Setting and Following a Food Budget

image (2)The USDA has put together four food plans at different budget levels: thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal.  Age, gender, and the number of family members all effect the recommended food budget.

Our current food budget for the two of us is $9 a person a day or $558 for a 31 day month.  This includes alcohol.  This is below the moderate plan, but above the low-cost plan.  We used to do $10 a day, but decided to move non-food expenses (like paper products, cleaning supplies, and laundry detergent) to our miscellaneous budget and squeeze in alcohol.  Not counting alcohol, we would be spending $434 per month, less than the low cost plan of $476 a month, but not as little as the thrifty plan of $370 a month.

To reduce our food budget, we started to examine meal costs.  Analyzing meal costs is something that is taught in restaurant management, as well as family and consumer science classes (home economics, in my era).  I wanted to get my breakfast, lunch, and snack costs under $4 a day, so I could drink two craft beers for $2 total and still have $3 for dinner.  This is how I got my breakfast, lunch, and snack cost from $5.84 a day to $3.61 a day.

brkfst English Muffin 0.25 English Muffin 0.25
egg  white 0.20 egg

white

0.20
lunch meat 0.19 lunch meat 0.19
cheese 0.19 cheese 0.19
mayo 0.14 canola oil 0.02
orange 0.75 orange 0.37
tea 0.07 tea 0.07
flax 0.04 flax 0.04
1.83 1.33
lunch hot dog bun 0.13 bread 0.31
hot dog 0.44 lunch meat 0.19
mayo 0.07 mayo 0.07
carrots 0.21 carrots 0.15
sour cream 0.09 sour cream 0.05
dip mix 0.08 dip mix 0.02
string cheese 0.24 ff cheese 0.19
apple 0.42 apple 0.42
vanilla yogurt 0.08 omit
kool aid w splenda (16 oz)  .16 water
flax 0.04 flax 0.04
ketchup 0.03 omit
mstrd 0.01 omit
2.10 1.44
snack almond 0.44 peanut 0.22
carrots 0.21 carrots 0.15
sour cream 0.09 sour cream 0.05
dip mix 0.08 dip mix 0.02
banana 0.16 banana 0.16
strawberries 0.53 omit
string cheese 0.24 String cheese 0.24
kool aid  .16 water
1.91 0.84
Total 5.84 3.61

I reduced my breakfast cost by replacing mayo with canola oil and getting smaller oranges at Walmart.

I reduced lunch costs by switching from a fat free hot dog to a sandwich.  I also started buying whole carrots instead of baby carrots, bought a cheaper dip mix, and used less fat free sour cream dip.  I also quit using fat free yogurt as a dip for my apple and replaced kool aid with water.

I reduced snack costs by switching from almonds to peanuts and eliminating strawberries.

At 6 feet four inches and 278 pounds, I should be able to have 2,850 calories a day and lose about a pound a week.  I use 2,500 calories most days, and save the extra calories for weekends.  My breakfast is about 350 calories, my lunch is 250 calories, and my snack is 250 calories.  I do 500 calories in beer, which leaves 1,150 calories for dinner.

My blood work from my physical indicated that my calcium was running low.  I decided to incorporate more milk into my diet.  I also looked up my nutritional requirements on choosemyplate.gov and found that I wasn’t getting enough grain in a day.  I decided to expand my snack and add a sandwich for “second lunch”, which sounds like the name of a Hobbit meal.   I switched from lunch meat to boneless skinless chicken breast, but increased my portion size to 1.3 ounces.  I looked for options of slicing my own cheese, but found no bricks of cheese that were fat free.

My current food costs are

breakfast cereal 0.35
milk 0.2
ornge 0.37
tea 0.04
flax 0.04
1.00
lunch bread 0.31
chcken 0.18
mayo 0.07
carrots 0.15
sour cream 0.05
dip mix 0.02
ff cheese 0.19
apple 0.42
flax 0.02
tomato  .12
romaine  .04
1.57
second lunch peanuts 0.22
bread 0.31
chicken br 0.18
mayo 0.07
carrots 0.15
sour cream 0.05
dip mix 0.02
ff cheese 0.19
banana 0.16
flax 0.02
tomato  .12
romaine  .04
1.53
total 4.10

Adding 250 calories to my snack leaves me 900 calories for dinner.

My recurring dinner costs are:

dinner iced tea 0.04
spinach 0.34
olive oil 0.10
flax 0.04
balsalmic vinegar 0.03
milk 0.20
fruit 0.42
1.17

That leaves $1.73 for a grain, a meat, and some flavor.  We can regularly get boneless skinless chicken breast for $2.00  pound on sale.  Using a quarter pound serving, about three ounces after cooking, that is 50 cents a serving.  We can also get pork under $2.00 a pound, but prefer to eat lower on the food chain.  I do feel some guilt for eating chicken because I know how chickens have been bred to have large breasts, so they have problems walking.  I know the conditions they are raised in are poor.  We can do brown rice for 10 cents a serving, whole wheat spaghetti for 23 cents a serving, whole wheat tortillas for 28 cents a serving, whole wheat hamburger buns for 53 cents a serving, and potatoes for 17 cents a serving .  That leaves room to add flavor with sauces, seasonings, etc.  We try to do fish twice a week.  If we do fish for $6 a pound or less ($1.50 a serving), we can still fit it in our budget  if we have it with rice and don’t spend a lot on extra flavor.  We can afford any meat that is $6 a pound or less, but just have to be careful on the other costs of the meal.

When our kids were both at home my weekly meal rotation would be:

Monday something on a bun

Tuesday something with rice

Wednesday something with pasta

Thursday something with tortillas

Friday take out (usually pizza or sushi)

Saturday something with potato

Sunday breakfast for dinner (bacon and waffles, french toast, or pancakes)

I found that it makes more sense to plan a meal around the starch involved than the meat.  The starch implies different ethnic cuisines and flavors.  I could cook boneless skinless chicken breasts with several different meals in a week, and not feel like it was repetitious.  This rotation could also easily be converted to a vegetarian diet.

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