Excuses about healthy meals costing more time & money are bunk

Today, at another blog I work for there was a bit of a comment war surrounding food, which fits right in with my whole childhood obesity and healthy lifestyles series.

The argument? I stated that I hate seeing parents feed their kids crappy food day in and day out. A few other people got upset and said the following:

  • Don’t judge. you should consider that when parents feed their kids junk food, it’s because it’s just what they can afford…. It’s EXPENSIVE to buy fruits and vegetables, much less organic.
  • Don’t judge parents just because it’s cheap to buy processed meals that serve everyone for just a few dollars.”
  • There are many low income areas where healthy food aren’t available. But, McDonalds is a block away and has hot food that everyone enjoys and it’s quick too.”
  • Education surrounding food takes time and motivation and often money. You’re jumping to the conclusion that low-income = lazy.
  • It takes too long to make a healthy meal.
  • There have been many links between socioeconomic class and junk food and it’s not always due to lack of information.”

I’m too poor to give my child healthy meals? 

If in fact being low-income was a criteria for poor parenting, and serving up fast food daily, then I’d be screwed. I work full time as a freelance writer, which may sound all glam, but trust me, I’m not rolling in dough.

Since I’m freelance, I don’t get awesome perks like company-paid health care, sick days or anything like that. I pay out of pocket for my son’s and my own health care and we’re talking hundred and hundreds of dollars a month. It’s insanely expensive.

I also pay for private school for my son, which isn’t cheap. Then there’s all the typical bills like rent, water, electricity and so on. Plus, on top of all this, I’m a single mama and I get absolutely zero child support.

In spite of all of this, I do buy a majority of our food organic and I do serve my son healthy meals. What’s that about?

We all make choices

My priorities are few. Have enough money to live simply, pay for private school and health care and feed my child in a healthy, green manner.

Now, although it may sound like I make bank, considering I buy mostly organic, health care and send my son to private school, that’s not exactly true. I’m not dirt-poor, or rich. I’m making a living, but it’s not like we have a ton of extra money laying around after bills. The ONLY reason we can afford the stuff we afford is because I make our choices priority before other stuff.

We don’t have cable or go to movies. Unlike most kids his age, my son doesn’t have a cell phone or his own laptop. We rarely eat out and we shop for clothes at thrift stores before buying new. We don’t take vacations or buy new books or tons of holiday gifts for people. We make sure to turn off the heat and lights when we don’t need them and try not to waste food.

If need be, I’ll even work more hours in a month to be able to afford what I consider priority.

Our lives don’t suck or anything (you don’t need cable for fun). We buy a few board games a year and play together a lot. We do art projects, go hiking and attend free events when they come to town. We’re not living badly, we’re just living on a super, no-room to spare, tight budget. Do I wish we had more money? Sure, that always makes life a bit easier. Do we need a ton more – not really.

The argument doesn’t hold up

There are people living with very few funds. I know that. However, I’m not talking about the extreme situations. The people I hear say, “Organic and healthy are too expensive” are seldom those living with almost no money.

The people I know who say eating healthy is too expensive have cable TV and two parent families where one doesn’t work. I know families who have a ton of money, as in triple what I make in a year, and they still say eating healthy takes too much time and costs too much so they feed their kids cheap fast food 5xs a week.

Back when food stamps were actually paper, I knew families who would complain about high food costs even as they traded their food stamps for beer and cigarette money. I know many families who put material goods before healthy food. I even know families where parents won’t take a job they feel is beneath them – so what if it feeds your kid?

Again, we all make choices. People are for sure allowed to make their own choices, but there’s a false sense of “Healthy is too costly” going around when in reality, healthy food is simply a choice the person chooses not to make.

I’d maybe buy the whole healthy food is too expensive argument, if I quit seeing so many families who always have soda and chips in the house. If fewer families had cable, 5 cell phones, cigarettes and new sports equipment it would go a long way towards convincing me that people really are too poor for healthy food.

As for the time issue…

If I hear, “Healthy meals take too much time” one more time I’ll scream. As pointed out in my New Year’s goal, I’m short on time, but I always make time to feed my child well. In the time it takes to run to the fast food joint any family could whip up something healthier and likely for the same amount of money.

Coming up, I’ll post some examples of homemade meals that are healthier than fast food meals, cost less and are not time consuming.

Do you honestly believe that healthy meals cost more and take more time than processed meals and fast food? Tell me in the comments.

