The subject of money comes up a lot, especially for those real food newbies who are not quite sure how to make the transition from a standard American diet of prepackaged, convenience foods to wholesome, real foods. The cost of grass-fed meat, raw milk, wild-caught fish and organic vegetables can really add up over time.
Of course, our perception of the expense of food might be a bit skewed. After all, about five decades ago, the average American family had a garden and still spent approximately 17% of their disposable income on food in the home. In 2010, the average American family spent just 5.5% of their budget on food in the home. It seems like other expenses, consumer goods, housing and the rising cost of health care, command most of our budgets while the budget for food is simply what’s left over at the end of the month.
That said, many of you have asked me time and time again to share a our monthly food budget. So here it is: we typically spend $750 per month. That averages to spending about $2.75 per person, per meal each month. Many of you make do on less (and we did too), and many of you spend much more. I feed two adults and a six-year-old who eats like two adults.
All of the animal products we purchase are grass-fed or pasture-raised, and all of the plant foods we purchase are organic. We buy almost all of our food directly from the farms and ranches that produce them. Most items, I make from scratch and we don’t typically purchase convenience foods.
Our Monthly Budget: $750
Milk and Dairy: $50 to $140 per month
Raw Milk and Cream Herd Share ($90): Our dairy is a seasonal dairy; that is, all cows calve in the spring and are dried off in the autumn. The drawback is that we do not have access to the fresh jersey milk throughout most of the fall and winter; the benefit is, of course, that the milk we do receive is drawn when the cows are grazing on a lush and fast-growing pasture. The result is that when we do get milk, it is of the highest quality. We drink this milk primarily raw and I use it to make yogurt, kefir and cheese, occasionally. When we’re not receiving milk, I save the money we would have spent for bulk purchases. We typically go through 1 ½ gallons of raw milk, plus 1 quart of cream each week.
Raw Goat’s Milk Herd Share ($50): We also participate in a goat’s milk herd share which delivers raw goat’s milk to us weekly, regardless of the season. I’m not particularly fond of raw goat’s milk unless it is very fresh, and still warm from milking. I primarily use this milk to make yogurt, kefir and cheese.
Eggs: $44 per month
Pasture-raised Eggs ($44): Each week we purchase two dozen eggs, usually through a herd share arrangement which uses Joel Salatin’s model of moving egg-laying hens from pasture to pasture. The resulting eggs are beautifully rich in flavor and appearance. A dozen eggs typically runs us $5.50 when we purchase from our favorite farm, and $6.75 at the local health food store. Other local farms offer eggs for as little as $4 per dozen, but don’t follow the same method of moving hens to fresh pasture; as a result, the hens rely less on forage for their food and more on supplementary feed. For us, the difference in quality is worth the additional expense of $1.50 per dozen.
Meat: $165 per month
Mixed Meats ($70): Our local ranch offers a CSA that provides assorted meats: veal, lamb, beef, whole chickens and pork. In addition to a variety of meats, the CSA also offers a variety of cuts: stew meat, sausages, steaks, ground meat and roasts. Our CSA provides us with about 10 pounds of grass-fed and pasture-raised meat each month. Currently, we have an overabundance of meat in our freezer and have halted our CSA while we consume what we already have.
Offal ($25): We also participate in an offal CSA which provides us with suet and leaf lard for rendering, bones for making broth, as well as nutrient-dense organ meats like liver and heart. This CSA provides us with a further 10 lbs of organ meats, bones and fat each month.
Chickens ($80): I always have a pot of perpetual soup bubbling away on my counter. For this, I purchase one chicken a week – especially since chickens arrive in our CSA only sporadically. I purchase pasture-raised chickens when they’re available, and organic free-range chickens when they’re not. Chickens, both pasture-raised and organic, typically cost me $15 to $25 each. Were the need arise to reconsider our food budget, I’d drop the weekly chickens and focus exclusively on beef bone broth as beef bones are plentiful in this area.
Produce: $300 per month
Fresh Produce ($300): Our largest expense, my family relies heavily on fresh produce for the bulk of our meals. Sauteed Greens and Garlic for breakfast, huge salads and vegetable soups at lunch, plenty of fermented vegetables, vegetable side dishes and both fresh and cooked fruit as snacks and desserts. We earmark $165 each month from April to December for our vegetable CSA which provides us with vegetables. With what’s remaining after the CSA we purchase supplementary produce, usually fruit which is relatively scant in the CSA.
We also count seed purchases in this category since they will ultimately produce vegetables to feed us in the summer. In the summer time, when we rely on our garden, we save a good amount of this budget and divert it to bulk purchases of grains, pulses and fish or boxes of root vegetables, fruits and winter squash which we preserve for winter use.
Dry Goods & Bulk Purchase: $90 to $150+ per month
Supplements: We take Cod Liver Oil. It’s not available locally, so we purchase it online (see sources). We also take dessicated liver capsules (see sources), especially when I haven’t made a conscientious effort to include organ meats in my family’s diet. I also make an effort to give my family a therapeutic-grade probiotic like Bio-kult (find it here), even though we do consume several fermented foods. For us, this extra bit of nutritional insurance is non-negotiable. You can read more about my take on supplements here. I buy supplements in bulk to save money.
Grains and Pulses: If we’ve under-budgeted in any area, I add that money to our dry goods and bulk purchases. I like to purchase large amounts of dry goods like coconut flour, beans and lentils, whole grains and almond flour in bulk which will typically save us 20% to 30% over purchasing them at retail. I store them in mylar-lined, food-grade plastic buckets which you can purchase from many emergency supply companies online.
Sweeteners: We don’t consume a lot of sweeteners, and a single quart-jar of honey can last us several months. Occasionally, I make a treat with molasses or unrefined cane sugar. A bulk purchase for us is about five pounds which will last us a year (or longer).
Wild-caught Fish: I purchase wild-caught fish online (mostly from these folks). The prices are excellent: sardines sell for as little as $5.88/lb, and with a purchase of $250, shipping is only $5. For that reason, we order large amounts and only purchase a few times a year.
Fats and Oils: I also purchase cooking fats like ghee and coconut oil in bulk online (see sources). Olive oil comes by the gallon. Coconut oil comes by the bucket and ghee arrives by the case. Healthy fats tend to be expensive, which is why we make bulk purchases – saving about 10-20% over retail prices. You can read more about the fats I stock in my kitchen and why I love them here: My Favorite Fats.
Herbs and Spices: I also serve quite a few herbal infusions and love using exotic spices in my cooking. I purchase these in bulk online. I like to support Mountain Rose Herbs because they carry herbs and spices I can’t find locally, use high quality sources and have reasonable prices and bulk discounts. So I purchase all my teas, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and spices from them.