Knowing full well we are short on time and often money, fast food manufacturers and grocers lure us into convenient, heavily processed meals that take a toll on our waistline, our overall health, and believe it or not, our budget.
With our busy lives, these temptations seem so much easier and affordable than cooking. Between our never-ending to-do lists, demanding jobs, children’s busy schedules, and perhaps less-than-stellar skills in the kitchen, cooking seems to slide down to the bottom of our list of priorities.
Unfortunately, we’ve now raised several generations of Americans who don’t know how to cook. And it’s killing us.
The food industry wants us to believe that cooking is difficult, time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive. They’ve brainwashed us to believe that we “deserve a break today.”
Nonsense. You can eat well for less money by making simple, whole, fresh food. In fact, a simple dinner for a family of four consisting of roast chicken, vegetables, and salad can cost about half of what dinner at a fast foodrestaurant would.
I visited an obese sick family in the south who had never cooked. They lived on food stamps and disability. With one simple cooking lesson and the guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) called “Good Food on a Tight Budget,” they started cooking.
The mother lost over 100 pounds, the father lost 45 pounds, and their obese teenage son lost 40 pounds. The son then gained the weight back because a fast food chain offered the only job for teenagers in the food desert where they live. It’s like sending an alcoholic to work in a bar!
While today over 50 percent of meals are consumed outside the home, I want to help you reconnect with your kitchen, discover the bounty of benefits it offers, and learn just how inexpensive eating healthy and preparing your own food can be.
When people tell me they cannot afford organic produce or healthy cuts of meat, I ask them to consider the gargantuan markup of many convenience foods. Manufacturers package them in “value-priced jumbo sized” containers and grocery stores promote them with price cuts to create the illusion we are getting value.
When people tell me eating healthy is expensive, I ask them to factor in what they spend on designer coffees, bodegas, grab-and-go meals, and other conveniences that might spare them a little time but at the expense of their health.
Relying on inexpensive, overly processed food is tempting given our demanding lives and schedules, but the cost is quite large.
Feasting on the sodium, fat, and sugar bombs disguised as food can lead to serious diseases that cost hundreds of dollars in doctor’s visits and prescription drugs. Chowing down on these things make us sick and sluggish, resulting in less productivity. When we feel crummy, it ripples into other areas of our lives. We have less patience for our loved ones, for instance, and less energy to work or enjoy ourselves.
In the bigger picture, that “value menu” is anything but a value.
Even if time and money aren’t on your side, you can still eat healthy. This is one of the most common misconceptions I hear. I understand the challenges of trying to eat well with limited financial resources, limited time, or both. But you don’t have to be rich or retired to eat well and take care of yourself.
I know what it’s like to live on very little. In college and medical school, I lived on $300 a month (for rent, food, and entertainment). And in residency, I lived on $27,000 a year while supporting a wife and two children. Even though that was 20 years ago, it still wasn’t much for a family of four.
These days, I’m even busier, but I haven’t forgotten how to incorporate simple but effective strategies for eating good-quality, healthy food that’s prepared with little money and time.
Likewise, I’ve met numerous folks with limited finances and time who nonetheless have access to good quality food. Trust me, they don’t search out arcane ingredients or shop at trendy food boutiques. Instead, they realize the immediate and long-term value of eating healthy and employ some savvy strategies to make their food budget work harder.
I mentioned earlier that the food industry spends billions of dollars each year and has become incredibly crafty at convincing us that sugary, processed foods are a real value. Let’s look at three of their myths and consider the truth about eating healthy.
Ultimately, it is up to us to take control of our kitchens and our lives. The most radical message we can send the food industry – which considers money, not our health in regard to its bottom line – is to prepare our own meals, make the best food selections within our budgets, and reclaim our health.
This does not mean turning bargain food shopping into a second hobby. We are all overworked, overstressed, and overtaxed. Most of us don’t have time to scrupulously compare store prices or cut coupons.
Even so, there are ways of making choices that work within our resources. Here are 10 ideas based on how I save time and money AND create better health for myself.
Editors note: Click here to Find a Local Farmer
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