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Healthy Living

The Grocery Store Challenge

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 06/05/2012
Last Updated: 12/06/2018

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Picture this: You have just $10 to spend on dinner for a family of four.

Sound tough? It was—at least for me. But it was a way to learn some valuable lessons.

While on an educational business trip a few weeks ago, I learned a lot about healthy food choices. One of the things that really impressed me (there were so many, so stay tuned for additional information in the next few weeks, including some cool giveaways!) was learning about a national nonprofit organization called Share Our Strength. It's dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the United States and helping people make nutritious food choices.

Kids who face hunger are prone to learning troubles, more health ailments and delayed development. And the statistics bear out this widespread problem: one in five—that's more than 16 million—children in America struggle with hunger, with less than half of eligible children getting free or reduced-price school breakfasts.

An offshoot of Share Our Strength's program includes a program called Cooking Matters. A registered dietitian guides groups of adults and children on a tour of their local grocery store and teaches them to read food labels, compare prices, search for seasonal fruits and vegetables, stock their pantry and stretch food ingredients.

Off we went, a group of six journalists, to see this program in full swing. Our mission: armed with $10, 20 minutes and a small shopping basket, we were to put together a dinner for a family of four. I'm embarrassed to say that I came in over the limit. My other teammates all slid in right at or below the $10 mark. One wisely purchased the "Manager's Special" whole chicken, brown rice and a head of broccoli—all for $10.05. Another planned a budget-friendly healthy frittata.

My choice for dinner: pizza—something I knew could be wholesome and healthy. I chose chopped (canned) tomatoes without added salt, black beans, low-fat cheese and fresh spinach (buying a whole bunch as opposed to bagged is usually a wiser choice, money-wise). Not bad, right? For dessert, I grabbed a pint of blueberries and a small container of plain yogurt to top them with. Most of the ingredients I chose were on sale that week.

My big mistake: choosing a ready-made pizza crust (at least it was whole wheat—and on sale). Despite the sale price, it was still too expensive. I would have done much better buying the less expensive raw dough. Any time you buy anything already prepped, the cost goes up. That said, at least I got a thumbs-up for my choice of a chunk of cheese rather than already-grated cheese.

In the end, all the food we purchased was donated to the local food bank. I felt good about the fact that families would be getting wholesome and healthy food that night.

And I'm so grateful for the lesson. It's really a struggle for families to eat right on a budget. But with careful planning and education, it can be done.

And the fun they could have spinning some raw pizza dough can't be bad, either.

What kind of dinner would you prepare for a family of four for $10 or less?

You might also want to read:
Eating Healthfully on a Budget
Some New Ways to Eat Healthfully
Is Being Healthy a Choice?

Comments

What a challenge! Everything in the supermarket is so expensive these days---especially things that kids like to eat. Perhaps chicken on the grill and corn on the cob?

You taught me something today. I'm still in the frame of mind that eating healthy has to be expensive. When I first saw your challenge, the only thing I could think of was Hamburger Helper, family size.

I'm not sure I could do it. With the kids grown, my husband and I have gotten pretty lax about shopping and costs. But I *would* swear by a good sandwich with whole wheat bread, tomatoes, lettuce, lean meat.

I bet if you got the chicken thighs on sale, you could do the sage and brown butter chicken from The Parchment Paper Cookbook for under $10. Really all you need is 4 chicken thighs (bone-in is cheaper), one big sweet potato, some butter and some sage. Though, spices can be pricey. Hmm ...

Nice idea. It sounds delicious!

That's a tough one. Cheese souffle, veggie soup made from a leek, a carrot, and two potatoes, and salad.

Thanks for this big reminder on how to eat healthy for less. Homemade pizza is a great idea. For $10 or less for a family, quiche is another delicious option. It's my go-to when I'm waiting for checks from my freelance clients!:)

Quiche is a great idea - low cost and it can include a lot of nutritious ingredients.

I did this challenge too and it was a great eye-opener. I chose tuna on sale, whole grain bread (also on sale), eggs, and bananas. It can be done...but it's not easy. You have to think not only price but nutrition.

Shopping Matters and Cooking Matters are both really important programs.

The challenge sure makes you think a lot about what you are putting in your basket - not only nutrition-wise, but price-wise, too.

My mind immediately jumps to mac-and-cheese out of a box! But maybe something like chicken on sale, bulk rice, carrots...

Thought-provoking experiment and question.

I've noticed that the simpler my selections are, the more the choices widen. In other words...say rice pasta, a little olive oil, chopped tomatoes, a little basil...then a cucumber salad and berries for dessert. Healthy and tasty and quite economical, though I never thought of cost of it closely until reading your post. I like the taste of these simpler fares, too.

I suppose your'e right, Merr. Keeping it simple sure makes it easier in so many ways (including prep time!)

This is a great exercise, one that teaches us how fortunate we really are in many ways. Food is so expensive!

We always had good and nutritious meals when I was a child. My grandma use to cook spaghetti whit black beans and sardines almost all the time. We were very poor but healthy. I think it was delicious!!! some time I prepare it for my son and he love it!

That's so good to know, Rosalba - that you were "very poor but healthy." Your grandma was definitely on the right track with your meals!

The fact that it is such a challenge underlines the benefits of a) cooking in bulk and b)growing a few key things at home or in a neighborhood garden. I think the trend to neighborhood gardens is one of the greatest things that has happened lately. Just look back at when Victory Gardens were used during WWII to help families stretch their food budgets.

I think planning several meals in a row can also help keep costs down--the chicken you cook one night can become something for dinner the next. My $10 would probably be breakfast burritos--scrambled eggs made with lean ham on whole wheat tortillas with salsa. It's filling, inexpensive and travels well. At the end of the week, I often make this with whatever leftovers I have on hand--grilled pork, sauteed veggies, spinach.

It is a struggle! I love that the education is happening, though. I wonder, is there any mention of growing a little bit of produce at home? Having a pot of lettuce (or spinach!) would add healthy greens very inexpensively.

Glad you wrote about these folks. I've covered Cooking Matters too. They're providing a tremendous service to the community.

This is a great challenge. I would probably look at what was on sale for that week and then bulk up the meat with two vegetables.

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