Monday, June 27, 2011

You CAN Afford to Eat Healthy!

I suppose I could call this "I Can't Afford to Eat Healthy" Part 2, but I'm going to focus on the positive on this one I think.  Yesterday, when I was checking out the traffic sources for the day's blog traffic, I found something a bit disturbing and sad.  Usually, looking at that is good for a laugh, since there is almost always a search for some kind of porn on it and imagine those people were very disappointed, but I hope they learned something from it.  This time, my heart was heavy after looking at it.  Of the 10 google search phrases, there were the following:  "can't afford to eat", "how can you eat healthy if you cant afford it?", "i cant afford healthy", and "people cannot afford to eat healthy".

I have news for you:  if you can afford food at all (which the first person there might not, but I'll get to that), you can afford to eat healthy.  You make a choice every time you walk into a grocery store with what you are going to do with that money, whether it be cash, credit on a card you can't afford, or food stamps.  You can even make the choice to not go to the grocery store much at all!

First off, what is healthy food?  There are so many different definitions and views on what is healthy and what isn't and oftentimes these views are completely contradictory (like vegans and supporters of the Weston A. Price Foundation, for example).  My personal definition is that healthy food is real food.  As in I could harvest it or the base ingredients myself and make it from hardcore scratch (First, you plant the seed, then you....etc).  If I don't know what an ingredient is or what it is derived from without looking it up, not good.   It is my hope that some point in the future, I'll be completely done with grocery stores with this nutritional philosophy, but I'm fairly certain I won't be living in a trailer park anymore when that happens.

In the meantime, my family of 6 gets $75 a month in food stamps and we get WIC for two children (this translates into 6-7 gallons of milk, 2 pounds of cheese, 2 dozen eggs, 72 ounces of conventional cereal, 2 18 oz jars of peanut butter or pounds of beans,  $12 of fruits and vegetables of our choice, 4 bottles of juice, and 4 loaves of bread or other whole grain exchange such as tortillas, oatmeal, or pounds of brown rice).  We usually don't have much, if any, money above this to use on food.  Yet we never go hungry, our health is great, and about the only time we compromise our nutritional values is when we do get a little extra money and splurge on convenience food or eat out.  Generally, the worst part of our diet comes from the crap they give us on WIC!  The juice, hormone and chemical laden dairy, questionable cereal, and sugary peanut butter (we don't get that one very much!) are some of the iffyist things we eat!  I'm not really complaining (okay, I kind of am), since there have been times when my entire grocery shopping trip in the dead of winter has come from our WIC selections, but they are still a lot better than what they used to be, since the fruits and veggies and whole grains are things that have been added the past few years, but still!  I tend to get very frustrated with WIC "nutritional education" since I tend to keep more up-to-date on dietary science (a hobby of mine) than the people who come up with this stuff!  But I digress...

So how does a family of 6 (part of the year only 5, since my oldest lives with his dad during the school year and is just with us for long weekends and vacations) not only survive, but thrive on so little?  I don't see we have a choice, so I do what I gotta do.  Part of it does come from the generosity of others, since the past few years, family members have been immensely helpful by my mom giving me mass quantities of veggies from her garden and we also get our eggs from a relative with chickens.  I'm trying to move away from this dependence on others as much as I can though, and I anticipate that as my gardening capabilities continue to expand (I anticipate growing as much as 300 pounds of produce on my Trailer Park Homestead this year, but don't have a scale to document it with, and I already have ideas how to do even better next year if we are still here) and we eventually get some land of our own, I should be able to grow every last bit of food we eat, with the exception of things like salt and baking soda, since both of those are minerals, on a quarter acre of land or less!  My wonderful husband's hunting skills also help since a Bambi or two goes really far to feed a family for a year, especially if that family uses meat as sparingly as we do!  I'm hoping that this year we will also be adding a fair amount of fishing to our potential freezer stock, but so far that hasn't happened.

Lots of recipes on this blog to feed a family for less than $5!
Starting with the raw ingredients that I either grow myself, someone else gives me, or I buy with my meager food stamps and WIC rations, I make just about everything from scratch.  Over time, I plan on putting my entire personal recipe book on this blog, but I'm always willing to take requests on my Facebook page or via Twitter, if somebody needs to know how to make something sooner than when I just get around to it.

To make my food stamps go farther, I shop produce in season and just get things I can't grow on my own.  I use coupons (when I have them.  I probably should get better about that part).  I shop sales.  I buy in bulk, like the 10 lb block of cheddar I get for $30.49 at a restaurant supply store rather than buying little packages of cheese (it typically lasts our family 2 months, if you were wondering.  The latest block is going down much faster than normal though).  I look for special deals, like during the summer months, some farmers markets will double food stamps up to a certain amount.  Here in Michigan, that program is currently in a growing number of our markets and I shop weekly at one such market.  They'll match my food stamps up to $20 with the matching funds having to go toward fruits and vegetables grown in Michigan.  That works for me!  I'm stocking up on all the fruits and berries that I don't currently have the capability to grow on my Trailer Park Homestead! 

