After Anne mentioned the Hillbilly Housewife Emergency Menu, I spent some time looking at the various menus and recipes on her site. Her menus are designed for families of five or six and require a LOT of preparation. I think they would be really hard to implement if the cook is also working outside of the home. I also noticed that the grocery list on the site hadn’t been updated since 2009. And in fact the 2009 prices totaled $70, not the $45 she originally started with in 2006. I was curious to see what this list would cost today. She used Walmart and Dollar General prices; I used Walmart and Dollar Tree. I noted which items would be purchased at Dollar Tree (DT).
Somewhat surprisingly, today’s price for these items hasn’t increased much — and in some cases went down — since 2009. It wasn’t always clear to me the size of the item purchased in the earlier years, so I just used what I assumed is the most likely size based on prices then and now. Also, as I typed up the list I really had time to consider how likely I would be to follow this exact list. I think my answer is not likely at all. For one thing, I don’t think a $70 budget is by any means generous, but when you are buying for a larger number of people with a slightly higher budget, you reap the benefits of bulk pricing. Two four-pound bags of two different kinds of beans would be less expensive than four different kinds of beans in a smaller quantity and gives a very little bit of room to purchase seasonings which can have a greater impact on the flavor of meals than the kind of bean (in my opinion). I also don’t think I would use dry milk, although I recognize that it is being used in a lot of the baked goods recipes to up protein. Instead I would buy regular milk and focus on drinking more water, which is very healthy anyway! At current prices, liquid milk is cheaper than dry milk, too.
Also, if this was my regular budget for food as a family of five, there is the likelihood that at the very least my kids would qualify for the free or reduced lunch at school. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable seeking out SNAP benefits if we were able to sustain this grocery budget, but I do think I would swallow my pride and sign my kids up for free/reduced lunch. At $.40 per lunch per child at the reduced rate, I’d have to eliminate $7 from the $70 budget, but this would still give me $63 to work with each week. And I think that concerns related to stigma would be somewhat mitigated by the fact that each kid’s barcode is scanned at lunchtime, they don’t have to produce actual money. Probably the al a carte items are where things get sticky — I have worked primarily in Title 1 schools where ALL students receive free lunch, so I don’t have a clear idea of how it works in a more well-off school district. But I guess not every single variable can be accounted for in these menus!
Finally, probably the biggest thing I would do differently is have much less variety for breakfasts and lunches (for those who would be consuming them). I would focus my energy on creating interesting dinners and it would be oatmeal and eggs for breakfast, like it or lump it. I don’t personally care for many canned vegetables and I do think that you can get more for your money sometimes with frozen veggies, so that might be another area of change. Also, while I enjoy baking, I’m not sure I’d want or be able to do quite this much. I’m tempted to try out a grocery list and meal plan for 5 using this budget, actually!
What would you do differently? Did the food prices surprise you? And are they different in your area? I didn’t explore the cost of food in other cities, but I know that Florida/Jacksonville has a lower cost of living overall than many other areas of the U.S.
If you are interested, I made a second version of this list highlightling which prices increased or decreased since 2009. The items highlighted in green went down in price, the others went up. Sometimes the price change wasn’t very significant at all, but to me it’s all pretty interesting!