Food makes up a significant portion of most monthly budgets, especially if you have a large family. If you are anything like me, you want to get the most value for your money when you purchase foods, but this can be rather challenging.
Grocery stores provide some helpful information, such as the listing the price per ounce, but this is really only useful when comparing products that are very similar. I wanted a better way to determine if a product was worth buying, so I developed my own system, to determine which products have the best value.
The main goal of my system is to quantify foods in a way that allows you to compare different foods and figure out which ones provide the best deal for the money. The big problem with finding the best value is foods have so many different package weights, serving sizes, etc. and they are made up of so many different ingredients that it is difficult to compare one food to another.
To get around this problem I developed a standard unit of measurement to allow me to compare different foods, regardless of the weight or size of the package. Naturally, value is all about getting the most for your money and the thing that determines how much you get in a food is not the weight, but rather the calories.
As a result, the unit of measurement I came up with is calories per dollar (CPD). Packages and serving sizes can change, but you can always figure out how many calories you get for $1 worth of a product.
Before going any further I want to point out that there is no perfect system for directly comparing every food, because there are so many different types of products and some ingredients cost much more than others. However, this system will let you compare a wide variety of different products and it is completely customizable to work with your personal budget and let you determine the value of different types of food.
You can use the CPD measurement in many different ways, but I designed it for simplicity, so I break foods down into very general categories to use for comparison. Most of the time I use 2 categories: high carbohydrate foods and high protein foods.
There are some occasional adjustments I make, depending on the comparison, but just using these two categories will get you a long way. I realize this may sound a little confusing, but taking a look at a couple examples should help clear things up.
Say you want to find the calories for dollar for a breakfast cereal. Most cereals have a high percentage of carbs with minimal fat and protein, so this as an example of how I use CPD for high carb foods. A 16oz box of shredded wheat sells for around $3 and the one in this example has 9 servings of 170 calories each. To find the CPD, simple multiply 170 * 9 to get 1530 and then divide that number by the price, which in this case is 3. Then when you divide 1530 calories by 3 dollars, you get a CPD of 510.
As stated above, I designed this for simplicity, so finding the exact CPD number is not really necessary. In most cases, I round the numbers to get numbers that are easier to multiply and divide.
For instance, in the above example I would multiply 170 * 10 instead of 9 to get 1700 (1 extra serving, but simple to multiply) and then subtract the extra serving as a rounded number. In this case I would use 200 instead of 170, because then I would be left with 1700-200=1500 calories, which is then simply divided by the 3 dollars to get a CPD of 500.
Rounding the numbers makes the math much easier and faster than if you use the exact numbers. In this example, my estimated CPD of 500 was only 10 off the actual CPD of 510. Of course, you can also use a calculator if you want to be exact, but it may actually take longer.
Once you get some practice using rounding to calculate CPD, you will find that it is actually very quick and relatively easy in most cases. Personally, I classify CPDs for carb products over 1000 as a great deal and below 500 as expensive, but you can develop your own system to use.
The other main category I use my value technique for is high protein foods and in these cases, the calculations are usually even easier, especially when the food is an animal product. When buying high protein foods, such as red meat, turkey, etc, the most important calories are the ones from protein.
From a nutritional standpoint, the protein has significant health benefits, there are few carbs, and most animal fat is unhealthy. Therefore, the value of the food should really just be based on the amount of protein it contains.
Instead of calculating calories per dollar, I actually make things fairly simple and just calculate grams of protein per dollar. All you need to know is the number of servings, grams of protein per serving, and price of the item.
If a meat product has 6 servings with 13 grams of protein per serving and costs 3 dollars. Then all you need to do is multiply 13 * 6, which equals 78 and then divide that by 3 to get 26 grams of protein per dollar.
I should point out that there are times when you should not just calculate protein, such as when buying fish, because the fat in fish is at least as healthy and beneficial to your body as the protein.
While the math should be easier since it involves smaller numbers than when working with calories, the most challenging part can be finding the nutritional information, primarily if the product has been cut and packaged in the store.
In these situations, you may have to usually ask the person working in the fresh meat department for the nutritional information. As for the numbers, I consider grams of protein per dollar over 40 to be great, 30-40 is good, 20-30 is acceptable, and below 20 is expensive.
These calculations work best when the food is primarily high carb or high protein, but when the item has more of a mixture, such as with a packaged meal, you can still use these calculations, just in different ways. If you find similar prices on various meals, you can still find out which one gives you the highest amount of protein or the most calories for your dollar.
It is also important to keep the nutritional content of the products in mind when calculating calories or grams of protein per dollar. For example, if you are comparing different cereals and two of them have similar CPDs, but one cereal has a lot more sugar than the other one, the cereal with less sugar would a better value, even if it costs a little more. The same is true in other situations, such as if you compare an organic product to a non-organic one.
Really it is up to you to determine how much additional value there is in the healthier product. Personally I generally buy organic products if they cost less than 25% more than the regular product, although I will pay a more for certain items.
Many organic products are almost double the price of the regular product and I rarely buy those, especially when the original product is fairly healthy. To me, the addition cost is not justified, but many people are willing to pay the extra cost.
I know this may sound like a lot of work, but once you get in the practice of calculating calories/protein per dollar, you will find that it typically only takes a few seconds to get a good estimate. Then you will be able to make quick comparisons between many different products to find out which ones really do give you the best value for your dollar.
14 years of experience and education in health and fitness