I used to be a coupon queen. There. I admit it. I could pop $400 worth of groceries on the conveyor belt and walk away just $92 poorer. I was PROUD of that! I fed my family. You know what types of coupons come out in the papers, don’t you?
Kraft macaroni & cheese. Tyson frozen chicken nuggets. Betty Crocker cake mixes. Lay’s potato chips.
What do all these foods have in common? They are processed. They contain ingredients that most people fluent in the English language can’t pronounce, much less know what they are. I consider myself a fairly educated person, I do, after all, homeschool my three children. But I don’t even know what some of these ingredients are, much less how to pronounce them! Just 4 years ago, I’m not sure if I cared what was in my Ore-ida french fries or my bottled Starbucks iced mocha coffee.
I have always enjoyed cooking (from scratch), and taught myself! Over the past few years, I’ve learned some vile things about our broken food system. I’m not 100% organic. I’m not even 100% whole foods. Like with so many things in life, it is a process.
To Real Food
When we moved to Wyoming almost 4 years ago, I realized I was living in the land of no coupons. Literally. No newspaper, Sunday or otherwise, contained those little bits of paper that for years I had been so excited to get each week. There was only one full service grocery store in town, and the nearest Wal-Mart was 90 miles away.
Then in January of 2009, just a few months after our move, I met this wonderful creature called Real Food. My life changed. Coupons didn’t matter to me anymore. As the years have gone by since our transition to Real Food, I realize that even though it does take a little more time in the kitchen, it saves me time in the long run.
To Not Enough Time
I homeschool my kids, I work from home, I blog with a purpose (which contrary to popular belief is NOT as easy as it looks). With three kids, our lives are busy. I’m not complaining, but I have to tell you… I have no time to coupon anymore. With that said, one of the things I hear the most about Real Food is “It costs too much money!” I want to tell you – it really doesn’t! I learned that the hard way, but I’m so thankful I learned it!
I decided I wanted to write this piece when I saw an image of Joel Salatin (my hero!!!) on Facebook. It contained a quote, said to be from him that read “If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?”
Two things came to mind. Ouch and goosebumps.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Organic
Buying 100% organic would be fantastic. As they say, “Buy organic, or as your grandmother used to call it- FOOD!” However, I know that not everyone lives where they have a Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, etc. nearby. I lived in one of those places. The closest store of that sort was three hours away. Our farmers market was a measly 6 weeks long and contained hardly any fresh, local produce.
So, I want this article to be different. I don’t want you to worry about buying organic at the moment if you can’t. I understand! I just want you to see the price difference in processed foods and whole foods really isn’t what most people think it is.
I went to our local Kroger store. I chose Kroger, because quite frankly I don’t like going into Walmart. The employees are mostly friendly, but a Friday in a Walmart is not my idea of a tea party. So I chose a nationwide store that many of you may be familiar with. They own several chains, including, but not limited to City Market, King Soopers, Baker’s, Food 4 Less, and QFC.
I gathered some prices, comparing processed foods and their whole food counterparts.
I know one of the most popular foods in American households is potatoes. French fries, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, potato soup, potato cakes, hashbrowns…sorry, I didn’t mean to get all Forrest Gump on you, but I think you get the point. They are versatile, even for the pickiest eaters.
I found Kroger brand frozen fries at $1.99 for 26-28 ounces. That’s $1.22 a pound for the smallest package; $1.14 for the larger. Ore-ida fries came in at $1.64 per pound (32-ounce bag for $3.27). Canned store brand potatoes are running 69¢ for a 15.25 ounce can with liquid. Typically when you drain the fluid off, you lose half of the weight. That makes them ring in at approximately $1.40 per pound before draining the liquid off. But the real food counterpart, the potato, rang in at $3.99 for an 8-pound bag. That’s only 50¢ a pound!!! We’ll call it 60¢ after peeling them.
On that same note, I realized that all of the Kroger brand canned vegetables were 69¢ for a 14.5-ounce can. Again, that’s with the liquid. Green beans are just coming into season, so I wasn’t able to find those in the produce section. I popped over to the frozen section and took a look at their frozen veggies. The frozen veggies are $2.48 for a 2-pound bag. That makes them come out less than the canned vegetables once the liquid is drained off, which come in at approximately $1.40 per pound.
Carrots, canned, are the same price as the canned green beans. Carrots ran $3.00 for a five-pound bag. That makes fresh 80¢ cheaper per pound than their canned counterparts.
A fresh, whole chicken is less than $1.50 a pound (often much cheaper on sale). A whole chicken will feed my family for at least 3 meals. We’ll roast the chicken and eat off it the first night. The 2nd night we’ll have a soup, and the 3rd night, we’ll do Buffalo Chicken Dip. With the carcass, I’ll make stock, which stretches the chicken a little further. Kroger brand frozen chicken breast strips rang in at $5.99 for a 22-29 ounce bag. Again, we’ll go with the larger bag, so that we’re comparing a smaller price per unit. That will run you $3.30 a pound. Ouch. Oftentimes, boneless, skinless chicken breast goes on sale for $1.99 a pound.
Need something to drink? Some store brand sodas rang in at 88¢ per 2-liter, 79¢ on sale. We’ll use the sale price in this example. At almost $1.60 a gallon for store brand soda, and 1 gallon of Hawaiian Punch on sale for $1.99 ($2.39 regularly) those are pricey! Even cheaper? Water. Can’t stand tap water? Kroger brand water was 99¢ for a gallon.
For dessert, cookies would be nice. But at $2 or more per pound, you can get a quick and easy (and way better for you!) dessert for just 57¢ a pound. Bananas!
Put It All Together
Now, I’ll tell you how to put this all together. There are two ways. Put your slow cooker to work so you don’t have to. Throw in your peeled and cubed potatoes, some sliced carrots, and place your chicken on top. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and maybe a few spices (all of these “extras” are just pennies per serving). Turn to low and 8-10 hours later, dinner is done. If you prefer to do it in the oven, usually an hour and a half will do it. Make sure it is covered, except for the last 15 minutes. This make the skin on the potatoes browned and crispy. YUM!
There are many other whole foods that ring in much cheaper than their processed counterparts. I compared old fashioned oats & “instant” oatmeal. I compared boxed pastas with “flavor packets” with things like rice. This was the first time I’d actually sat down and worked out the penny-to-penny cost comparison. I keep finding that whole foods rang in cheaper than processed foods. Sometimes by mere pennies but sometimes by 50% (or more). Even though we’ve been whole foods for over three years, it was an eye opener to sit down and figure the numbers out. Try it for yourself. Go grocery shopping and take your calculator. You won’t be disappointed in shopping for whole foods, even when the processed foods seem like such a great deal.
What is the best real food vs. processed food cost comparison that you have seen?
**This post has been entered in Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways blog hop.**