Friday, March 25, 2011

"I Can't Afford To Eat Healthy"

I've heard this so many times and, to be frank, it strikes me as a pile of well composted manure in the vast majority of cases.  What always boggles my mind is that some people make this claim of not being able to eat healthy, yet they'll be munching on some chips and drinking a Pepsi while they say it.  Huh?  I feed my whole family a meal for what they probably spent on that snack.  I think three types of people make this kind of claim:
  1. People who don't know how to make healthy food
  2. People who genuinely can't afford to buy any food
  3. People who are too darn lazy to make the effort
If you are in the second category, I'm sincerely sorry and if you send me a private message with your address, I'd be happy to send you some seeds so you can start growing some food.  If you are in the first group, I hope that I'm giving you the skills you need to change that through this blog and if there are any holes in your knowledge that need patched up before you really get going on eating better, please speak up and I'll see about writing some posts to help you out.  If you are in the third group, I hope you start being honest with yourself and shut up about not being able to, since it might be discouraging to people in the first group, since it makes it seem harder if others say they can't.

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
Fruits and vegetables you can get really, really cheaply, since you can grow them!  As I mentioned in my post on gardening in small spaces, you really can garden just about anywhere!  Using the square foot gardening method, you can actually grow enough produce for a year for a family of 4 in 12 4'x4' boxes, probably even less space if you manage it particularly well and grow primarily things that produce a lot in a little space and stay away from space piggies, like broccoli.  If you don't have that much space, you may be able to find space in a community garden or even someone else's yard.  Two years ago, a gentleman at my church offered to let anyone interested use his garden space, since he spends a lot of time away in the summer and didn't want the land to go to waste!  It was an excellent opportunity, but unfortunately not one I could take him up on that year, since I was extremely pregnant at the time and couldn't handle more than my garden boxes at home.

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!


  1. $30! Wow! Great post, now I am inspired to cut my food bill lower (I thought we were doing well, but no where near $30). Thank you!

  2. Do you have any tips or an entry on winter-feeding or winter growing when not so much produce and such are available?

  3. Good question. I'll work on a post on that for you.

  4. Love this post! Two thumbs up!

    We spend on average about $30.00 a week also,but do go over that when we find a good price on meats.

    My goal this year is to buy all of our meat from local sources and not from the grocery store.

  5. From where I stand I get the feeling can't-afford-healthy-food often doesn't realise quite how much they spend on junk food instead. Sadly, heavy advertising pushes junk food too. Looking forward to reading about - when you have your own land!

  6. You know, I have tried and tried to do this, but without much success. :) Kudos to you!

    I think what runs me into the ground is that it takes a very serious commitment. I find that eating healthier (and cheaper, as opposed to buying the $5 loaf of organic ww bread & such) takes a great deal of time & concentrated effort. We don't eat much processed food either, but my grocery budget always seems to rise.

    I'll be checking into your blog with interest to see your tips!

  7. Fantastic post! I can't tell you how many times I have said these same things to people, that if you buy produce and bulk-food-bin grains, etc. you can eat like royalty. It takes more time and effort is the bottom line.

    Farmers' markets are a bargain...I took a few boxes of squishy overripe pears and strawberries off a farmer's hands last year for free at the end of market day, made pear butter and strawberry freezer jam. Get to know some farmers and let them know you are willing to take their 'rejects' to save serious money.

  8. Great post! Ive just started a small vegetable garden for my own comsumption. I feel satisfied that Im feeding my family healthy vegetables no matter how little.On top of that, Ive cut down on my grocery expenses too!

  9. Amen! Fabulous post! I commend you for taking a stand on this issue and educating people how to eat healthy for less! Looking forward to reading more from you...

  10. I grew up with a mother who fed and clothed six children on a very small budget. She gleaned grapes, canned fruits and veggies, shopped sales, and sewed our clothes out of fabric remnants. I have often been confused by 'poor' people who don't shop sales and make do with less, as we did growing up - but gradually I realized that it is a WONDERFUL talent to be thrifty. Not everyone has it. Some people come by it naturally, some need to be taught but have never had a teacher. I think it's marvelous that some urban schools are now teaching children how to grow healthy food, and that urbanites can grow gardens in communal plots. Surely your blog will inspire people to develop some of those thrifty skills that are so needed, and so lacking, by so many people. What a blessing!

  11. I love your attitude! I often get comments along that line too. It is too expensive to eat healthy, it is too expensive to garden. Really? I think they really are lazy too. I am wowed that you feed your family on $30 a week. I thought I was doing good on $100 a week.

  12. It's only too expensive to garden if you buy all sorts of fancy equipment and buy plants to start it with. Another funny thing about a lot of those people is that they think NOTHING of spending a ton of money on making their LAWN look pretty or growing a flower garden! How silly!

    But we all gotta do what we gotta do. In my case, I gotta feed the fam at $30 a week, because that's what we can cough up to use to feed us. It is just part of my job as mom to make it work and make it healthy!

