The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


My apologies for some unsubstantiated assumptions in this blog. In previous posts, I have been rather sharp in my boasts that I eat organic foods and still have an overall food budget cheaper than the average bear. I was shocked when I tallied up my grocery totals from my credit card statement. The numbers are frightening, surprising as well as embarrassing: For the months of October and November, I spent approximately $450 each month at the grocery store!! That does not include my 1/2 cow (or pig, which its on its way) nor does it include restaurant expenditures (which were actually low, but would still add another $30-50 per month).

I seriously don't know where the money goes. Or went. Its gone. I still wonder if there is some kind of mistake, because that's outrageously high just for groceries.

This does not refute the actual cost of certain recipes quoted in previous posts--those costs are very real. Somehow, someway, though, my overall food expenditures went through the roof and to parts beyond. Its easy to see how a chip habit could run me an extra $20 or so, but when I'm hundreds of dollars beyond where I should be its obviously a problem greater than just one or two guilty pleasures. Its something more systemic.

In response, I am watching my spending more closely, and careful to put myself on a plan that is easy to follow, nutritious, delicious and economical (my favorite food criteria).

Here's a rough sketch of a daily plan:


Piece of fruit (costly, but important) $0.50-$1.00


Oatmeal with some whole sugar. I often add some berries, which are also expensive but worthwhile. $0.10-15 for the oats plus about $0.20-80 for a handful of berries. Let's estimate $0.30-$1.00. (Its amazing how a 10-cent bowl of oats becomes 8-10 times more expensive just by putting in a handful of berries!)


Trying to perfect Beans & Rice. They seem like simple foods to make, but hard to get just right. I like Cuban Black Beans which have onions, garlic and hot & mild peppers cooked with plenty of seasonings and bacon grease. Chipotle-Style Rice usually has a touch of salt, cilantro and lime juice. Can't be more than $0.50-$1.00 per meal for all this, and that's over-estimating.

A dish like that can be topped off with some fresh tomatoes. Let's give that another $0.50. I dunno.


My chicken soup would be about $2.00 for a large meal.

Considering my cow and pig, there is plenty of room for roasts and casseroles. I made Fighting Irish Potatoes and Liver the other day. Keep in mind that root vegetables and standard soup stock ingredients are rather cheap. Load up your crock pot with turnips, carrots, onions and potatoes. Find time in your life for beets!

Eggs, hash browns and some whole-wheat toast could be made for $1.00-2.00.

Burritos are an almost daily occurrence in my diet, as well. I like Trader Joe's whole-wheat shells.

Chili should not be forgotten.

I think I can do anything on this dinner list for $1.00-2.00 per serving.


These are harder to estimate, mostly because I don't have a handle yet on costs and quantities. I drink only juice, water, milk, tea and coffee. I haven't had a carbonated beverage on purpose for probably over a year (had some sips both by accident and out of necessity recently). My rough estimate has $30/month for all this.


Cooking oils and spices--not included in this list, although I'm sure their cost adds up. I buy a bottle of olive oil every 2-3 months.

By no means is my diet this simple, but the goal here is to center my food around simple, cheap, organic ingredients like oatmeal, beans & rice, eggs and potatoes. The prices quoted above are for organic ingredients. Worst case scenario has it at $180/month. Add another $66/month for the cow and pig. Not exceptional, but not that bad.

The next step is to be careful not to exponentially increase the cost of a meal with expensive sauces or other, perhaps unnecessary, ingredients (there isn't a sauce in this world you can't make at home). If I'm going to lay down some higher bucks, its going to be for a good cause like whole fruit or meat.

Since starting this "diet", my overall starchiness has increased. I'm not sure how I feel about that. However, more than 50% of grains are whole (some days it's 100%). I also have beans almost daily and sometimes more than once. That is a big nutritional plus. Fruit is almost daily as well, including berries, which are at the top of the nutritional ladder. Meats are organic and (primarily) pasture-raised. The fruit as well as the occasional salsa or tomato salad help me get something raw. Buying the whole cow and pig has also stocked me with plenty of soup bones and organ meats. I'd say this diet covers much of the nutritional spectrum. I'm a little light on the green leafies.

I'll keep you "posted" how it goes. I enjoy perusing the local organic co-op and cooking so much that its not hard to come home with a big bag of vegetables ready for some new recipes. But I also like the challenge of doing it economically, as well.

1 comment:

  1. Phew... now I feel a little less guilty about my $250/mo bills... I have to admit that as I was buying my food at Giant Eagle yesterday, I was thinking about how disgusted you would be with my consumerism! ;)