Honestly? Eating healthy is hard work and not cheap.

I have to admit that I always get a little irritated when health experts come out and lecture people on how cheap and easy it is to eat healthy food. “An apple only costs 90 cents!”

Over the last six months, I have gradually overhauled the contents of my household’s pantry and fridge. This started when my mother was diagnosed with diabetes, and recently culminated in my husband and I participating in the current I Quit Sugar program.

Gone are the boxes of ‘healthy’ cereals and muesli, blocks of chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, store-bought biscuits, muesli bars, even canned soups. When I sat down and actually looked at the ingredients and the sugar content of these items, I was horrified.

They have gradually been replaced by homemade muesli, homemade sugar-free chocolate treats, muffins and cakes, homemade granola slices, full-fat and unsweetened dairy, homemade stock, nuts and seeds, good quality meat, eggs, sourdough bread, fruit, and masses of vegetables. It has not been a quick process, and has involved a lot of reading and learning on my part. No doubt it will also continue to change and evolve as we continue to learn.

However, there is one thing that I have been acutely aware of throughout this process, which is: I am very lucky and privileged to be in a position to make these lifestyle changes. A big motivator for moving towards wholefoods was to save money, as we welcomed our second baby earlier this year. We knew that once I returned to work part time, we would be paying childcare fees for two children, on less income. Making healthier food choices seemed like a good way to reduce our grocery bill.

But I soon found that eating healthy is expensive too. Although I am now starting to see some savings appear in my grocery budget, this has only been possible because for the last six months I have had access to three important resources:

  • Capital: Having a little extra money to begin with was critical, in order to buy ingredients in bulk and at their cheapest. Foods like nuts, seeds, oats and other pantry staples, toiletries and cleaning products, even meat from local butchers who charged less when a higher quantity was purchased. Although we try to grow herbs and vegetables in our tiny garden, it did cost a bit initially to set the garden up, purchase fertiliser and seedlings (plus they don’t grow instantly! And our veggies aren’t always very successful…).
  • Space: Not only space to store all these in-bulk non-perishable items, but importantly, freezer space. I am lucky to own two fridge-top freezers and a large deep freezer, to store meat, baked items, cooked legumes, purees, vegetable off-cuts (for stocks), litres and litres of vegetable, chicken and beef stock, vegetables, fruit, and cooked meals. Each freezers is full. Freezing food has been a big part of the IQS program, and I have wondered whether everyone has had the space to manage it.
  • Time: Although I’ve been busy running around after a toddler and a baby, fortunately it has mostly been at home, while on leave. It means that I can have a chicken stock ticking over on the stove-top during the day, or boil up millions of chickpeas for the freezer. I can bake. I can prepare fresh lunches, and steam and puree vegetables for the littlest one. I can also head to the market during the week when it’s quieter, to buy fresh produce. I have the time to sit down and think about meal-planning and grocery lists.

These might seem like simple factors, but they are crucial, because so many people do not have access to all three, and sometimes, don’t have access to any of them. Families on lower incomes may have limited funds, less storage space, and less time. Some parents have to hold down multiple jobs to support their families. They don’t have the time to boil legumes and make stock. Many live week to week and don’t have the money to buy three kilograms of meat in order to receive the reduced rate – and might not have the freezer space for it anyway.

My point is not that I think people should give up and not eat healthy food. It’s that I believe our society doesn’t actually support people in real and practical ways to eat healthier food, especially those with limited means. The Big Food Industry goes to great lengths to trick consumers about the contents of their over-processed food. Farmers and producers have to jump through hoops of red tape to have their products certified as organic, which pushes the price up and makes buying organic impossible for people on a budget. At the moment, my local supermarket is selling family meat pies and frozen pizzas for $4 a pop, and 1kg bags of apples for between $4.50 and $7. If I were a struggling parent, overworked, underpaid and short on time, I know what I’d go for.

My sister does earn enough money to buy healthier food, but she doesn’t have the time or space to manage it effectively, and even if she did, she is simply not bothered by cooking or food. She eats to fill a hole, and would rather be out socialising than at home cooking, which is fair enough. But she should then be able to trust that the prepared meals she buys from the supermarket, tagged with the ‘healthy’ labels, will actually benefit her body.

I don’t have the solution to this. While education and awareness of healthy eating is crucial, I also believe that as many people are simply unable to find more money, time or space; food manufacturers need to take greater responsibility (totally pie in the sky, I know!). They need to truly value the health of consumers, and provide products that are genuinely nutritious, honest and affordable. Health professionals and educators need to consider the real and practical needs of individuals and families, and perhaps move away from promoting expensive super-foods, in favour of affordable produce. We are seeing a renewed public interest in health foods – so I hope that this influences change at a broader public health level and in the food industry.

4 Comments

  1. theskintlife says:

    It is very expensive! I’m concerned, as I’m going to university in a few weeks and have a very small amount to live off, as well as a tiny ‘kitchen’. It’s going to take so much time to try to plan meals in a budget conscious way, plus I’ve only got a hob (no oven for roast vegetables!) I don’t know how I’m going to do it…

    • Erin says:

      Oh wow, that is a challenge! Sounds like it might be something you could blog about? Tips and tricks along the way? πŸ˜‰

      • theskintlife says:

        I’ll definitely give it a go, but I don’t think my food will look nearly as appetizing as yours does! The paleo rice and fish and chips are making me so hungry right now…

      • Erin says:

        Oh that is so lovely of you, thank-you! Looking forward to following your adventures ☺️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: