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Monday, April 28, 2008

Frugal Dieting

I was reading a blog on the housing crisis where the blogger broke down a California family of four's budget to show why expensive housing puts a family making 100K in a bind. Yes, 100K. What most would consider a really, really nice family income doesn't go as far when buying a house means paying 500K to be in a decent neighborhood. One really harsh commenter mentioned how she and her family ate on 200 dollars a month. She said she kept to a size 0 by eating small, and that saved money. Basically, she told the family of four to cut back on food and stop being "blimps."

How nice. The tyranny of the skinny chick on display.

And yet, there is something there. Not in the pride and harsh attitude of the small eater, but in the idea that if we cut back on junk, we can maximize our dollars on good food.

Soda, fancy-schmancy energy drinks, packaged convenience snacks, worthless candy. Preservatives. Sugar. Junk. Fake colors. We don't need them. That's wasted money which could have been better spent on fruit and vegetables and "clean" protein-sources and, in terms of sweets, an antioxidant rich dark chocolate.

Dieting can often be expensive in America, whether it's diet systems like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem or Diet-To-Go or Bistro MD or The Zone Delivery or the Frankenfood type diets dependent on protein shakes and protein bars and other non-food foods. Any time someone cooks for you, portions for you, weighs for you, and wraps food for you in plastic or foil or paper--you pay more. Yes, it's easier. But it's costlier. And it's not always more healthful if it's loaded with fake nutrition and salt and fillers.

Let's face it. Those of us who are stay-at-home wives and/or moms have no excuse. We have the time to prepare fresh, wholesome meals from scratch. We don't need the convenience stuff, though we may have come to rely on them.

I think convenience plans have their place--say, you're in a stressful job and on deadline and having food delivered, ready-to-heat, let's you have more time doing what's needed beyond grocery shopping and cooking.

In general, making your own breakfasts of eggs and whole grain toast, or oatmeal and fruit, or leftovers and veggies in a whole grain wrap--instead of danishes or sugary cereals or oversized bagels at some take-away place--are gonna help you get your nutrition and fiber and keep the calorie levels under control. Taking a brown bag or bento lunch is going to help you watch what you eat and keep your dollars IN your wallet.

But what about those of us already eating breakfast before heading out, already making low-calorie lunches for work, already planning healthful dinners to cook at home? How can we save even more?

Prices for homes are coming down, but food prices are going up. So, somehow, cutting back is in order for many of us, even those of us wanting to keep to fresh and healthful organic fare.

What are you doing to save on groceries but not skimp on nutrition?

You may want to get inspired by the thrifty cooks involved in the Frugal Cooking Carnival. Maybe you can get an idea for how to tweak their offerings to make low-cost, diet-friendly fare.

One of the participants cooks vegetarian and healthfully, and her menu looks scrumptious.The three-day menu below came out to $7.35 per person. My hubby would hate it, but I grew up eating legumes every day, and I think it looks fabulous. Hey, maybe it will work for you:

Day 1
Breakfast: Oatmeal with apples, raisins, cinnamon, and pecans
Lunch: Black Bean Soup with blue corn tortilla chips
Dinner: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice
Snacks: Oranges, apples, sweet potato, raw carrots.

Day 2
Breakfast: Whole grain pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup
Lunch: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice (leftover)
Dinner: Split Pea Soup with homemade whole wheat bread
Snacks: Hot air popped popcorn, celery, pancakes w/syrup

Day 3
Breakfast: Oatmeal with three berries and flax
Lunch: Split Pea Soup with homemade whole wheat bread
Dinner: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice
Snacks: Sweet Potato, oranges, bread with applesauce

Anyone could lose weight on that high-fiber, vegetarian menu, I think, if the portions weren't binge-worthy.

I know I made some lima bean soup at home where my cost per two-cup serving came out to far, far less than what I'd pay in a restaurant, and I made it all organic, in the slow cooker. Today, I'm gonna make an organic vegetarian lasagna with the veggies I have on hand in the fridge. But I still need to examine where I can cut back here and there to maximize what we enjoy. Meatless, we cannot go. I could, but hubby is not a veggie-fied type, and he's got lactose issues. He won't eat tofu or beans; eggs don't agree with him. That leaves me having to get chicken, pork, beef (what he likes). I buy lean (tenderloin, breast) and that's expensive when bought organic. (I wish the man would eat beans!)

How do you stretch meat in dishes that are low-cal and high-nutrient?

If you have suggestions, let me know.

Onward and DOWNward!


Grumpy Chair said...

I have missed you!

Interesting post.

Heather said...

I definitely believe that eating healthy is expensive. natural food costs a ton, andI go to the store more since I buy a lot of fresh produce. but its worth it, so I deal. I try to make everyhting from scratch as to avoid the processed chemicals and such and while it does take a while and $$, the results worth the $.

Anonymous said...

100K for a family of 4 and she has problems?

I'd like to see her try it on 14K.

Healthy eating IS expensive. The poor get it every which way: cheap food is carb heavy, charitable organizations rely on cheap food for the poor in food pantries and shelters... and food stamp recipients learn to cut everything with bread or rice. Then people look DOWN on poor people who are fat because they imagine that they are eating badly by choice, are lazy, or some other such nonsense.

Our family had to rely on pantry food last month, and it totally destroyed my diet for that time. Healthy people and people with reasonable incomes have no clue what-so-ever when it comes to eating poor.

Anonymous said...

The expense of healthy eating is probably one of my biggest stressors right now. We're not low-income - though I have definitely been there! - but prices right now are so astronomical it's prohibitive nonetheless. Between gas and food, it's enough to make you hyperventilate.

Meat isn't as big an issue for me because I buy the huge value-packs, separate into smaller portions, and freeze. So I can save a little bit there. Though I have had to go back to some less-healthy meats because of prices, I admit. But it's the fruits and veggies that (no pun intended) eat us alive. We go through a TON and they are so expensive. And I really haven't found any way to save money on those, because you can't even clip coupons. If I didn't work I think I'd plant a kitchen garden, though.

I do think I'd like to smack Ms. "Eat Less and Stop Being a Blimp" though. It's stupid, insensitive, and inaccurate. Eating less will actually make you stop losing weight unless you're eating so little you literally starve. Which is stupid in its own right.

Sigh. People can be so thoughtless.