My family of two adults, one teenager and a 10-year-old is taking a challenge called MyPlate on My Budget. Can we follow the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines and also stick to their thrifty budget as defined by the USDA Food Plan: Cost of Food report? That means spending $158.30 on food per week — and also meeting the MyPlate targets for vegetables, whole grains, dairy and fish consumption. We’ve been using the sample two-week menu plan available on ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Week 1 got off to a rough start when the shopping list for the sample meal plan tallied $182 at Fred Meyer. By the end of the week, we had extra milk and several uneaten ingredients. So for Week 2’s grocery shopping adventure, I chose not to purchase everything on the shopping list.
I only bought two of the four gallons of milk, one loaf of bread instead of three and 10 bananas as opposed to 20. Food products that made it into my cart included chicken, ground beef, pork chops, canned wild Pacific salmon, eggs, fresh spinach, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, herbs, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables and a variety of dairy products. It took me 1½ hours to shop. The grand total was $122.50.
An interesting thing I noticed while shopping from MyPlate’s list was that at least half of the foods would qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children in Washington — including the canned wild-caught Pacific salmon. If you haven’t studied the Washington Shopping Guide for WIC, it’s worth reading because it’s composed of nutrient-dense, low-cost foods. Basically, if you see the WIC tag at the grocery store, it’s probably a good deal— even if you don’t qualify for WIC.
Another insight I gleaned from the second week of our challenge was how multicultural the MyPlate recipes were. The polenta was from LA County’s “Es Facil” campaign, and the oven-fried fish was from the “Healthy Cookbook for African American Populations.” My teenager made misickquatash from the cookbook “A River of Recipes Using Commodity Foods from the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.”
Did you catch that? My son made dinner. Both of my children have basic cooking skills, but these recipes were easy enough that kids could make them start to finish. Let’s face it, using your own child labor workforce is a money-saving tip that often gets overlooked. If Mom and Dad are the only ones cooking, it’s tempting to take the night off and gush money at a restaurant. But when kids take turns in the kitchen, it becomes easier to eat at home and save money.
OK, so what was the final verdict on the MyPlate on My Budget challenge? All four of us felt it was a success. Yes, we could follow the MyPlate requirements and stick to a thrifty budget. We kept at our healthy weight levels, too. People who are considering signing up for an expensive weight-loss program might want to check out MyPlate first — because it’s free and easy to follow.
Shoppers who are worried that their grocery budget has grown out of control might consider giving the sample two-week menu plan a try. But MyPlate also has problems. Read my column next week to find out what I think MyPlate gets wrong.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.