Going Purple & Spending Green

by Rachel on May 4, 2010

Last week, you guys had a huge response to my post on the Department of Diet Insecurity terror scale.

Getting into the purple zone and eventually the green zone seems to be a goal for many of you. (And for me too — sometimes I still catch myself sliding back into yellow!) Because there were so many insightful comments and questions, I wanted to follow up on this topic!

“Going purple” feels sort of like Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue.” Except not ridiculous.

It looks like that for many of you, the biggest barrier to eating more whole, unprocessed, and (eventually) organic and local foods is the cost. This is so understandable! But read this comment from Loreejo:

It’s a matter of putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. It FEELS more expensive, but I truly think it’s not. It takes me longer in the grocery store but I think this is just a short period of transition until I learn my new go-to foods and brands. It’s a few high quality food purchases that are extremely satisfying, and as you said, some time in the kitchen, but not that much. I once read that “real food isn’t expensive — processed food is just cheap.” Cheaply grown, cheaply made, cheaply paid workers, etc. I’ll do frugal any day, but I ain’t into cheap stuff! I’m worth more than that!

EVERYTHING about this comment just nailed it. Real food isn’t expensive — processed food is just cheap. That’s so important to remember that! Put it in perspective.

Also…processed food isn’t always that cheap. Look at your grocery receipt. Boxes and boxes of granola bars and 100 Calorie Packs add up! Let’s take breakfast, for example…

  • Red Zone. A box of Pop-Tarts. $2.50 and you’ll get eight (shitty) breakfasts out of it. Your breakfast will contain 400 calories (good) and 26 grams of sugar (bad). Monthly total: $10.
  • Pink Zone. A box of artificially sweetened instant “Weight Control” oatmeal is about $4 a box. You’ll get ten breakfasts out of it (with 7 grams of sugar plus aspartame!!). And you’ll also still need to add some fruit/nuts/milk to it to make it a complete 400-calorie breakfast. I’ll say $20 over the course of a month to cover milk, natural peanut butter, and dried fruit. Monthly total: $32.
  • Yellow Zone. Kashi Strawberry Fields cereal is $4.50. If we consider real serving sizes and making a 400-calorie breakfast, you’ll get five or six servings out of it (servings with 18 grams of sugar, B T DUBS). Plus you’ll have to buy milk. Monthly total: $35.
  • Purple zone. A 42-ounce container of just plain old-fashioned oats is $2 (!!!) and you’ll get 30 breakfasts out of it with one gram of sugar (!!!!!). And you’ll pimp out it to make it a complete, 400-calorie breakfast so I’ll use the $20 total we determined from the first round of oatmeal accessories. Monthly total: $22.
  • Green zone. Country Choice Organic Oatmeal is $2.70 for twelve breakfasts, so that puts you around $7 a month. And we’ll upgrade your milk, nut butter, and fruit to organic and say $30 for all that shizz. Monthly total: $37.

OK…what have we learned from all this?

  • That doing math causes me to work up a sweat comparable to that of an elliptical session.
  • That the pink, yellow, and green zones are surprisingly comparable in price.
  • That you can’t defend eating fake foods or processed stuff based on budget anymore.
  • That Kashi is actually really ridiculous and is charging an arm and a leg for a bowl of organic sugar.
  • Processed food is cheap. “Healthy” processed food is expensive. Organic food is expensive too, but maybe not as expensive as we once thought. And non-organic minimally processed food might be “just right” for you right now.

The other thing I’ve been really thinking about that seems like a sort of crazy way to solve this problem is umm….eat less. I know this seems to go against everything I stand for but this was a very important “Getting It” moment I had recently. I found myself needing to buy more broccoli and it seemed like I had just gotten broccoli. Well, because broccoli is good for you and it’s a “free” food (in terms of calories, not price!) I tend to eat a lot of it. Every diet recommends you fill your plate with veggies! But I wondered…could I be satisfied with one cup of broccoli instead of two? It would certainly mean my grocery bill would go down. So I tried it and the answer was…yes! Yes, I could.

So while a huge ass salad is good for you, if it’s forcing you to not be able to spend your money on better quality foods, scale it back. Oh and if you don’t think you can be satisfied with one cup of broccoli, I’ll leave you with this: put real butter on it. Not spray butter. And then try again. Have half a cup of strawberries instead of a full cup on your morning yogurt. Not satisfied? Saute them in coconut oil first and then try again. Seriously. Still super hungry? Then stop doing 90 minutes of cardio a day!! Don’t overdo it at the gym and then come home and chug all your organic milk in one sitting because you’re starving. If your appetite is out of control, your grocery bill will be too. So if you’re going bankrupt eating a ton of “free” foods, try adding more saturated fat to your diet and take a look at your cardio addiction.

We won’t be broke-ass twentysomethings forever…but you know what, we actually might be. So while you hope for more green so that you can move into the green zone, you gotta deal with what you have, learn to hustle a bit, and really make the most of the purple.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa (It's a Veggieful Life) May 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

“‘Going purple’ feels sort of like Sarah Palin’s ‘Going Rogue.’ Except not ridiculous.” – You kill me! Instead of wasting money on fast food & processed foods, people have to decide that their health is more important. As Julie Hadden says in her book “Fat Chance” – “treat your calories like 100 dollar bills.” It takes a while, but eventually the thought of a 100 calorie pack of processed shit doesn’t even appeal to you anymore!
.-= Melissa (It’s a Veggieful Life)´s last blog ..Recipe Workout: Snow Pea, Orange & Jicama Salad =-.


