Paying for Good Food

“Let food be thy medicine.” Hippocrate

DSCN3242This is an excerpt from an online vegan workshop in which I participated a couple of years ago.  The particular topic of how to budget for a whole foods, plant-based, healthy diet, seems to come up over and again…with good reason, too.

“Over the years as the grocery line item within our budget has gotten larger (disproportionate to our income) we have scaled back spending in other areas. A more cost effective alternative would be to grow more of our own, but that is not in the cards for this life season.

Our food costs – groceries and the occasional meal out – account for roughly a quarter of our income. By North American standards that’s high. By world standards that’s low. In many places people spend most of their earnings on food and still don’t have enough to feed their families.

We try hard to keep our housing and vehicle expenses lower than average to accommodate a higher food bill. We’d rather eat good food than drive a nice car anyway.

I realize that re-framing a food budget for a growing family is not possible for everyone. And there are certain lean seasons (like the current economy) that require many families to make sacrifices to simply pay the bills.

But it seems to me that the reality of the world we live in is that food prices are going to continue to increase. It serves our families well to think about that and figure out how we can either reduce other costs, allot more for food costs, or be a part of local systems where we grow more of our own. Many of us will need to do a combination of all three.

Lest this sounds doomsday (truly I don’t want it to) there is ample evidence to show that eating a high nutrient, plant based diet is a type of health insurance against many diseases “normal” to North Americans. And health care costs are an exploding expense on this continent and many other affluent nations. Our family feels that the money we spend on high quality food is like buying health insurance.

Yes, is costs more upfront but will ultimately save us money in the long term by reducing our dependence on expensive medications and procedures.”DSCN3298

Ways to economize in a [Whole Foods] Kitchen

~Grains & Beans~

“Grains and beans are plant foods that, per calorie, are much cheaper than their fresh produce counterparts.

Let’s do some bean math.

A quart sized jar of dried beans, which costs $.75-$1.50, depending on type of bean and how they are grown (conventional or organic), will yield 10 cups of cooked beans. That’s roughly 3.5 lbs of cooked beans for an average price of $1.00, which works out to roughly $.30/lb.

On the other hand a 16 oz. can of beans costs $1.00-$2.00. Let’s take the average cost and say $1.50/lb for canned beans. You may find them cheaper but watch out for preservatives! You can see the numbers yourself. The cost savings are substantial.

I look for ways to maximize beans in our diet. Not only are they cheap but they are very healthy. We eat beans, in some form or another every day. Beans with salad for lunch, beans with grains and veggies for suppers and our homemade soy milk.

There is some debate on soybeans, but I have no problems with our family consuming small amounts of homemade soy milk. The cost of a quart of this homemade organic soy milk is $.20 vs. almost $3.00 in the grocery store. I [will] write more about our soy milk maker in case you are interested.

Grains are also a great nutritional value for your dollar. Whole, unprocessed grains even more. We eat grains nearly every day. Almost always at breakfast and then often with supper.

A post of hot cereal grains is the cheapest thing going for breakfast, and easy. Topped with chopped nuts, fresh fruit and homemade soy or nut milk it’s a great meal.

Here’s another idea we’ve tried. Have a cheap beans and grains night. A super inexpensive meal that might help the whole family appreciate how good they really have it. Remember, not every meal needs to be gourmet.”

DSCN3296

DSCN3079 DSCN3083 DSCN3080~Produce~

“Fresh produce is our largest weekly cost. You might choke if I told you how much I spend on average, so I won’t mention it. Let’s just say, it ain’t cheap. But there are some ways to save.

If you want to save on local, organic produce the best deal going is usually to belong to a CSA.

If you just want local and are willing to compromise on organic (I do, all the time) the farmer’s market or buying directly at a small local farm may be a better value for your dollar. This is a great way to buy tomatoes to stock up for your freezer for a winter, or to get that bushel of cucumbers for canning pickles. You get the idea.