  13. I have a husband that eats a ton and three teenage girls that are in the midst of a growth spirt. My husband and I are in a bad place financially as we went from bringing in 100,000 combined to about 35,000 combined. Any suggestions on how I can cut my food costs?

  14. Well, without knowing what you are used to eating, it is hard to say exactly, but, in general, gardening as little or as much as you can, cutting out junk food, making everything from scratch, buying in bulk (if you'll actually eat it all before it goes bad) and cutting down on the amount of meat eaten are a good place to start. This time of year, hitting the farmers markets toward the end of the day can load you up on a lot of fruits and veggies as well. There are lots of posts on this blog about limiting waste, creating meal plants to maximize your budget, and recipes that don't cost a lot too, so looking through those may help as well. HTH!

  15. Just a note about the people who genuinely can't afford to buy any food...I was once in that group, for many many years. A lot of your ideas are good ones, but I want to point out some of the negatives...

    A lot of people in severe low-income situations end up living in state-run low income housing. I know that in some areas, that housing is cheap tenaments in bad areas of town. I got lucky in that my experience with low-income housing was in a pleasant neighborhood with non-criminal neighbors. Our city was even considered "progressive" because they had installed clotheslines so the tenants didn't have to pay electricity for clothes drying.

    But even that "progressive" program forbid growing food products on the property. I had a neighbor there who thought sunflowers were pretty, and thus had planted a dozen of them along the side of her house. She was threatened with eviction if she didn't remove them immediately. Growing food plants in planters was forbidden as well.

    In that same town, their were two community gardens. One of them was high priced - several hundred dollars per year for a small plot, out of my price range, to be sure. The other community garden was strictly for the allowed volunteers to come work the garden, but all the produce harvested went to the homeless shelter in the middle of town.

    (later in my life I ended up having to stay at that homeless shelter. While working in the kitchens I discovered that over half the produce was thrown away because "homeless people don't eat rabbit food". Made me cry to see it all go to waste).

    And when you are low-income, you don't always know many people whose lives are better, who might have a yard to garden in. In fact, most who manage to get out of the low-income life are very rigid about keeping their yards looking "just like the Jones'", as a way of proving they fit in to their new ecomonomic bracket. Most feel that owning a garden is a way of publically stating "I'm too poor to buy food like normal people".

    Now obviously I don't agree with that viewpoint! But this has been my experience when I lived in the central Wisconsin area, and I thought I would point this out. A lot of low-income people WANT to plant a garden but don't have any idea how to start, or where to start, or who to go to.

  16. Very valid points. A growing number of cities, Detroit or Jackson here in Michigan for example are starting to see the value of community gardens on empty city lots so it is becoming ever easier to find someplace to plop down a plot on a community garden. I would encourage anyone in a city that doesn't have such a policy to start going to city council meetings to encourage such policies in the future even. Last year, when I was living in Jackson, at various times of the year, I was involved with three different community gardens, all of which I could have gotten food from if I needed to, but I mostly stuck to the one that had my individual plot on it, which I was largely growing there as an example of the square foot gardening technique and its possibilities, to serve as an example for other people in that garden and in that community.

    As for the keeping up with Joneses business, no offense to you (although likely offense to anyone that feels that way), that is the stupidest thing I ever heard. But then again, I've always been of the mind that if the Joneses don't like what I'm doing that's there problem, not mine (I struggled to find a nice way to put that, since an "f" word kept wanting to sneak in. lol). Actually, more and more, the Joneses are also starting to have gardens! Eating local is a "new" hot thing, with more and more books on edible landscaping and urban homesteading cropping up (ha! Pun intended) on the bookshelves every day, so this should be less of an issue even for people that care about such things as time goes on.

    Were these foolish, foolish properties that forbade the growth of food on the property subject to in home inspections? If not, and someone couldn't grow food outside, grow it inside! There are a lot of food plants that grow just fine in a 5-gallon bucket or smaller container! Seriously though, I would have complained to someone or done something to change that policy. Actually, my ire is up enough about that right now that if you know they are STILL doing that and can give me contact info for such properties, I'll see about starting fighting for those people's right to food from here!

    It is my hope that I'm able to help some people out that want to plant a garden but don't have any idea how to start or where to start or who to go to. I'll step up as someone they can go to!

  17. Thanks for posting this! I love reading up on your new adventures, and your encouragement. I, for one, would like to put in a request for that post on acorns. :)

  18. I saw your post about my comment on FB and had to come back and find it again ~grins~ I thought it was a recent post, hadn't realized it was a couple months old.

    I'm not certain if my hometown still has this policy, as I moved away four years ago. But I'm fairly certain they still refuse to allow tenants to plant food gardens in low-income housing. They are allowed to plant flowers or decorative plants, but no food items. La Crosse, Wisconsin is my hometown, and you are welcome to contact them if you want, but I don't think it would make any change. They tend to only listen to people in the area when it comes to policy change.