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  1. Stacey says

    Beautifully said! I get so angry when I see obese children eating fast food or toddlers who don’t know any better. I left my $80,000 per year job with insurance after my 3rd child was born so i could nurse and attachment parent her in addition to being involved in my other 2 kids schooling. we are starting the New Year with a Paleo diet for me and my hubby and gluten and casein free for the kids as I’m tired of taking them to the doctor for yet another rash, infection, etc. We buy mostly organic and rarely eat out. In fact my kids do not like fast food. They are not allowed to have pop and don’t ask for it. Juice is a treat. It cost a fortune to buy cereal, fruit bars, roll up etc and none of it is good for your child. Make them some eggs in the morning. $2.50 for a dozen free range or $3.50 for organic can feed one child all week! If you eat well, your child won’t have constant sugar crashes where they need more carbs. Wild rice is super cheap and great for kids. We don’t have cable tv, we have one car, we bought a smaller house, we don’t go to expensive amusement places, we just have fun with nature. Anyone can afford organic and healthy if they make the right choice.

  2. Laundry Lady says

    I think it’s important not to see healthy eating as an all or nothing proposition. In an ideal world, we would buy all of our produce organic. But that simply isn’t within our budget. Most organic foods cost double or trouble their traditional counterparts in our area. We already don’t have cable, we have to very old cars and one cheap-pay-as-you-go cell phone. I’m focused on eliminating most packaged products. (My husband is still used to his Oscar Meyer turkey sandwiches which gross me out, but it’s a compromise). I buy local produce whenever possible since prices are the same or lower and they generally have fewer pesticides than those transported long distances. I grow as much organic produce as possible in my summer garden. I make almost everything from scratch and “junk food” is a rare treat. My daughter rarely drinks juice (I sometimes made an exception during apple cider season) and I don’t think she’s ever had soda. I’ve also eliminated most traditional toiletry products like shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturizer as well as most household cleaners and replaced them with homemade, frugal and green options like baking soda and vinegar, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and others. In some ways the unknown toxins in most makeups and toiletry products bothers me more than the pesticides in foods.
    But it kills me to see parents who don’t even try to buy enough fruits and veggies because they bought into the lie that if they can’t eat organic it’s too dangerous to eat produce at all. Yes, absolutely organic produce is better. But eating fruits and veggies is more important than eating only organic fruits and veggies. I don’t think crackers and fruit rolls ups (even if they are organic) can replace whole foods like fruits and veggies. Like I said earlier, it has to be a compromise sometimes rather than an all or nothing proposition. It’s easier to start with things that same money and then move toward things that cost more.

  3. Jennifer Chait says

    @Laundry Lady – I should write a post about that – the it’s not all or nothing deal. I actually have one post about foods to first buy organic, before spending money on other organics, but I posted it maybe two years ago.

    Healthy eating is not just about organics, and for sure I’d give up organics before I’d give up healthy food in general. However, I still don’t think it’s a stretch to buy the worst pesticide offenders in organic form. For example I don’t always buy organic butter (which is insanely expensive, and we barely use it) and I won’t always buy spices in organic, because I use them in such small amounts. But, I make certain organic foods a priority, like apples and milk for example because my son eats them all the time. I think it’s also really important to buy in season. I know a lot of people who say organic is SO expensive, but sure it is if you’re trying to buy a pound of organic tomatoes in January. My son would love to have organic bell peppers year-round, but obviously that’s not possible.

    I’ll have to look up some research on folks who buy into the whole “If you can’t eat organic it’s too dangerous to eat produce at all” deal. I haven’t met (personally) very many people who believe that if you can’t buy organic, produce is not an option. More I’ve just met people who choose, hands down chips and soda over produce. I’ve also met many more people who think organic is a total sham. After the produce association came out with their whole, eat produce not in organic if you have to campaign, I started wondering how many people really think organic is the only option vs. how many people just don’t want produce. You made some really good points though – I’ll have to re-post about them for sure. I do believe more in healthy than organic, I just personally aim for organics.

  4. Jennifer Chait says

    @Stacey – Thanks for your nice comment! I left a fairly lucrative career option as well, when my son was four, as it was spend time with him or totally commit to work. I’d like the money, but I decided he mattered more. My son doesn’t like fast food either, though at ten years he likes the idea of it (ah, advertising at work). I just tell him no – mainly because it’s a waste, he’s never eaten it when he has gotten it and two, it’s terribly unhealthy compared to other options.

    I think another important point is to raise kids who like whole foods and less expensive choices, which you seem to be doing. I know kids with very expensive tastes when it comes to organics, because they’re so used to overly processed conventional foods. For example, sugary organic cereals and organic chicken nuggets (both costly and not great, even in organic form). My son was raised to be happy with whole, inexpensive foods like bread, apples, veggies and pasta without butter and so on. He likes stuff like cookies and ice cream but he’s fine if we don’t have it too. I think a lot of parents make sure their kids are totally addicted to too much flavor, salt and sugar and then they wonder why their kids won’t eat less expensive, more simple choices.

