Monday, June 20, 2011

Eating Real Food for Less

Don't you love how in the same day, you can read ideas from two people who live in the same country, who could conceivably live on the same street, who view the world so differently that they might never be able to reconcile their ideas?  Consider, for example, two blog posts I've read recently:

*Feed your family for $0.70 a day!  One woman reveals how her family, out of work, relies on their stored food for every meal.  Their typical choices are oatmeal for breakfast, spaghetti for dinner, and canned pears for snacks.  She gives advice on how to spend the bare minimum on food.  If we all follow her example, we can save thousands!                                         

*Feed your family only the best.  To achieve optimal health, many people eliminate all grains, legumes, dairy, and other foods that were not available in the wild to early man.  Meals are based on pastured meats and fresh, organic produce.  If we all follow their example, we can live forever and never be sick again!

Obviously, the two viewpoints are mutually exclusive: you can't follow them both at the same time.  But saving thousands seems like a good idea, and so does living a vibrantly healthy, long life.  Some people may be forced into one of the two extremes by circumstances they can't control: they may have minimal income and need to feed their family enough to survive, or they may have dire health issues that require a specialized diet just to keep them alive.

But the rest of us are somewhere in the middle.  We would like to live as well as possible, using the resources we have available to us.  I am not going to try to reinvent the wheel here with my some life-changing formula to make real food magically appear for free on your kitchen counter.  I will offer a few ground rules, and a few resources that have been incredibly helpful to me.

First, the ground rules:
  • Cheap fake food is not really cheap.  Its costs may be well hidden, but they're secretly lurking.  They may come in the form of reduced energy and a general feeling of malaise, which not only make life less enjoyable, but also make you less productive and unable to work or earn to your fullest potential.  Or the costs may not be evident yet, but will show up down the road, such as an ever-increasing waistline or chronic disease that could result in huge medical costs in the future.
  • That being said, cheap real food can be a godsend.  As much as I would like to be able to feed my family only the very best, all the time, we can't afford the very best meat and produce for every meal.  The GAPs and Paleo folks may cringe at the sound of it, but rice, potatoes, and (generally properly-prepared) grains keep my family full and financially solvent.
  • We all eat less between meals when we're well-nourished at meals.  This doesn't mean "no snacking," but it does mean snacks have to be planned and full of nutrition.  An avocado sliced up for the kids keeps them satisfied a lot longer than a heap of pretzels... but it takes a lot more planning to have a perfectly ripe, in-season avocado ready at snack time than to have a year-old-and-still-edible bag of pretzels in the pantry.
  • In the real-food world, to eat for less, you have to work more or plan more.  That's just the way it is, and you have to reconcile yourself to spending a little time planning and in the kitchen if you're serious about saving money and eating real food.
Now, I'd be crazy to claim I've got this whole eating-right-for-less thing figured out.  So don't just take my word for it.  Here are some resources that have been incredibly helpful for me in balancing both the blood sugar and the check book:
  • Modern Alternative Mama's Real Food on a Budget series offers a comprehensive look at spending less while eating more.
  • At Dyno-mom's Budget Bubble Busting and Penny Pinching,  a mom of 10 offers her practical, less expensive compromises for some of the more expensive real-food practices.
  • Penniless Parenting features tips and tricks (not just food ideas) for living on less.  Real food is staunchly advocated (with the possible exception of seitan, or wheat gluten, which appears in some of her meatless recipes, but doesn't seem like a good choice for everyone).  
Where do you stand in the real food vs. cheap food balance?  What compromises are you willing (and unwilling!) to make?  Do you have any money-saving, real food ideas, posts, or links to share?

Posted at Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist and Unwasted Homemaking at Don't Waste your Homemaking and Market Yourself Monday at Sumo's Sweet Stuff and Money Saving Monday @ Family Friendly Frugality and Show Me What Ya Got at Not JUST A Housewife and WFMW at We Are That Family and Health 2Day Wednesday at day2dayjoys and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop


  1. There is for sure a balance that I think has to be maintained. I fix everything with wheat due to needing to control my sugar levels and I do pay a little more but, I'm also helping my energy levels so I can perform more tasks when I eat this way. I try to eat as healthy as possible but, sometimes like you I have to not buy the leanest meat due to costs, it honestly depends on the week and the sales.

    Thanks for linking up at Unwasted Homemaking, Hope to see you every Monday :)!

  2. Hi, DWYHomemaking,
    Thanks for stopping by! Sometimes it's worth paying a little bit extra to have extra energy and to feel good!

