Eating Near the Poverty Line…at Whole Foods Market

Blogger Lisa Johnson set out to feed her family exclusively from Whole Foods Market for a USDA-calculated “thrifty” budget of $491.10 for 30 days. Read about her success.

Lisa Johnson is an avid from-scratch cook and now frugal foodie at opens in a new tab. You can follow her family’s food adventures on her blog. She is frequently found on Twitter @LisaJohnson.


If you offer to make a bet with Whole Foods Market®, they just might take you up on it.

My family and I bet them to see if we could eat exclusively from their grocery stores for my family’s USDA-calculated “thrifty” budget of $491.10 for 30 days. That is about $16.31 per day for all of us. Every morsel would come from my kitchen and their stores.

If we did it, they’d reimburse our expenses. If we failed, we’d get nothing.

If you want to see what your USDA food budget would be, just check right here opens in a new tab and read my blog post from yesterday opens in a new tab. Whole Foods Market said yes and we were off and running. We took their Value Tour opens in a new tab the week before our challenge started. A Value Tour is when a store employee takes you around the store and lets you know where to find good deals.

Here’s what blew my mind: each store advertises between 100 to 150 items on sale each week, but there can be as many as 2,000 items marked down!

Simple Tips We Learned

  • We shopped every 6 days, that seemed to be the sweet spot between keeping veggies fresh and tasty and not spending extra money from making extra trips.

  • We had a loose menu plan but kept our options open. Because there are so many specials that are unadvertised, you might find something awesome that you want to take advantage of. An open mind means a wider variety of choices.

  • Madness Sales rock! We were struggling hard with the constraints of the budget until we hit a Madness Sale. There was such a great deal on chicken that it freed up $24 from our budget. We were able to put that towards fruits and veggies and everything was so much easier after that.

  • Frozen and canned vegetables are a great option. We wouldn’t have made it, frankly, without them. We found mixed veggie combos to be delicious, taste fresh, and used them liberally in stir-fries, pasta sauces and just about everywhere.

  • The more you cook from scratch, the cheaper it is. I made two loaves of bread every week for a mere $1.25. It makes sense: if you do the labor, you keep the savings. This is pretty true for just about everything in the store.

An Eye Opening Experience

Throughout the 30 days I kept thinking of families who were living at or below the poverty level trying to feed everyone. It was such a struggle for us even though we had done our homework and only had to do it for one month. I can’t imagine what the grind feels like after months or years of living like this.


Here’s a kicker, the USDA Thrifty level is about 30% higher than Food Stamps.

If you’re on food stamps it can be really challenging to feed your family healthfully. Starches are cheaper than produce and it’s easy to reach for those. I can see how the poverty/obesity trap happens and why it’s so difficult to get out of.

Over the 30 days, I gained a lot of knowledge about how to feed a family well even on a tight budget. When I started our meals were starch heavy but as I got savvier about living on a frugal budget, I figured out how to add more produce into our diets. It’s definitely possible, but it takes a lot of patience and tenacity.

In the end, we won our bet with Whole Foods Market and decided to put that money to good use. Instead of splurging on filet mignon and fabulous desserts, we asked Whole Foods Market to donate it to our local food bank. They graciously said yes, again.

You can read more about my family’s adventure on my blog:

True Food Movement opens in a new tab

30 Day Whole Foods Thrifty Challenge opens in a new tab

The Whole Foods Value Tour opens in a new tab

The Food we Bought opens in a new tab

Everyday Bread recipe opens in a new tab

Have you ever tried to shrink your food budget? I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

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