A recent study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that although junk food was found to be cheaper per calorie, healthy foods (foods from specific food groups whose nutritional values fell below a maximum amount of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium) were cheaper by portion size and weight. In other words, it costs less to put healthy food on your plate than junk food when you adhere to serving sizes.
Here’s an example. According to this Mark Bittman column, four “complete” meals from the leading fast food restaurant cost just under $30. But you can easily feed four-to-six people with a roast chicken, vegetables, salad, and milk for under $14. Choose a meal of rice and beans instead, and your total bill goes down about $5 more.
You might think, “that’s all well and good, but it still feels like junk food is cheaper and easier to put on the table. Why is that, and what can I do about it?”. In a country whose obesity-related medical expenses already cost $147 billion per year, that is one of the billion dollar questions.
The answer is complex. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless.
Here are some steps we can take now to curb the ever-widening effects of our “junk food” culture:
Ignore Manipulative Food Marketing: Fast food companies alone spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009, and the Food and Beverage industry as a whole has done a pretty good job convincing consumers that the foods they sell are cheap, convenient, and tasty.
It’s important to recognize that the tactics used are just that – ways of enticing you to buy products. Their bottom line doesn’t care if you enjoyed your burger after you bought it, or if it caused you to gain weight. But, your body cares, and who would you rather listen to?
Banish the Fast-Food Habit: Sixty years ago food was less plentiful and more expensive than it is today. Now, in part because of the overabundance of food, Americans dine out about five times per week. We have to reverse this trend. Our bodies do not need large portions of oil-saturated foods, a staple in many fast food restaurants.
We can also get more comfortable saying “no” to our kids, who sadly, are unfair targets of manipulative marketing. We need to show them that grilled chicken and potatoes can taste just as good as chicken nuggets and fries.
Know Your Options: Healthy food can be cheap and convenient too; it just takes a little more knowledge and forethought than ordering a Value Meal. The cost of organic produce and $5 loaves of hearty whole-grain bread (vs. $2 white loaves) can be discouraging, but buying store brands and in-season produce, and taking advantage of coupons and sales can help keep costs low.
Embrace substitutions. Less expensive, conventionally grown foods can still be healthy, and brown rice is an alternative whole grain that costs under $1 per bag. Take 10 minutes to plan your trip to the store, and you can be in and out in less time than it would take for you to wait in a drive-thru line. Plus, you’ll have a smaller tab!
Get Cooking: Americans are watching more cooking shows, but spending less time in the kitchen. What’s wrong with this picture? There is a misconception that cooking takes lots of time and skill. Stock “staple” items, such as rice and beans, chicken breasts (which freeze well), and spices. Also, invest in a good knife and large cutting board, and use the Internet to find healthy and easy recipes you can prepare in 15-minutes or less.
If you have time to watch your favorite TV show, you have 15 minutes to prepare dinner for your family. Try it for a month and see if your bills and your belt stay a little tighter.
Courtesy of jcburrou.hubpages.com
We don’t like to hear that healthy food is cheaper than junk food because it gives us one less excuse to eat junk. While it’s easy to go out and eat 5,000+ calories a day, our bodies simply can’t handle that lifestyle, even with exercise. Our choices impact the quality of our lives, and it’s up to us to embrace a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t include junk food products.
Do you think it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget? What challenges have you faced in providing healthy meals for your family, and how have you overcome them?
Last week, my daughter helped her preschool teacher pronounce the word “quinoa.” She has no clue what Lucky Charms taste like.
Photo courtesy of Paxton Holley
She doesn’t beg me to buy her gummy snacks or potato chips when we go shopping because they are not a part of her world.
But when she starts first grade in another year, her school cafeteria will offer her chocolate and strawberry milk. In another handful of years, she’ll have her own allowance money, and she’ll be confronted with vending machines loaded with unhealthy snacks, strategically located in kid-friendly places. And of course, a vast array of junk food and sugar-laden cereals are located at her eye-level in the grocery store.MORE
Halloween is fast approaching, and frankly, the thought of all the candy my four-year-old and twin two-year-olds are going to haul into the house is making me break out in hives.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Halloween. But the holiday is so focused on trick-or-treat fare that I dread the candy battles my daughter and I will have over her stash. In previous years, we were able to give away or throw out a significant amount of her loot. This year, she’s four, and much more aware of what’s going on around her.
