The True Savings of Organic Food - Moms Across America

The True Savings of Organic Food

An Account of Our Research Process and Findings

By Irene Fearnley and the Moms Across America Team

It’s no secret that cooking meals at home are more cost-effective than going out to eat. But what if you want to eat 100% organic, isn't that more expensive? 

In our new research, we show that it is still more cost-effective even if the ingredients are 100% organic. In addition to helping your wallet, cooking meals at home also has the potential for significant health benefits; since you yourself are in control of the products and ingredients you buy, it is easier to make eating organic, non-GMO whole foods a priority. When it comes to eating your meals outside the home, you may be inundated with unhealthy and non-sustainably grown options like the fare offered at fast-food chains. Even at other restaurants, you can never be too sure about the types of ingredients being used and where they are sourced from. To put it plainly, when you decide to cook from home you are making the decision that is truly best for your health and that of your family. 

Unfortunately, it has become a popular assumption that shopping for meals with exclusively organic ingredients is more of a financial burden for individuals and families. And many just assume that it would be more of a money saver to just go out to eat rather than taking the time to seek out and purchase organic ingredients. So we at Moms Across America wanted to see how true this conception was:

Just how expensive are organic groceries? Is it more of a money saver to just go out to eat at a regular chain restaurant?

To answer these questions, we decided to do a side-by-side comparison. We calculated how much it would cost to order out 8 common meals and sides from a restaurant versus making them at home with organic ingredients. As a group, we decided to make calculations for the following family favorite meals: pizza, caesar salad with chicken, chicken strips, macaroni & cheese, and chicken and steak tacos. In addition, we did calculations for popular sides such as lemonade and rice & beans.

The first order of business was to calculate how much it would cost a family of 5 to eat each of these meals out at a restaurant. We decided to pull our pricing from the most common chain at which these meals would be sold; for example, we pulled the pricing for pizza from Pizza Hut, the pricing for chicken from Chick- Fil-A etc. We calculated the cost of purchasing the meal for a family of 5 at a restaurant as a one-time event. Then we calculated how much it would cost the family to order that same meal from a restaurant once a week for 1 year.

In our first set of numbers, the meals for a family of 5 ranged from $49.15 (for 5 3-count servings of steak tacos from Chipotle) to  $20.95 (for 5 3-count servings for chicken strips from Chick-Fil-A)1. The sides such as lemonade were both around $10 for 5 servings. For yearly expenses, the numbers ranged from $2,457.50 for the steak tacos to $1,047.50 for the chicken strips. Even the sides would set our hypothetical family back a bit, with the yearly cost of having lemonade for the family coming in at $525 for three meals a week. Ordering lemonade ( with GMO sugar and synthetic chemicals) drinks costs at least $462.50 per year.

We then turned our attention to how much it would cost to make organic versions of these meals at home. For each meal, we found a similar recipe that would make enough servings for a family of 5. We then used each recipe as a guide to see what ingredients we needed and how much of each we needed to buy. It was then a task of locating affordably priced organic produce and ingredients; some of us on the team searched internet food marketplaces for the best prices, some of us went to our local grocery store to see what was on offer there. Once we had the prices and retail amounts of each ingredient, we whipped out our calculators and began to figure out how much it would cost for that amount of organic ingredients needed for a particular recipe. We then added those up to get the total amount it would cost to buy exactly what you needed to make the meal at home for a family of 5.

The first thing we noticed was that the cost per meal was much lower than the restaurant equivalent and in some cases, you would end up with more food than what you would have had at the restaurant. For example, it would cost a family of 5 $27.98 to get enough pizza for the whole family from a Pizza Hut while making enough pizza at home (homemaking the dough included) would only cost $14.73. And while this figure reflects the cost of the exact amount of ingredients you would need to make the pizza, the list of organic ingredients purchased would allow the family to make the pizza at least twice with minimal repurchasing resulting in even more sayings!. The savings for organic pizza at home is $662 a year...the price of at least 2 long weekend camping vacations.

Once we had made the calculations for each meal, it was time to see how much it would cost the family of 5 to make the meal at home once a week for a year and then compare this number to the cost associated with getting the same meal at a restaurant. This is where we really started to see money being saved; we saw an average make-at-home savings amount of $405.28, with the largest amount being $864.50 for steak tacos and the smallest amount being $37.50 for the macaroni and cheese. 
This results in savings eating all of the meals we researched only 1 x a week at home would be over $3,504 per year! The price for eating vegetarian meals would be even less, as meat is more costly than vegetables.

