try not to spend more than 4-5 dollars a pound and I look for sales.
    bacon, suasage, hot dogs, etc: nitrite free, rarely bought, I’d say we have one of these things per week, or less

    coconut oil: I buy it at Amazon, with subscribe and save, it’s like 15.00 for two 12 oz? containers, I get it once a month (I always spend at least 2 weeks without it)

    seafood: canned tuna in olive oil (1.75? per can!), Wild Salmon (canned, 2.50/can?), fresh wild caught salmon when its on sale less than 6$/lb, shrimp when they are on sale less than 10$/2lb, other random seafoods when I can squeeze them into the budget… less than once a week.

    bread (store bought at this time, due to time constraints) 2 huge loaves of wheat from BJ’s: 3.00

    peanut butter: Skippy Natural, has sugar but nothing else bad… stirs easily to not give me a fit in the kitchen

    Polaner’s all fruit spread: once or twice a month

    Veggies: partially organic, partially conventional: about 50$ a week, includes things like : carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cukes, zukes, summer squash or winter by season, etc fruits in season: bananas, apples, grapes, citrus, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, etc We eat almost all kinds of fruit available I don’t really hold back there except in quantity and to buy it in season at its sale price.

    whole wheat flour, rye flour, raw honey (5$ for 12 oz), fermented veggies (6$ for one jar 16oz) I extend these alot myself, but can’t always get to it, grassfed organic yogurt (also extend that when I can), popping corn (from time to time)

    I can’t think of anything else… I often wish I could be as frugal as you are. These things hold back my ability to be frugal: storage space to buy in bulk, no Azure Standard (or other thing like it), high prices on eggs and raw milk, less time (I used to have more time, but it’s just totally sucked up lately), so many small children that I can’t work as long in the kitchen and don’t have many (true) helpers yet, must shop week to week.

    I love these posts though, keep them coming, sometimes I get ideas that I can implement.

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    1. Thanks so much Meg! I’m glad you love the series and I’m even more I’m glad you shared the detail of your food budget with us :-). Looks like you’re doing pretty well on the cost per person … It’s at about $4.30 per person, that’s pretty frugal! The trick is keeping it low while raising the quality of food. You’re getting a good price on milk … it’s $10 per gallon for me. Is there a shelf or two of closet space you could claim? I’ve done that in the hall … kinda an annex for the pantry.

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  2. It can be done. I find now that I buy less processed foods I spent less. I have naturally lowered my weight and feel great. Great post. Thanks for sharing this week at The Gathering Spot.

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  3. I spent so much for food when the children were growing up. Doing a review for those past expenses, it showed that most of the foods we bought at the time were meat and processed. As they grew older and we opted for home-grown, organic foods, our budget became less and our intake more healthy. Now, it has become habitual to not purchase those junk foods anymore.

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  4. I really need to get our food budget under control. We follow the GAPS diet, and have two adults, and 5 kids (12, 11, 9, 3, 1.5). Right now we are spending 1200-1400 a month on groceries at least. We buy meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, potatoes, and milk for the toddlers. We were buying Lara Bars for breakfast or snacks, but we are cutting those out to save money. Two of my children cannot tolerate gluten, rice, or corn. All our kids are skinny, so they are not overeating. I really don’t know what I can do to lower our food cost.

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    1. Hi Summer … That’s about $6.19 per day each so that’s not bad. You can find a few other bloggers average cost per day per person in this post for the sake of comparison. You can see that some are spending considerably less though, so if you need to reduce costs it looks doable. There are some links on that page to the other bloggers posts on how they reduced their food bill that might give you some new ideas.

      In general I’d suggest doing a breakdown like the one I did to see where your food dollars are going nutrition-wise. See if there might be anywhere you are paying more for something that could be replaced with another dish that is more nutritious and cheaper. Also, hunt for better sources where you can.

      The better you get at lowering costs the tougher it gets to find room for reduction, so if it’s getting tough you know you’ve been doing great :-).

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  5. Pingback: Links I Loved in November | The Polivka Family
  6. I know this post it a bit older ..but thank you for the breakdown. we have 7 in our family…one a t college..but unfortunately our 6 y.o. daughter has anaphylaxis to egg and dairy:(……so we cannot use that to stretch our protein sources. no egg..cheese..cream..milk…etc…cant even have it in the house…quite a challenge…I tell you. we do a lot of lard though ..and locally raised beef..not non-gmo..but doing what we can on a very tight budget.

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