Saturday, February 1, 2014

Eating Healthy On A Budget That's Tight

Eating Healthy On A Budget That's Tight
By []Kit Cassingham 

Whenever I have an idea to ponder I share it with my friends and learn from their reactions and responses. After having read several books on sustainable food I shared my thought that people would be healthier if they ate organic, whole, locally grown foods. It sure seemed like a reasonable concept to me.

The passion that was driving my statement was the understanding that whole foods, unadulterated with fillers and chemicals, were healthier for us than processed foods. Furthermore, locally grown foods are more environmentally sensitive because of the reduced transportation costs -- fuel, wear and tear on vehicles, air pollution, etc. And organic food is healthier for people and the environment, making my concept -- I thought -- a win:win.

Can you imagine my surprise when I was told I didn't understand eating on a tight budget, and that it couldn't be done. I have to admit I don't have a food budget, so indeed I don't understand that concept, or reality. I buy what I want when I want. But, I don't buy many processed or prepared foods, something that saves me money by virtue of just not spending the money.

After thinking about my premise and the reaction I went back and asked what a tight budget meant. I was wondering if we were talking as low as $50/week, or even tighter at $35/week. The group of friends initially guessed they spent $35/week on food, but concluded it might be as much as $50/week. Per person, mind you. Whew!

An experiment was born. I decided to test my theory that healthy eating could be done on $35/week. It seemed to me that if you planned carefully you could eat well on sustainable foods for that price. For four weeks I committed to eating local and/or organic foods of meat, vegetables, and fruit -- as much as possible. Note: I am trying to eat grain-free so I didn't rely on pasta or rice, and I ate very little potato either. My Bigger Half didn't want to participate in my experiment, so this was literally just one person eating this way, not getting to cost average my foods as families can do.

What I learned is that you can eat well on $35/week. If I were a bigger person it would have been harder to eat on that low a budget, but I did it - almost easily.

When your schedule gets busy it's harder to eat well, though. The days I had meetings and appointments were harder to make this work, but I did it with pre-planning and the willingness to eat at unusual times.

What wasn't, and still isn't, clear to me is whether eating out counts in the weekly budget; I decided it didn't. I can go weeks without eating out, but during my test month I ate out about twice a week. I also sneaked a trip into the month, really throwing off my calculations. Figures! I also didn't price the herbs and spices, or wine for my virtual wine tasting nights, I used because that got to be too much for me.

I had to establish some rules to help me with this experiment. I decided that whenever I took something out of my pantry/larder/freezer I "charged" myself market price. Same with picking produce from my greenhouse. It was a fun experiment, and one I'm glad I ran. It gives me more appreciation for people on a budget, with food intolerance's, and fussy eaters.

You may be wondering what I ate on that kind of budget. I didn't scrimp, in my opinion. Here's my list, organic and local as much as possible:

chicken - 4.5 pound, locally raised, organic chicken: this made chicken pieces, chicken divan, stir fry, and chicken broth -- for two weeks I ate on this bird
locally raised eggs
peanut and almond butters
"Peggy Cheese", aka soft goat cheese marinating in oil, spices, and spices
organic cream cheese
vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, lettuce/Swiss chard/spinach, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, avocado, yam
fruits like blueberries, cherries, bananas, peaches, raspberries, applesauce
whey protein, the foundation of smoothies
nuts and seeds
organic, local sausage
enchiladas, with the "tortilla" made of a flour-less pancake
canned salmon
shrimp, for a stir fry
Lara Bars

Some days cost more than $5, but other days were less. It balanced out nicely. I had diversity in flavors and textures, balanced nutrition, and a food experience I don't have usually because I don't normally put that much thought into my food. And I did this by myself, not taking advantage of an economy of scale in buying in bulk for more people.

I loved my experiment and still find myself thinking about how to balance a nutritious diet with a tight budget. I come up with recipes that stretch my protein so I get full use of the meat or nuts. Since stopping the experiment I haven't been as good about getting ample vegetables into my diet, making me think there's even more to menu planning than I had initially anticipated.

If I had been willing to use pasta and rice as a staple, eating on $35/week would have been a snap. Nobody can tell me now that junk food is all you can afford when you are busy or on a tight budget. I've been there. It can be done.

Kit Cassingham has been a greenie most of her life, even having a degree in Environmental Conservation. Her articles share lessons learned, both failures and successes. Food, cleaning, travel, energy and water conservation, waste reduction, home improvement projects, etc -- it's all part of green living, which you can follow at

Article Source: [] Eating Healthy On A Budget That's Tight

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