part two of a three part series
One of the overarching myths in American society is that you cannot feed yourself or your family healthy food on a very tight budget. The belief is that if you are poor all you can afford is processed unhealthy food. This is simply not true. The myth is reinforced by the magic of advertising and societal groupthink which makes it very hard to see the truth underneath it all. It is time to break down the myth.
Here is a price break down of both myths and meals comparing “cheap” (nutritionally at least) meals with affordable healthy ones based on prices in Santa Cruz county, California. Money saving tips are included.
“It doesn't matter where you shop.” Prices can vary by store in the same shopping center. The five minutes it may take you to stop at another store might end up saving you enough money to make it worth it. For example, CVS sells non rBST milk for close to a dollar less per gallon than Safeway. Many household supplies are cheaper there as well. Weigh the time it takes by the money you save.
“The more expensive the store/food, the better the food.” High end stores and outdoor markets do not necessarily mean higher quality or better tasting foods. Dollar store condiments often taste just as good as the name brand ones at high end stores for a fraction of the price. The same is true of their spices and many other staples. They often have name brand overstock products also. Also, generic products are almost always the same quality as name brand. The extra cost is due to advertising costs not quality. Discount does not necessarily mean bad for you or poorer quality.
“All I can afford is ramen.” A package of whole grain pasta on sale costs as much as a six pack of ramen and often has more servings depending on the brand.
“It takes too long to make healthy food.” Ramen cooks in a couple minutes. Pasta in about fifteen counting boiling time, but if you cook the whole container of pasta at once and store leftovers in the fridge to be reheated the cooking time of an entire container of whole wheat pasta ends up being almost the same as the equivalent amount of ramen. It takes awhile to cook a pork or beef roast or a whole chicken, but for most of that time the cook can do other things and in the end there are enough servings to last for days. Batch cooking saves time and makes for easy food preparation through the week.
Now for breakfast, a box of name brand sugary cereal costs just as much, if not more than whole grain, high fiber cereals, especially if you shop for products on sale (twelve servings for $1.99). Buying products on sale when you are not quite out is better than waiting till you are totally out and having to buy whatever is available. A gallon of cheap milk that is not rBST free is around $3.50 for sixteen servings. A gallon of non-rBST milk can be found for as low a $3.29 not on sale (cheaper if you have a Costco membership). Frozen orange juice is $1.67 for eight servings. Refrigerated juice is at least double that for anything that isn't generic. Fresh juice and produce loses nutrients quickly. Frozen juice, veggies and fruits are picked when they are ripe and processed quickly so tend to retain more nutrients. A breakfast of cereal with milk and orange juice (1 carbohydrate serving, 1 dairy serving and 1 fruit serving) costs $0.75 for “cheap food” or $0.58 for healthier options with only about a minute more prep time to make the frozen juice.
For lunch many people choose fast food for both convenience and cost, however it takes time to get fast food and gas if you need to drive to get it. Throwing together a bag lunch can take less than ten minutes and will almost certainly be both better for you and cheaper.
A typical fast food lunch with a burger, fries and a soda costs between $5.00 and $8.00 and can easily have between 1,000 and 2,000 calories that come mainly from fat. A loaf of whole wheat bread on sale costs $1.99 and is generally at least eight servings. Roast a three pound pork roast or chicken ($7.50 or $4.00 for around nine servings). Add condiments for around $2.00 for over 20 servings each of mayo and mustard and some spinach (small bag on sale for $1.00 for 4 servings which is actually 8 if you are using it on a sandwich). Throw in an apple (a three pound bag of nine for $5.00) and some water, tea or the orange juice you already made for breakfast. Finally pack a container of baby carrots (four servings for $1.00 or even cheaper at Costco). A healthy lunch (1 carbohydrate serving, 1 protein serving, 1 ½ veggie serving, 1 fruit serving – 2 if you add juice) is $2.44 for pork or $2.02 for chicken (if you take juice) versus the fast food meal for $5-$8.
Finally dinner is often a frozen pizza for between $5 to $10 dollars for four servings and ice cream for $3.79 for four servings. For a healthier option, have some of the roast chicken or pork that was already cooked up, potatoes (10lb for $3.00 on sale, about 20 servings) and some frozen vegetables ($1.50 on sale for four servings). Add a salad from the bag of spinach and the carrots, one serving each, some salad dressing ($1.99 for sixteen servings) and some butter for the potato and veggies (32 servings for $2.50). Dessert could be pudding ($1 for a four serving box plus two cups of milk). This dinner (2 carbohydrate servings, 1 protein serving, 3 vegetable servings, ½ dairy and 2 fat servings) costs $2.71 for pork or $2.32 for chicken compared to the much less filling and much less healthy $2.83 for one serving of mid-range frozen pizza and ice cream.
If it is just as possible to eat healthy food on a tight budget as it is to eat “cheap” food then why do Americans believe it isn't? Beyond the myths we have been taught to believe, it boils down to, as a nation, no longer knowing the difference between wants and needs. As anyone who uses spells should know, intention and action leads to manifestation. If someone knows they need a working car and all they do is look at the pictures of their dream red mustang the odds of them getting a working car are slim. However if they focus on getting a working car and take the steps necessary to do so, they will probably achieve their goal. They want the mustang, but they need the working car. People might want that bag of XXXtreme Chips, but they absolutely do not need them no matter what the media and addicting engineering say. American's focus on the frosting over the wheat that needs to be grown to make the cake.
Everyone creates their own spell when it comes to food. People not only need to believe that healthy food can be purchased on a budget, but they need to make the choice to do so. That is the manifestation that needs to be focused on. Every time someone steps into a store they choose what will be purchased and what won't be. It is a person's choice that determines if that bag of shiny advertising matters more to them than their health and the several healthy meals that could be prepared for the same price. How often does the advertising win over good intentions? It is people's choices that perpetuate the myths.
American society wants speed, convenience, and as little thought involved as possible. Take a look at any major supermarket chain. There are crustless pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Luncheables, and pre-made single serve salads with disposable flatware and single serve packs of salad dressing. None of them are as healthy as picking your ingredients and making them yourself and they cost more than making them yourself. All that is saved is about five to ten minutes of food prep. Isn't your health and your budget worth just a bit of your time?