If you factor in the findings of the recent Rockefeller Foundation article on the True Cost of Food, that shows that our standard American diet food actually costs 3 X more than the price on the label, due to health and environmental impacts, then the savings is actually $10,502 per year!

Link to data here.

Let's look at the savings of $3,504, without the health and environmental savings. If a parent was taking home $10.00 an hour (about $14.00 before taxes)  after taxes, they would need to work 350 hours simply to make $3,504 to spend on eating out that year. That's time away from the family and doing things they love!

We assert that spending the 30 minutes per meal to make this food at home (even less when the kids chip in), 78 hours total for the whole year for 3 home-cooked meals a week, is still far more affordable. If one was being paid for that time, 78 hours at the same pay equals an equivalent of $780.00. If this amount was subtracted from the restaurant costs, eating at home would still be less expensive. In addition, the time it takes to drive to a restaurant, be seated, order, wait for the food to come, and drive home is usually far more time than it takes to cook and eat at home. And in all of these cases, the purchasing of organic ingredients not only gave this hypothetical family the ability to make restaurant meals at home for less but it also disproved the misconception that making healthy choices is inevitably more costly. In addition, it opened up the possibility for new home-cooked meals to be made with leftover ingredients, making a healthy culinary exploration something that was within reach.

The numbers were positively demonstrating our research: in many cases, it is cheaper to choose the organic home-cooked option. And while this was an inspiring discovery, it brought certain other things to light we hadn’t thought about initially, regarding accessibility. One thing in particular that kept coming to mind when we were researching organic ingredients was how these certain brands and products may be harder to find depending on where you live. This in turn can be connected to your income level.  We kept thinking about how this research may have different results if we took into consideration the existence of food deserts in the United States.

Food deserts are defined as “areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthful foods and may be due to having a limited income or living far away from sources of healthful and affordable food.” In a study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, it was estimated that around 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in areas that are considered low income and are farther than 1 mile to the nearest large grocery store. In many cases, when food deserts are concerned, the variety of options is limited and there may be little to no organic fare on offer in the nearest grocery store. In addition, those living in food deserts are more often reliant on food retailers or fast food restaurants which offer affordable options but a more limited and unhealthy variety of foods.

Thus, this lack of access has been linked to higher incidences of obesity, increased prevalence of diabetes, and other weight-related conditions throughout all demographics in these areas but particularly in children. Therefore, a lack of access has resounding ramifications not only amongst the entire population but also within future generations. 

Organic_Homecooked_vs_Conventional_Restaurant_Food_-_Familyof5.jpg

Thus, this lack of access has been linked to higher incidences of obesity, increased prevalence of diabetes, and other weight-related conditions throughout all demographics in these areas but particularly in children. Therefore, a lack of access has resounding ramifications not only amongst the entire population but also within future generations. 

In reconciling this information with the research on organic alternatives to restaurants and fast food, it was made abundantly clear to us that advocating for access to healthy and nutritious food is essential. On one level it must be about helping individuals make informed choices for their health and dispelling notions that healthier choices are not financially viable. And on another level, we must push local, state, and federal officials to address access and bring those suffering from lack of access to healthy organic food into the fold by allowing them to play a role in food system planning and other food-related policy decisions.

Thinking about this fact, it was difficult not to feel discouraged for those who had been pigeonholed by systemic inequalities into this vulnerable, food desert status. However, we stumbled upon a list of ways in which we can make an effort to eliminate the existence of food deserts and one particular action step caught my eye; that of “encouraging healthy dietary habits by providing education and training on food production, preparation, and nutrition.” This is just one facet of the increasingly important work that is being done within the ranks of Moms Across America.

One droplet can cause a ripple effect creating waves and waves; actions such as doing this research, spreading the word about the benefits of an organic, whole foods diet, calling attention to the dangers of the chemicals and practices of conventional farming and so many more things are the droplets and slowly but surely, we as a community can create some waves. For now, what is most important is to honor the choices we make and encourage others to do the same. 

Go to your local supermarket and ask for the organic version! If you buy and you ask, they will see the demand and keep reordering those products. In increasing that demand, we have the ability to uplift those farmers participating in organic and sustainable, chemical-free, regenerative food practices. It starts with the choices you make. And it doesn’t hurt to save a little money too!

1. These prices do not include tax as it varies by state.

Is it Insensitive to Advocate for Organic Food to Low Income Populations?


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  • Zen Honeycutt
    published this page in Blog 2021-09-03 07:27:28 -0700
  • Zen Honeycutt
    published this page in Blog 2021-09-02 12:23:53 -0700

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