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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Price of Eating Healthy

Money can be tight in these troubled times of bank closures and uncertainty. As well as medical costs, this response I received recently when I suggested adding more vegetables and fish to a menu for a new type 2 is typical of many: "But eating lower carb versions of food is EXPENSIVE. I know some people say that eating healthy is not any more expensive than eating cheap but they are full of it."

I found that I actually saved money when we started "eating healthy". But I had to work at it, because it takes a little planning and effort. To start with, I ate less than I did in the past ; significantly less for some foods. That didn’t cover the higher costs of some new foods like asparagas, avocado and similar, but I certainly saved on breads, potatoes, corn, rice and similar starches. I also saved a lot on meat, by eating a lot less than I did in the past, and by not purchasing a lot of processed sauces and packet foods.

Money isn’t everything; there are other costs such as time. I accepted that part of the price for better health was a little more time spent in the kitchen. I write more on that here: Cooking as a Survival Skill

Thus, I accept some additional inconvenience. Cooking more at home also saves on the costs of eating out or fast-foods. It is always cheaper to cook at home even if you cook the same things as the fast-food places such as hamburgers or fried fish. But it does take more time and work.

However, there are ways to use time efficiently there too. Once I was already spending more time in the kitchen, I looked at ways of economising money and time. One major way to do that is to both buy and cook in bulk. An investment in a freezer and microwave will repay you many times over in being able to buy freezable ingredients in season when prices are low and store them appropriately for later use.

I buy meats and fish in bulk packs from the butcher. For example, I bought five kilos (11lbs) of rump (flank) steak as an uncut lump of meat from the butcher a couple of weeks ago. At home I sliced the premium parts, trimmed of fat, into a large number of small 100gm (4oz) steaks. I trimmed the scrappier bits and cut them roughly into 2.5cm (1") cubes for stews. I then cling-wrapped each individual steak and 1/2Kg(1lb) lots of stew chunks for freezing for future use. When I need a steak in the future it’s there in the freezer ready for me. Later I spent a Saturday afternoon cooking up stews, casseroles and soups in bulk, freezing the results in single-serve containers. When it comes time to eat those I've got a meal via the microwave in minutes that is cheaper, faster, healthier and tastier than anything from a restaurant. I do the same thing for fish, chicken and pork, waiting until "specials" appear for bulk lots, or a seasonal glut occurs, and purchasing then.

Many vegetables and fruits can be bulk cooked and frozen too. I buy (or grow) in season veges like tomatoes, silver-beet (similar to swiss chard, a good spinach substitute), sweet corn (I blanch and freeze 1/3 cob portions), string beans and several others. I buy mango, which can be very cheap in season here, or berries, and freeze those for later addition to home-made yoghurt. Some non-freezable veges can be stored longer in the fridge with little tricks like blanching.

As well as eating less I waste less. The change in the level of waste in our rubbish bin was quite dramatic when we stopped buying processed packet foods and also started being stricter for portion sizes; allied to that we are much more aware of separating scraps for the compost bin to help grow some of our own veges, another way to save on food costs for those with the luxury of some backyard or even planter pot space to do so.

We, as a couple, took the time to compare grocery bills from before my diagnosis and a couple of years later. Despite inflation, we were paying slightly less for our weekly food while eating healthier and tastier.

In the end, everything has a price. The cost may be calculated in dollars, health, time, or some other currency. What it boils down to is whether the goals we set for ourselves are worth the price. Each of us has to make that decision, but it helps if you truly calculate the cost.

Cheers, Alan
Everything in Moderation - Except laughter


k2 said...

Alan -
I got hungry just reading your post!

Thanks for the info and the great read.

Sherrie said...

A slow cooker is really useful for this because you can buy the really cheap cuts of meat and cook them slowly into something magical. Another thing we used to do but not now as we no longer live near by is buy our frozen veggies from a bulk foods place in big 2 kg bags.