The Grocery Store Challenge
By Sheryl Kraft
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?