What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part VI of ?)

Read Part I: Highlights
Read Part II: Our Journey to Better Eating
Read Part III: We’re not THAT weird
Read Part IV: Recommended Reading and Watching
Read Part V: Recipe Finding

Part VI: Grocery Shopping – What we buy and how much we spend

First, let me say this is taking a bit of a leap of faith to throw out real numbers on ye olde blog. I have no clue how much others spend on grocery shopping so it’s very possible I’m about to get laughed off the Internet.

I’m listing this stuff because I get asked this question ALL the time, and because I know it would have helped me when I started this change to see what is left to eat after you eliminate meat, processed food, and most dairy! Please know that I’m not listing it because I think it’s the very best way to eat or shop, or because it’s the most economical. It’s just the way the Bean Family does it in our corner of Columbus, OH. πŸ™‚

Here are some things to know about us:

  • We try to be frugal in many cases.
  • We look at what is on sale at all our favorite stores every week. We definitely wait for a good price and stock up (when it comes to shelf-stable foods).
  • We often buy in season, which not coincidentally, means produce costs less.
  • We frequently buy in bulk and split with other families.
  • We shop at a farmer’s market in the summer.
  • We grow as much as we can in our teeny garden.
  • We cook nearly everything from scratch.
  • We absolutely pay extra to get nutritious food and don’t hesitate to do so.
  • It would be less expensive to be a vegetarian who eats simple beans and lentils and whole grains, but we crave color and we spoil ourselves on lovely food like: mangoes, berries, kale, peppers, pomegranates, mushrooms, leeks, and great spices.
  • We’d rather spend money on nutritious food than on doctor’s bills. Just sayin’.

Nearly everyone we talk to immediately assumes we are Whole Foods shoppers. Not so. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Whole Foods, necessarily. Most of my family is addicted to shopping there. However, if we purchased the bulk of our food there, it would cost much, much more. We spent $194.19 at Whole Foods in the entire year – mostly on produce on a great deal, their bulk food, or a meal from their awesome salad bar.

My point is, it’s absolutely possible to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a diet similar in health to ours, as evidenced by the amazing array of pricey (and often delightful) prepared food found at Whole Foods Market. But the simple ingredients we shop for can be found much more inexpensively (with comparable quality) elsewhere. Thus over a year, we spend more than four times MORE on groceries from Meijer and Trader Joe’s, and 7 times more on food from Costco.

When you see The Number, keep these things in mind:

  • It doesn’t include non-edible things like diapers.
  • It doesn’t include eating out, and we tend to go out 6 times/year to a place like Chipotle, and 6 times/year to a $20 a plate place. It doesn’t include food we buy on vacation.
  • It does include stuff we cook for others and since we love to cook, we try to frequently have people over and bring food to people.
  • It is about $50 more per month than before we made the diet change 3 years ago.
  • It fluctuates from month to month, depending on what produce is in season and what we end up stocking up on that month.
  • We are a family of three, with a toddler that eats about 9/10 as much as I do.
  • This spending amount includes monthly increases to our food storage in our basement, which is now coming up on a year’s worth of shelf-stable foods. We estimate $50 a month goes to that, on average, so feel free to subtract that from the total if you aren’t wanting to build up a year’s worth of food in anticipation of an emergency. πŸ˜‰ If you ARE interested in doing that, though… you couldn’t pick a better diet because we eat from our food storage regularly as you’ll see below.

How much we spend

$360/month

What we buy and from where and how often.

You’ll notice that we focus the vast majority of our time on the produce section of stores and in fact a full half of our shopping runs, we shop solely in that section and then checkout. This list may seem exhaustive, but if you consider what so many people fill their shopping carts with (and what we used to purchase 4 years ago) quite a few things (95% of your typical supermarket ) is/are missing.

