Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eat Well, Spend More

When I was growing up, the majority of the time we enjoyed home cooked meals. It was rare that we ate out, and there was no such thing as frozen food in our house. My mother, who spent the first 22 years of her life in a small town where everyone grew their own food and prepared everything from scratch, wouldn’t dream of serving processed food.


Because these eating habits were such a huge part of my upbringing, three things happened when I left home:

1) Although I enjoy an occasional outing to a restaurant, there’s only so much of that I can handle before it sickens me. The taste of restaurant food just isn’t the same as a home cooked meal, especially home cooked meals that include fresh ingredients.

2) Aside from some frozen pizza, some of which isn’t all that bad, I really dislike the taste of frozen food that you buy at the supermarket. The few times that I’ve eaten it, it just sat in my stomach like a ton of bricks, my body refusing to digest.

3) I enjoy cooking. I spend a lot of time searching for interesting recipes on the internet, and I have a couple of shelves worth of cookbooks, some of which have become tattered from overuse.


All this to say that I generally cook up a storm each week because I enjoy preparing meals and because it’s the absolute best way for the whole family to eat healthy since I have control over the ingredients that go into our food.


This is all fine and dandy, especially after reading this week that overweight and obesity rates have skyrocketed and that this is becoming a global epidemic. And because this has become such a hot topic, everyone has something to say about it. Blah, blah, blah. Magazines, books, newspapers, TV commercials, government bureaucrats, actors, etc, etc; it seems that every expert (sometimes self-proclaimed) is preaching about how we should eat healthy food and get off my butts. And of course, let’s not forget all the companies that are aggressively peddling their ‘low fat’, ‘lean’ and ‘sugar-free’ products. If you live in city, I don’t think you can walk a block without being bombarded by some type of advertising geared towards this ‘epidemic’.

Okay, we get the message. We understand that we should eat healthy food and do some kind of physical exercise. And many of us live that type of lifestyle, to the best of our ability.


(And here is where I insert my two cents worth of a rant)

Has anyone noticed that the healthier the food, the more expensive it is? For example, I always make an effort to buy lean meats, which are less fatty and more nutritious. But sometimes I don’t. And you know why? Because they’re often too pricey. And like many other people that work with a grocery budget, unless this type of meat is on sale, I can’t have it. The same is true of fresh fruits and vegetables, and of quality fish and whole grain breads. And don’t get me started on the inflated prices of low-fat versions of common products such as mayonnaise, cream cheese, cottage cheese, jam and so on.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a whole lot of preaching going on about the ‘right’ kinds of food we should be eating. But one thing no one ever mentions is that when you do start buying higher quality food, your grocery bill will rise. And this, unfortunately, is something many people just can’t afford to do.

Eating right should not cost more. Damn it.

(End of rant)

What do you guys think?


  1. I would have agreed with you up to a year ago. But since we switched to locally-grown produce and meat and dairy, joining a CSA, sourcing a local organic dairy source, and getting as much as possible from our kitchen garden and farmer's market, we actually noticed a drop in our grocery bill. A pretty steep one. The closer in the supply chain you can come to the farmer, the better your prices.

    Now, we didn't know enough to properly preserve all the harvest and extras from the farmer's market by canning and drying this year, so we're dying every time we go to the grocery and buy crappy-tasting food and have to fork over so much money for it. It's like purgatory. Yuck!

    Also, you will save money if you make your own bread. It's not as time-consuming as people think (we use a recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day), and way cheaper than buying from the supermarket.

    I hear you, though. Good for you for trying to do right by your family. :)

  2. Hi Meredith,

    You are right about locally-grown produce, but because I live in the north up here in Canada, there's only so much local produce available. Our good weather is very short and a lot of things are not grown here, but rather imported, which translates to more expensive. During the warmer months, the grocery bill is in a much better state. But those months are not many. But I agree about finding better prices the closer you get to the farmer. This year I will freeze (in bulk) whatever can be frozen. For example, peppers (red, yellow, green, orange...all of them) freeze very well, and I do love adding them to recipes, so I will fill up my freezer (the one I hope we'll buy soon :)

    So I agree with what you are saying, but a lot of our fresh food is imported because our climate does not allow us to grow year round, or for the majority of the year. This makes things more expensive for a family.

    Also, I wanted to stress the difference in stores between healthy and non-healthy foods. For example: you can have two types of bread (same size), one healthy, one not so healthy, and the healthier one will often be more expensive. This doesn't make sense to me.

  3. Chiming in with an "Amen," Martha. I completely agree. We are a low-income family, and the foods that are considered "healthy options" are not usually options for us. Reading of Meredith's experiences, I would say that perhaps it depends on where you live. Around here, most of the CSA's and Farmer's Markets are very expensive and beyond the range of our limited budget. That's why we eat very little meat and why we have our own vegetable garden. It's the only way we've found to get fresh vegetables affordably. You can freeze and can your extras for the winter (even though you might need to buy a chest freezer for that). We are fortunate, as well, to have fruit trees here, so that comes in handy. Also, I use coupons and watch the sales carefully at the grocery, so that by combining coupons and sales, I can sometimes afford to buy some of the pricier things, including meat. One thing I don't understand is why the price of milk has gone up when I've heard that there is an oversupply of it. Very curious...

    Anyway, I'm glad you brought this up---I've thought the same for a long time.

