They say we are what we eat.  So how much should it cost to feed the average person?

It’s a contentious topic because none of us is average. But it tripped up a Sydney Morning Herald economics columnist recently, who claimed the cost in her case was $100.

Jessica Irvine, The Sydney Morning Herald’s senior economics writer, opened up her basket and revealed exactly what she put on her plate.

But some readers were outraged. Over 900 commented on the paper’s Facebook page. And many were not happy.

Rachael Law Edmonds said: “Come on – $100pp per week? No way.

“We have four at home at the moment – Mum, Dad, 20-year-old lad, and 18-year-old lad. We spend no more than $200 per week for all of us. And that is being generous.

“We live in regional NSW where everything (mostly fruit and vegetables) is much more expensive than our city friends – so complete madness to spend $100 per person.”

Another Facebook user, Meegan Milovankic said: “I feed our family of four for about $200 a week and it’s all fresh fruit and premium meat and seafood.”

Of course, it really does depend on what you pop onto your shopping trolley. After all, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Jessica’s eggs were certainly a bone of contention. She said she paid $9.99.

“A dozen eggs for $9.99. What were they? Ostrich eggs? I am sure the writer has never done a grocery shop for a single week in the past 10 years.”

Jessica counted everything from how much each egg cost, to how much her ‘Dino Snack’ (basically chicken nuggets to the rest of us) added to her weekly food bill.

She recorded how much her daily meals cost her. But what struck a chord with her readers was her advice that people should allocate roughly $100 per person, per week for groceries.

Perhaps it was the timing – coming as Australians are looking at every dollar thanks to the havoc caused by coronavirus.

But Jessica’s figure is not far off the Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers. The most recent figure, which was published in 2017, finds the average food spend per Australian is $4,740 per year which equates to be $91 per week, or $13 per day.

Pele Hehea was one of the few that supported Jess’ article.

“People might want to actually read the article. The ABS data revealed that the average weekly amount spent per person is $91. Jessica’s experience was as a person cooking for one,” she wrote.

“Of course, it’s going to be cheaper to do a big cook up for lots of people. You would also make different meal choices. Also, those shocked by the price of eggs should think about the origins of their super cheap eggs.”

Effie Zahos, a Financial Commentator at Canstar and a mother of two, said we shouldn’t be quick to judge, and a budget is very person.

“Each family budget is different. It’s very personal. There is a reason why it’s called personal finance. And there is a lot of pressure. You will hear stories of people saying they can feed an entire family for $50 a week, and others might do it for more,” she said.

“But my main piece of advice is that you need to look at what proportion of your income you can budget to food. It is important that you have budget.”

Ms Zahos said there is no magic figure, but her own personal advice is that she shops in bulk.

“We’re a household of four, and I have two teenage boys. What we do, to keep our food costs low by buying in bulk. We purchase our meat with another family, and because my husband works in places like Dural, he gets fresh fruit and vegetables directly from farms,” she said.

“But especially during this time, we have to be extremely conscious not to waste food. More of us are at home more than ever, so we should be taking stock of our inventory. So, in fact, we should be saving on food. Now is the time to enjoy the fact that we have the time to cook and prepare, and most important not to waste.”

Some of Effie’s tips including creating a budget, and making sure when you shop, to supplement what you already have in the pantry.

“Australians waste a lot of food. A list goes a long way. Before you do your grocery shopping, go back to your fridge and see what compliments what you already have,” she said.

“And do your personal best. Every dollar you save you can put towards something else like your mortgage, your home loan, or to save.”

Perhaps the most scathing comment came from a reader who said: “This is why budgeting articles shouldn’t be written by people who have never been poor”.

We asked to speak to Jessica, but were told by the Herald to send an email. We are still waiting for a response.

Here are some tips to keep your grocery bill from blowing out:

Make a list and meal plan

If you’ve got a strict budget, make sure you make a list. And stick to it. Don’t get distracted by other things when you’re in the supermarket and stick to your list. One of the easiest ways to do this is by creating a meal plan at the beginning or end of every week.

Beware of marketing gimmicks

Effie’s big tip is to make sure you check the unit price of items, a rule she swears by. “Don’t be fooled by the two for one deal. You might see two sweet potatoes for $5, but if the unit price is $2.50, then you’re not saving anything if you need just one sweet potato. You end up spending more than you need,” she says.

Buy home brand

Home brand will be cheaper especially if you’ve got a large family to feed. If you aren’t worried about having farm grown, organic produce, you can’t beat the home brand price. Places like Aldi and Costco are also where you’ll find great prices. Costco is handy for families with lots of mouths to feed.

Look outside the supermarket

Taking a leaf out of Effie’s book, look outside the big supermarkets if you have time. Buying directly from the farmers will ensure lower prices, especially if you buy in bulk, but also fresher produce. The money will also go directly to the producers.

Find inventive ways to use cheaper cuts of meat or less popular seafood

If you’re looking to feed many mouths, cheaper cuts of meat like brisket, shoulders, neck and even offal (if you dare), provide a nutritious alternative to the expensive rump and scotch fillets. Many chefs are coming up with inventive ways to minimise and reduce waste of meat, so there are plenty of recipes to inspire you.

Eat seasonal

Check the fruit and vegetables that are in season. As the produce will be in abundance, it will be generally cheaper. Here is a guide to see what’s in season. If you’re looking to save money on items like herbs, which can cost a couple of dollars per punnet, consider growing your own.

Make things from scratch

If you’re thinking of pinching the pennies, consider making your own condiments and breads. You can save hundreds of dollars a year, on things like jam and artisanal bread.

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