Friday, November 5, 2010

Eat well on a budget without an expensive overhaul

During a discussion with friends about meal planning, one woman declared, “We don’t eat cheap food.” I immediately bristled, then fielded a barrage of my own mental questions: What did she mean by “cheap food”? Was it packages of dehydrated noodles and boxes of macaroni and cheese? Fast food? Red beans and rice? Does my family eat what she would consider “cheap food,” I wondered?

The exchange reminded me that what we eat can often be as much a social issue as a personal one. In essence, my friend’s statement drew a metaphorical line: cheap food is bad; expensive food is good. When I found myself on the side of “cheap,” (we enjoy boxed macaroni and cheese and eat fast food on occasion) I realized it’s easy to end up feeling excluded when you aren’t eating the “right” foods.

It’s true that there are many so-called cheap foods with little nutritional value, but I balk at the idea that there is a point of perfection, a food utopia, when it comes to eating. I also vehemently challenge the notion that you have to spend a lot to eat well. Instead of striving for perfection in your eating habits, it’s much wiser, and more productive, to focus on making progress.

If you’re like me, “eating well” means striking a good balance. I shop for nutritious foods my family likes and that fit into our budget, and l look for ways to integrate more organic foods into our diet. However, it can be difficult to know how to find this balance, particularly when you consider that organics typically cost more and can sometimes be more difficult to access. But eating well doesn’t mean you need to push for a complete – and expensive – organic overhaul. You can start small and make a few significant changes.

These changes can start with the help of two key shopping lists. To help consumers prioritize which organic foods they should focus on buying, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a published list of foods proven to retain the most residual pesticides. These foods, commonly known as the Dirty Dozen, include seven fruits: peaches, apples, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, cherries, and imported grapes. Five vegetables round out the Dirty Dozen list: sweet bell peppers, celery, spinach, kale/collard greens, and potatoes.

he EWG has another, perhaps more practical, shopping list known as the Clean 15. As the name suggests, the Clean 15 is a list of 15 foods known to have little to no pesticide contamination. The list includes foods such as avocados, onions, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and cantaloupe.

With these two lists, you can look for produce that fits your budget, while considering which foods you may be willing to spend more on. You might find, as I did, that there are organic produce choices that cost the same or less as the non-organic variety. Last week, I bought a pound of organic Bartlett pears for $1.99 a pound; the non-organic variety was the same price. I also bought a bunch of organic grapes for the same price as the conventional ones. I did spend slightly more to buy organic Fuji apples ($2.19 a pound, compared to $1.59), but they were literally the best apples I can recall having ever eaten.

For me, those tasty apples – a food that is delicious, good for me and won’t break my budget – is how I define eating well. Next week, I’ll share how this definition of eating well has changed the way I shop and cook for my family.

No comments:

Post a Comment