Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Problem of Eating Healthy on a Budget

Think food like this is available at the food bank?
Photo by Vitasamb2001

Last night’s dinner was supposed to be a roast chicken in the crockpot, but we forgot to thaw the chicken the night before, so instead we wound up raiding the cupboard and fixing one of the quick-fix meals that Gav’s mother brought us. 

Have a look at those stats and see if you can spot the problem.

At a quick glance it doesn’t look too terrible – 220 calories, 6 grams of fat per serving.  I can live with that.  But wait, what’s this?   Sodium 1330 mg???  Are you aware that’s over half the sodium you should be eating in a day?  And these serving sizes are puny.  Only ¾ cup.  Not exactly the most filling meal.  You can round it out with a salad, but it’s not going to get rid of those 1330 mg of sodium.  In fact, if you add dressing to your salad, you’re just adding to the sodium situation.

We confess to not being the healthiest of eaters.  I have high cholesterol and Gav is well on his way to full-blown diabetes.  We are both significantly overweight.  The kids are in better shape, although the 11-year-old has high triglycerides.  This can be partly blamed on one of his medications, but we still need to work on getting it down.  Plus, we have to work on getting more fiber into his day, to ease a constipation situation.

For our family, meals like this are an occasional quick fix.  For many families facing money problems, they are a nightly fixture.  This is the stuff that gets donated to food banks and the stuff that gets handed out to people who need help.  For a while, we signed up for the Angel Food program, in an attempt to get a bit of help with the food budget.  While the concept is noble and it’s good that people get help, the reality is that the food the program provides is overly processed and unhealthy.  After a few weeks, we left the program, deciding that we could do better on our own.

We are advised to “shop the along the edge of the store,” meaning that this is where fresh produce, breads, meats and dairy are kept.  The shelves that run along the inside the store are primarily packed with processed goods, loaded with preservatives, trans fats, sodium and other food evils.  But the reality is, this is the cheap, fast prep food.  Cooking with whole healthy foods is time consuming and many people who are poor are working long hours at difficult jobs and simply don’t have the time and energy to make healthy meals from scratch.

Let’s get something straight:  I’m not making excuses.  This is the reality.  Studies have shown time and time again that obesity rates are linked to economics.  Poor people can’t afford to eat healthy food.  This is a serious problem in our society. 

We’re going grocery shopping tomorrow.  I plan to post our grocery list, so you can see how we try to get around this challenge.

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