This month, my family is revisiting a challenge I originally wrote about for The Daily Herald in 2013 called MyPlate on My Budget. Could my family of four follow the USDA’s MyPlate requirements and also stick to its thrifty budget as defined by the USDA Food Plan: Cost of Food Report?
In 2013, that meant spending $144.80 a week on food. Now, the budget has risen to $158.30.
The first time I did this challenge, I planned all of the meals myself. This time around, I’m using resources available at ChooseMyPlate.gov; specifically the sample menu plans and grocery shopping lists. According to MyPlate: “These sample two-week menus can be used by any person or family wanting to follow a healthy diet at a modest price. The menus are designed to meet nutrition needs on a budget.”
I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood with several grocery stores and to also own a car so I can drive to them and transport goods home. Plus, since my son is 14, I can leave both kids at home while I go grocery shopping.
On Day 1, I drove to Fred Meyer with my Week 1 grocery list in hand, along with the second list of pantry staples. The grocery list had 63 items on it, and the pantry list had another 46.
I was extremely grateful to be shopping alone. Every choice meant reading labels, checking prices and sometimes downloading digital coupons. None of that is new to me, but since the list was so long, it took an hour and a half. Plus, I bought products I was unfamiliar with like precooked turkey sausage and whole wheat tortillas.
When I finished shopping, my cart had four gallons of milk, three dozen eggs, dinner rolls, English muffins, tortillas, lentils, rice, couscous, spaghetti, oatmeal, cereal, corn meal, 5 pounds of chicken, pork chops, ground beef, round steak, two pounds of fish, five bags of frozen vegetables, frozen juice concentrate, 20 bananas, potatoes and lots of fresh vegetables.
As I pushed my bloated cart around the store, it became crystal clear that this list was not friendly to people with food allergies. There was so much milk that it kept falling off the bottom rack. Since I’m gluten intolerant, instead of buying two loaves of whole wheat bread, I bought one loaf of whole wheat and one gluten free. I also picked the more expensive gluten-free spaghetti.
When I got to the checkout stand the final tally was $182.45. That was $24.15 more than the USDA’s thrifty budget. If I had gone to WinCo, I probably could have come in on target, but perhaps the produce wouldn’t have been able to last a full week.
Loading the groceries into the car, bringing them into the house and putting them away took me another hour. I didn’t have room in my refrigerator for all of the milk, so I put two gallons in the freezer.
Could MyPlate’s sample two-week plan really be used for “any person or family” like they claimed? Yes — any person with a car, access to a grocery store, the physical ability to lift heavy things and an extra $24.15 to spend at the last minute.