Money and Eating Nutritiously

War food poster

So I just finished reading this article on NPR, Eating Nutritiously: A Struggle When Money is Scarce, and I must admit to finding myself unimpressed and somewhat distressed.  The article showcases a family of 5, with 2 or 3  additional family members who periodically rely on this family for food.  The article describes how they struggle to feed this family on $600 a month on food stamps, and highlights some questionable food choices made by the adults in the household (soda over milk, allowing ice pops to be breakfast).  While the overall point of this two part article is that many many families are struggling to put food on the table for their family, what I came away with was a WHAT?!? We are a family of 5, with three kids (nearly 15, and twin 11 1/2 year olds), and we typically feed one or two additional kids dinner every other night or so. My food budget is certainly higher than $600/month, but largely that is because we  (a) choose to spend additional money on high quality produce, locally raised meat, and Belgian beer (a luxury that could clearly be set aside if need be), and (b) live in the metro DC area where food costs are high.  We are members of a CSA ($26/week), shop at the farmer’s market weekly (budget varies, but could clearly be tweaked downward if necessary), garden (tomatoes, basil, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and many many herbs – long term investments), and shop at the grocery store once/week (goal is to keep it at $100/month – thank you, Grocery Game).  We eat very well – but that doesn’t mean we eat meat at every meal, instead we make finding new vegetarian meals an adventure for the entire family (red lentils and rice; pasta with homemade pesto, fritatta), soda is considered a luxury item (milk and water go a long way), and we rely on coupons to reduce our out of pocket grocery store expenses. 

I guess what really got me about this article (and I am not alone – the comments on this story are worth reading even if you haven’t read the story!) is that the family has a garden, and yet doesn’t seem to feature the fresh produce in the meals they produce (0f course, I’m not really sure why brussel sprouts were planted…).  Processed and pre-prepared food is the centerpiece of what they consume.  Granted my kids often grip about the soda-less, snack-less focus of our household (except the two loaves of zucchini bread were gone in two days, and the beet and carrot pickles were consumed equally rapidly…and cucumber/tomato salad is the favorite snack of the endlessly growing teenager) – yet, they are healthy, appreciate fresh produce (where did all those blackberries go that I bought on Saturday?), and have an appreciation for well-prepared food.  I don’t know.  I don’t like to sit in judgment on anyone, and I certainly recognize that I am fortunate and blessed to be in a position where I don’t have to seek out where my food is coming from, but this article really did leave me scratching my head.  How can we raise a generation of kids to know what good food is and to recognize how to prepare bountiful meals from what is available if we don’t teach them how?

Oh … and this very cool poster which anchors the blog comes from the USDA exhibit on American Food Posters from World War I and II — but that would require another entry to discuss…

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2 Comments to “Money and Eating Nutritiously”

  1. Great post. I think this is a tough issue and it’s systemic. Part of the problem is that it’s become generational meaning that the parents were likely raised in a similar manner and perhaps the grandparents so it’s not just teaching, it is breaking a cycle. I’m a bit caught up in the Jamie Oliver sensationalism but I think that we have a big challenge and the fact that so many Americans try to spend so little on food is part of it. Your own home sounds like a great place to dine.

  2. Thanks for your comments. This is a tough issue, and after I wrote it, I was wondering if I had been too harsh and insensitive to the many other issues that families in poverty are struggling with. But I think your point about the generational nature of the problem is right on the mark, and it really reinforces my own personal goals to make sure that my kids leave the house ready to garden, shop focused on nutrition, and cook from scratch.

    Thanks for the positive feedback re dining at our house – not every meal is a success or as “exciting” as what I blog about, but we certainly try to make sure that what we prepare is something others would be happy to share in!

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