The week ahead I will start my fitness challenge and I recognized today my desire to regain physical strength and health, often a matter of privilege, also coincides with another area of privilege or disadvantage–depending on your income levels–which is food spending. Just recently, I shared with you all a number of goals for the year and how important it is for me to consider my financial ability to meet those objectives.
If you’ve had the chance to check out my Instagram account you’ll notice I ‘talk’ a lot about food; dining out, grocery shopping, and home cooked meals are frequent subjects in my photographs. I love exploring food culture and experiences and in the past, I didn’t write to you all about why I am that way.
As a child, one of my earliest memories about the importance of a food budget came in elementary school. One of my teachers assigned our class to construct a pretend food budget using store circulars. I loved this assignment. I thought it was fun to ‘spend’ pretend money and a seed was planted about the enjoyment of providing for one’s needs. I cut out all sorts of images (with the food prices) to round out my budget. I do not recall what my budget was (this was back in the 1990’s) but I wish I had recalled if my teacher had us plan for a family or for a single person’s grocery budget.
My parents raised four children and although both of my parents worked (my dad served in the Navy), my mother also used child support from my biological father to meet our needs. I knew early on I did not see myself raising a family mirroring the one I grew up in; I’m pretty certain around eleven years of age I told my dad I wasn’t having children. After my mother’s passing–and my dad started his life again with my stepmother–I inherited two new siblings. Being in a household of six children, I recognized more and more how difficult food spending can be on a family, especially during the teenage years.
While serving as a United States Marine, I also recognized outside the institution of family, other institutions impact our access to food and food spending. The Marine Corps provided me with what’s known as a basic allowance for subsistence (BAS). The 2014 numbers show $357.77 per month for enlisted service members. During boot camp, combat training, MOS school, and while I lived in the barracks, my meals were provided to me, instead of receiving the dollar amount of the BAS. (As a related matter, instead of receiving a basic allowance for housing like married service members, when I was in training and a single Marine early in my career, I instead receiving accommodations in barracks. These accommodations are in my opinion not equitable to the freedom married service members have in using their funds to find their suitable family residence, be it an apartment, condo, or single family home.)
The chow halls have their own rotating menu selections, including entrees, sides, drinks (no alcohol, obviously), and dessert options. During boot camp, my fellow recruits and I were not permitted to enjoy desserts, although some people did sneak snacks at time and the group was punished for these individual actions. While at MOS school, our instructors were not shy about criticizing us for indulging in ‘fat pills’ when we choose to eat pre-packaged snacks provided to us during training. My first unit set up a coffee mess in our office so we could purchase pre-packaged snack items on site; the coffee mess permitted us to enjoy some nice snacks without always walking across our camp (Camp Margarita on Camp Pendleton) to the PX, which was closer to my barracks than work. For both deployments, no one seemed to care whether you chose to eat healthy or eat junk, so long as you still met Marine Corps height and weight requirements. I rather liked the chow hall selections on both deployments over the stateside chow halls with the exception of milk. We had shelf-stable milk products (in regular, chocolate, and strawberry) in Iraq and on both deployments, I ended up with a package of spoiled milk.
After separating from the Marine Corps, I found myself for the first time in a position to be (almost) solely responsible for food budgeting, shopping, and preparation. My husband was still serving so we had BAS to meet our food budget needs, but I taught myself how to cook by watching Food Network. I tried shopping at the commissary on Camp Pendleton and it’s rather a tie between it and Walmart as my most despised places to grocery shop. On one side, the commissary has rules on what constitutes proper clothes (and you will be asked to leave if you are dressed inappropriately) so I’m not annoyed by people traipsing around in pajamas like every Walmart shopping trip I’ve ever had. On the other side, it’s easy to find a Walmart everywhere I’ve ever lived and their selections do beat the sparse variety of military commissary shelves.
As I prepare for this fitness challenge, I am confronted by the fact my routines for food purchases and preparation require greater consideration. Just as I have in the past, I allow myself greater freedom for initial stocking up purchases, like cooking oils, and I try not to berate myself if the first week of food is more expensive compared to my typical food purchases. Usually, I have a lower grocery food budget because we also add in a dining out budget. The USDA provides it own food plan costs across numerous budgets but I would say we try to spend no more than $100-$160 per week for our family of three. Some weeks are more expensive because we are paying for bulk purchases like paper goods and cooking oils and our less expensive weeks we might only be buying fruits and vegetables (those weeks we spend $30-$40 typically) when we have sufficient frozen meat products or leftovers.
