Two ways to spend $100 at the grocery store

I’m looking to debunk the often-heard statement that “it costs more money to eat healthy” by showing you, through two separate virtual trips to the store, how you can spend the same amount of money and get VERY different results.

For both trips to the store, I limit my budget to $100.

I used Peapod’s online grocery for this exercise (a service that, in my own personal experience, saves my family money (1)).

The shopping trips will assume a family with kids.

We will want to be sure that we get ingredients for breakfasts, lunches/dinners, and snacks.

Shopping trip#1. In this trip to the store, we buy a lot of processed foods that require minimal work to prepare (microwaving, re-heating).  There are also some “Whoa foods” in the mix like high fructose corn syrup and trans fats since these ingredients tend to be found in foods that sit on the shelf for a while.  We run out of money for fresh produce and end up only buying a bag of lettuce (one of those “ready to eat” shredded bags of iceberg lettuce).  We buy pre-made salad dressing for the lettuce because we don’t feel like making our own.

Click here to see the details of the Cart for shopping trip #1

What can we serve our family with the items in our cart?

Breakfasts Lunches/Dinners Snacks
Cereal with milk-serves 17
Cereal with milk-serves 13
Pop tarts-serves 8
Pizza-12 servings with lettuce salad
Mac and cheese-serves 6
Pot pie-serves 6
Canned soup- serves 12
Canned chili-serves 12
Graham crackers with peanut butter
Nutrigrain bars

Are we feeling great about the nutrition we’ve provided our families?  I’m not!

Shopping trip#2. Now let’s go back and buy some whole foods—not packaged and processed.  Yes, these foods require preparation, but we’ve learned in our recent newsletters that these can be prepared quickly and easily using rice cookers and simple recipe frameworks.  We buy our own olive oil, vinegar and fresh lemons to make our salad dressing.   We have plenty of room in our cart/funds in our budget for produce (although not the “prepped” produce, and we’ve zeroed in on produce on sale).  Finally, no Whoa foods allowed!

Click here to see the details of the Cart for shopping trip #2

What can we serve our family with the items in our cart?

Breakfasts Lunches/Dinners Snacks
Museli-serves 16
Tropical breakfast bowl*- serves 12**
Eggs- serves 12

*made with brown rice and using just bananas
Lentil salad- serves 16
Split Pea salad*– serves 16
Fiesta casserole– serves 16
Tabouli- serves 16

*made with brown rice instead of bulgur
Hummus with carrot sticks

Now, let’s compare the outcomes of the two shopping trips
.  I know that you all know that shopping cart #2 is more healthy.  There is just no contest!  But what about value?  Let’s compare the servings (measured as 1 cup) for breakfast/lunches/ dinners and the variety of snacks that we got from each shopping list:

Shopping Trip #1- NOT SO HEALTHY

Shopping Trip #2- HEALTHY


38 servings

40 servings


48 servings

80 servings

Types of snacks



So have we overthrown the idea that it is more expensive to shop for healthy foods?  I hope we’ve at least taken a chip out of that mantra!  Experiment for yourself.   I have personally been on a mission over the last several months to keep our own family’s grocery spending to a specific weekly amount (a number I got from looking at historical receipts and lowering it) while still buying organic dairy, vegetables, grass-fed/ organic meats, and wild-caught salmon.

While I’ve had to make some adjustments (making my own yogurt from organic milk, not serving as much meat, buying less packaged foods like crackers/pre-made snacks, etc.), I’ve been able to do it!  I have to admit, strangely, that it has almost become a sort of game for me.  I “play” around with my online shopping cart until I meet my objectives—I get all the food I need for a healthy, yummy week, but I stay within my budget. Win-win.

Another great strategy to saving money on groceries over the summer and fall is to shop at your local farmers market.  After having a garden of my own and having a sense of all the work that goes into growing fresh fruits and vegetables, I can tell you that the prices you get at these markets are a bargain!  HUGE bundles of fresh basil for $4?…  go home and turn that into pesto that would cost you a multiple at the store!  Use a trip to the farmers market to give your kids an awesome learning experience.  Given them a certain amount of money (small!) and have them do the shopping.  I can tell you from my own personal experience that they will go to every booth, check out all the prices, and have fun making decisions.  It is a great lesson in economics and math (money counting).  It is a great opportunity for children to assume some responsibility for household duties.  It is a wonderful learning experience about where their food comes from.  And it is an exercise that I would NOT suggest you do in a grocery store!  There is limited damage to what kids can come back with at a farmers market!

Note:  Were you able to stop by Nurture’s recent chef’s demonstration table at the Glenview Farmers Market?  Julia Goodhouse, Elizabeth Matlin and Stacey Patillo served up some amazing dishes, and made some newly converted fans of quinoa.

Read about Nurture at the Glenview Farmers market

We’ve talked about online shopping and visits to the farmers market, but I’d like to conclude with a few tips for those of you that do your shopping in-store:

  • Try to shop the perimeter of the store (the outer aisles), where you’ll find produce, fresh cuts of meat, eggs, and dairy.
  • When you venture in into the other aisles, go there only with a purpose (whole grains, lentils, split peas, beans, canned tomatoes, etc.).
  • When you shop for crackers, bread, and cereals, check the label to see that whole grains or whole grain flours top the ingredients list (and avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup and Trans Fats, of course!).
  • Avoid “snaking” back and forth through the store aisles as that will just lead to impulse buys (and cause your kids to scream out for the highly advertised and usually unhealthy packaged foods).
  • In the dairy, meat and produce sections, look for organic.  In the produce section, you know where the food comes from by looking at the PLU code.  The codes for conventional produce have four digits.  Organic produce codes always have five-digit and start with a 9.  For example, a conventionally grown banana would be 4011, while an organic banana would be 94011.

Happy shopping!

(1).  I save money every week at Peapod by 1) always having a weekly dollar amount in  mind that I will spend –use of their online software allows me to take things out of my cart selectively once I’ve reached my dollar limit, 2) avoiding impulse buys since I’m not in the store, 3) using the online software to sort by price to see the best bargains, and 4) using the online software to always take advantage of on-sale items.

Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

Want to learn how “Food Feelings” affect your health and how to eat for optimal energy and well-being? Please check out this FREE Make Nutrition Fun Course on teachable!

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