While talking with a friend recently, the conversation turned to meal planning. She shared with me something I found surprising: when she planned her menus, she spent more money than when she didn’t plan. She explained that by thinking ahead and preparing healthy sides for her family dinners, it increased her grocery bill. They were buying good food that they normally wouldn’t eat.
In our modern society, Americans spend on 10 percent of our income feeding ourselves, down from 20 percent in the 1950s.1 This made me think; should saving money be the most important goal of grocery shopping and meal planning? Or should one of our primary goals be to feed our families nutritious foods, including organic produce and grass-fed meat and dairy, even if it costs more than we’ve budgeted in the past? What’s worth the money and what isn’t worth the time? Some things to consider before making a grocery list for the next shopping trip:
Cheap or Free Food isn’t Always a Good Deal
Let me say this, even though it flies in the face of the adrenaline-laced world of “super-couponing”: Just because a food item is dirt-cheap or free with coupons doesn’t mean you should necessarily bring it home. Many (though not all) products that are purchased this way are full of empty calories and processed ingredients that don’t enhance our health. Though these food products are okay in moderation, making them a regular part of our diet costs us more in the end and doesn’t fill our stomachs. Great deals can be found, but it’s definitely worth the money to pay more for healthier, whole foods that fuel our family’s bodies and make us feel great.
Buying Local, Organic Food is Healthy for Your Family
Perhaps one of the best investments into your health is to eat whole organic foods, preferably grown by a local farmer. If that isn’t an option, buying organic groceries at your local supermarket is the next best thing. Additionally, planting a garden is an affordable way to put healthy food on the table.
The term “organic” refers to foods produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizers or artificial hormones. Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, like whole grains, vegetables, fruits and raw dairy products. Organic produce has higher levels of polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. Think of it this way: if you eat an organic apple, you get more for your money in the way of nutrition, making the higher price seem not so high after all.
The top choices you should strive to buy organic are the fruits and vegetables on the “dirty dozen” list that contain the highest concentration of pesticides when grown conventionally. These include imported grapes, peaches, potatoes and celery. If you have a limited budget, there are some conventional produce items that are considered safe. You can find a complete list of these items on EWG’s 2010 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides.
Grass-Fed Beef and Pastured Chicken are Wise Choices for your Diet
The meats of beef cattle, chicken and other animals that are grass-fed have higher protein contents because they have been raised eating what they were designed to eat as ruminants – good old grass and hay. They are raised mostly outdoors in humane conditions and allowed to reach prime age without the aid of corn and synthetic feeds. They also offer more “good fats” and less “bad fats.” Dairy and eggs from grass-fed animals have two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids their grain-fed counterparts.2
Michael Pollan’s Book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” offers much insight and interesting facts about the development of pastured farms and the health benefits of grass-fed animals. To find a U.S. list of pasture-based farms that raise these animals as well as environmental benefits to this type of eating, visit the EatWild.com State Directory of Farms.
When it comes to our families, we strive to do the best for them in every aspect of life. Choosing healthy, whole foods does all of us a great service both in the present and future. While we may have to adjust our budgets to do so, the investment is incredibly worthwhile.
1Pollan, Michael (2007). The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
2EatWild.com, Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products, accessed May 23, 2010.