2 bradee May 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm

what a great post!
i always seem to struggle justifying the $ for the “good” foods being a single, unemployed at the moment, mama… but it really seems to be true that if we eat the healthy unprocessed stuff we’re more satisfied & eating less!
that in itself saves money not having to buy the volume of processed crap to keep me & my girlies tummies full & happy!
.-= bradee´s last blog ..workin on my plan… =-.


3 lianew May 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm

This is the argument I keep having with my friends! It’s not more expensive to buy and eat whole, unprocessed foods! It’s not.
I will admit to being a food snob, but I LOVE finding sales, wicked deals etc, and I love to shop, so give me an excuse to compare food prices and choices and I’ll ALL over it.
Of course, I live on the west coast, in canada, so everything is about 6 times more expensive anyway…
.-= lianew´s last blog ..now, for something little frivolous… =-.


4 Vanessa May 4, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I actually JUST started working @ this.

My key is to make sure I don’t waste anything!! I had a huge problem with buying
[for example]: a container of organic strawberries and a cantelope and not equally eating them or not realizing “hello strawberries go bad faster than a cantelope does at my house!”

Anyway, point is, I have learned to ration and actually eat what NEEDS to be eaten next so that I get more bang for my buck. I may not get to fulfill each and every craving but I am eating natural and maximizing my money!!


5 Betsy S. May 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

WOW – this post is awesome. i love the color by color comparison – I really need some more of that in my life. Can you do a few more? There is something about this break down that really clicked for me.
I think you could have a career being a personal shopper…..in the grocery store. You know – come shopping with me – give me suggestions in the store of things to try on (out). If you ever want to start that business can Philly be your first stop?!
I’m so happy I found your blog – your posts are jam packed and great!


6 Rachel May 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Haha Betsy…I’ve TRIED to make a career as a personal grocery shopper, I just didn’t pursue it aggressively enough. But I’d be happy to do it on a case-by-case basis…unfortunately no one in Michigan wants to take me up on it!! I do love grocery shopping! :)


7 Katie May 4, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Great example analysis! I’ve wanted to do this at some point because I’m a nerd, I mean, because I have a low monthly food budget (grad school!) but eat pretty healthy and sustainably. I buy mostly bulk items and produce, skip the granola bars, “healthy chips,” and cereal (oatmeal and eggs are so freakin cheap), and make an indulgence purchase once a week on like a nice cheese or ice cream I am dying to try. Another huge way I save is to eat less meat. Alternate protein sources like Greek yogurt, eggs, beans, nuts are usually much, much more cost effective per serving. And now that it’s nice, farmer’s markets are usually a lot cheaper plus local and all that good stuff.

I think it was in Michael Pollan’s book where it was pointed out the US spends way less than the rest of the world on food yet we eat much more. Like Loreejo (cool name btw) said “Real food isn’t expensive- processed food is just cheap.”


8 Kim @ LEO the lion says GER May 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I think a big part of saving money also comes from portion control. You can’t eat the whole damn box of cereal and then say, “omg that one serving cost SO much.”

I loved this post, btw. Now I’m sitting here trying to figure out how I can portion out my budget to eat more organic.
.-= Kim @ LEO the lion says GER´s last blog ..Finals! =-.


9 katie May 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

interesting cost analysis between the various breakfasts. i think i just need to not get sucked into buying random purchases at whole foods and my budget would be so much happier. on the related note, i know i for one struggle with trying to eat a lot of veggies, and not forgetting to add healthy fats to my diet in attempts to not be starving 2 hours after eating. i always wonder how so many girls seem to just have a veggie filled lunch and aren’t starving so soon after – it boggles the mind.


10 loreejo May 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm

love the cost analysis! ok, slightly pumped at being QUOTED on your blog, OMG! . wish i had a blog or book or something i could shamelessly plug . ladies, i’ll come clean, i’m a 40-something wife w/2 kids in college, both my husband and i are gainfully employed and we’re STILL minding our food budget. you don’t grow out of it really. i think it’s easy to get sucked into the all-or-nothing mentality of going organic, forgetting that a little improvement in selections is an improvement! rachel, ur spot on that eating less GOOD, REAL FOOD can be oh-so-satisfying. i have cut my portions lately and let’s face it, staring at a $6 block of cheese– it’s not quite as tempting to hack off a hunk for my mouth while i’m cooking, so it’s win-win for the pocketbook and love handles! this post might have made you sweat, but it was worth it for your readers! thnx


11 amanda May 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm

LOL and if you still hungry go be a sample whore. Places like Sam’s club, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, etc always have samples out. I think certain foods can be cheaper eating healthy. Like if you buy a dozen eggs and hard boiled them for a 70 cal snack 12 times. This is cheaper than say a 5pk of 100 calorie snacks.


12 Angie Ray May 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm

What areyour thoughts about P90?

I have been reading your blog off and on for about a year and I really enjoy it.

I tried Secret Clinical after you mentioned it, and it really works!


13 Meredith @ Sweat Every Day May 4, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I must have missed the original post (GREAT idea, btw) and I love how you broke down the cost like you did. it really, really puts a healthy life in style and is something I can remind myself of when I’m getting close to the danger zone.


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