Do You Spend Too Much on Food? Find Out Now.

Cutting board of veggies

As a nutrition coach, one of my goals is to help women make better food choices or come up with new and interesting ways to create meals using whole foods.

My clients generally love this idea, but I often hear at least two criteria tacked on; “Sounds great, but it has to be quick and easy and it can’t cost too much.”

We’ll deal with quick and easy another day.  Today, I want to tackle the “it can’t cost too much” dilemma.

I totally understand the need to keep costs down.  Even in my little family, I’m challenged to feed nutritious meals to two hungry teenagers on a budget.  It’s not easy.  As costs rise and our once stable expenses continue to spiral up and up, there are many meals we no longer make due to the cost of ingredients.

But my clients never go into specifics of what they have to spend on food.  I’m expected to know what they mean when they say “it can’t cost too much, because I’m on a budget.”

mexican lasagnaSo that got me thinking about how much families are expected to spend on food each week.  I wondered if there was a go-to resource that specifically spelled out what a typical family should consider spending on food to provide necessary nutrition.

I found a wonderful resource from the USDA called Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Foods at Home at Four Levels, US Average.  I have February 2013’s report in pdf format available for you to look at here.

This report is broken down into four categories:

  1. Thrifty plan
  2. Low-cost plan
  3. Moderate-cost plan
  4. Liberal plan

The report even segments out by age group understanding a family of four with children that are pre-school age will spend less than a family of four with children elementary or middle school age.

The report assumes all meals are made at home and following MyPyramid food intake recommendations.  And yes, these costs are for food only.  It doesn’t include things like cleaning supplies, toiletries or food for Fido.

Out of curiosity, I calculated how my family of three stacks up against the national average.

Grocery ReceiptFor my family’s demographics, we’re expected to spend the following amounts per week:

  • $114.40 per week on the thrifty plan
  • $149.20 per week on the low-cost plan
  • $184.20 per week on the moderate-cost plan
  • $223.90 per week on the liberal plan

Usually, our meals fall into the low-cost category, but lately we added recipes we enjoyed three and four years ago and watched our grocery bill skyrocket to the liberal plan.  It really gave me an appreciation for how much food costs have risen over the last few years.

I think it’ll be a fun experiment to see what meal ideas I can create to satisfy all four plans while still providing enough calories, variety and plenty of nutrition from whole foods.

So how about you?  Check out the USDA’s pdf.  How does your family compare?  Are you spending too much?  Too little?  Will this insight cause you to change how much money you spend on food each month?

Share your findings in the comments below!

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  1. Kim Thirion says:

    Holy moly! The numbers on that chart made my jaw drop. According to it, my family of 4 should spend between 636 and 1256 a month. Even on the low end (636), that’s well over 300 more than my food budget of 200-300 .

    Of course this is why I ate garbage for so long.

    • Lori Stalter says:

      Kim, I dub thee a miracle worker. I just calculated over on Blithe Niche that enough eggs, canned beans, frozen vegetables and a gallon of milk to feed three for a week would break your budget. And everything was priced from the store’s generic brand.

      • Kim Thirion says:

        It’s very hard. And I try to buy things like dried beans when I can and don’t often buy fresh veggies (and omg the selection for frozen gets so boring). But things will be changing in the next month or so that will allow us to spend more.

        • Lori Stalter says:

          The world of frozen vegetable mixes has exploded, but they’re over $2 per bag instead of 99 cents a bag like some of the basic veggies. I love them, but I had to go more basic after the last round of unexpected expense increases.

          I am sooooo happy you’ll be able to add more funds to your grocery budget soon! Not only for you, but for the kiddos, too. I remember when my kids were toddlers, I ate enriched noodles with spaghetti sauce every day so I could feed them better than I was eating. I’m not liking that I seem to be back peddling toward those days, but I’m digging hard to change that!

          • Kim Thirion says:

            It definitely helps that they eat breakfast and lunch at school. It’s not free lunch, but it definitely helps. And my dad often snags them for the weekend. Otherwise they’d eat us out of house and home. There’s no way I would feed them something different than me- maybe if they were still toddlers, but at 7&8 I refuse to cool two different meals lol. As much as I hate cooking, we’re all lucky I even cook one haha!

  2. cj says:

    Great question, Lori Stalter! I am certain we are not eating too much, so I am a little peeved about the costs of our groceries. I think we need a discount grocery store like Aldi here in Houston. We spend about $80 a week for the two of us. No meat, dried beans as you know, homemade hummus, brown rice and black bean wraps and the like and still $80/wk. Help!

    • Lori says:

      I hear your pain! You’re already down to the thrifty plan, so I know it can be so frustrating to figure out how to bring costs lower. For us it really wasn’t all that long ago that $100-$120 per week allowed us to buy foods that now require us to spend $150 per week.

      I don’t know about y’all, but I know my little pay raise didn’t even cover how much insurance and taxes went up this year, so where is the extra $30 per week coming from for food?

      I hope to have a blog article over on Blithe Niche later this week to discuss this issue further!

      • Tammy R says:

        CJ is on this one. He got fired up yesterday when he read an article on Cash Cow Couple. A little healthy comparison to others is a good motivator. We all learn from each other!

        Thank you for sharing this tool. Although we are pleased to find out we’re on the Thrifty Plan, there is no rest for the wicked.

        • Lori Stalter says:

          I guess it depends on what your goals are and what’s motivating to keep costs down. Food is a high priority to me so if I can afford better quality, I’ll buy it. I miss the days when I bought mostly organic and ate about half of my diet as raw and almost all of it as whole foods.

          • Tammy R says:

            We are trying to do both at the same time – a little challenge for us. I don’t buy all organic – just our apples. I can’t believe in a city this size they aren’t more competitive. We are Houston, and in many ways – despite being a tech center and having top medical facilities – behind a good portion of the country in many ways. I guess groceries is one of them! 😉


  1. […] In my previous article, I shared the bare minimum families can expect to spend on groceries and still provide proper nutrition based on Food Pyramid guidelines. […]

  2. […] This got me thinking about how much people should expect to spend on food if they want to eat “healthy.”  I cover this more in-depth on my coaching blog here. […]