Is it possible for a family on a strict budget to eat healthfully?
Several weeks ago, one of my assignments as an RD intern was the task of designing a healthy and affordable menu to feed a family of four under $100 for one whole week for an organization known as Groceryships.
The Groceryships Team is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide additional grocery funds and nutrition education for qualified low-income families, to assist in making healthy food choices.
Since nutritious and high-quality foods are typically more expensive than a full grocery cart of items such as instant noodles or processed foods, this project was quite a challenge.
Are low-income families trapped in the hamster wheel of inexpensive convenience foods that feed them calories but are devoid of nutritional content?
These processed foods are analogous to a quick-fix Band-Aid for energy without thought to long-term health.
So what did I do to solve this challenging dilemma?
- I had to calculate the daily nutrient recommendations that CalFresh uses (assistance program that provides food reimbursements) for a family of 4
- I visited stores like Food 4 Less, Smart and Final, and Walmart to take pictures of price tags to calculate cost per serving of each ingredient in order to price out menu items
- Numerous calculations were then made to determine weekly costs and nutritional analyses of each menu to ensure they met the RDA
So what happened?
On the first try, I went over budget by $81.00. After numerous attempts of adjusting the food and running calculations I was able to adjust the menu down to $86.00 for the week, which met the goal of budget and health.
Here is a glimpse of the 1-week menu:
- Oatmeal with raisins, hard-boiled egg, and milk
- Egg and tomato sandwich on whole wheat bread with apple slices
- Greek yogurt with banana and walnuts
- Brown rice Bowl with beans, broccoli, tomatoes and onion
- Peanut butter and banana Sandwich, with milk
- Roasted Chicken with steamed brown rice and veggies
- Cod fish Fillet, with baked potato and steamed veggies
Life can be challenging in general and trying to figure out healthful cost effective meals might seem impossible given current food prices. However, it is still achievable especially with creative and thoughtful planning.
This blog was co-written by RD intern Nora Ko and Susan Dopart
Side Note: Although this menu meets the budget and RDA for a family of 4, it is lower in protein than recommended in Susan’s blog, especially for those with insulin resistance.