Okay, this post seems to be getting a bit long, so I think I'm going to stop (for now), but if anyone needs more specific information about any of this, please don't hesitate to contact me.  Leave a comment here, post on my Facebook page, shoot me a tweet, or send me an email (addy is in my bio on the sidebar) if you don't want others to see who asked the question (although I may repost it anonymously and answer it publicly, depending on whether I think others could benefit from the answer).


  1. WIC is controlled by contracts with specific companies. For example, my DIL can only get Enfamil (SP?) formula because that is the company that WIC is contracted with. Yet her babies do SO much better with Carnation Gentle. So she has to feed her babies the Enfamil Gentlease which they don't do so great on. Also here in AR, one cannot use coupons with food stamps, unless they want to pay tax on them. (weird)

  2. I'm going to be politically incorrect for a moment. A lot of the reason (imo of course) that people can't afford to eat is that they are buying... well... crap. There's this McDonald-ization of our food procurement that happens. I've watched it in hubby's 22 year old daughter. She will pay $6 or more a pound for shaved beef to make her Japanese meals, but turns her nose up at $1.99 chicken because it has bone in or it has skin. Then she calls us in a panic to tell us how she doesn't have enough money to make it through the month. I see this repeated time and again, and it really makes me wonder.

    I and my family are not "poor" although we're definitely on the low end of the scale. We have 2 cars and are buying a home right now, and one of the three adults is a teacher in a school system where they "know what they have." We're not going to go hungry anytime soon.

    That said, I shop sales. I shop at the local "bumped and bent" store (for $1 I can get a can of lump crab meat that becomes an amazing summer pasta salad treat for all of us!!). I shop at places where they have deals on local produce. Usually I grow at least half of our spring/summer/autumn veg for us.

    The effort bothers people. They have to go PLANT. Then they have to WATER. And WEED. OMG! I've noticed no one seems bothered by the harvesting part...


  3. I really wish that the food stamp program or WIC came with mandatory nutrition classes. When I was a teenager I worked in a supermarket and saw people come through the line with soda and chips on food stamps. I know that you do a great job of educating yourself and others and providing for them. But as Rev Allyson said above, so many people do NOT know how to cook,never mind stretch their food, or they will only eat such a narrow variety of food. We are by no means rich, but I manage to feed my family real food every day. I do not buy junk. Okay - I confess we have ice cream(my weakness). At one time I managed to feed our then family of 4 on $40 a week. I now realize we could have eaten like kings on the food stamp allotment. However, it was not in our nature to think to turn to assistance. I know manage to feed my family of 5 on about $150 a week. I try for $125. But some weeks I stock up on things. On a final note keep up the good work you are doing, and keep on encouraging people.

  4. Actually, WIC does require nutrition classes. Other food assistance does not, however, and DHS really doesn't care what you do with it. If they did care, they'd be promoting the heck out of programs that encourage the purchase of fresh fruits and veggies like the one I mentioned, but they don't. The vast majority of people on food assistance around here have no idea such programs exist.

  5. My mother volunteers at a food bank. Whenever a farmer donates fresh vegetables that stuff never goes very fast. But the canned goods, boxes of sugary cereal, cans of raviolis.....all the processed junk goes very fast. Bottom line is people have gotten lazy. Nobody wants to actually cook anymore. Well and people really can eat healthy and drastically cut their food bill if they are willing to put out a little effort in cooking real meals with real food at home. If they would just chop up some vegy's and see where it takes them they would see it's not all that hard.

  6. I think some of that may be laziness, but some may also be a lack of knowledge. Cooking seems to be becoming a lost art. Maybe a lot of those fresh veggies aren't going fast because people don't know what to do with them, or, as sad as it is, in a lot of cases, they don't even know what they are! Have you ever watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? It is shocking the number of children, even at the high school level that can't recognize basic foods or know where they come from. It really is sad!

  7. Yes, I agree that is a big part of the problem too. There is a huge disconnect. People no longer know where their food comes from or what is in it. Children do not get that the McDonald's chicken nugget has chemicals and bad stuff in it, and that the home made chicken nugget does not. Love Jamie Oliver! In homeschooling I am planning on doing a unit study on real food and real cooking. It's really important to me that my children understand what's in processed food and what is in real food, and that they should cook for themselves. Of course we live it everyday, so my kids have already learned a great deal. I just want to get them in the kitchen more so they can truly learn to cook for themselves.....more than just making pasta or a pb & j.

