Tell me if this sounds like you, “I’d like to eat healthier, but I can’t afford to.” Or, “People who care about healthy food are snobs.” If you’ve thought this before, you’re not alone in this type of thinking. It’s easy to buy into both of these perceptions because they’re perpetuated by the media, advertisers, and people around us. But I’m here to burst this collective bubble – these two beliefs are not true.
We are conditioned to believe that cooking nutritious foods from scratch costs a lot more than buying takeout and ready-made meals. Some have even argued that following the new Canada’s Food Guide (the one that encourages half your plate consisting of veggies and also eating more plant-based proteins), is a privilege reserved for the wealthy. They like to trumpet the idea that people on low incomes can only afford or access highly-processed foods, while the healthy alternatives are out of their reach. I beg to differ!
As an example, take my recipe for Mediterranean Quinoa Veggie Bowls, which is a hearty veggie-packed lunch or dinner. Buying the ingredients for this meal from a local Etobicoke discount grocery store costs $3.58 per bowl. Less than five bucks for a nutritious and filling meal. You can’t beat that! A similar bowl (with fewer ingredients mind you) at Freshii costs $9.49. And a Big Mac will run you $6.09 (plus the additional fee of feeling not so great afterwards).
So, it is possible to eat healthily for less than the price of a fast food burger, ready-made meal, or takeout food. It just takes some planning and effort that’s well worth it for your health and your family’s health in the long run.
And eating “healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a vegan either if that’s not for you. You can make a lot of inexpensive meals with meat, fish, and poultry. Especially if you treat animal-based protein as flavouring as opposed to the star of the dish. A little bit of meat in a stew or curry, for instance, can go a long way.
People have definite ideas about what affordable dining looks like. Eating something like mushroom and spinach risotto seems like it belongs in a fine-dining establishment and not something you’d eat on a tight budget. While this meal may sound fancy, it’s made with simple real food ingredients – rice, mushrooms, and spinach. Bam! A lot of the traditional recipes that are good for us actually have humble beginnings – they were developed over time by peasants and, funny enough, people on a tight budget. Necessity is the mother of invention as the saying goes.
The second common perception is that to care about healthy food makes you a snob. Serving people real food on plates is seen as elitist and unattainable for lower-income people. Even super-wealthy celebrities like to spread this belief through their boasts about eating cheap fast food (think Donald Trump and the Kardashians). They splash images of themselves eating fast food burgers on social media because it makes them appear relatable (which serves as a good PR move for them, no doubt!).
I’m not sure how this belief got started or who it serves, but it’s bogus to think it’s “snobbish” of you to want to treat your body well (since you are what you eat after all). And you’re not an elitist if you opt for the fresh fruit bowl and say no to the box of doughnuts your colleague brought in to work. You are taking a courageous stand for us all by supporting a better-quality food environment. One that will, bit by bit, create healthy benefits for everyone in your community, no matter their socio-economic status.
The government and society as a whole can do a lot more to improve affordability and accessibility to good-quality food. However, in the meantime, it’s not necessary to be a hapless victim of this food system. Vote for a better one for us all using your food dollars.
Now, I can hear what you’re thinking, it’s not so much about the cost for me, I just don’t have the time, and frankly, junk food (though I know it’s bad for me) tastes so good! These two factors are at the crux of the healthy eating issue as well. And they warrant a separate look at a later time. Stay tuned for more…
Would you like to be eating healthier but find other things get in your way? Let me know what barriers you face to adopting a healthier eating in the comments section below.