The Real Cost of Clean Eating like Gwyneth Paltrow

Grilled Salmon With Carrots + Ginger
Grilled Salmon With Carrots + Ginger

The second most common question I get asked from friends and readers, after being asked if I've lost any weight, is if I've noticed a difference in our grocery bills since switching to a clean eating diet. The shortsighted answer is absolutely, yes! But then other days, when I see a lower grocery bill because I'm not purchasing red meat, or buying less pre-packaged meals, I can see that the costs are negligible. So I've decided for the next few weeks, I am going to do a better job tracking my grocery bills and breaking down costs for meals, to see if eating a more healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meat, and less processed foods really is costing me as much as I think it is.

I'm starting by analyzing the costs for 5 of my favorite meals I've recently made. The average home-cooked meal in America ranges widely, from as low as $5/meal to $20/meal for a family of 4. I try to stay in the $10/meal price range because that usually allows for a balanced meal of a healthy protein and some fresh veggies, that is full of flavor. While the costs associated with some meals, like roasting a fresh red snapper, are far outside of the scope of our normal grocery budget, others, like a 1-pot quinoa dish, fed our family for 3+ days and cost just a few bucks to make. Gwyneth may eat only organic, free-range, grass-fed, heritage poultry and meats, and suggests we only buy fish that have swam in local waters, but the reality is, that way of eating is not feasible for the average American. Not only is it expensive, it's also unachievable in some states. For our family, I'm finding the best approach is one of balance; a mix of organic meats and really fresh fish on occasion, and a lot of simple, wholesome, non-extravagant dishes during the week. Read on to see the breakdown of what it really costs to eat like Gwyneth all week long.

1. Whole Grilled Red Snapper With Herbs, Garlic + Lemon | $30
I won't count the costs of driving to three different markets trying to locate a whole fish - I'll just consider that the cost of doing business. But after finding a good, local Asian fish market 2 towns over, I experienced a bit of sticker shock when I discovered that a 3-4 pound whole red snapper would run me about $25. The herbs were all from my garden, so I won't count that in the total, and the use of 2 lemons was $1. As a side dish I made a simple arugula salad with grilled Brussels sprouts on top, and I made my own dressing with ingredients I had on hand. Between the fish and the side salad, I'd say this meal cost me $30 to make, which is 3 times what I normally would budget, and left a small amount of leftovers for me to make a salad the next day. Obviously this was a very special meal, and one I sadly wouldn't be able to replicate for a dinner party because of the cost involved, but wouldn't it be something to host a small dinner party with whole fish on the menu? I would feel very Gwyneth doing so!

2. Whole Roasted Super Crispy Chicken and Grilled Asparagus + Portobellos with Shallot + Soy Dressing | $30+
I love this meal and would cook it almost every night, and it didn't break the bank so much. Switching to organic, free-range chicken has been a good experience. The meat is juicer and the taste is fresher. Not to mention the ethical and environmental advantages. But to offset the cost of purchasing poultry that is on average 3x more costly than what I used to buy, we are eating it about 3x less. A whole 3 pound organic free-range chicken costs, on average, $12. Add in this beautiful side dish, which cost me over $20 to make because of the initial investment of random ingredients I did not have in my pantry (plum vinegar and zylitol), we're looking at a family meal coming in over $30! And because the organic chickens tend to be a bit smaller, due to lack of hormones, they usually only feed us for one meal. If we're lucky, we can pick the meat off the bone and have enough for the kids' lunch the next day. Oh, and my kids hate mushrooms and asparagus, so I threw together some brown rice and carrots for them, adding at least $2 more to the meal total. Sadly, we could eat at McDonald's 2 times over for what the meal cost, but in reality, it is still cheaper than eating out at a regular family restaurant, and the ingredients are wholesome, fresh, and organic. Expensive and a rare treat, yes, but still worth it in my opinion.

Related: The 25 healthiest foods for under $1

3. One Pot Quinoa + Chicken | $10

This isn't a Gwyneth meal, but it follows her basic principles, and those of clean eating, so I'm pretty sure she would approve. Using a couple of cups of quinoa, a can of black beans, plenty of fresh veggies and some cut up organic, free-range chicken thighs, this meal comes in right around $10! Fits perfectly into my meal budget, tasted great, was easy to make and clean up, and made an abundance of left-overs. In fact I ate this for breakfast and lunch for 2 days straight! This is the cost of clean-eating I can get on board with on a daily basis.

4. Roasted Cauliflower + Chickpeas With Mustard + Parsley | $5
Even if you buy only organic ingredients for this dish, your average cost to make this super hearty and healthy side dish is well under $5, and you'll most likely have leftovers. Using cauliflower, chickpeas, and a homemade dressing, the ingredients are very affordable and filling. If you're a vegetarian, you could even add an avocado for some extra healthy fats and still come well within budget. We served this with some ground turkey, and still came in below my ideal $10/meal budget.

5. Grilled Salmon With Carrots + Ginger | $30+
At Gwyneth's urging, I've started to only buy fish which is wild caught, as opposed to farm-raised. This increases my costs about $4/lb. On sale, I picked up 2 pounds of salmon for $12.99/lb, which was enough to feed 4 adults and 4 kids. As our side dish I made her carrots with sesame seeds and ginger, and served some simple brown rice. My fish was my biggest expense, but luckily it was prepared quite simply, making the additional costs negligible. The organic carrots were bought in bulk at Costco, and brown rice is very affordable. This meal, which essentially fed 2 families, came in at just over $30, but was much cheaper than going out to eat and we felt like we were eating a wonderful feast.

- By Andrea Howe
For 5 more cost-analyzed clean-eating family dinners, visit Babble!

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