- People who don't know how to make healthy food
- People who genuinely can't afford to buy any food
- People who are too darn lazy to make the effort
Since I can't do anything for the people in the second and third groups besides what I mentioned in the last paragraph, the rest of this post is geared toward people in the first group. Maybe the problem is a lack of understanding of what actually is healthy. There certainly a lot of different opinions out there about what is healthy and what is not. To me, healthy is a diet largely composed of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and relatively free of chemicals, either in the growing of the food, or afterwords as added ingredients like preservatives. Meat and dairy are optional, but to be healthy, these should be from happy animals, not factory farm critters who spend their lives wallowing in their own filth and likely drugged up on antibiotics to keep their infections from killing them before they are harvested for meat. Yeah, not very appetizing, I know. That's why our family predominantly eats wild game or chickens from Amish farms where they are well cared for. Our dairy is also lacking in quality since most of it comes from WIC, and the government doesn't see the benefit of giving people healthy food, so we get what we pay for on that one. I'm hoping to change that once we upgrade to our own land, since then maybe I can get some goats for milk. With this model of healthy eating, the meat and dairy are the most expensive parts by far and, if you notice, a lot of my recipes show ways to make that meat go a lot farther than most recipes do, so you still only end up paying a buck or two for meat for the meal for the whole family.
For grains, buying things with the least amount of ingredients as possible is also a plus. A bag of 100% whole grain flour, for example, opens up a world of possibilities. Some of these, like wholesome cookies or no-knead breads, are pretty easy, but you can also get quite fancy with baked goods. A bag of flour gives you a lot of power--and you can get a bunch of things out of one for less than the cost of a single loaf of whole wheat bread! Pastas and brown rice are easy ways to get whole grains into your diet, if you aren't quite up to making your own baked goods yet.
|Carrots, purple potatoes, onions, and beans from last year's garden|
Another way to get lots of free fruits and nuts is gather them yourself. In the fall, it always amazes me how many fruit and nut trees I see just littering people's yards, since the people have no interest in what they have growing in their yard! A lot of times, if you ask these people, they'd be happy to let you take what you'd like from their trees, and in the cases of some nuts, they may even be willing to pay you for taking them out of their yards! Acorns are a good example of this. A lot of people just think of them as something messing up their yards, but they are good eating, if you know what to do with them (and don't worry, come fall, I'm sure I'll tell you things to do with them. If I forget, just remind me).
Wild foraging is another way to get lots of free, healthy food, but unless you know what you are doing, it can be risky, so I'm not going to get too much into that here. If you can find someone to teach you locally, that's best, but there are some really great guides on the market, so it would be a really good idea to look into some of these if you can't find someone in person. Again, I'll probably be sharing some things to do with some of them here at some point...or ask.
If these ideas don't quite cover your needs, another way to get cheap healthy food is by going to farmers' markets. A lot of people have the impression that farmers' markets are expensive and elitist, but I've found the opposite to be true. Yes, if you want some of the first, fresh local tomatoes of the year, you are going to pay a premium for them. But if you are buying things that will just feed your family and getting them at the peak of the season, you can get a lot for quite a tiny bit of money. Once, last year, I got seventeen large zucchini for $2 at the close of one farmers' market. Seventeen zucchini! For two dollars!!!! That was a lot of zucchini! The farmer that I bought them from didn't want to mess with taking them back and trying to sell them at another market when there were plenty more where they came from, so I was able to get an amazing deal. At another farmers' market I went to a lot last year, there was one lady that was charmed by how much my kids loved vegetables, so she was always throwing in a little extra when I bought from her. She even took me aside at one point and told me that if I was short of funds sometimes, she'd be happy to give me some food for free. I never had to take advantage of her offer, but it was comforting to know that it was available if needed! You don't get that kind of service at Walmart!
The average American family spends something like $150 a week on groceries. I spend about $30 and eat far healthier than most of the people spending far more. So, yeah, if I can do it with that little, you can afford to eat healthy too!