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Investigating the cost of healthy eating for families

Last week I wrote about how upset I was to learn that low-income families cannot afford to eat healthily. I have investigated this by doing two grocery shops – both for a family of four (2 adults and 2 school-age children) – one with a healthy menu and one unhealthy.

This was not quite so straight-forward as I thought, so I set myself rules in order that the results are as fair as possible. I devised both menus based on food diaries from my own archive of client data. The grocery shops only included food items for one week’s worth of meals. Only the cheapest available product in each category was to be used. I aimed to match the meals in terms of type, e.g. home-made spaghetti bolognaise v. shop-bought.

I have detailed the menus and shopping lists below, but the overall result is that the healthy weekly shop cost £58.48, and the non-healthy shop totalled £38.51. My first thought was that I was pleased that a family could eat well for under £60, but I was amazed that the unhealthy menu came to under £40!!! For a week’s worth of food!

I was amazed that a pack of biscuits was 25p (enough for 1 snack for the whole family), whilst the healthy option (1 banana each) was over twice as much at 56p. And that making chicken stir-fry from fresh ingredients came to £6.11 but buying 4 ready meals of sweet and sour chicken cost £2.60.

The main take-home message from this investigation is that the healthy menu family are spending more money and need to spend more time cooking – no wonder busy working families are taking the easiest option! Is this right? Is the food industry driving the obesity crisis?

Menu plan for the week's worth of food

Shopping Lists

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