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 house guest 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 house guest 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|
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 house guest, 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.