What would you eat if you had only $6.65 to spend each day?
I was recently introduced to a group of people at Fife House in Toronto – a hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS – where I learned that this is the average amount a resident has to spend on food each day.
When I work with clients, budget is rarely a concern. Eating load of fresh vegetables, healthy grains and lean protein is the focus. But what if you have less that $7 a day as a food budget? Is it even possible to eat healthily?
I think so. But it's a challenge.
These challenges are the focus of two Fife House programs aimed at raising money and awareness. On April 23, A Taste for Life involves a long list of participating restaurants that will donate a portion of their proceeds to Fife House. And two weeks ago, a group of Fife House staff and Torontonians put their money where their mouths were and joined the Thrive $6.65 Challenge. Volunteers attempted to stay within that budget for one week and blogged about the experience.
It all set me to thinking: How would my usual healthy eating advice stack up for someone on a fixed income? And what if that person's health is already compromised and they could especially benefit from better nutrition?
When I think about having to stick to a $6.65 daily budget, I realized that some of the "staples" that I take for granted would be immediately on the line, including coffee, extra virgin olive oil, fresh raw vegetables, cheese and wine.
But I am determined that everyone can and should strive for healthier eating, no matter what their financial or health status. So here are some tips for all of us:
Use the freezer
· Batch cook: Chicken legs are cheap, and a slow cooker is your best friend.
· Use frozen mixed vegetables in soups and stews; buy large bags.
· Freeze the above creations in single serving sizes so meals are ready when you are.
· Buy large bricks of cheese on sale. Choose a variety that is over 35 per cent milk fat, grate it and freeze.
· Buy in-season fruits and vegetables and freeze on cookie sheets, then store is freezer bags.
· Milk bags make excellent freezer bags. Cut off the tops, rinse and let dry. Use an elastic to secure.
Pick storage-friendly items
· Onions, cabbage and carrots are affordable and nutrient-dense, and store easily.
Hunt for produce
· Shop for fresh greens at Asian markets if you can; they are very versatile.
· Scan the reduced-price bin. Some of the produce that ends up there was on the regular shelf just seconds earlier, but a new delivery arrived.
Choose dense proteins
· Eggs are powerful, nutritious protein.
· Learn how to soak and cook dry beans. They are even less expensive than canned ones.
· Lentils don't need to soak. Red ones can be added to white rice for nutrients and fibre.
· Oatmeal with peanut butter is cheap and filling, but don't be tempted by sugar-filled oatmeal packets. The price is double and what you're paying for is sugar.
Watch your inventory – and use everything
· Buy smaller amounts from bulk stores, especially dry goods. Don't keep money tied up in inventory.
· Beet and carrot tops and broccoli stalks are all edible and nourishing.
· Rethink what you toss away. Bones, onion skins and trims as well as celery and carrot can be used to make nourishing soup.
Eating healthy doesn't have to cost a lot. It may be difficult, but a little planning goes a long way.