    Please realize though, it might not have been the city of La Crosse that made this choice - it was the low-income Housing Authority that passed these rules specifically for their low-income properties. I am unsure if the local Housing Authority is autonomous, city-run, state-run, or federally owned. I suspect it's a common thing, as I have seen several low-income tenements and none of them had gardens.

  19. Well, then i guess we'll start at the federal level and work our way down if needed to make the necessary changes.

  20. Heather, don't worry, there are definitely acorn posts acomin', probably not until August, when the come into season here. If you already have acorns to harvest where you're at, just gather up as many of the nice (preferably) big brown ones as you can that still have the caps on them (so they are less likely to be buggy) and stick them in your freezer for now. ;-)

  21. So you removed my post, eh? Hahaha. I see you're real open minded about other people's opinions.

    You can remove this one, too, as I'm sure you won't like it either.

    You folks cannot dictate to property owners how they can oversee the property they own and pay taxes on. If I don't want a tenant digging up te rental property they are leasing for what may only be a few months, leaving me with a mess to clean up afterwards or a rat problem because they don't know how to keep a compost pile, then I should not be forced to do so. If you want to keep a garden, find a landlord who will agree BEFORE you sign a lease or buy your own property, but no, you don't have a "right" to do what you want on mine. What will happen if this ever came to pass would be that landowners would sell their rental properties so they didn't have to deal with this ridiculous idea. And again, I guarantee a LOT of people out in the real world who are self-sufficient and own their own property will agree with me. Post this over on any other homesteading forum and see what kind of responses you get. Or maybe I will post it for you and then send you the link.

  22. Um...I haven't removed any posts, so I really don't know what you are talking about. Who says that a tenant digging up a rental would leave it all messed up for the owner to fix? I didn't ask specifically about my garden beds before digging because it IS none of the landlord's business, since I'll be putting grass seed down a while before we move out, so there will be patches of healthy, vibrant grass amongst the weeds that were here over most of the lawn when we moved in. It is no different than people that paint the interior of their rental homes, but don't ask because they are going to repaint back to the standard colors before moving out, except in this case, you can eat the "paint". Plus, I'm not talking about all rentals here, just low income housing where the land owners are taking tax dollars to subsidize the tenants rent...and then making those people further dependent on the government or charity by not letting them be self-sufficient as they can with their limited resources. You seem to think that being poor makes someone an a-hole, but in my experience, it is more the "haves" that can afford an attitude and be a judgmental prick.

  23. Oh, and this has been posted on several homesteading forums. Of the THOUSANDS of people that may have seen it, you are the FIRST to have an issue with it. Everyone else thinks it is a GREAT idea to get people started on a path to self-sufficiency with this baby step.

  24. (And I did ask about gardening in general, in my case, the trailer park manager just didn't understand that I had meant gardening so extensively.)

  25. Nice post and good ideas. We get ramps off our property every year, we grow blueberries, apples, peaches, plums, we forage for raspberries, and are considering getting some hens for eggs.

    But here's the thing folks - grains are NOT healthy. Not at all. They are a waste of your money. You've been sold a bill of goods on this by the government and other health agencies who spout out false notions about them.

    Grains and starches are also part of the cause of obesity and diabetes along with other health problems. They are virtually nutritionally void. You are much better off taking that same money and buying eggs, chop meat, liver, kidneys, etc. Organ meats are CHEAP and provide huge nutritional value. Cutting out meat is NOT an option and is VERY unhealthy especially for growing children. They need oodles of fat and protein, not oodles of noodles.

    Vegetables are great too of course.

    Meat, eggs, fish and organ meats are what should make up the bulk of the human diet. These foods are the most nutrient dense of all so a little goes a long way!

  26. Wow. Really? a couple things I need you to clear up here. You are not considering time or energy. You must either be on welfare or a stay at home mom. Do you get your power for free as well? No one works full time, and spends 6 hours a day in the kitchen. Maybe you should consider everything involved instead of making uninformed comments on other peoples ideas of what eating healthy really is. I work full time+ and live off $25 week food budget and it sucks. Food stamps in my area run $300 a month for a family of 2! Your math doesn't add up either. Also meats (not organ) run minimum $5 a lb, so stop exaggerating. Do the math people, don't believe this bs.

    1. If you are living in an area where ground turkey and ground meat are costing $5/lb, you need to consider moving - I'm in the greater Chicago area and food is crazy expensive, and even I still pay only $.79 for a pound of ground turkey and $.99 for a pound of hamburger.

      $5.00/lb meat will never be bought in our household - perhaps once a year around Christmastime we will look at paying a couple bucks a pound for a nice ham, but that's it.

    2. 99 cents a pound for hamburger meat? Where? I'll take the drive to Chicago for those prices...It's close to $3 a pound at the commissary where they can't even profit of it...The lowest I've seen in the last 4-5 years here in North Carolina is $1.99 pound...

    3. We get it at the Woodman's in Elgin, IL. It's the prepacked stuff, so not the best quality, but still, cheap.