This is such a fantastic guest post from one of dearest online friends. She is passionate about eating real foods and giving her daughter a good nutritional foundation. Thanks so much, Cassandra!
Despite what might be said by many of the people who write about good nutrition on the internet, it does, in fact, cost a lot of money to eat healthy when you don’t have much money to begin with. When people talk about how it’s not really that expensive to eat high quality, whole foods, they pretty much always fail to mention that it’s because they’re averaging the costs of buying in bulk or for producing their own food.Although it’s true that buying in bulk and producing your own food saves a ton of money and can bring the weekly costs per person down to a pretty low amount, those people clearly have no idea what it means to be truly financially strained. When you’ve only got $100 (or $50, or even $20) in your pocket to feed your whole family for a week, or you’re on food stamps and WIC checks, it gets downright painful figuring out how to eat right. Not to mention the cost of your time and effort in procuring and preparing whole foods! And couponing definitely doesn’t help matters because you will almost never see coupons for something that is not processed and/or laden with chemicals.
Go easy on yourself! Learning about good nutrition and how to implement the principals of good nutrition in your life is like learning a new language. You’re suddenly immersed in this whole culture based on food and it can be so overwhelming trying to navigate all these ideas and terms you might have never really heard before, not to mention the sticker shock in the organic section. It’s ok though, because nobody expects you to become fluent in a new language overnight, or a month, or a whole year.
Be filled! One of the important ideas to understand as you make these changes is that when you’re eating the right quality foods in the right amounts, you eat less overall. Usually this is due to eating high amounts of healthy fats, but I’ve found even a farm fresh tomato was more filling than one from the store. Good food gives you more bang for your buck.
Get social! Human networking is the single best way to get your hands on good food at a good price. Coming from someone who grew up basically crippled by social awkwardness and anxiety, suggesting this at all says a lot. If you put yourself out there, you may be shocked by the rewards.
For an easy first step, check out a Weston A. Price Foundation chapter in your area. Many have online communities and regular meetings making it easy to connect with others. Even if there isn’t one reasonably close, go ahead and talk to one or several chapter leaders to let them know you’re on the lookout for resources in your area. Don’t forget chapters across state lines!
Join a buying club! Most buying clubs do not cater solely to bulk buyers. It’s usually possible to buy only a small amount at a time and even if that item is rarely offered, a little savings here and there can add up. You can usually find a buying club by talking to your Weston A Price Foundation chapter leader.
A buying club can also connect you with other people without much money to spend and you may be able to organize small, frequent bulk buys such as a whole cow shared amongst 20 people. I’ve even seen someone sell off the more expensive cuts of meat and used the “profit” to subsidize the costs of the cheaper cuts for everyone else.
Meet some farmers! Find out about local farms and what they sell. Visit the farm and talk with the people there, even if you can’t buy anything. Getting to know the farmer may open up the opportunity to barter your time, a craft or a service from your regular job. See if they know of anyone else nearby who has resources. Some farms accept food stamps and WIC checks as well.
Farmer’s Markets are of course another option and will quickly teach you the value of buying seasonal items as well as local items. Becoming a regular customer at a Farmer’s Market may provide discounts or get you in on special buys. Most markets are also now taking food stamps and WIC checks.
Utilize your neighborhood! You can check Craigslist or Eatwild to find small nearby farms or backyard farmers. I get pastured duck eggs from a backyard farmer in my town for the same price or less as “Certified Organic Eggs” at the store.
Talk to people in your neighborhood with fruit trees or bushes and if they might be willing to let you “clean up” their yard for them.
Find a local foraging group or look up books at the library about foraging. All those awful dandelions? Some people pay a premium for those nutritious salad greens.
Readjust your focus! Most of us have been raised to look at calories or fat content when we shop, if we look at labels at all, but making good food choices is about the quality of ingredients, not the quantities. Doing this cuts out a huge chunk of the selection from the average grocery store, naturally forcing you to stop spending your money on the packaged expensive junk and instead buy real, whole foods. You especially want to look out for extruded grains, industrial oils and MSG.
Eat simple! Unless you already cook a lot from scratch, you might have to eat simple dishes for a while and you might even have to relearn how to cook. I thought I was a great cook until I realized I only knew how to put packaged ingredients together. If you’re confused about shopping for good food, do yourself a favor and stay away from the cookbooks! It’s better to just eat simple dishes until you get the hang of shopping and budgeting first.
Replace common items! Not all staples will be easy to afford or make at home, but always keep your eye out for ways to replace them with healthier, cheaper alternatives. As an example, for the cost of sugar and flavoring, you can completely eliminate soda and juice by making kombucha or water kefir. While good quality stuff definitely helps, it’s not the end of the world to use regular white cane sugar (not GMO beet sugar!) and juice since the bacteria and yeasts will eat most of it up. It’s still better than high fructose corn syrup and will benefit rather than harm you!
Check the bulk sections! Again, even if you’re not actually buying in bulk, it’s possible to buy small amounts from places meant for bulk buying. Not to mention if you’re on a weekly budget, you can save money by getting precisely the amount of the ingredient you need. A lot of basic items are cheaper, like dried beans, and quite a few higher quality items are only slightly more expensive, like evaporated cane juice.
Pay attention to your health! If your family thrives better on certain foods, don’t waste your money buying stuff that does them no favors and may even end up thrown out because no one will eat it. My husband and daughter both thrive on meats, so we buy lower quality produce in favor of higher quality meat. This idea is more true when allergies and sensitivities are concerned. There’s no use buying high quality bread if your family is allergic or sensitive to grains. Just don’t buy bread at all.
Consider raw milk! Introducing raw milk into my household was the single best decision I could have ever made for the health of my family. No matter how little money we might have to spend on food, I always make sure we have enough for the milk. On average a gallon of raw milk costs about $10, which sounds truly exorbitant, but it is such a filling, nutrient dense food that you can basically make a pint of milk a meal in itself. It is so nutritious that many people have actually lived for years on just milk. If you can afford no other good food, raw milk is something you should definitely look into trying to get. This is a good option for bartering!
Choose the lesser of two evils! This premise has been at the crux of my changes in learning to eat healthy on a really limited budget. Decide which foods are important for you to have and figure out what other foods it wouldn’t be totally awful to go cheap on. For example, I would rather afford pastured eggs than a high quality sandwich bread. Considering it’s hard to find a truly healthy bread in the first place and frequently, the white bread doesn’t have many more bad ingredients than the expensive stuff, this is a pretty easy compromise.
Be realistic! For many people with financial limitations, time, energy, and even pleasure can be a major factor in eating healthy. Sometimes when life is just dreadfully awful, eating some store bought cookies is the only thing that feels good. Maybe you can only take a bus to the store and it’s not feasible to go to 3 different places looking for the best prices. And if you don’t have any time to make food from scratch, how does that matter at all?
This articleby the acupuncturist Chris Kresser sums it up really well: “There’s more to health than food, and there’s more to life than health.”
Thanks again, Cassandra. You make such great points. I know this will help lots of families start integrating healthier food options into their routines and make it possible. If you are looking for a good book to help you get started on figuring out exactly what Real Food is, check out Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
So how do you make it work when buying real food? If you’re looking for more Real Food resources, check out this page!