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Healthful Eating on the Cheap?

20 J0000005UTC 2011

Produce Section at Whole Foods Market

It’s a question I ask every day: How can I eat the way I believe in eating and still survive financially?

Let’s face it. It’s dirt cheap to eat $1 Hungry Man dinners and 10 cent Ramen and lots more to stock up on fresh spinach and eggs. BUT, it is my hunch (both as a nutrition educator and student) that when grocery bill  plummets, so does health. As the grocery bill goes up, so do our nutrient reserves, the ability to drop unwanted weight and the capacity to eat smaller, denser, more healthful meals.

How do we Americans gain perspective about what we feel are rising food costs? I’m not going to lie-  aside from housing our grocery bill is our biggest monthly cost. It is also our preventative healthcare, way more fun than a doctor visit. Where does the U.S. stand in the world? Monthly income % world regions spend on food:

Sudan, India, Phillipines- around 50%

Eastern Bloc countries- 25-45%

Central/South American countries- around 40%

U.S.A. in 1933- 25%,  1940’s- 20%,  1970 to 1980- 15%

The Netherlands- 14.5%

United Kingdom- 13.5%

U.S.A. 1990- 12%

Canada- 11.5%

U.S.A. now- about 9%

America is struggling along, yet spending less than the rest of the world on grocery bills. Hard to believe when you are choosing between your favorite peanut butter and the sale one. I get it. Nutrition is pretty much full-time: figuring out how to propel my eating, cooking and health so I can help others do the same. Let’s talk $$$: how to save on groceries and how to be OK with spending more for health’s sake. Here’s what I have learned over the past 3 years in a L O N G,  S L O W process… (*We primarily use ‘whole foods’, not as in the store Whole Foods, but as in minimal packaging and preservatives.)

1. Shop the Sales. If it is not on sale, pass it by. If it is on sale, stock up and freeze or make extra the next time you cook.

2. Produce Discriminate. For organic buy the “Dirty Dozen”:  spinach/kale/chard, celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes and lettuce. For conventional go with the “Clean 15”: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwis, cabbage, eggplants, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes and sweet onions.  In season produce is less expensive.

3. Meat Moderation. I believe in protein and I am an avid omnivore, but many people over-eat meat, demanding it at every meal. Change it up, focusing “clean” proteins such as organic eggs and meats for breakfast and lunch, then lightening up at dinner with vegetable proteins like beans, lentils nuts and grains.

4. Know What is Where. Plan a day and shop where you get the best deals on the highest quality foods you can afford. I’ve found who has the best sales on produce, that Whole Foods has the best meats for the price (only on sale!) and what store has the deals on frozen blueberries, cheese, baking supplies and bread.

5. Bake & Make. Find a weekend afternoon and bake bread, cookies, cornbread, crackers or whatever else you usually buy in a box or a bag and bake for the whole month. This is especially money-saving if you are on a gluten-free diet. Learn to make your own yogurt, tomato paste, curry paste, almond milk and nut butters at home.

6. Hydrate or Die. Reduce and eventually replace soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks and juices with water, real fruit smoothies and tea (kids too!). Reserve milk, coffee and alcohol for occasional use. It’s gradual, but it works for $$ and for health.

7. Plant a Garden. The size and type depends on how you live, but almost anyone can supplement a fraction of their grocery bill with either a tiny box of basil and rosemary on their window sill or an acre of produce and chickens on their land.

8. Cancel Cable. No, really. I’m serious. If you are really bitching about how high your grocery bill is, how desperate you are to buy high quality meat, how you don’t want your kids to eat food dye or how you can’t lose that last 20 lbs, this is one answer we implemented. If you claim your grocery budget is too small, it probably is. You have the power to change it.

9. Plan Ahead. There’s nothing quite as awesome as a man in a dialed-in suit carrying a lunch satchel– but he’s the one without the big gut. I promise when you spend less cash at Chili’s and McDonald’s, you will not only save $, you will have better bathroom visits, a smaller belly and smell way better. While you make dinner, prep breakfasts and pack lunches.

10. House Coffee. If you go to Starbucks for a Grande Latte three times a week, it costs about $10. That’s $40 a month. If you and your spouse both do this, that’s $80 a month. If you do this 5 times a week, that’s $16.50 a week and $66 a month. Both of you? That’s $130 a month. With this average coffee expenditure ($85/month) I can buy 2 dozen free range/organic eggs, 2 lbs organic ground beef, 3 whole “natural” chickens, 1 gallon organic whole milk, 1 pint organic whole milk yogurt, 2 pounds brown rice, 2 pounds white rice, 1 bunch bananas, 2 pounds organic apples, 6 avocados, one 2 pound bag organic carrots, 2 bunches organic kale, 1 pound walnuts, 1 pound flax seeds, 1 bunch organic cilantro, a 40 count box of organic green tea and 1 pound of organic COFFEE to make in my french press…at home…yum. So maybe do 1 coffee out a week and spend the rest on chicken, broccoli and almonds.

Remember, this is gradual. Above all it requires belief that it is worth it. If you do not agree with the principles or do not have a desire for this kind of wellness, do not attempt this at home. It will not work for you and you will not like it. If you do want these things, you will begin to love it. You will feel better, eat better, sleep better and thrive. I know I have.

If you are interested in the foods we stock and eat at our house, see the list below. I open my fridge to you…

Pantry– spices, dried herbs, sea salt, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, tea (green, herbal & black), whole coffee beans, raw honey, agave nectar, vanilla extract, dried milk, whole wheat flour, unsweetened coconut, dried currants, canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned garbanzo beans, canned coconut milk, olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, whole oats, corn grits (polenta), muesli, whole flax seeds, chia seeds, dried arame seaweed, red lentils, dried pinto beans, canned tuna, canned sardines, canned salmon, tomato paste, tobasco sauce, whole kernal popcorn, beef stock, ProBars, ChocoLove chocolate bars, Wasa whole grain crackers, corn tortilla chips, green powder for smoothies, onions, garlic, potatoes, avocados (when on sale).

Freezer– whole chickens, organic chicken sausage, home-made vegetable and chicken stock, flax meal, ripe bananas, blueberries, leftover pinto or black beans, ripe avocados, home-made curry, home-made tomato sauce, home-made salsa (in the summer), whole ginger root, vegetable scraps (to make stock), occasionally tater tots (yum!).

Fridge– organic dairy (whole milk, whole yogurt, whole cottage cheese, full fat butter, half and half for coffee, cheddar cheese, feta cheese), organic eggs, plain coconut or almond milk, nutritional yeast, baking yeast, fish oil supplement, peanut butter, almond butter, Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, whole millet, buckwheat flour, corn flour, millet flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, oat flour, mustard, katsup, canola or olive oil mayo, salsa, tahini, no-sugar fruit jam, curry paste, jarred jalepenos, olives (sometimes), beer (usually New Belgium), “Just Cranberry” juice, leftovers from whatever meal was just made, breakfast meat (nitrate/nitrite free bacon or sausage), corn or whole wheat tortillas (sometimes), whole grain or gluten free bread (sometimes), home-made beans, cooked rice and produce: typically kale, spinach, Swiss chard, romaine or red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower, cilantro, fresh jalepenos, apples, bananas, citrus or whatever we can find in season on sale: pears, berries, mangos, melons, kiwis, squash, peppers, leeks, herbs.
For now, chow.

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