Our family does a combination of CSA, farmer’s market, farm direct and good old grocery store for our produce. I make many compromises along the way to not shoot our grocery spending through the roof but we’re always working in a positive direction.”

-Renee Tougas

~DSCN3133

There is also a perfect method for planning a budget…which is to build a weekly menu plan.  If you think about it, you may only need to do the work for about one or two months, before you build up a repertoire. Most [normal] people eat their favorite meals over and over again. A weekly menu will incorporate those meal items into your week, which can be recycled a couple of weeks later.

For example:

Week 1:

Mon: Pasta

Tues: Chicken

Wed: Crockpot Meal

Thurs: Leftovers

Fri: Homemade Pizza (EVERYBODY helps to create their own pizza)

Saturday: Grandma’s House

Sunday: Eat out for late lunch then bacon/cheddar popcorn for Supper

You could either modify this weekly menu for the following week, or create something different for Week 2, then use your Week 1 template for Week 3!  What is even better, is that by planning ahead, you can plan for errands, you may end up spending less money on random things at the Supermarket, AND……You can prepare the meals ahead of time.

As a single woman, I find that menu planning is obsolete, and I HATE cooking.  SO, I find that prepping my meals ahead of time (I usually do this on Saturdays) keeps me sane, well-fed and prevents me from eating out too often!  I also, usually plan meals that can travel well and that I can take with me to school or work.

As with Renee Tougas’ observation, I have found that dipping extra money into fresh produce makes all the difference in the world!! I usually stick with fresh greens for salads and TONS of fresh fruit. Anybody who thinks that the sugar in fresh fruits is dangerous, is a sucker. In my opinion, it is the perfect substitute for sugar itself!

Finally, I have found that grains such as muesli, oatmeal, steel cut oats, Sturdiwheat, Grape Nuts (these are processed grains, but they are easy and I love them) work out perfectly for my swiftly moving mornings.

I have been creating fruit/greens/yogurt+Kefir/Chia seed/sucanat smoothies which are perfect for sipping throughout the morning.

For lunch, I pack a salad, Ezekial Bread sandwich, random snacks such as popcorn, fruit, veggies, or…chocolate covered raisins….OR, if it’s a busy day, I just grab a Clif Bar (Sierra Trail Mix is my favorite) to keep me on my toes.

For supper, I’m usually just drained from my day, and I hate cooking, so I warm up soup, make another smoothie, grab some pasta, or ….well, whatever I feel like having that day. Suppers are my weak points. My plan is to get rich and hire someone to make me supper.

Anyways, I point this out to say, that a homemade smoothie is both filling, and nutritious and can replace a meal, simply because it can contain 3 servings of fruit, one serving of dairy, and one serving of greens all in one fell-swoop.  It is a quick, scrumptious and easy alternative to an actual meal.  It is also cost-efficient.

~DSCN3241

The greatest thing I have learned with rearranging my budget towards healthier food (and fresher produce) is that it takes time!  Don’t try to switch things all at once.  Switch one or two grocery items a week, maybe.  Or focus on shifting just one recipe a week, to being vegan, vegetarian or organic.  Trust me, it will take time for you to re-stock your cabinets with certified food choices.  And from experience, it will also take time for your taste buds to adjust.

For example, fresh organic greens are slightly more bitter (and expensive) than greens I have tasted from, say, WalMart. It’s just how it is. It takes time to adjust to these changes. But it’s totally worth it.

Hopefully, in due time, regulations and attitudes toward non-GMO, organic, and slow-grown foods will change and people of ALL socioeconomic statuses will have EQUAL access to GOOD FOOD!!

For now, do your best, make small changes today and small changes tomorrow, and be patient with the system.

And if you can, find farmers markets around you!  We have a farmers market in Duluth which will accept EBT!  That farmers market in particular, was created in a specific location in town, to benefit lower-income families, but the produce is just as good as the east location…if not better, because it’s served with love and intention!DSCN0179

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