  3. I suppose that I'm lucky in that I do not have to purchase all of my food. That said, I try to be a good steward of the privilege I have. My general non-compromise principles are that (at home), I do not eat battery eggs, pasteurized milk, or dead animals that are not at least organic. Since I rarely eat out, this means that I keep to these all the time. The whole grain issue is up in the air for me, as I rarely run out of the sourdough I make. But if I was desperate, I'd be willing to consume the regular whole grain bread we purchase. (Bread comprises most of my grain intake.)

    I'll fudge the milk issue if I'm experimenting with something like cheese, since once I figure out how to make the process work, I'll switch to using raw milk. And...I still use regular sugar to make jam. If it's one tablespoon of jam a few times a week in the context of no sugar otherwise, I'll take that as reasonable.

  4. Thankfully I am able to afford better food overall, but I work my tail off to grow and preserve as much as I can, and to source a lot locally from people I trust. I also buy in bulk where appropriate, which helps on prices.

  5. Thanks for the linky love. I'm still torn on the topic of gluten and seitan. I know it was made traditionally by buddhist monks for many, many generations, and its not some new fangled modern "food" more closely resembling chemicals than food.
    However, I've noticed that I'm definitely sensitive to gluten, and my mother is on a gluten free diet as well because of thyroid issues (Hashimotos) and my father is on a low gluten diet... So I probably won't be including very many recipes with gluten in it now, especially not high gluten recipes like seitan...
    But I'm still not convinced that gluten is terrible for the average individual. I happen to have genetic ancestry that has a more sensitive digestive system than most (I think maybe 30-40% of the people with my genetic ancestry have chronic stomach issues, with Celiac, Crohns, Ulcerative colitism, IBS and other stomach issues), so what I need to do for my body to work properly doesn't necessarily mean that those foods are bad for everyone...

  6. Hi, Penny,
    I was having trouble figuring out just how old seitan really is! Wikipedia makes it sound like it's been used traditionally, but they don't say for how long. I read somewhere that the ancient Egyptians sifted their wheat flour so the upper classes could enjoy "white" flour... but that still doesn't make white flour a very real food. I wonder if seitan is similar.
    That's a great point though that not everyone is equally sensitive to gluten. It seems like even some people who have been sensitive to it in the past, but then complete the GAPs regimen, are able to tolerate it. Maybe everyone with your genetic ancestry needs to try GAPs. :)

  7. I am constantly going back and forth about this. We eat pretty healthily--but I guess I would put our family somewhere in the middle on this one. Thanks so much for reading Of Such is the Kingdom! I'm a new follower!

  8. Hi, Olivia,
    It is such a hard balance to find, especially these days when everyone is tightening their belts a little bit. Thanks for following!

  9. Good points though I think there may be some overlap between the 2 perspectives. Early man would have figured out ways to preserve food for later, and to carry with them.

    I'm so glad that you linked to 3 series on eating healthy cheaply. I've read all 3 in the past, and need their inspiration again as I figure out that budget balance with the economy still in the tank.

  10. Hi, Barb,
    I don't know if the two posts I mentioned ever could have found common ground, but you're right about the overlap in general. It's a good thing there is a middle ground!
    I'm glad you've found the links useful - they've all had really helpful aspects, and a few "wake-up calls" about some ways I could reduce my food spending that I hadn't thought of. Best of luck with your budget balance!

  11. I think if food is well prepared even the children will love eating a more healthier way. Although you may not want to tell them they are. It will shop up in their reactions to life and energy. An ice cream cone or a piece of cake will be more of a treat if it isn't given often.

    Great post.

  12. Hi, Pamela,
    Thank you for your kinds words - I couldn't agree more!

  13. Some people could have a problem with gluten and not make a connection. Gluten feeds yeast/ candida. If a woman has yeast infections quite often, it is a good idea to consider the cause and not just treat the symptom every time. If finger ant toe nails look strange with white spots - a fungus. Try removing gluten and all sugars from the diet.
    BTW. I just discovered your blog. It is great.
    Thanks. I will be including your site on my blog list.

  14. Hi, MyraSaidIt,
    That's a good point. I totally agree that a grain-free diet is probably healthiest for everyone. Sometimes it's just not economically feasible to eliminate all inexpensive real foods though, so if no problem seems to exist, people shouldn't be made to feel guilty for eating a not-quite-ideal real food diet.
    Thanks for your input, and for stopping by!

  15. Danielle, Thanks for adding this post to Healthy 2day Wednesdays! One of the best quotes I've heard is "pay for it now, or pay for it later" when it relates your your health. If you go for the cheaper stuff, you may have health problems as you mentioned, down the road. I love watching that Extreme Couponing show, but it wouldn't work for a lot of us who try to live a more "natural" way of life... SAD! Hope to see you link up this week!

  16. Hi, Rachel,
    It is a bummer about the couponing void in our lives, isn't it? :) But so worth it! Thanks for stopping by - I love that you visit everyone who posts at your link up.


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