So, something pretty embarrassing happened the other day. I was in Aldi doing the big weekly food shop, the trolley was bursting at the seems with fruit, veg, meat, snacks: all the essentials. I loaded everything up onto the checkout, I had everything crossed that Alex could make it through these last few minutes in the trolley without having a major meltdown. The checkout assistant scanned everything through at breakneck speeds and then it was time to pay. I was mortified when the lady said my card had been declined. ‘Can we try again?’ I asked, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment and growing stress. A second attempt and still no payment went through. I fumbled for my phone and checked my online banking. I had £65 in my account, the shopping came to £75. We spent a very painful five minutes finding £10 worth of shopping to void off my bill and to head back to the shelves. I would like to say the woman on the till was kind and helpful but really she was quite harsh and made me feel more embarrassed than I was already. £75 is a lot of money for our Aldi shop and I know exactly why this grocery haul cost so much, it was mostly healthy food.
Eating healthily as a one wage family – is it possible?
When it comes to money, we aren’t exactly hard up. We struggles by from month to month, there’s rarely anything left over the day before pay day and we have had to get credit cards to cover some costs but, for the most part, we manage. The majority of our money (after rent and bills) goes on food. We do a big shop once a week and normally this averages around the £50 mark. I have started to notice something over recent months that I can’t ignore any longer, the healthier the contents of my trolley, the bigger the total by the time I reach the checkout.
A packet of biscuits cost me 22p in Aldi, a pack of small satsumas cost just over £1. A multipack of rip off PomBears costs 99p, but I couldn’t buy a packet of grapes for that price. A large chicken was around £3 but two salmon fillets cost almost a fiver. One of the most important things to me is getting my boys to eat well, I want them to eat healthy and nutritious food and understand that sugary fatty foods are just a treat. It is very disheartening to know feeding them the best possible food costs so much more than giving them unhealthy food for tea every night.
When my card got declined the other day, I had purchased (well tried to!) much more healthy food than usual. I always buy a selection of fruit and vegetables but try not to over do it as I know my bank balance will suffer. This day though, I had sat down with a new recipe book and meal planned seven healthy meals for the coming week, all made from scratch and all bursting with different vegetables, fresh herbs and fish or meat. I had walked around the shop with my list and felt on par with Supermum for once in my life, as I tossed all the vitamin rich food into the trolley, excited to turn them into super healthy meals for my children.
I was gutted when I couldn’t afford it all, especially as I knew if I just swapped out some of those fresh vegetables for canned goods and the fish for cheap fatty mince or ready meals then I would have been able to afford it all. I had to put a packet of kale back, some chia and pumpkin seeds back, corn on the cobs and a few other bits. It was soul destroying watching all that healthy food I couldn’t afford make its way back to the shelves.
This isn’t the way it should be, right? How can the government spend so much time complaining at us parents for the growing childhood obesity rates when they allow the healthier options to cost so much more than the foods that are causing our children to put on weight in the first place? When a packet of chocolate biscuits costs 22p but a packet of fresh fruit costs almost five times that much, is it really the parents who should be solely held accountable for their children being unhealthier than they should be?
My husband has a decent paid job. The money isn’t fantastic but he gets paid enough for us to manage and he is getting a lot more than minimum wage per hour. There is no way we can afford to be spending £75 a week on food though, the singe pay packet just won’t stretch that far. I work from home but my earnings are sporadic, one week I may earn £100 and the next it could be no more than £30. I am on £10 an hour but the workload varies considerably from week to week and, unfortunately, my contribution to the family pot can not be relied upon.
As an, almost, one wage family, eating healthy meals every single day is just not possible for us. I try and switch fresh vegetables for frozen alternatives. I try not to buy packaged fruit as you can usually get more for less money if you weigh it up yourself. I have to sacrifice my ethics when it comes to food too, eggs from caged hens are cheaper, organic costs more so I have to buy non organic and anything fair trade is simply out of the question. I would love to be able to make these choices that support better quality of life for animals and farmers but I just can’t when I am already having to stretch the food budget as thin as it will go already.
Is eating as a one wage family of four possible? Yes, but it is a struggle. You have to be really careful with where your money goes and have to be happy to spend most of your money on food and not much more. Although I do manage to buy fruit and veg for the kids, we could definitely be healthier if we had more money. We could eat a greater variety of vegetables and fresh fruits, we could eat more fish (and I don’t just mean fish fingers), we could eat the mince with less than 5% fat instead of the cheap stuff that leaks out fatty water all over the frying pan. If we had a bigger budget, the chickens we buy could have lived in fields, instead of having miserable lives lined up in cages being pumped full of extra hormones. I could pick a packet of avocados off the shelf and not feel the need to switch it for a boring old cucumber that won’t leave me feeling as skint. If we had more money, our baskets and trollies could be full of nutritious food, instead we are forced to fill them with packets of frozen sausages that only cost £1 for twenty (are they even pork?) and bags of frozen blueberries that taste nothing like normal blueberries, all because the healthier alternatives cost so much more.
I don’t have an answer to this but I know I want to feed my kids the best and healthiest food everyday and for my family and so many other families, this just isn’t possible. I am of course grateful every single day that my kids don’t know extreme hunger, that they aren’t starving and, healthy or not, they can guarantee they will have plenty of food to eat every day. So many children go hungry, their parents are doing all they can to feed them but, for whatever reason, they can’t. Something needs to change, someone needs to find the answer. If only we could buy a packet of bananas for 22p, instead of packet full of chocolate biscuits and empty calories.
Do you struggle to pay for the food shop each week? How do you get your family to eat healthily without breaking the bank? Do you find it hard to make the money stretch like I do? I would love to hear your thoughts.