Trader Joe’s happens to be one of my favorite places to grocery shop since I can maximize my budget more without sacrificing on my shopping experience (I know, I’m talking privilege here) because again, fellow Walmart shoppers drives me a little crazy (please wear real pants, that’s all I’m asking for). If you can overlook the parking situation, Trader Joe’s has good prices on everything and they have a fairly good mix of things (produce, bread, meat and cheese products, even alcohol. Keep in mind, you might not find everything you need there. (Thankfully, the Trader Joe’s I went to today also had a Sprouts conveniently next door. Sprouts is more expensive than Walmart but they have some nice specialty items Walmart doesn’t carry and I love their bulk bin foods.) I implore you to shop there at least once to check things out; word of advice though: do go early, after they open at 9am. If you go during the height of their busy hours, you just might hate me for encouraging you to visit their store.
We managed to get almost everything we needed for this upcoming week and most purchases were made at Trader Joe’s. Our fridge is not big enough to purchase all the cauliflower we need so we’ll head by to the store about midweek and we might need to grab more ground turkey as well. My husband’s trying the fighter diet as well, but with some small adjustments, like using cocoa powder instead of the Lily’s Dark Chocolate Stevia Sweetened Chips so we can save a little money. I am happy though for the first four weeks of this fitness challenge, my diet will be approximately 1,700 calories and it’s filled with foods I like (egg whites, kale, shrimp, chocolate, cauliflower, Cheerios, although we are using Trader O’s instead) and things that will fill me out, even if I’m not entirely sure I’ll like them (oat bran and whey protein…I’ve tried some protein powders before that are terrible, so we’ll see).
Sadly, as I write you all, it came to my attention, I completely overlooked buying mushrooms for the week and I will be making another shopping run. Because I was a bit absent-minded at times like today, we picked up oat bran at Safeway and since Trader Joe’s didn’t have hemp oil we picked it up at Sprout’s.
Groceries Tally for Fighter Diet (Most of Week 1 for 2 Adults)
Trader Joe’s $129.77
Sprouts (Hemp Oil) $7.99
Natural Grocer’s $12.50
(Lily’s Choc. Chips)
Safeway ( 4 boxes, 16oz. Oat Bran) $11.96 (We bought more than a week’s worth.)
Total FD Spending $169.22
***This week, we still need mushrooms (approx. 9-8oz. containers) which might run $18-$20 total and approximately 6 other packages of cauliflower, which would be $14.94 would put our total just over $200 for 2 adults. I think the rounded number works best for future planning. I’m not sure what most people would think if I tell them to imagine spending $100 per week on their food consumption, but we can easily go over that number when we grocery shop and dine out.
The Fighter Diet chocolate whey (sold individually) costs $54.95 and with approximately 37 servings, an individual portion costs $1.49. A day’s worth (3 servings) is $4.47.
To keep things simple, our daily food cost will be just over $14 per adult and I’m using the amount $4.47 for daily whey protein consumption. I bought it as part of the package for my fitness challenge ($149.99). This plan, for us, has a manageable food budget (compared to a food delivery service we tried not too long ago) and will be less expensive once we get into the weeks with food swaps. Additionally, I am eager it doesn’t have a lot of meal prep; again, we tried others that wanted us to make 5-6 meals! I’m happy to only have three meals and on-the-go snacks that don’t require significant time.
For less than $20 a day, I am fueling my body with three meals and two snacks and I’m ok with how insane this number might look to other people. I won’t always be spending this amount of money but to get back on track with my health, I am choosing to sacrifice spending in other areas of my life which I don’t consider to be as important.
Note: In case you were wondering about my daughter, she’s got plenty to eat this week as well. Aside from the less than $29 we spent today on school lunch sides, snacks, and breakfast cereal bars, we also have pantry items, fresh veggies, and frozen leftovers on hand meant for her. She eats like a champ (hardly ever indulging in soda and she mostly despises ice cream) and we ensure she gets as many nutritious meals and healthy snacks (fruit, cheese, etc.) as her little heart and stomach desire.