Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Value of Food

"Eating healthy is expensive!" I've heard many people say. I've even said it myself. And, sometimes, this is true. Produce can be expensive, as can meat and cheese and milk, especially if you buy organic, grass-fed, and hormone-free. But, it's expensive compared to what? To hamburger helper? Potato chips? A box of Easy Mac? No, healthy food is not as expensive as most people think.

What is expensive are "health food products" - food products are marketed to be healthy. Usually, these are highly processed foods. For example, "fat-free yogurt", where the second ingredient is sugar, followed by a list of about 10 other ingredients, is quite a bit more expensive than plain, whole milk yogurt. Soy "milk" is more expensive than regular whole milk. Energy/protein bars are a lot more expensive than just eating a couple eggs ($1 a bar versus .30 for two free range eggs). Most of these "health food products" aren't really better for you than the junk food they try to replace. They are still filled with sugar or artificial sweeteners, they are highly processed with a lot of chemicals and msg added, they still contain trans fats, and most of their nutritional value is added back in after processing.

Aside from the lies of the "health food industry", we've been taught from childhood (via commercials usually) how we should value food. How do you value food? What is a good deal? What is a good price? And, when we go to the grocery store and see that apples are $1.69 a lb (about .75 an apple) and a bag of chips is $3 (the equivalent of 4 apples), and we realize we can feed like 8 people with the chips and only 4 with the apples, we say that the chips are more valuable.

But, we have it all backwards. Instead of looking at quantity of calories, we need to look at quantity and quality of nutrition. Those apples are packed with fiber and vitamins. They are filling and sweet and leave you much more satisfied than the bag of chips. You'll eat less over all. If you value food based on its nutritional value, foods that seem expensive will seem much less so, and foods that seem cheap will seem outlandishly expensive. That $4 box of butter will seem much more valuable than the $1 box of margarine. The gallon of whole milk is so much richer in nutrients than the 2 2-liters coke you could get for the same price. A dozen eggs goes a lot further towards your health than the box of cereal.

For the family on a budget (like us!), real food is less expensive. When I'm being really good about eating all real food, my grocery bill actually goes down. Buying produce at a local produce stand is often cheaper than Walmart (apples at Redmond Boys in Seneca are only $1 a lb, versus $1.29 at Walmart). Eating cheesy scrambled eggs for breakfast is a lot cheaper than cereal and milk. Making your own bread costs pennies.

Real food is not always as convenient, and it does take some time in the kitchen. But, I actually read a study the other day that said people who make their dinners from scratch and people who use "box mixes" (like Hamburger Helper) actually spend pretty close to the same amount of time cooking dinner, and the family who makes dinner together from scratch, is often happier in general, and their kids eat healthier.

Looking for tips on how to cook healthy for cheap? Check out this awesome blog: Well Fed Family

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