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“I can’t afford to eat right”

Eating healthy on a budgetI was cycling in the canyon with my friend Kara last week, and she was telling me about being raised by a single mom on a very fixed budget. Kara was one of several children, and she said to me, “My mom was a rock star. She fed us all healthy food, because it was cheap.”

Wait…..what?  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the excuse, “I can’t eat that healthy stuff. I can feed my whole family super-cheap on Wonder Bread, Malt-O-Meal cereal, baloney, and the Dollar Menu.”

For how long? Until medical bills dwarf your teeny grocery budget? (And how do you factor MISERY into the financial equation?) But we’ll leave that argument alone. It’s indirect. Let’s tackle the idea very directly, that the cheapest foods are the unhealthy ones.

Here are CHEAP WHOLE FOODS Kara was raised on, and I’ve mixed into the list the ones I was raised on, too:

  1. Rolled oats (oatmeal)
  2. All kinds of beans
  3. Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  4. Greens and tomatoes, peppers, etc. from the garden (fresh, and frozen in a used freezer)
  5. Apples and bananas
  6. Homemade whole wheat bread (use organic wheat, or better yet, spelt or Kamut)
  7. Fruit trees (freeze the fruit when it’s in season)
  8. Nuts and seeds from co-ops

This isn’t necessarily “high raw,” I realize. But it’s a HECKUVA LOT BETTER than the white bread, mayo, and baloney diet.

money cookingIt really is not true that the only way to live cheap is to eat processed food. My parents lived on a military income with EIGHT CHILDREN, through the Carter Administration when they had to buy a house with a 15% interest rate. They were “house poor” for many years.

I never knew we were poor. I never had Christmas or birthday gifts that totaled more than $25. Except, every year, ONE kid had a “splurge” year and my parents spent $75-$100. We were breathless with anticipation, wondering if THIS was “my year.” The two years in my lifetime that it was ME, I got a silver trumpet one time, and a cake decorating kit and supplies the second time.

(I got paid to professionally decorate cakes, when I was in junior high school. I read all kinds of books on it and made really gorgeous, detailed, sugary creations. I also worked at McDonald’s. My goodness, how life changes.)

My mother raised a family of 10 people, in an expensive suburb of Washington D.C., on a salary of less than $50,000 a year. There were times when I was growing up that we had just one car. We never had a new car. Our cars were always embarrassing. Ancient station wagons or vans. I never had a new item of clothing until 9th grade, and then it was from a discount store’s clearance rack. Until then, everything I owned was from garage sales. Every Saturday was garage sale day, starting at 6 a.m.!

I guess it can be done. We had a huge garden (we each had to pull 100 weeds every morning as a summer chore), a bunch of fruit trees they planted every time we moved, and we ate lots of grains and beans and vegetables and fruits.

Meat was very, very rare. Soup was very, very common. There was a big green salad every night for dinner.

12 steps meals plannerIn every section of 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and in the 12 Steps Menu Planner, I give you lots of ideas to save time and money. Our 20 testers for the Menu Planner told me they spent about $100-$150/week for a family of 4. That’s what those on a tight budget told me they had to spend!

say no to bad dietSome people live at Whole Foods Market on little packages of things that weigh 8 ounces. That’s a very, very expensive way to live on whole foods. My own lifestyle has shifted towards that, as I travel a lot and kids are leaving home. But I eliminated my son’s life-threatening health problems, and I dropped 70 lbs., on a whole-foods diet when I fed a family of 6 on never more than$45,000/year.

The point is, there are much less expensive ways to do it. You can do it. No matter what your budget! Be smart. Garden. Join a co-op. Look for deals. Own a big freezer in the garage. Bake bread. Make soup. Make salads. Make green smoothies.

Say no to the Standard American Diet dominated by genetically modified, processed, packaged foods. There is NOTHING good for you there. Convenience is not worth the tradeoffs.