  5. Laundry Lady says

    For sure it is easier to buy organic produce in season. I shoot for organic on the dirty dozen when I can, but since we have some garden space I’ve been focusing on growing as many of the dirty dozen myself as possible. (obviously not all of them. Celery is notoriously hard to grow, organic or otherwise). That saves money over the high prices on organics in our area. Plus I love the feeling of giving my daughter strawberries I picked just moments before.

  6. Peggy says

    I’m motivated by taste, and from scratch tastes better! However, there are some days when I get home later cause I went shopping or had an appointment. That’s when I might buy a frozen pizza like Newman’s Own (not bad). I like my own crusts and sauce better. But this pizza example is one case where I can say yeah, it does take more time to make your own. Maybe pizza is a bad example since you’re talking about fruits and veggies, but it’s still an example of processed versus homemade.

    The Newman’s Own, which I bought yesterday at Target, was $5.79. To make my own would have probably cost about $7 to do it fancy using red wine in the sauce and good cheese, etc. Not much difference. While the Newman’s Own did the job, it wasn’t very special and I felt kind of guilty for feeding it to my husband. :) In my defense I did make my own caprese salad to go with it!

    There’s just something really special about making your own food. It’s the smells and the process and just doing it exactly the way you want. It seems much more wholesome. It’s more fun to serve food you make yourself versus processed, and you don’t have a cardboard box to deal with. I think it all comes down to planning and using your time wisely. People who work from home like us probably have more time to make things from scratch. Commutes can be killer, plus you can put something in the oven to bake while you work at home. I try not to judge anyone, but I do cringe whenever I see people with entire shopping carts full of nothing but frozen dinners. You CAN make your own roasts, big pots of soup, etc. for much cheaper than eating that stuff.

    All schools should require cooking classes, and we really need to get out of the mindset of the 1950s when processed food was king. I think a lot of this is bad habits passed down from generation to generation.

    You said something about the low income areas and fast food as an excuse that was given. The truth is that some very poor people do live in neighborhoods without grocery stores in walking distance. There are studies on this. I’ve seen poor areas of town where there’s nothing around except fast food or liquor stores. Many of these people can’t afford cars. Yeah, they could take a bus, but I guess I can see how fast food might seem like an only choice to some people. The restaurants also cater to low-income people, offering hamburgers for just $1. More and more, farmer’s markets are opening up in areas like this, but in many parts of the country, farmer’s markets are only available three or four months of the year. The problem of no grocery stores in low-income areas is something that should be tackled by communities.

    @Laundry Lady — Freshly picked strawberries are just about my most favorite thing in the world!

  7. Rachel says

    Not sure if this is common knowledge but some states even allow you to purchase from farmers markets using food stamps! How’s that for awesome!

  8. Jennifer Chait says

    @Rachel – Farmer’s Markets are encouraged to sign up to take food stamps – the USDA have a huge program regarding SNAP that even gives machines to farmers at markets, just so people can buy there. It’s a great program, but one not too many know about (not very publicized). Actually, some Farmer’s Markets take special WIC vouchers too.

  9. Jennifer Chait says

    I actually have a pretty quick homemade pizza recipe. I’ll have to post it at some point. We made a really good Alfredo broccoli pizza homemade. This is one case where with kids it goes faster, because they want their own mini pizza, so they help more. The sauce is the part that takes the longest, but Laundry Lady suggested a crock pot, which would probably work for pizza sauce. I think we did buy a Newman’s pizza once, it tasted good enough, if you’re rushed. I do agree that I’m lucky to work at home, it’s in my favor. Especially with stuff like bread. I used to just mess with it on breaks, since I’m home anyhow.

    I also agree that all schools should offer cooking, but GOOD cooking classes. When I was a kid, my home ec. class made some really terrible stuff, most of which I refused to eat. The community issue is a HUGE one. I’ve read studies on that too. Still, again, while I do understand there are extreme situations, most of the people I know who say that healthy food is too much are mostly people with cars, who don’t live in terrible neighborhood, etc. I think we need a massive re-haul of how we think and what we value. I doubt we’ll do anything (as a country) about low-income communities when middle-class people are complaining. In New Mexico two very low-income areas I knew of, had jam packed community gardens. People from the neighborhood were always in there growing food – I’m not sure why, but the gardens were full of folks who seemed to get that this was their chance to grow some decent food. I think we could use a bigger community garden movement.

  10. Jennifer Chait says

    @Laundry Lady, I’ve never tried to grow celery, but I hear bell peppers are really hard too – which sucks because my son loves them and they’s insanely expensive organic AND they’re on the dirty dozen :( I should still give it a whirl.

  11. Laundry Lady says

    My pepper plants that I started from seed didn’t do too well (I don’t have a nice sunny window to start seeds in). But a friend gave me two plants that did pretty well. You can always start by buying plants from a trusted source and then using seeds later.

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