  4. Good food shouldn't cost more, but it often does. In the U.S., one in seven families is what they call food insecure. Here in New Mexico, they estimate that about a third of the population is a good 70 miles from fresh produce.

    Food is a basic human right, and no family should have to worry about whether or not they can afford to eat.

  5. Martha I wish would get more exposure !
    I totally agree with you (we live in the same city and SEE this first hand !)
    Good fresh food is expensive for us and we do import so much from the US and South America it is scary .. I wish we would have more healthy green houses and hydroponics that could supply our own country with this food BUT we are caught up in the "global economy" so while the best of our best is exported to other countries such as Japan .. local families lose .. it is a very intricate problem that both Canada and the US share with poor nutrition and dare I say it .. lack of exercise ... and I am one of those people but I have to add that I have severe health issues that make that procedure very difficult .. not an excuse but a huge detail to deal with.
    We truly do need GOOD food at better prices !!
    My rant for the day too !!

  6. Need to chime in also. We are very lucky in our household that we are generally able to afford quality, fresh, organic foods. But that comes at a price - we hardly eat out, watch movies at home and in general do what we can to tweak the budget to allow us more food money.

    Having said that, I am aghast at how much fresh, organic food costs, especially in the winter. Even when we adjust to winter veggies like cabbage, carrots and squash as opposed to out of season tomatoes and cukes it's dang expensive. We have developed some coping techniques - buying meat in bulk from farmers. No, it's not quite as cheap as meat on sale at the supermarket, but it's not as expensive as the butcher and it's not full of hormones and antibiotics.

    We do grow some veggies and more importantly we preserve a bit of summer bounty by canning and freezing. In season peppers, tomatoes, zucchini are affordable and you can buy a case lot at a deal. Meredith you may be shocked to learn that there is currently not one CSA in Alberta. If you'd like some sticker shock, I can post some prices of organic veggies, many of which are sadly not grown here at all.

    Now, I do believe food should not cost so much, but I also realize that the heavily subsidized food industry in the US is not helping. While they may have cheaper food on the shelves the costs are often hidden in the subsidies and offset in environmental damage of conventional farming. Perhaps without the subsidies we would see the true full cost of feeding ourselves, and perhaps our prices are more reflective of the hard work that goes into producing food.

    Anyhow, don't have any solutions except to encourage everyone to grow a bit of your own food - which as garden bloggers we do! Preserve summer bounty as much as you can, and make friends with farmers as much as possible. We are at the forefront of the food revolution, let's hope it succeeds.

  7. Hi Beth, I agree with you; it all depends on where you live and what kind of lifestyle you are living. In the city, it gets a little trickier. And up here where there's more winter than anything else, it gets harder. This summer I hope to start growing some things in my garden, although it will take awhile before I get the hang of it.

    Like you, I check the sales at the stores weekly to pick up those 'super sales'. Sometimes I find things we use regularly on sale at great prices, so I stock up on them. This can include toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. By picking up these great deals, it saves money in the long run. We should be buying a freezer this year. I'm looking at different stores and checking prices. We'll see what happens.

    Anyhow, I think it's very hard for a lot of families that live on fixed budgets to eat properly, especially families that have many members. It's a shame that not everyone can eat well.

  8. I agree completely with you Liza. And this is especially very important for children who are growing and need to eat properly. Unfortunately, it's just another profit-making business. I've noticed once again that the prices of so many things have gone up again. Every time I think I'm working with the right budget, I discover that my dollars can't stretch as far as they should.

  9. Hey Joy, you got it! Hydroponics is the way to go. It would be a great way to grow food indoors year round. Imagine having fresh veggies in January!

    Anyhow, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself. Your health issues do very much interfere with your ability to do many things. And still, you keep trying, so you're already one step ahead.

  10. Tatiana, that was a great comment. And I agree with you - you have to make certain sacrifices to eat well, and you have to put in some effort. We also eat mostly at home and we also watch movies here as well. We even air pop our popcorn, which I must say is very tasty. I do pick up the weekly sales that work for us and I barely waste any food. Leftovers are often added to other dishes or chopped up and added to homemade soups. I try my best to make sure the whole family eats as properly as possible.

    This year I hope to begin growing some things in the garden. Peppers are on the list of top ten favourites, as well as garlic, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries and blueberries. It's a little bit of an ambitious list to start with, but what the heck!

  11. I am thrilled to hear of your upcoming garden venture as I only started growing food last year and am tripling the garden this year.

    Although I often hear of how much food you can grow in a small plot of land our last summer was so crappy (All my cukes died!) that I got very low yields leading me to not be able to preserve any bounty.

    This year with more plantings and hopefully warmer weather I'll see if I get enough to actually can a bit of stuff. What DID grow was awesome - we got the most bang for the effort out of tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and peas. Peppers only produced about six to eight per plant so do the math to see how many you need.

    May I also encourage you to shop for heirloom varieties (at least in part), rather than the hybrids from the garden centre? (I'm ordering seeds as we speak). They yield a bit lower but the flavors kicked butt on my expert gardener father-in-law's tomatoes... :)

    Cheers to your food adventures!

  12. Thanks Tatiana! I'll look into the heirloom varieties, as you suggest. It will definitely be an adventure this year. And you know I'll end up plastering all my experiences all over this blog - the good, the bad and hilarious... :)