Better to pay the grocer than the doctor

THE WELLNESS BITCH WROTE TODAY ABOUT PEOPLE using the perceived high cost of groceries as a reason (dare I say “excuse”) not to buy healthier food. And, oh, I’m with her all right: this is a huge pet peeve of mine, too.

It’s a part of our backwards food culture to look for an easy solution to any food-related health issue. Saying it’s too expensive to eat better is an excuse people use because the change seems too hard. I’ve been there, too, and while it’s not easy, it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hey, I pushed two kids out of my vagina, after all.

But eating pesticides in fruit and veggies, eating dyes and chemicals in processed food, and eating feces and antibiotics in meat and milk is, quite frankly, not what I want for my family. Nor, I’m guessing, does anyone else. So we do the hard work.

It takes more than just changing grocery stores to eat healthy, though. It takes a revamp of the shopping list. I buy organic and/or local produce, grass-fed beef, organic chicken and dairy, and pasture-raised eggs. I buy ingredients to make meals, and I buy bulk foods (like rice, beans, and popcorn) whenever I can. I still buy some snack foods, but a lot less than I used to. I read ingredients and avoid things with chemicals and additives. My bill averages $150/week — very close to what I paid before.

So how to start? Here are some tips to eating better without breaking the bank:

  1. Remember: good quality food is more filling, so you need to eat less of it to feel satisfied. For example, four people doesn’t need to equal four chicken breasts and a bowl of popcorn will go farther than a bowl of chips.
  2. Think about whether there are things you buy heat-and-eat that you can make instead, like pasta sauce, frozen meals, mac and cheese, ready-made sandwiches, cookies, etc. Then buy ingredients.
  3. Buy in bulk when you can (especially grains and popcorn), and for sure, stop buying individual servings of things.
  4. Don’t set limits on what you buy in the produce department, but eat what you buy.
  5. Pick one food you want your kids to stop eating and stop buying it. Come up with a replacement.  (Goldfish to popcorn, sugary cereal to oatmeal or granola, frozen waffles to homemade waffles, Pop-Tarts to homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. You get the idea.)
  6. Read the ingredients, but ignore front of the box claims. If you can’t buy it, can’t pronounce it, or would have to Google it to find out what it is, then you don’t want it in your food.
  7. Meat is by far the most expensive change, but it’s worth it both for the health benefits and for the taste. To keep costs down when buying organic and grass-fed meats:
    1. Buy less expensive cuts like breasts with the bone-in and skin-on, thighs, or even a whole chicken (use the carcass to make soup — bonus!); ground beef, stew meat, or any cut you can slow cook.
    2. Buy less meat: add one or two meals a week that is non-meat — fish, beans, tofu, eggs.
    3. Buy less quantity (see tip #1).

The bottom line: It is better to pay the grocer than the doctor. But changing the way your family eats doesn’t have to clear out the college funds. Start today with one small change. If you need help revamping your shopping list, contact me. I’d love to help.

3 comments for “Better to pay the grocer than the doctor

  1. April 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for the push with #5. Even those of us on the right track need to re-evaluate every once in a while. I’ve been griping that my babysitter doesn’t feed the kids the type of snacks I’d like her to feed them, despite my asking her to. (Typically a dye-free, high fructose corn syrup-free, but still processed crap cereal bar vs actual fruit). My husband says, “Well then why do you keep buying those cereal bars?” Good question. If it’s in your kitchen, someone will likely eat it. If you don’t want someone eating it, why are you buying it?

  2. cat
    April 22, 2010 at 11:02 am

    It’s so easy to get in a shopping routine and forget to think about the food about it or read labels. Like that frozen chopped basil I loved so much until I finally read the ingredients, expecting it to be “chopped basil” but it also has soy bean oil and dextrose. Ugh. So now I’ll chop and freeze my own.

    We move in degrees, right? Small steps to big change!

  3. April 26, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Great tips! I think another major barrier is people’s perception that cooking is hard, and/or that it takes too much time – there are so many simple recipes using whole foods that are cheap & easy to make. It’s just a matter of re-adjusting habits . . . one step at a time.

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