Saturday, February 22, 2014

You Can Eat Healthy on a Low Income Diet

This post is was inspired by the comments on an article I was reading a couple days ago about healthy eating and income disparity in America. There is a pervasive myth that you can't eat healthy if your income falls below the poverty guidelines. It isn't even that hard to do. I should know. I've done it. I've been doing it for two years now, as a single mom just getting by. I've done it on food assistance. I've done it without. My taxable income on last year's tax return was (drum roll, please) a mere $7,000. Yes, you read that right. Yet, food was one area I was not willing to compromise on with my boys. So, yes, you can eat healthy and be "poor" by American standards.

I want to share how I've fed myself and my children healthy meals on a limited income.

  • Change Your Mindset. Instead of buying food by price per quantity, purchase food based on price per nutritional benefit. Thinking this way also shrinks your medical budget. It is an overall win for your grocery budget. Over processed white bread and discount mac and cheese may be low priced compared to healthier options, but when you look at nutritional impact there is no competing.
  • Stock up on healthy staples. Vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and winter squash all keep well and are low cost. Dried or canned beans can be added to soups, salads, or stand on their own. Just make sure to rinse canned beans well before using. 
  • Eat less meat. Or none at all. While I do still serve meat, we don't eat it at every meal. Some weeks we are more vegetarian than not. Eggs are an excellent protein. So are nuts, dried beans, and seeds. There are plenty of nutritional and good tasting protein sources beyond meat. Meat is expensive to produce and to buy. Not to mention the added health benefits of eating less meat.
  • Utilize your freezer more. I freeze left overs to lower food waste. I also purchase items marked down that are great to stock up on and freeze them for later use. Most of the time these items are marked down because they are nearly out of date, but freezing them prolongs the shelf life. I bought fresh red peppers that had been pre-chopped and stuck the container in the freezer. I bought organic strawberries that were marked down and made a batch of strawberry freezer jam. 
  • Avoid the soda and chips isle. I don't buy soda. I don't buy candy. I don't by Cheetos or Little Debbie's snacks. None of them are healthy. I am getting no nutritional value for my dollar by purchasing these highly processed snacks disguising themselves as food. None of them actually nurture and feed my family. So I avoid them. I am not a food Nazi.I do occasionally get the hankering for some kettle chips, but they are not  regular purchases because my food dollars need to really count nutritionally. 
  • Eat smaller portions. Americans tend to overeat. Avoid going back for seconds. Fill your plate from the stove and take it to the table. If the food isn't within your reach you are less likely to overeat. Eat from a small plate. We don't use our large dinner plates. The larger the plate, the more food you are going to pile on. Eat only what your body needs.
  • Drink more water. Add a slice of lemon, if you'd like. It's the lowest cost, healthiest beverage you can fill your glass with. Your body needs it, unlike sugary soda.
  • Grow your own. Did you know that you can use food stamps to buy seeds? Even the smallest window can grow some herbs or baby spinach. There are some varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes that can be grown in containers on an apartment balcony. Get involved in a neighborhood garden. 
  • Reduce food waste. Letting food go to waste is like burning your money. If we are not going to eat all of something I've made, I freeze it. If something is about to make the transition from possible dinner to compost bin, I try to use it up immediately. A couple weeks ago I had a zucchini that was looking like it was on its last hours and a partial container of buttermilk that wasn't far behind the zucchini. I made up a batch of buttermilk pancakes, grated the zucchini and added it to the mix, thinking along the lines of zucchini bread. The pancakes turned out wonderful. The little one ate them up. And the zucchini and buttermilk didn't go to waste. 
  • Use coupons and pay attention to store sales and clearances. But don't get wrapped up in buying ten boxes of cereal that you don't eat because they are cheap. Be mindful. Only use coupons on food items that make sense to your family and that meet the nutritional requirements of your food dollars. I find that most items I purchase aren't typical coupon items, unless it's a store coupon for a free bag of potatoes or something. My store also is constantly bringing in new products and clearing out the old. I once stocked up on an overabundance of gourmet spaghetti sauce because they were pulling it from the shelves and it was marked down to 25 cents a jar. It's something we use and lasts a long time as long as it's sealed. I still have a couple jars left.
  • Cook it from scratch. With real ingredients. Yes, I know we are all tired. Yes, there are so many hours in the day. That's why I utilize weekends and/or my slow cooker. And some things really don't take that much more time, like making pancakes from scratch. Or cornbread. Or homemade salsa. get the idea. 
Tonight I had a bed of baby greens topped with beets, saute'd onion, and a fried egg over easy, drizzled with a little olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yes, the greens are organic. Hopefully, I'll have my own baby kale and spinach in the ground by next week and I'll save some money there, but I'd much rather buy a bag of organic greens than a case of soda. Eating healthy on a limited budget is possible, you just need to make trade off's and avoid the junk that unfortunately seems to fall into most carts. Your hard earned money will go further by spending it on nutritional quality versus quantity and taking into consideration the above guidelines. 

Healthy food isn't a privilege of the rich. While I may not be able to afford a nice salmon steak every week, I know I am feeding my family healthy foods.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grown Up Hot Chocolate

This hot cocoa is great for warming you up during these crazy, cold January days. It is a rich, dark, spicy drink. The powdered store bought mixes just don't measure up for me anymore after drinking this. At first it may seem crazy to add cayenne to a sweet drink, but it adds to the warming effect. Plus, cayenne has many health benefits such as relieving allergies. As we are currently dealing with "cedar fever" here in Texas, anything that brings relief is appreciated. Best of all, this single serving sized cocoa takes less than two minutes to make and is absolutely addictive.

Grown Up Hot Cocoa

1 1.75 oz. dark chocolate bar (Trader Joe's sells a three pack)
2 tsp. butter
1 to 1 1/4 cups milk
dash of cinnamon
dash of ground cayenne

Break the chocolate bar into pieces and place in mug with butter. Add about a tablespoon of milk and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir melted chocolate mix and slowly add remaining milk, filling mug. Heat in microwave for another minute. Add cinnamon and cayenne. Stir to thoroughly dissolve melted chocolate. Enjoy!