Friday, August 5, 2011

Budget for Food

The Associate Press had an article out today on a study in the journal Health Affairs on the increased cost associated with purchasing food that will satisfy the new American Food Plate guidelines for potassium, fiber, vitamin D, calcium, etc. According to the researchers, getting all of these nutrients in the new amounts will cost each American an extra $380 per year, or $1,520 for a family of four. The AP tries some tips for how to cheaply increase your potassium intake by eating more potatoes and beans, and interviews some public health experts, and makes a great point... deeply buried: "Recent estimates show 49 millions American make food decisions based on cost."

When I first read this article, I was completely ready to do a quick post on cutting your food bill. The standard, garden, eat fresh foods, stop buying junk food, embrace leftovers, plan your meals, shop sales, use coupons, yadda yadda yadda... but there are plenty of these types of articles out there if you look for them. Instead, I was wondering, "What do you do when you've done all of this, and still can't buy food?" While it talks about the money budget, eating fresh foods involves prep time. If I'm working both a full-time and part-time job, do I have time in the budget to chop up vegetables and make a special run to the farmers market?

With over 45 MILLION Americans currently receiving food assistance (no, that's right, about 15% of the population), there is a substantial portion of the population that just can't find extra money for food. Food banks are finding their budgets slashed from federal grants, and state and local sources. So... where WILL Americans find the money to eat well? Especially since a poor diet is often contributing to the chronic diseases that are inflating health care costs? Answer this question, my friend, and I will personally nominate you for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile... if you want to eat more beans to increase your fiber and potassium intake, try my recipe for White Bean Chicken Chili (along with prices):
  • 3 small onions (grown in my garden, bulbs cost 1c/each: $0.03)
  • 4 cups chicken broth (from leftover chicken bones: cost = time)
  • 6 assorted peppers (also grown in garden, with one 50c from farmers market)
  • Half a bag of frozen corn ($1.00 for bag, 50c used)
  • 2 cans of white beans (Great Northern and White Kidney, 60c each)
  • Cumin, tumeric, paprika and other spices from the rack that smell good
  • Half a leftover roasted chicken. ($6.50 in chicken from the free range organic local farmer, but half a grocery store rotisserie chicken will work at $2.50)
  • 2 tomatoes (Grown in garden. If you live in the Midwest in August, at least one of your neighbors is complaining about having too many tomatoes. Steal 2 from them.)

Saute the onions in a little olive oil until they stop making you cry and are a bit translucent. Add chicken broth, diced peppers, frozen corn, beans, and spices. Shread chicken. Add to pot. Let this simmer for 20 minutes. Dice tomatoes. Add, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Eat. Enjoy.

Cost: $8.73. $4.73 if you go cheaply. The big cost with this is time. Time to shop the farmers market for deals, making giant batches of chicken broth, plan a garden, start seeds, transplant, weed, water, and harvest plants. So, make sure you budget for it.

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