I came across a very interesting article by Marguerite Manteau-Rao about what families spend their money on at the grocery store. The data came from Nielsen Research, and if you’ve ever looked inside other people’s shopping carts (and quite likely your own), you probably won’t be surprised.

grocery shopping
photo by ninjapoodles

People buy a lot of really unhealthy food.

It’s mostly about convenience, I think. Cooking is much easier for most people when they don’t do it from scratch. Not to mention that when you buy canned and processed foods it takes longer for them to spoil, so you just don’t have to think so hard about what’s about to go bad.

There’s also the usual bit about it being cheaper to buy processed foods, which is true to the extent that most people don’t know how to buy healthy foods cheaply, or how to prepare them.

One of the comments on the article directed me to a great resource, through this PDF. They note that the USDA’s Low Cost Food Plan is about $20 per week cheaper than what the average family of 4 spends on food. The plan itself is a bit tedious to read (hey, it’s a government publication, what do you expect?) but it does give examples of what they mean for each food group.

The USDA also has a rather interesting recipe finder. The recipes come from nutrition and health professionals and organizations, but can be rated and reviewed by users. It also lists approximate cost of making the recipe and cost per serving. Obviously these will vary by area and the sales you can find, but it’s nice to know if the recipe is likely to be cheap or expensive to make.

For my family, we gave up buying things like sodas on a regular basis years ago. We get them maybe a couple times a year if company is coming over, but not for regular use. We buy lots of fresh produce (it’s scary that this shows 4% of households not buying fresh produce!), and not too many treats.

Buying more healthy foods has a lot of benefits. There’s just something about having my kids beg me to get them an apple or some sugar snap peas, rather than asking for candy. They enjoy candy, certainly, and the Halloween supply will be here for a long time, but I’d rather encourage the healthy habits.

It’s still challenging at times dealing with everything the kids see on TV and want to try. A simple “no” works a lot of the time. Teaching children that no really does mean no is not an easy task, but if you’re consistent you can do it. Or you can give in, but only on things you suspect the kids won’t like too well anyhow. I’ve done that one successfully.

It’s probably easier with my kids just because we started them out this way. If you’re trying to change your family’s habits, I don’t doubt that it will be much more difficult. Children build their tastes so early, and some of it is just inborn, as near as I can tell. Otherwise I wouldn’t have one peanut butter fanatic, and one who cannot stand the taste of peanut butter.

If you’re trying to change your family’s eating habits for the better, don’t make the switch too quickly. Take things a step at the time and steadily introduce healthier foods. We’re all human and we don’t need to be perfect today or any other day.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.