Costco

3 times a month

  • Produce, produce, produce – in particular, avocados, pomegranates, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, mangoes, oranges, spinach, red bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, black grapes, peaches, nectarines, snap peas, strawberries, onions, honeydew melon, sweet potatoes, bananas, and red potatoes. Most of these are very seasonal.
  • Carrot juice – as a treat for Mackenzie and Scott.
  • Guacamole. It comes in a three pack and we freeze them and defrost one every time we cook dirty beans and rice, or black bean burgers. It’s one of the few “processed” things we buy, but I think the ingredient list is
  • Nuts – walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, almonds. All of these are raw and bought in the baking section in 2-3 lb bags. We keep one bag of each (minus pine nuts) on hand in our basement and work through one that we keep in the fridge.
  • Occasional purchases – quinoa, Larabars, and blue corn tortilla chips.
  • We always stay stocked up on – olive oil, minced garlic in a tub, raisins, 5# containers of honey for my bread baking, yeast, and the best canned tomatoes ever. They have hardly any added salt, a #10 can straight from Italy, and a sweet price. I will blog about these tomatoes soon.
  • Frozen food – strawberries, three berry blend, and fish (mahi mahi or tilapia, or raw shrimp).

Meijer

once per week

  • Produce, produce, produce. In particular, their kale is fantastic ($1.50 for a huge bunch) and they often have good sales on citrus, berries, sweet potatoes, squash (winter or summer), eggplant, corn on the cob, mushrooms, and apples. We also frequently get bags of fresh spinach here if we can’t handle the Costco massive bag of it. I also get celery, carrots, fresh herbs, broccoli, sprouts, and hot peppers here, along with any other leafies we need like arugala or chard.
  • We used to buy unsweetened applesauce and cans of beans here but now we make our own for both of those!
  • Orange juice, lots of pulp with calcium, if it’s on sale and I’m a smoothie-making mood. I use 50/50 with water to form a base for most of my smoothies.

Trader Joe’s

twice a month

  • As a treat, I love their whole wheat sourdough bread, their whole wheat cinnamon raisin english muffins, dried unsweetened mango, and as a MAJOR treat dark chocolate covered edamame.
  • Hummus, original or chipotle. We finally succeeded in making homemade hummus we love last week, so store-bought hummus will quickly fall off the menu.
  • Unsalted peanut butter, unless we make our own, in which case we buy their unsalted roasted peanuts!
  • Raw sunflower seeds, to throw in my bread and to make our date nut pop ’ems.
  • Raw pepitas for potato kale enchiladas.
  • Slivered almonds and almond meal – featured in sauces in several favorite recipes. If you buy the meal, it’s less expensive than whole almonds at Costco. Slivered almonds are more expensive than whole, but worth the convenience in one recipe in particular.
  • Frozen food: three pepper blend, and occasionally edamame in the pod
  • Unsweetened soymilk, trader joe brand.
  • Fancy cheese for Scott, the more potent the better so a small bit satisfies his cheese tooth. πŸ˜‰
  • Whole wheat pasta, all three shapes.
  • Occasionally, woven wheat crackers. I used to buy whole wheat pita here but now I make my own instead and it tastes much much better. Win!

Marc’s

Once every month or two

  • We stock up on dried lentils, split peas, and dried kidney beans
  • They usually have a stellar deal on a few produce items each time we go.

The Cannery, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

twice a year

  • We stock up on 25 lbs bags of hard winter red wheat, hard winter white wheat, white beans, black beans, and pinto beans.

Honeyville Grain Store

one order per year

  • We go in with friends and take advantage of the flat rate shipping to get steel cut oats, 6 grain rolled oats, cracked wheat, and brown rice.
  • We also get some rolled oats, freeze-dried apple slices, and dehydrated refried beans for food storage.
  • This is where I buy my vital wheat gluten for my homemade breads.

Ethnic Stores

one a month

  • We hit up the Indian market down the street for dried garbanzo beans, red lentils, brown rice, fresh garlic and ginger, and fresh mint.
  • We hit up the Mexican market for canned chipotle peppers and whole corn meal
  • We hit up Chinese or Japanese markets for curry pastes, tofu, green onions, shallots, and great deals on leafy greens.

