Navigating the Grocery Store: An Attempt to Eat Real Food on a Budget
Chips, crackers and other packaged snack foods are always in my cupboards. They're convenient, delicious and there is a low-fat version of every chip, cracker or cookie I could ever want. I'm beginning to realize that equating low fat (and nothing else) with health has been my problem. In my attempts to eat healthy, I wonder if I've been doing just the opposite.
I consider weaning myself off packaged products altogether and eating leafy greens between meals. I'm curious how much money I would save if I stopped stocking my shelves with these products. Two seconds later, I'm back to reality and looking for a box of crackers to snack on. My goal is to find a reasonably low-calorie snack that doesn't list "partially hydrogenated oil" as an ingredient. This proves to be difficult, but I eventually find a box of organic roasted garlic and rosemary crackers that I conclude to be a relatively guilt-less snack.
Wheeling my cart over to the pasta aisle, I find that organic whole wheat pasta is on sale. It's even slightly less expensive than the regular kind, believe it or not. Whole wheat pasta with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, garlic and olive oil is one of my favorite (and easiest) meals to make.
The Frozen Food Aisle
Something tells me I'm not going to have much luck with the microwaveable meals that I've relied on in the past, so I head over to the veggie burgers and meatless meals. As with everything else, I read the backs of the packages and find that some brands seem have more questionable ingredients than others. I've tried many meat-free options in the past and have recently found a brand I love called Dr. Praeger's. The veggie burgers are loaded with vegetables and only ingredients I recognize. I'm a big fan of the taste and hope I've found an inexpensive, healthy staple to my diet.
Moving on to milk, the price difference between organic and nonorganic is obvious—a gallon of fat-free organic milk is $5.99, while regular fat-free milk is $2.49. What's more, the organic nonfat yogurt I buy is exactly double the price of the nonorganic, which is on sale. As I'm reading the labels, I notice the vanilla yogurt has a whopping 26 grams of sugar per cup, while the plain has only 9 grams. I put the vanilla down and pat myself on the back for noticing.
My fridge is already stocked with cheese (my weakness) but I still want to examine the packages. Some of the ingredients in the processed cheeses I have been eating worry me. I'm going to have to find a middle ground between low-fat, processed cheese and high-fat, organic cheese. I fear the answer may be to eat less cheese.
Drinks, Soft Drinks and Juices
I skip this aisle completely. You know what's cheap? Water. A year ago, my sister and I decided that we would stop buying all drink products, other than milk. Drinking water saves me about $25 a month, or $300 a year.
It's more than two hours later, and my cart isn't very full. I didn't spend much, but it's probably because most of what I picked up went back onto the shelf. When all was said and done, I spent $47.19 on foods that were mainly organic, or at least "real" food. Had I dismissed the challenge and gone the cheapest route on my items, I could have saved $5.39. Significant? No. Over time? Yes, but I'm hoping to look for ways to save elsewhere.
Shopping for real food is confusing and time consuming...but, ultimately, rewarding. I'm still new at this, and I'm not going to be perfect, but I'm willing to readjust my habits and look for food that has a positive impact on my health, the planet and the people who work to produce it. I still love cheeseburgers, my mom's meatloaf and hot dogs at baseball games, but if I can make better choices most of the time, I can justify an indulgence every once in a while, right?
How do you think Lynn did at the grocery store? Read Food & Water Watch's critique of her shopping experience. Have you changed your shopping habits after watching Food, Inc.? Share your comments and tips for navigating the grocery store below.
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