Hello new friends! I’m so excited Mrs. Q asked me to guest post because I’m thrilled about her passion to make a difference in a world of unhealthy eating. I have a similar passion and not a day goes by without me dreaming up some way to try and help people learn how to eat healthy on a tight budget. Part of why I’m so passionate is that I personally know what it feels like to not have enough money for food.
My journey toward healthy eating involved a lot of baby steps. I’m originally from Hawaii and when September 11, 2001 came I, along with most of the people in the tourism industry, lost my job. That was when my eating habits changed dramatically in the wrong direction. I discovered that in order to pay my basic bills, I only had $1-2 a day to live on for food. I concluded that my limited budget meant that the only way I could survive was to live off of the fast food dollar menu (at that time only Jack in the Box had one).
After a year of unhealthy eating which affected my physical and emotional health as well as energy levels, a friend gave me a bag of groceries because she had “bought too much”. She was truly a good friend who knew that my foolish pride at the time would keep me from accepting her gift unless I could pretend I was doing her a favor. With that one bag of groceries I was able to cook for myself, without recipes, for an entire week. At that point a light bulb went off and I realized that I could take my $10-14 a week to the grocery store and start buying real food to play with at home. That was the start of my healthy food journey, but I still had a lot to learn.
The first place I would head in the grocery store would be the boxed food aisle, you know where they have the Hamburger Helper type meals, except that those were out of my budget. I usually went for the $1 boxes of alfredo, they had these little one inch long flat noodles and package of some white powdery substance that once you add milk and butter turns into a cheese like sauce. Of course I realized there wasn’t much nutritional value in that box, so I’d buy the chicken breast that was about to pass its “use by” date, and whatever vegetables were on sale to add to my pasta.
(acorn squash pasta)
But eventually I realized that I was actually limiting myself with these pre-packaged foods. I thought it was my budget limiting me, but when I started doing the math I discovered that it was really more affordable in the long run to buy real noodles and real cheese to make my alfredo than going the boxed route. It also tasted better and was better for my body.
(butternut squash soup)
I hope to help people understand that changing your eating habits is not like the flipping of a switch. It can take time! Some foodies feel that if everyone isn’t making their own sauces, condiments, and canned goods from scratch, something is terribly wrong. But not everyone is ready for that yet. Each time you choose a healthier whole ingredient option over a pre-packaged one, that’s a step in the right direction.
Now, If you’re hoping to make your journey a little speedier than my own, I have a couple quick tips.
(purslane tomato corn salad)
Find a farm in your area or grow your own food – I’m not against grocery stores, but if you can get local produce by either buying a share at a farm (also known as a CSA) or growing it yourself, DO IT! The food will taste better, be better for you, and almost always be more affordable. It’s also a lot of fun because you often get to play with different ingredients that might not normally buy in the store. The salad above is a mix of fresh corn from our CSA, ripe and unripe tomatoes from my backyard (I’ve never played with green tomatoes before), bacon from a local farm, and purslane from our driveway…which brings me to my next point…
(purslane edible weed)
Learn about foraging – If you just do a little research online, you can usually find out what edible plants grow wild in your area. The plant above is called purslane, and it contains more omega 3 fatty acids per serving than most fish! It’s a weed that grows in sidewalk cracks and often takes over gardens. I spot it all over the place in my city, so if you’re ever in Auburn and see women outside the grocery store collecting it for food, they’re probably members of my cooking classes! We also have lots of berries, mushrooms and other tasty tidbits that grow all over the place.
Cooking and eating from whole ingredients starts out as a conscious choice; you read the ingredient list to make sure you recognize everything listed, you put down the preservative laden jar of jam in favor of making your own, you decide to make snacks from scratch rather than buying them in a box. Eventually it becomes a habit and a way of life. You no longer have to decide between the “dried fruit snacks” or dried fruit.
The cool thing is, not only will this be better for your body and the environment, it’s also better for your pocketbook! Don’t believe the lie that I did, being poor doesn’t have to mean eating poorly. If you need more ideas to help you out, be sure to check out my Top Ten Tips for Eating Healthy on a Tight Budget (http://dianasaurdishes.com/03/ten-tipshow-to-save-money-on-groceries-and-still-eat-healthy/). I’d also love for you to add your own tips in the comments because we can all learn so much from each other.
Although I started DianasaurDishes.com as a place to keep track of what I was cooking (if you don’t follow recipes it’s hard to make the same thing twice unless you write down what you do), but I soon realized that it was really a resource for people trying to cook on very little money. That’s when I started really focusing my posts with readers in mind. Now I also teach free cooking classes to low income families in my city who are trying to make healthier choices for their families. If you’re struggling to eat healthy on a tight budget, know that you’re not alone. By sharing our stories and supporting each other, we can each continue moving in a positive direction, making a difference in the health of our family, and changing the way our culture looks at food!