One key to controlling the food budget is to be aware of the true cost of the food your family eats. We try to eat a healthy diet with a lots of protein, but it's important to consider how filling a food is as well.
I have a mathematical mind, so I find it very helpful to calculate the cost per gram of protein, and calories/dollar for each food. I hope the first figure is self explanatory. I think the second figure (cost of calories) gives a better overall picture of how satisfying the food is. More calories for your money means that you can fill up for less. A higher score here doesn't tell you if the food is good for you or not. Calories can be good (protein, healthy fats, fiber, etc) or bad (sugar, highly refined carbs, unhealthy fats). Because some foods are more compact than others, a higher calorie/dollar ratio doesn't necessarily mean you have a bigger serving, but it does mean that you will probably spend less to feel full.
Your food choices and prices may be different from mine, but here are some of my own calculations to get you started. I always find a few surprises when I do this. Are you surprised by anything below? I have arranged them in ascending order as protein sources: the cheapest protein is first.
- White flour (25# bag from Costco) - 142 grams of protein/dollar; 5200 calories/dollar
- Pinto beans (dry) - 100 grams of protein/dollar; 1300 calories/dollar
- Peanut butter - 67 grams of protein/dollar; 1600 calories/dollar
- Oats - 67 grams of protein/dollar; 2000 calories/dollar
- Pasta (2 # box of elbow macaroni) - 63 grams of protein/dollar; 1800 calories/dollar
- Pork loin (boneless from Costco) - 63 grams of protein/dollar; 550 calories/dollar
- Grated cheddar cheese (5# bag from Costco) - 50 grams of protein/dollar; 700 calories/dollar
- Boneless skinless chicken (<$2/lb on sale) - 50 grams of protein/dollar; 400 calories/dollar
- Eggs - 45 grams of protein/dollar; 600 calories/dollar
- Milk (1 gallon whole milk) - 44 grams of protein/dollar; 800 calories/dollar
- Parboiled rice - 40 grams of protein/dollar; 1700 calories/dollar
- Flour tortillas - 33 grams of protein/dollar; 1600 calories/dollar
- Potatoes (10# russet) - 24 grams of protein/dollar; 900 calories/dollar
Of course most fruits and vegetables would score poorly on a scale like this. They are typically low in both protein and calories, but this scale doesn't give a full picture of the true value of a food - only its economy as a source of protein and a belly-filler.
Here are a few other foods, just for fun:
- McDouble (double cheeseburger @ $1.29) - 18 grams of protein/dollar; 300 calories/dollar
- Ground chuck (80% lean @ $3.50/lb) - 23 grams of protein/dollar; 310 calories/dollar
- Totino's freezer pizza - 25 grams of protein/dollar; 700 calories/dollar
- Snicker's candy bar (80 cents) - 5 grams of protein/dollar; 370 calories/dollar
To calculate the cost of protein, use this simple two-step formula:
1. Read the label to see how many grams of protein are in each serving. Multiply by number of servings to get the total amount of protein in the package.
2. Now divide: Protein (in grams) divided by Price (in dollars).
To calculate calories/dollar:
1. Total price of item divided by number of servings = cost/serving
2. Calories/serving (read the label for this number) divided by cost/serving (use dollars this time) = calories per dollar
What foods play heavily in your diet and budget? Can you calculate numbers that will be helpful for you?