Amazon Subscription

twice a year

  • Free shipping and 15% off gets us a regular supply of date crumbles and golden flaxseed, both from Bob’s Red Mill

Farmer’s Markets

  • Wow, this is all the produce mentioned above, ideally. It’s our first choice to buy stuff in the summer, so I’ll just list some we especially love.
  • Apple cider and exotic kinds of winter squashes – turban, cinderella, sweet potato squash
  • Berries and grapes
  • Beets, leeks, cool kinds of carrots with lots of green top to make carrot top soup
  • Butter lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, and peppers.

The following are things we keep stocked, but don’t tend to buy from a particular store:

  • Frozen veggies like peas and green beans.
  • Canola oil
  • Eggs – we tend to go brown, free range when we can. Local in the summer when we’re at markets. I was shocked the first time I compared these to $0.99/dozen eggs from the grocery store. The yolks are so much richer in color and we can tell the difference in taste.
  • Unpopped popcorn – oh how I love hot air popped popcorn!
  • canned beans for when I’m too short on time to pressure cook.
  • tomato paste and sauce
  • canned pineapple for curries
  • Vinegars – rice wine (ok actually this is definitely from an Asian store), balsamic, white wine, red wine
  • a variety of exotic ingredients for Scott’s cooking that I could neither name nor cook with competently myself, like shrimp paste and tamarind paste.

True confession time. The following are things you will find in our house, but which we go through so slowly we only purchase them a few times a year or less:

  • White flour
  • Brown, white and powdered sugars
  • Unsalted butter and (a few times a year) heavy cream for Scott’s once a month baking project.
  • Really good dark chocolate bars for baking.
  • Mozzarella cheese for when I crave a more traditional homemade pizza
  • A pint-sized container of high quality ice cream in the freezer that Scott nurses a spoonful at a time. Hehe.
  • Real sour cream, again for Scott to indulge in when we have Mexican food.

I don’t want to end the post on sour cream, so I’ll say I’d love to hear in the comments what other families spend and what things you guys consider staples that I don’t have on the list, or the other way ’round. πŸ™‚

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Healthy Eating, Why we do it. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part VI of ?)

  1. Liz says:

    Very thorough post!

    Have you tried the “soycatash” from TJ’s frozen section? Soy beans, bell peppers, corn. It’s delish. πŸ™‚

    Another staple in our house are the Mary’s Gone Crackers Sea Salt pretzels. They are expensive, but how else am I supposed to get chia seeds in them? πŸ˜‰

    Like

  2. Jessica says:

    Super interesting Anne. Thanks for taking the time. I am making progress in our diet and that is what counts right!? Kale has been our newest addition.

    Like

  3. Hi! I am Susan Boyce’s daughter-in-law, and she introduced me to your site, as Kyle and I are slowly becoming more vegetarian. I really enjoy reading all the recipe ideas! I am just curious how you find time to do all of the wheat grinding, making homemade bread, pressure cook beans, and so forth. I’m working and going to school and have almost no time to make dinner! Any suggestions or posts on how to make healthy recipes that are also fast would be greatly appreciated!

    Like

  4. Kimberlie says:

    Anne,

    We are also a family of 3, although my daughter is older (16). We live in a somewhat rural area without access to stores you mentioned. However, I think your grocery amount per month is very reasonable and similar to ours. Thanks for blogging and share the Hummus recipe soon! πŸ™‚

    Kimberlie

    Like

  5. Heather says:

    Thanks for this! I really needed this post. I have been a little stressed as January is half over but our grocery budget has little left. I knew as we switched our diet, we would need to increase our budget but I have been nervous that I have gone overboard! Thanks for helping me see what is more realistic! Oh…and between the 2 of us, we are down at least 30 lbs. And, just like you said…food…tastes…better!

    The girls are all doing really well. I am amazed at all they are willing to try and our becoming accustomed too. Rian’s new favorite meal is Chickpeas Romesco from Veganomicon (minus almost all the oil). Have you tried it?

    Like

  6. beanland says:

    @ Heather: We *love* chickpeas romesco! Minus almost all the oil and lots of the salt, if I recall. It’s our go-to dinner to bring to people who have had babies, actually. πŸ™‚

    So glad to hear you guys are doing well. 30 lbs in… a month? Awesome!