Which brings me to this video, which is generating a lot of buzz on the interwebs this week.
This is an Australian PSA, created to address the childhood obesity epidemic.
Here’s what I think:
It’s dark and it’s chilling. This PSA is not easy to watch. But I think that’s exactly what its producers were aiming to accomplish.
It’s flawed. The hamburger is not necessarily the enemy. The boy is eating a fast-food burger, complete with “sesame-seed bun,” but as fellow Midtown member Christina LeBeau said in her post on this topic on Spoonfed, her awesome and Jamie Oliver-recognized blog that focuses on educating kids about food, “there’s a world of difference between a fast-food burger and a homemade pastured burger.” I would have liked to see the boy eating a doughnut, candy bar, or other sugar-laden snack, since the addictive qualities of white sugar are on par with that of cocaine.
It achieved its goal because it made me think about the childhood obesity epidemic in this country, and exactly why it exists. The answers are myriad and complex and I don’t pretend to know them all. But I do know this:
One third of children and teens are now overweight or obese.
The food served in school cafeterias is loaded with calories, fat, and processed beyond recognition in many cases. Schools nourish students’ minds with knowledge, and yet serve them food so unhealthy it’s making them ill. Kids turn on the tv, flip open a magazine, and walk into grocery stores, and are targeted by ads trying to sell them food that is literally killing them.
And there’s also the widespread idea that junk food is somehow “owed” to kids. That to moderate treats is to zap all the fun out of childhood.
But this is a different world than the one in which we grew up. The health climate is much more perilous. Our food has been drastically changed for the worse by the addition of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, food dyes, hormones, and toxic chemicals. Kids and adults are more sedentary than they were even 10 years ago. And numerous studies have proven that junk food is highly addictive.
So yes, this video is disturbing and extreme, but I believe there is a connection between the negative effects of unhealthy food and those from using drugs.
Two news stories about kids and nutrition have caught my eye recently.
The first article reported the findings of a Yale University study in which it was discovered that children found snack foods with pictures of popular cartoon characters on the front of the package tastier than the same foods packaged without the characters. Obviously, Shrek, Dora, and their pals have a powerful influence over kids that extends beyond their television choices, and the results of this study are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of these character images appear on junk food and not on healthier choices, making it difficult for parents to encourage good nutritional choices.
The second article told of a possible lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of a consumer-advocacy group. The group is charging that McDonald’s deceptively markets toys to children via its Happy Meals, which leads to kids nag their parents to take them to McDonald’s, where the food is less-than-healthy.
I’ve written here before about my strong dislike of the garbage food available to kids in restaurants and school cafeterias.
But I’m torn regarding my feelings about the study and the lawsuit. I believe that ultimately parents have the most influence over what their children do and don’t eat. Children cannot drive themselves to fast-food restaurants, and they can’t pay for their meals. Kelloggs, Nabisco, and other food-industry giants are in the business of marketing and selling their products. We make the choices over what we buy for ourselves and our families and what we don’t.
But I also find more than a little disturbing expensive marketing campaigns blitzing children with alluring messages that use their favorite characters to entice them to buy something that’s not good for them. Kids should be able to watch television or play a game on the Internet without being bombarded with food ads whose intent they don’t understand.
And do the majority of consumers know what’s really in their food, or understand how to read a food label? I haven’t been inside a McDonald’s in over 10 years because I know how unhealthy their food is, but even I was surprised (not to mention disgusted) to read this week that Chicken McNuggets (incidentally, the main course in one of only two ”healthier” Happy Meals that McDonald’s pledged to advertise to children younger than 12) actually contain an “anti-foaming agent” found in Silly Putty. Interestingly, Chicken McNuggets in the UK do not contain this delicious-sounding chemical.
Do you think it’s parents or the food industry (or both) who shoulder the responsibility for the childhood obesity epidemic and related health problem crisis we have in this country?
Is the pending lawsuit against McDonald’s a frivolous waste of court time, or is it an important step toward corporate accountability?