Next to housing costs, food bills are the highest economic concern for the American family. Nicole Seghetti of The Motley Fool reports that a modest average receipt for a family of four standing at roughly $237 a week ($12,300 annually) in 2012. That doesn’t include the additional $5,200 a year the typical family spends dining out. Not surprisingly, families are looking for ways to slash their grocery and dining expenses.This doesn’t necessarily have to mean giving yourself or your kids unhealthy fare.
The Myth: Healthy Is More Expensive
One reason people cite for buying unhealthy, preprocessed foods is that they are cheaper than healthier alternatives. This is not always the case. For example, Wendy’s offers a spicy chicken sandwich that, according to the chain’s website, is 247 grams (8.7 ounces, a little over half a pound). It sells for about $4.49 (prices vary slightly by region and store). The average price of boneless chicken breast in September of 2012 according to the United States Department of Labor, however, was $3.12 a pound. Even when you throw in another dollar for a bun, condiments and a bit of lettuce and tomato, you still can make your own version at home for the same price or cheaper with fewer additives. More broadly, if you assume a conservative bill of $20 for a family of four for a fast food restaurant once per day, that adds up to $600 a month, or over twice the average weekly grocery bill.
Something else to think about in terms of the expense of healthy food is that fast or processed food is often very calorie dense. You don’t necessarily feel full even though you might reach your caloric limit. This means people buy more of the food and end up ingesting far more calories than they really need. To avoid this problem, pair protein with carbohydrates at every meal—protein slows down the digestion of the carbs, leaving your kids feeling satisfied longer. If you encourage your child to eat low calorie, water-rich foods like fruits and veggies, he can eat more without packing on pounds.
Lastly, as you talk to your child about the expense of foods, have him consider the cost of health care. Processed and fast foods cause numerous problems—obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are just a few. If you take into account the cost of treating these conditions, paying a little more for something healthy doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
Getting Your Kids on Board
As with other items, the best way to reduce the cost of healthy foods for yourself and your kids is to watch the sales at local stores. Pair these with coupons for even more saving. Note that saving also can come in bulk options—you don’t want to overbuy on produce, for example, but you can stock up on things like oatmeal and whole wheat pasta.
Of course, kids aren’t going to want to dive into healthy foods full force right away. Transition them in little by little. One option for doing this is to have a “Kids Switch” night. For this evening, you help your child come up with a healthy alternative to one of his favorite processed or fast foods. For example, you can make your own mini pizzas with whole wheat pita bread, turkey pepperoni and some veggies. To get your kids inspired, you might want to have a few “taste parties.” Grab a few new foods from the store once a week, and pick one meal a week where you feature those new items. It’s okay if your child doesn’t like everything—the point is just to try new things. You also can use color and number themes. For instance, breakfast might need a blue food, lunch orange, and so on. This ensures variety in your child’s diet.
Once you’ve got some ideas of changes you can make, involve your kids in the cooking process. If they see that making the food isn’t difficult and takes the same amount of time as heading out to a restaurant, they’ll be more likely to ask for the homemade, cheaper versions.