    Yeah, you have to watch out for the store-bought hummus in terms of oil content. We found that making it homemade requires some exciting flavor in there because without all the oil, it is not *the same*. I’ll see if I can coax the recipe out of Scott soon.

    @Shallan: Welcome to the blog! I know how you feel about not having enough time to cook healthily. I work full-time and take care of my daughter full-time and my husband’s in medical school. I definitely feel busy! The very best thing we’ve done is to accept the idea of leftovers and to be more flexible about what constitutes a “meal”. We almost always cook dinner that lasts for 2 dinners and a lunch. We eat something else the next night and then circle back to the meal again the following night, and use that “dinner-prep” time we save to make bread, make a batch of hummus, or whatever.

    Lunches are often just dinner from a few nights ago, or simply munching on a big pile of fruit and veggies and hummus. πŸ™‚

    Another thing we discovered is having a really great breakfast goes a long way.. so I try not to skimp there: steel cut oats with fruit and nuts, homemade muesli with fresh fruit, whole grain waffles and fruit, fruit & veggie smoothie and peanut butter toast… for us it must be hearty!

    @Kimberlie: Thanks for the reassurance! I’m glad to know I’m not off the deep-end on food spending. Sometimes it feels like I am when I open up the wallet for a whole flat of mangoes or an enormous bag of frozen berries. But then I remember I never spend $$ on meat and we don’t go through blocks of cheese and gallons of milk and I’m sure that helps.

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  7. denise says:

    I always really appreciate your posts about healthy living. I don’t comment often enough but know that I read and then re-read them! Thank you for taking the time to be so thorough. (Your grocery budget is less than what we spend each month.)

    Like

  8. Laura says:

    Very thorough, indeed! Thanks for breaking it down for those of us who may be curious about what a vegetarian/vegan diet costs πŸ™‚

    I can say for our family of three, we spend approximately the same. I try to shop at a single superstore, so I’ve never really broken it down between the non-edibles and edibles. But, the figure you mentioned sounds about right.

    Which is encouraging!!! I have sort of developed a distaste for preparing meat these days(whether because of pregnancy or merely my own laziness, I do not know), and so we are incorporating more vegetarian cuisine (Thanks to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian –a Christmas gift πŸ™‚ ). What I’ve discovered is that not only is substituting beans and other high fiber/high protein foods for meat healthier, its also easier. That’s a result I was not anticipating. A result I was expecting and one that did not disappoint was the absence of that after-dinner *blah* feeling when you know you’ve consumed too much fat. That’s hard to get when all you’ve eaten is veggies and beans!

    I think preparedness is key to a healthy diet. One night, I made even dough to freeze for 5 additional pizzas when I was making a pizza for dinner. The nights I pull those out for dinner take no time! Also, if I’m good about cleaning and prepping veggies when I get home from the store, I’m more likely to remember I bought them, and eat them too πŸ™‚

    Before I go I should mention that I dread the grocery visits where I stock up on meat and cheese. Pricey! For a while, I had stopped buying cheeses BECAUSE of the expense. We’ve been doing a lot of homemade pizzas, so the cheese has crept its way back into the grocery cart…as for meat, we keep it to what’s on sale buying poultry, pork tenderloin, and chicken. Honestly, I think I’d feel better forking the cash over for a flat of mangoes πŸ™‚

    OKAY, so here’s my big question for you, I’m dying to know:

    How do you fit all of this produce in the fridge? And what kinds of foods do you leave at room temp that a lot of people tend to refrigerate?

    Like

  9. beanland says:

    @Laura: Hahaha that is a GREAT question! Fridge space is definitely at a premium at our house. But I don’t think we do anything too strange to fit it all in! Here’s a boring list, though, in case there’s the odd difference from the way you do things. πŸ™‚

    We keep all leafies (herbs and otherwise) and berries in the fridge, as well as any cut up melon, pineapple, or peeled grapefruit. Peppers, carrots, apples, mushrooms, grapes, celery, green onions, and similar also go there. We typically have leftovers, hummus, a quart of soymilk, a dozen eggs, and 1 or 2 cheeses, a 1/2 gallon of cider or oj, and the rest of the space is devoted to fruit and veg. The door is owned by flax seed, curry pastes, and.. and.. uh, time to clean out the door of our fridge apparently! Hehe.

