The second most common question I get asked from friends and readers, after being asked if I’ve lost any weight, is if I’ve noticed a difference in our grocery bills since switching to a clean eating diet. The shortsighted answer is absolutely, yes! But then other days, when I see a lower grocery bill because I’m not purchasing red meat, or buying less pre-packaged meals, I can see that the costs are negligible. So I’ve decided for the next few weeks, I am going to do a better job tracking my grocery bills and breaking down costs for meals, to see if eating a more healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meat, and less processed foods really is costing me as much as I think it is.
I’m starting by analyzing the costs for 10 of my favorite meals I’ve recently made. The average home-cooked meal in America ranges widely, from as low as $5/meal to $20/meal for a family of 4. I try to stay in the $10/meal price range because that usually allows for a balanced meal of a healthy protein and some fresh veggies, that is full of flavor. While the costs associated with some meals, like roasting a fresh red snapper, are far outside of the scope of our normal grocery budget, others, like a 1-pot quinoa dish, fed our family for 3+ days and cost just a few bucks to make. Gwyneth may eat only organic, free-range, grass-fed, heritage poultry and meats, and suggests we only buy fish that have swam in local waters, but the reality is, that way of eating is not feasible for the average American. Not only is it expensive, it’s also unachievable in some states. For our family, I’m finding the best approach is one of balance; a mix of organic meats and really fresh fish on occasion, and a lot of simple, wholesome, non-extravagant dishes during the week. Read on to see the breakdown of what it really costs to eat like Gwyneth all week long.
Whole Grilled Red Snapper With Herbs, Garlic + Lemon 1 of 10
I won't count the costs of driving to three different markets trying to locate a whole fish - I'll just consider that the cost of doing business. But after finding a good, local Asian fish market 2 towns over, I experienced a bit of sticker shock when I discovered that a 3-4 pound whole red snapper would run me about $25. The herbs were all from my garden, so I won't count that in the total, and the use of 2 lemons was $1. As a side dish I made a simple arugula salad with grilled Brussels sprouts on top, and I made my own dressing with ingredients I had on hand. Between the fish and the side salad, I'd say this meal cost me $30 to make, 3 times what I normally would budget, and left a small amount of leftovers for me to make a salad the next day. Obviously this was a very special meal, and one I sadly wouldn't be able to replicate for a dinner party because of the cost involved, but wouldn't it be something to host a small dinner party with whole fish on the menu? I would feel very Gwyneth doing so!
Whole Roasted Super Crispy Chicken and Grilled Asparagus + Portobellos with Shallot + Soy Dressing 2 of 10
I love this meal and would cook it almost every night, and it didn't break the bank so much. Switching to organic, free-range chicken has been a good experience. The meat is juicer and the taste is fresher. Not to mention the ethical and environmental advantages. But to offset the cost of purchasing poultry that is on average 3x more costly than what I used to buy, we are eating it about 3x less. A whole 3 pound organic free-range chicken costs, on average $12. Add in this beautiful side dish, which cost me over $20 to make because of the initial investment of random ingredients I did not have in my pantry (plum vinegar and zylitol), we're looking at a family meal coming in over $30! And because the organic chickens tend to be a bit smaller, due to lack of hormones, they usually only feed us for one meal. If we're lucky, we can pick the meat off the bone and have enough for the kids' lunch the next day. Oh, and my kids hate mushrooms and asparagus, so I threw together some brown rice and carrots for them, adding at least $2 more to the meal total. Sadly, we could eat at McDonald's 2 times over for what the meal cost, but in reality, it is still cheaper than eating out at a regular family restaurant, and the ingredients are wholesome, fresh, and organic. Expensive and a rare treat, yes, but still worth it in my opinion.
One Pot Quinoa + Chicken 3 of 10
This isn't a Gwyneth meal, but it follows her basic principles, and those of clean eating, so I'm pretty sure she would approve. Using a couple of cups of quinoa, a can of black beans, plenty of fresh veggies and some cut up organic, free-range chicken thighs, this meal comes in right around $10! Fits perfectly into my meal budget, tasted great, was easy to make and clean up, and made an abundance of left-overs. In fact I ate this for breakfast and lunch for 2 days straight! This is the cost of clean-eating I can get on board with on a daily basis.
