I frequently read comments like, “Healthy food is more expensive. It’s cheaper to feed my family at McDonalds”, or “a bag of chips is only $2.00, and that’s a whole lot cheaper than fruits or vegetables”.
Many people do not make good food choices due to budget constraints, but are these excuses really valid? I don’t think so. For a family of 3 I am spending $100 weekly on average at the grocery store, and when I was buying processed food I was spending $150. How is this possible? I simply learned how to shop!
Now, I’ve posted in forums about whole foods before and the common response I hear is, “Where I live, these foods are more expensive”. Well, yes in some parts of the country it does cost more than what is on the picture- however, it’s always cheaper to do it yourself.
For years I fell victim to things like packaged lunch meat, canned soups or chili, condiments like ranch dressing or BBQ sauce, and loaves of bread. Then I read 100daysofrealfood.com and challenged myself to make real food. Now, I buy meat from the deli and cook and shred it myself, for half the cost. Additionally, twice a week I will grab my biggest pot and make a soup or chili that my family will eat on for days. A bag of dried beans, some vegetables and spices will cost you less than $10 (maybe even less than $5 if you’re scrappy) and is much healthier than the ready-made cans that have a ton of sodium, MSG, preservatives, and so on. I also want to point out that you may spend more on a bag of apples than a bag of potato chips, but the apples are more nutrient dense, will fill you up for longer, and will on average last longer than the bag of chips.
The Facts: Letting your kitchen go dormant in favor of relying on processed foods could shave years off of your life. A 2012 study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that people who cooked at home at least five times a week were 47% more likely to be alive after 10 years than the people who relied more on processed foods.
Now, I understand what a pain in the cahoot it is to cook. The average person works full time, and at the end of the day often doesn’t want to devote an hour to cooking (and then clean-up!). I’ve been there, but what I noticed is that as soon as I started eating whole foods (and made it through the initial detox) I suddenly had more energy and cooking those evening meals wasn’t so bad. Also, I quickly learned how to prepare during my off days so that on my busy days I could whip up something that is as simple as opening a can of soup.
More Fun Facts: The engineering behind processed food makes it virtually addictive. A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.
I think the biggest mistake that people make when they are trying to cut out processed foods is that they replace their brands with like options of a healthier variety (instead opt to go without, settle for less variety, or DIY). This can cause you to spend more money and this might be why some people feel healthier is more expensive. I remember my first few trips to the grocery store when deciding to eat healthy and spending $7 on a bottle of BBQ sauce because it was the only kind without high fructose corn syrup, or $5 for a bottle of ketchup. Don’t even get me started on what I spent for a loaf of bread.
It’s definitely a shock to spend $5 on a gallon of organic milk when you know that you can get regular for less than $3. It seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly why I’ve personally become so passionate about healthy, organic foods. I know what it’s like to struggle with a grocery budget and I don’t believe that anyone should have to sacrifice their health just to feed their family.
There are many ways to prioritize your budget so that you can eat healthy. Prepare your own meals, and don’t buy packaged food. Shopping in bulk is usually less expensive for all of your grains, nuts, and the like. Sometimes when I know that the healthier choice is going to cost dollars more I will opt to go without or really ration servings so that I can stretch my dollar. I am also a couponer (not an extreme one like on TV, that is beyond my skill level!) and sale shopper. When I see my favorite items on a good sale I will stock up. It’s a huge benefit for my family that my husband is vegan (and I’m not so I reek the benefits while he does all the work, haha!) because our meat budget is very small. I will also eat vegan several days a week, and never exceed more than 6oz of meat per day. It’s much more cost effective to get your protein sources from beans, nuts, or grains. Also, you can save containers from store bought items and re-use them to make your own convenience foods. Recipes for homemade condiments online are abundant and delicious.