    On the counter: citrus, uncut melon, pineapple, avocados until they’re ripe, mangoes, bananas, pomegranates, summer squash (if we eat it within a week or so), tomatoes, eggplant (we buy this a few days before we eat it, generally), homemade peanut butter, all bread stuff except for maybe tortillas.

    In the basement: (sweet and red) potatoes & onions in the basement along with hard squash. We’ll keep apples down there a week or so if the fridge is packed.

    Confession: We are still working on consuming every last thing we buy. Currently it’s a rare week where something doesn’t bite the dust. A forgotten half bag of spinach, a few oranges we didn’t eat in time, etc. We’re improving, though!

    One thing we do often after a grocery run is jot a list of perishable stuff that is in the fridge, in rough order of what needs to be eaten first. So it would start “blackerries, raspberries, spinach, split pea soup…” and end with “apples, oranges, sweet potatoes..” . As we polish stuff off, we cross it off the list and having it on our fridge reminds us what we should be grabbing when we reach for something to munch on.

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  10. Melissa says:

    Hi! Just stumbled on your blog while searching for a whole wheat bun recipe. Fun for me, as I have been working diligently to eat healthier every day…and like you, thought I was eating healthy a few years ago. Also living in Columbus, and an avid runner.

    Question about your food supply – this is something I’ve been trying to start for a while, but am not sure how to go about it without buying processed foods. How long do whole grains, beans, and nuts last on the shelf? Would love to hear about what and how much you are storing, and how you store it.

    Like

  11. Karen says:

    Hey Anne,
    My SIL gave me your blog and I just have to say (not creepily) that I love you. I have been addicted to your blog reading just about everything and loving it all! Thank you for all the information, research, inspiration, and humor! My question…why do you wear leather shoes? πŸ™‚
    Karen

    Like

    • beanland says:

      Hey Karen,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve found what I’ve written helpful. I wasn’t sure whether the leather shoe question was a joke… but I’ll answer it just in case! πŸ™‚

      We skip meat and dairy (most of the time) because they aren’t healthy, not because we’re concerned about the welfare of the animals. Although, I will say, I think the way we crank out those products is awful. We should be treating the animals we eat much better. First, because they are living things, and second because they are going into our bodies! So what they eat (and are injected with), we eat.

      Like

      • Karen says:

        Hey,
        I didn’t mean to creep you out there. What I actually meant was that your family is in the place that I’ve been trying to get my family to for the past year or so. With extremely uncooperative kids and a supportive but not enthusiastic husband I feel like I have taken more steps backwards than forwards. I recently did a R.S. meeting on healthy eating and it reminded me of the ‘Why I do this’ part. And then reading your ‘What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One?’ post reiterated it all to me. In fact, you said it much much better than I ever can. I should have just read this to the ladies and then maybe the light bulb would go on in their heads, too. πŸ™‚
        Also, on the leather shoe thing, I wasn’t joking, but I misunderstood you at first. I thought you were saying that you only wear leather, but what you’re really saying is that you’re not PETA members.
        Anyway, thanks again!!
        Karen

        Like

  12. beanland says:

    Oh… haha. Yeah, we get asked about the leather from time to time by people who assume our being mostly vegan/vegetarian is soley because we’re worried about the welfare of animals. So I explain: We wear leather shoes and eat honey. πŸ™‚

    I was telling your sis-in-law the other day that people have to be “ready” to hear about changing their diet. It’s such a personal thing… what you’re saying will fall on deaf ears unless they are willing to really listen. It can definitely be frustrating.

    Your family will come around. Hang in there! And even if they don’t learn to love it anytime soon, they will thank you later. In fact, it just occurred to me that it’s a bit like family scripture study.. they may grumble but that’s not a good reason to stop!

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