  8. I was on WIC until my second child turned 5 this year. I always got the natural peanut butter, is that not an option for you where you live? Also, they were cutting back on the juice and adding more grains, which I thought was a smart idea. We were very tight financially the past 6 months and I couldn't believe how much we saved cooking from scratch - bread, muffins, etc. it was really helpful and I don't know how we would have made it if we didn't know how to cook. I wish there were cooking classes offered for lower income folks, so they could learn how to save money on food! I noticed that you only get $75 a month for a family of 6, wow, that doesn't seem like enough! I've known friends who have gotten $500 a month for a family of 4 here in CA. What's the deal out there?? I don't get it!

  9. $75 a month on food stamps that is, sorry about any confusion. Also, my friend who got that was unemployed, so that may have been why she got more, not sure...

  10. Natural peanut butter is not an option here. Just the regular crap.

    I'm guessing that we are just under the maximum allowed income for getting food stamps. Apparently, they aren't taking into consideration that my husband got totally screwed on child support for his ADULT children so they are taking out more than $500 a month of his paycheck for that, which leaves us basically right at the poverty level for a family of our size. *sigh* Things will be better someday....

  11. Kelly, one of the reasons that people at food banks where I live don't pick up the raw food is because a) we have three and going on 4 generations of poor and down on their luck folks who have never even seen raw food and don't know how to prepare it

    and b) most of the time its so rotten because it was someones left overs, that people don't want to take it home, because it will rot in the car before they ever get there.

    The one good thing one of the food banks did was to put in a community garden. Unfortunately the person in charge mismanaged it and when they put people in community service in with little or no supervision.. well lets just say they had to shut it down before they were raided (no need to explain)

    Personally, I think that people should be growing their own food even if they have to do it in pots on the back deck or the only room in their house where the sun shines in winter. Im all for personal responsibility as well as self sufficiency. My tomatoes and cucumbers salute you Thrifty Momma!! ~Linda

    Anyone can go to the local Master Gardner's group and get information, usually for free. Also if your town is rural enough there is information at the county extension office that talks about all sorts of stuff, like container gardening, or squarefoot gardening. Library is another good source. If you have tv ( which I havent had since 2002) They used to run some really awesome gardening shows like the Victory garden on PBS that taught me a lot.

    Here is another reason to learn all this and use it: Last year in a city in Kenya there was civil unrest that cut off the city from the rest of the world. Every single family had a terrace garden of some sort or window plantings inside and a back up system to store water to keep the plants going. Noone in that city starved or went with out food.

    I cant remember which city it was but a friend told me about it because it was so amazing. The City was set up to survive for a year with out outside supplies if need be.
    People who have independent sources of food and water not only can thrive in adverse conditions but they can share with disabled and elderly who cant grow their own food as well.

  12. I so agree about gardening. Get rid of the lawn and grow food! I live in NC and obviously it's easy to garden here. My Mom lives in MT and not very easy to garden there....they had snow and freezing temps up until about a week and a half ago. If they are lucky they get 40-60 days to grow stuff. Other areas of MT have better luck gardening but where my parents are not so much. In fact I asked my Mom last week if she knew anyone with a garden and she could not name one single person. If they get vegy donations at the food bank there it's usually out of state farmers who come in to sell vegy's there, and then they will donate whatever they don't sell. And yes, often times people will hold up a potato and ask my Mom what they are supposed to do with it. So you are very right.....3 or 4 generations that have no clue how to cook. Great story about survival. We should all know how to survive and grow our own food.

  13. Very interesting reading all the comments.I have to agree both with people getting lazy and with people not knowing how to cook.

    My parents get a regular food box through the county they live in through a senior nutrition program,and often their neighbors who also get the same food boxes will bring things over to them that they won't use,like oatmeal,cheese,potato flakes,rice,beans,all the types of things that require cooking.

    Since I work in a retail store,I see a lot of food stamp funds being wasted on soda,chips,junk food,you can even use food stamps to pay the bottle deposit on a case of beer,it doesn't pay for the beer,just the deposit....

    The programs designed to help those in need really do need fixing.Not only do they need to include nutrition classes and cooking classes,but also food stamps should really be limited to basic food items,like flour,baking supplies,meat,veggies and fruit.But then again,I'm not the one in charge of the

  14. @Chris I was re-reading through this and was suddenly reminded of a TED talk I had heard that addressed this same issue. I excitedly pulled it up to link it to you, and then realized it was by Jamie Oliver, the same guy you mentioned in your comments.

    However, there are many other great TED talks available discussing food and the current cultural viewpoint on fresh produce.