Healthy Eating, Healthy Wallet

Healthy Eating, Healthy Wallet

One of the major problems presented to people seeking a healthier lifestyle is the comparison cost for “healthy” foods compared to unhealthy options. When a person walks around the grocery store they look at the various food costs around them, the health foods definitely hit the wallet harder. Throughout this article we are going to examine all the facets of healthier food choices starting with how eating cost have changed in the last few centuries, how we define healthy eating now,  the current costs of healthy eating , and finally we will close with how best to eat in a way that is kind to both our bank accounts and time.

Eating Cost History

In 1776  George Washington’s soldiers “daily ration included a half pint of beans or peas, a pint of milk, a pound of beef, pork, or salted fish (yes, a pound), and a pound of bread, He also received six ounces of butter. It amounted to 3,000-4,0000 calories-more than even many overweight people eat today.”  states Sandra Oliver, a food historian in Isleboro Maine. This food fet a very active lifestyle. It was interesting that despite our relatively much higher level of prosperity they could prioritize so much money towards food. As years have gone on we have begun to live lives that require much less calories than before. In Tobenna D. Anekwe’s article “The economic costs and benefits of healthy eating” Anekwe points out that the price for vending machine foods have dropped by 11% and soda had dropped by about 38% from 1978 -2007 while price of fruits and vegetables has increased by about 18% in the same time period.  Deeper research show that the price increase for fresh fruits and vegetables relates only to preprepared fruits and vegetables such as chopped and packaged fruits, cut and washed bags of spinach, etc. When compared the cost of traditional unprepared vegetables the cost changes where comparable to unhealthy snack options. All food has gotten proportionally cheaper than non food items since 1976. This change means that if you have the exact same lifestyle as in 1976 you are using a smaller part of your budget than you would be in 1976. As a culture the argument that a healthy diet is more expensive is very wrong in some ways but in others it is also very true.

How We Define Healthy Eating

Our definition of healthy eating really matters when look at what our food cost is going to be. When we look at what makes a food healthy we need to look at all the things we are buying. Our food is so much more than the calories in it. We don’t just buy calories we are buying nutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber, type of calorie (fat, carbohydrate, or protein). All these factors come together to define a food healthy status as well as its cost. If we look at simple sugar and flour which both have low cost and are major staples in the standard american diet we are in those circumstances buying only calories. I will of course pay much less to receive much less. There is a spectrum of food quality for all things in a grocery store. Whenever you find an item that is devoid of all but one piece of the equation it will always be much cheaper than another item. Flour with minimal nutritional content is proportionally cheaper than apples, vegetable oil is very cheap while a more nutrient dense fat like olives come with a higher price tag. This can even be seen among fruits and vegetables. An avocado and an orange both have many vitamins and minerals but the avocado is much more expensive (depending on season) because the avocado has between 200-400 calories while the orange holds roughly about 100. Potatoes are cheap for this reason. They are a great source of carbs and some nutrients but not near as many micronutrients as spinach or Kale. We truly need it all. As a culture we don’t have a shortage in calories but a shortage in micronutrients.

Current cost of healthy eating

A Harvard school of public health study found healthy eating to cost roughly $1.50/ day more for unhealthy eating for a 2,000 calorie diet. While this does lead into the belief that healthy eating does cost more it is much less of a bump than people often consider. Forbes recently posted this article showing the cost comparisons for average meals out to eat, using a home cook service (like blue apron), and cooking at home. On average food was 5 times more expensive eating out than cooking at home and 3 times more expensive with a home cook service than cooking at home. With this being said there is a time cost that comes with cooking.

Cooking is Worth It.

Depending on your typical dining out habits now you may potentially save money if you begin cooking at home even if you buy plenty of great produce and good cuts of meat. An argument I often make to people about the time costs of cooking is to not underestimate restaurant and even fast food times. Going to a restaurant, ordering, waiting for them to cook and being served will always cost you more time than cooking will. Even the extra 5-10 minutes it takes to go through the drive through can make a major difference in the time cost of cooking. Cooking skills and food preparation skills can make great eating in a busy weeknight very reasonable. Ever since easy frozen meals and increased ability to eat out has started to grow since the beginning of the 20th century we have lost many of the tips and tricks that made cooking regularly enjoyable and easy. We live in a busier time with many more distractions, but at the same time we live in an amazing time full of good cooking options. We have microwaves, crockpots, pressure cookers and so many amazing gadgets that make cooking easier than it has ever been. It is not wonder that we struggle with healthy eating and food preparation because we have not grown up doing it, it’s not the social norm, and it’s not as easy. Cooking can be easy and enjoyable with practice. Cooking is one of the greatest pleasures of my life and will be the biggest key to my family and I’s health for years to come. I can personally say that our food budget is lower than most and we seem to be eating constantly. I enjoy amazing food and try new experiments regularly. If exercise is how you get stronger, cooking is how you get healthier. Cooking is how you practice making good food choices. I encourage everyone to cook something different today. It will cost a little tv time but relax your more, take a little extra energy at first but energize you. Healthy eating only costs as much as you let it.


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