Roasted Cauliflower + Chickpeas With Mustard + Parsley 4 of 10
Even if you buy only organic ingredients for this dish, your average cost to make this super hearty and healthy side dish is well under $5, and you'll most likely have leftovers. Using cauliflower, chickpeas, and a homemade dressing, the ingredients are very affordable and filling. If you're a vegetarian, you could even add an avocado for some extra healthy fats and still come well within budget. We served this with some ground turkey, and still came in below my ideal $10/meal budget.
Grilled Salmon With Carrots + Ginger 5 of 10
At Gwyneth's urging, I've started to only buy fish which is wild caught, as opposed to farm-raised. This increases my costs about $4/lb. On sale, I picked up 2 pounds of salmon for $12.99/lb, which was enough to feed 4 adults and 4 kids. As our side dish I made her Carrots with Sesame Seeds and Ginger, and served some simple brown rice. My fish was my biggest expense, but luckily it was prepared quite simply, making the additional costs negligible. The organic carrots were bought in bulk at Costco, and brown rice is very affordable. This meal, which essentially fed 2 families, came in at just over $30, but was much cheaper than going out to eat and we felt like we were eating a wonderful feast.
Gluten Free Vegan Brownies 6 of 10
I wanted to make a little guilt-free dessert for a summer outing we were going on last weekend, so I picked up the ingredients to make what Gwyneth calls her fail-proof vegan, gluten free brownies. Because I'm still new to the gluten free way of baking, each time I make something I usually have to pick up a new ingredient. As I cook and bake this way more, my costs will go down since I'll have some of these staples in my pantry already. But the initial investment to make these brownies, plus use of ingredients I already had on hand, was about $7, nearly twice as much as a good quality box mix, and at least three times as much as just making from scratch with ingredients containing dairy and gluten. I wish I could say these were worth the investment, but while they were nice and moist, they lacked a good dose of chocolate flavor and no one ended up eating them in the house. I ended up throwing half the batch away after a week. Next time, I'll either go without, or bake from a box.
Pasta With Tuna, Olive, Capers + Parsley 7 of 10
I love this dish because it's a cinch to make, is full of flavor, and the costs are nominal to whip up a batch. I've made it at least 3 times now in the past 2 months. Using canned tuna, canned sardines, and olives from a jar, this meal's most expensive part is if you use brown rice or whole wheat pasta. All said, this meal comes in at about $8 and feeds the whole family for the night, plus provides a bit of leftovers for a lunch or two.
Veggie Dumplings 8 of 10
This has become one of my daughter's favorite meals to make, especially together, because she loves assembling the dumplings. Using quinoa, tofu, frozen peas, and store-bought dumpling wrappers, this is a meal that is heavy on wow but low on costs, coming in at just under $10 for the dumplings alone. Add a simple side or two and I just go over my ideal budget, but the nutritional impact and fun we have making these make the cost well worth it.
Striped Bass With Clementine Salsa 9 of 10
Using fresh, whole fish cut up into fillets makes this dish rather pricey. The fish alone was $25, but the salsa is affordable, costing less than $2 to throw together, and makes it feel very restaurant-worthy. A simple grain on the side, and it's another family meal for under $30. That's 3x my budget, but a worthwhile splurge every now and then.
Leftover One Pot Quinoa + Egg White Omelet 10 of 10
I'd be remiss to end this post without including a breakfast dish. It may be how we start the day, and our most important meal of the day, but we often put the least amount of thought and cost into making. This dish is low on effort and cost. Using a leftover quinoa meal, and adding a 2 egg-white omelet and avocado on the side, makes this dish super affordable at less than $1.50-$2, depending on what type of eggs you use. Full of protein and packed with nutrients, it's a meal that you won't regret spending a dime on.
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