Part of the October Eat-In is a test of our new budget. It will also be an opportunity to take meal planning to a new level. My wife is a quite excellent cook, and a wonderful planner. Our calendar occasionally has meals planned out days and even weeks in advance. This allows her to have a running grocery list, and purchase items in bulk or on sale rather than last-minute. In the past, our food budget has been adequate and functional, but there is always some question if it is reasonable.
There are two government resources to gauge food expenses. The first is the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion website, which provides a number of basic but great resources for budgeting, meal planning, and cost estimates. After working through their Home Food Cost Tables however, I was a little aghast at the amounts they predicted. Using their August 2011 numbers, our household would spend (178.50 + 158.70 + 90.81) * 105% = $450 on eating at home using their "Thrifty" plan, and an astounding (350.60 + 313.90 + 168.40) * 105% = $875 using their "Liberal plan." I may have read the table/done the math wrong, but this was a little dismaying.
I have previously mentioned the Bureau of Labor Statistic's website, which provides consumer expenditure reports. They report that households most representative of mine spend an average of $280 per month on "Food at Home." This is a lot closer to our number of $300 per month, and is also offset by their prediction of $230 in restaurant expenses.
We have also asked friends what they spend on groceries. The goal is not to judge, and their answer should not result in our pride or jealousy, but the information allows us to ensure we are being good stewards. Some people don't quite know what they spend on food. Others responded with numbers very similar to our own.
On the whole, it seems that our current amount is reasonable for the time-being, but we'll see how the rest of the month turns out! The main takeaway from this comparison is that through planning, discipline, and creativity, you can eat delicious, healthy food with comparably little expense.