I'm not sure why I've been thinking about this the last few days. Perhaps because I heard it on the radio or read it on the internet. Perhaps because I don't have very much time. Perhaps because I'm trying to keep my family healthy (but on a budget). Perhaps that I keep reading about how expensive it is to eat healthfully (note: it can be, but isn't always...)
I think that there's a give and take among all three.
I want to eat healthfully. I read blogs such as "100 Days of Real Food" and "Clean Eating". I try my best to feed my family healthy food. I am inspired by the homemade, frugal, and healthy foods you find on "Penniless Parenting" and "The Prudent Homemaker".
But here's a little tidbit (which comes to no surprise to most of you): I have a job. And two kids. And I'm breastfeeding (which means I spend a HUGE part of the day with a baby or machine attached, not to mention the time spent washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts. Can I say - I am SOOOO over it.)
I really would love to go "cold turkey" on the processed food. But that can take a lot of effort and time...that I don't have. However, I *do* try to minimize it. The tricks I have to do this are pretty simple:
1. Change WHAT you eat
2. Change HOW you shop
Let's go through a few examples.
Example #1: Breakfast
Option 1: Homemade oatmeal. Frugal factor: great. Health factor: good. Time factor: medium.
Option 2: Homemade bread. Frugal factor: great. Health factor: good (depends on what you put on it). Time factor: higher than oatmeal, because you have to make the bread and it needs toppings.
The toppings can make or break you here: butter, homemade jam, peanut butter, almond butter, cheese, eggs.
Option 3: Homemade granola. Frugal factor: medium (it's the nuts). Health factor: medium (depends on what you put on it). Time factor: medium (you have to make it).
Option 4: Cold cereal. Frugal factor: medium to low. Health factor (varies). Time factor: great.
Lately, I've been going with option #4. We eat Kellogg's Raisin Bran and buy it at the big box store. We get 4 lb for about $9 and it lasts two weeks. That means that breakfast for the adults costs $18 every 4 weeks, plus the cost of milk (which is about 12 oz per day). It's processed. But you know...it's easy and not too bad for you. The ingredients list is rather small. So trick #1: I choose a cereal that has fewer ingredients and #2 I buy it in bulk.
Example #2: Snacks
Option #1: Salty snacks: pretzels, crackers, chips. Buy them. Frugal factor: poor. Health factor: poor. Time factor: great.
Option #2: Salty snacks: make your own. Frugal factor: great. Health factor: bad to good, depending on what you put in them. Time factor: poor. I keep thinking about trying to make my own crackers. I just...don't.
Option #3: Salty snacks: eat nuts. And, low salt or no salt if you can. You still get the crunch.
Option #4: Salty snacks: eat baby carrots and storebought hummus.
Option #5: Make your own hummus and make carrot sticks.
Option #6: Sweet snack: Buy yogurt cups - expensive and they usually have sugar
Option #7: Sweet snack: Buy big tubs of yogurt (plain) and add fruit - healthier but a little bit more labor intensive
Option #8: Sweet snack: Make you own yogurt - much cheaper but a lot more work.
Almost any time you are going to try and save money by "making your own", you are going to add time. Almost any time you are going to try and get healthier by making your own snacks, you are going to add time. If you want to SAVE time by buying healthier snacks, you are going to pay more. So my method: Trick #1: I choose to eat plain, unprocessed foods. Trick #2: When possible, buy in bulk (I buy carrots in the 2lb bag).
If you are living a life right now of unhealthy processed food and want to get to less processed food, I think it's useful to try and do it slowly.
As much as I'd love to make my own crackers, it just isn't happening. So I buy a box of crackers now and then, and I buy a tub of hummus and a 2lb bag of carrots every week.
I peel and cut my own carrot sticks. And MOST of my snacks are carrots and hummus, plain yogurt and fruit, nuts, and plain fruit. I'd LOVE to eat fruit salad...kiwi, pineapple, strawberries. You know what I do eat? Apples, bananas, and tangerines from my tree. Frozen mango or blueberries in my yogurt.
The advantage to this is that it's REALLY easy to throw 3 pieces of fruit into my bag in the morning. Yeah, it's a bit more work to make carrot sticks out of a pound of carrots (which doesn't even last two days). But they taste better than baby carrots.
I'd also LOVE to eat composed salads of many ingredients. What do I actually eat? Lettuce, olive oil, vinegar, and whatever else is around (olives, cheese, fruit, nuts).
I'd LOVE to shop around for the best price on quality produce...broccoli when it goes on sale for $1 a pound, asparagus for $2 a pound. What do I really eat? The pre-cut broccoli florets from Trader Joe's at $2.29 for 12 ounces. I microwave for a few minutes, and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Weekends are spent making a bunch of big meals (from scratch, and from the CSA produce). Weekdays, when we run out of produce, it's on to the frozen vegetables and whatever I pre-made over the weekend.
I COULD be eating more frugally. I COULD be eating more healthfully. I COULD be eating more simply. But I have to balance the three. My husband teases me that sometimes I seem to be trying to eat local, organic, on a budget, and all from scratch...well, I DID try to do that before baby #2 came along. NOW, I don't even bother. I've given in at breakfast with the boxed cereal, but I am now sticking to fruit and vegetables and nuts for snacks.