June 12, 2012 • In web :: Features
Eating healthy on a budget
The healthiest I have ever been was in 2008 when an unpaid summer internship plummeted my grocery budget to a hefty $15 a week. I never resorted to ramen noodles; instead I based my meals entirely around vegetables. After my internship, I bumped my budget up to the student rate of $25 a week, and once I started working, it plumped slowly to about $40 a week. The increase didn’t mean I was eating better than I had as an intern. In fact, I realized I was eating worse.
So last summer I challenged myself live through August with only $100 for groceries, harkening back to my poor student days. I wanted to change not only my shopping and eating habits, but also the way I thought about food purchasing. Though I was (and am still) on a tight budget, I was more than aware that it’s a privilege to choose to spend $100 on groceries. Sticking to such a budget or less is a reality for many low-income families and those on social assistance. A strict budget forced me to be meticulous and intentional with my meal planning.
Of course, the deck was stacked in my favour. My downtown apartment is a stone’s throw from a dozen stores and markets, my pantry already had some staples in it, and in August, Product of Ontario produce was everywhere.
Such an experiment in the suburbs or in rural areas would be trickier but not impossible.
For suburbanites on a budget, the challenge is walkability. “Suburbs are built with cars in mind, so for people not able to afford cars, transportation is an issue,” says Sarah Anderson, Acting Director of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto.
For those outside of major agricultural hubs, access to reasonably priced produce is a roadblock. Jennifer Hill, a registered dietician from Vancouver, recalls the high cost of healthy eating growing up in small town New Brunswick.
“You get all your groceries at big box stores, and when something like a green pepper costs $3.99 a pound, you can understand why people aren’t buying them,” Hill says. The cost of food skyrockets when it has to travel long distances to get to you.