Thursday, October 30, 2014

Healthy Eating on a Budget



One of the excuses people give for not being able to lose weight and/or eat healthier is that it is “too expensive” and “I can’t afford it”. I have been there. I have gotten on my soapbox (or stood on the coffee table) and let everyone within hearing range know my stance on healthy foods being so expensive with potato chips and Twinkies being affordable. But, is that really so?

Take a trip to somewhere like Whole Foods and you will be convinced that only people making six digits a year can afford to buy healthy foods. I used to believe that if I cared about my health and the health of my family, then that was where I would need to do my grocery shopping. My husband was not enthused. Or even on board. I should probably mention here that my husband is the opposite of me. He would live on Twinkies and potato chips, with a side of cheetos. So, what could I do to keep peace in our household and instill better eating habits in our family without panicking my husband that we were going to move to an ashram in India and live on lentils?

Eating healthy doesn’t need to be hard.

Something we need to do is to “teach” ourselves to enjoy healthier foods. The reason that those junk foods taste SO good is because of added sugars and fats. When we remove those from the food, they don’t taste as good. The good thing is, we CAN teach ourselves to enjoy simple foods. I believe that is the key. You can make a quinoa, hemp seed, salmon, and kale casserole- but if you haven’t learned to like any of those…chances are, you won’t like it.

But what if you substitute quinoa one night with dinner instead of boxed macaroni and cheese? Don’t know what quinoa is? I didn’t either!  Quinoa is a grain from South America that is technically a seed. It is gluten free and high in protein. It is quickly becoming mainstream and you can even find it at your local Wal-Mart now.  Once you try it, you will wonder how you ever lived without it! Small changes on a continual basis are the way to achieving our goals.

First, we need to decide that we are going to change the way we are shopping. In the beginning, I continued to buy what we had always bought and eaten while trying to add in “the healthy stuff”. That was expensive. Essentially, I was trying to feed two families. The un-healthy one and the healthy one. I didn’t want anyone (namely the husband) to feel deprived or forced and I wanted everyone to have options. This phase didn’t last long. I call this the “double up” phase.  Unless you have lots of money for groceries, I don’t recommend staying in this phase for long.

I am sure we have all heard the phrase “shop the perimeter of the store”. This is basically true. When you walk into the store, you typically walk right into the produce department. I try to start here. Buy what is in season and what is on sale. Plan what meals or snacks you will be having these for.

Next, you will want to pick up whatever meats you and your family might enjoy. Frozen chicken breasts are a good deal. I like to cook them in the crock pot and shred them. They seem to go further that way. Ground turkey is cost effective. Maybe one night the family can enjoy fish. Even canned salmon can be good. Eggs are a wonderful protein source as well. Experiment with quiche (you might be surprised you like it). What about scrambled eggs for dinner? This is a favorite at this house. Especially with turkey bacon.  What about beans? Could you have bean burritos for dinner one night?

Now, for starches. What are we used to? Boxed mac and cheese, boxed “sides” such as pastas and rices. Frozen French fries and tator tots? As I said before, quinoa is a nice option. Brown rice. Those aren’t expensive options. If you have a family like I do, especially one with teenagers that are bottomless pits, these options will help to fill them up while providing nutrients instead of being empty calories. Browse the grocery store shelves, you might find something new to try.

Now, what about vegetables to that meal? I use a lot of frozen vegetables. They are inexpensive and last forever in the freezer. How many times have you filled up in the produce department, determined that now you were going to eat healthy and wound up growing science experiments in the fridge?  We home school, so I can lay the blame on that-but our family knows different.

Soups and casseroles are really inexpensive meals that can really be stretched to feed hungry families. I do a pot of soup and/or a casserole at least once a week. I have split pea soup with extra veggies in the crock pot right now. Those kinds of meals also help to clear those little leftovers out of the fridge and prevent earlier meals from going to waste.

Learn how to cook if you don’t already. Buying things already prepared are more expensive because we are paying someone else (the big company) to do that job for us. We also can control what goes into our meals when we prepare them ourselves. You might be surprised that you like home cooked over store bought. My family refuses to eat canned soup. It doesn’t matter how delicious it sounds, or how inexpensive it is. They refuse to eat it. They like home made better.

I know we are all busier than ever. Families have parents that work, children that have school and activities. We buy convenience food for that reason. It is convenient. We can learn to make our own “fast food” to be convenient for us. This skill isn’t hard, it just takes planning ahead. I will share some of our favorite recipes that I use in future blog posts.

It’s when we tell ourselves that we need those expensive boxes of organic granola bars, cereals, and other things from the shelves at our organic markets that eating healthy is “too expensive” for the average family.