Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Notes on the unemployment diet

I'm on the unemployment diet, I have joked to my friends. Eating out is out. Staying in is, for better or worse, in.

During the last three months I've been acutely aware as to how discretionary spending does or does not impact they way we eat. I've been guilty far too many times recently, in trying to save money, of eating leftover bagels or treats in the breakroom instead of a "real" lunch on days when morning meetings prohibited me from carrying my meal.

I've realized how too easy it is to fall into eating traps and why it's so easy for those who are poor to become obese.

Simply, it's cheap to eat crap. For $1, I can buy a burger at McDonald's, which has protein and some carbs. Or I can buy a box of processed macaroni and (powdered) cheese. Or, I can spend $1 on an apple, which does have fiber but will largely burn off quickly. Two dollars will buy a package of hot dogs or 1/2 pound of cheese.

Granted, snacks become an equalizer. I can spend $2 on a pound of baby carrots, or $2.50 on a bag of potato chips these days. But what if you're in an area where fresh produce isn't accessible? Many impoverished areas of this country simply don't have great produce available in their stores.

It's sad. You may "save" cash, but you feel worse, as I can attest. I made sure my children ate healthy, but I put myself off to save money. I was exhausted, my blood sugars were erratic and I was cranky.

After about a month of living that way and a visit to my physician, who never even questioned my diet (being a working mom with two little ones was an easy answer), I looked at ways to help myself feel better. And I decided investing in myself was just as important as watching what my kids ate, even if money was tight.

The reality is you still can eat healthy while on a budget. It just takes a little more work.

Sunday, I spent three hours chopping, freezing and cooking food. I made up a week's worth of lunches, made fajita kits, chopped green beans for dinners and freezing and made a homemade dinner. And yes, I was tired of cooking and was thrilled the next night when my husband cooked.

Day to day, it requires a little planning, attention to what's in season and buying what's on sale. We'll shop based on what we get in our weekly CSA share and at the farm stand first, then fill in from there.

  • I may not be able to have dried mangoes or papaya for my daughter's afternoon snack, but she loves apples, blueberries and oranges. In fact, I give her a bag to let her "shop" and select her own fruit and vegetables at some stands.
  • I may not be buying jarred pasta sauces, but I can toss pasta with tomatoes and herbs fresh from our container garden.
  • I may cringe at the cost of baby food, but I can cook and blend my own from the random items in my CSA shares. (And frankly, those are the most gobbled up!)
  • I may go meatless for several days, but we'll also enjoy steak or fish on occasion when we see a good price.

It's work, but I'm starting finally to feel like me again. Who knows, maybe someday I'll feel good enough to drop my Diet Cokes.


Chile said...

I'm glad you figured out that poor nutrition was leading to exhaustion. It does take more work to hunt down the sales on healthier options and to work with a lot of fresh food, but, on the other hand, you gain more energy from eating right. And, hopefully in the long run, you keep some of the chronic diseases at bay. Treating them is far more expensive and time-consuming than eating healthy now!

JessTrev said...

It's definitely more work to cook and eat well. Hear, hear, and I am glad your DH cooked the next night! Some of my kids' healthy faves are dirt cheap (black beans, yes) and some are not (freeze dried organic strawberries, ah, no) -- love your idea to have an assortment of available stuff and let them "shop" -- I have never been organized enough but am thinking I may prep a lot of little containers of veggies in the beginning of the week (carrots cukes etc) at least enough for a couple days and let my DD pack parts of her own lunch, letting her choose. Good luck figuring out how to stay sane and healthy at the same time.

Robbie said...

Mammabird, why not let them pickout lunch items at the store or farmers market? (Do you want carrots or cukes this week?) We let our kids pick out morning cereal, why not empower them to pick out healthy choices?

By the same vein, let them help with meals. Yes, it's far messier, but it's great for them to be part of the family "team" early on. Even a toddler can help snap beans and wash produce. I just hope yours don't take to the habit of trying to wash veggies in the bathroom like mine!!!

EcoBurban said...

I am guilty of the same, eating leftover scraps at lunch rather than packing an entire meal. However, I am always making sure my kids have this huge, nutritous lunch. Lately I have improved me breakfasts, but now need to work on my lunches. Thanks for the reminder that moms need to eat well too!

Robj98168 said...

I get so upset when I hear you mommies are not eating right. Now Stop that this minute- you eat right or else!