The price of paradise
Following on from a variety of recent articles regarding the high cost of groceries, I have been asked if I can offer a few thoughts regarding how to cope emotionally and financially during this difficult time.
What follows are my personal thoughts and ideas on the matter – some of which you may or may not agree with depending on your current income level, food preferences, and the number of people you are trying to provide for.
I offer this with the hope that it will encourage you to realise that you are not the only one struggling and that there is always something that you can do to stretch your dollar a little further and that (as in many situations) education is your greatest ally – the more you know the more you will be able to find your way through this.
That said, let’s get to work.
To start, you need to think of food as fuel and realise that a small amount of “high quality fuel” is going fill you up faster, keep you feeling full longer (and actually run your body more efficiently).
The problem is there are very different schools of thought regarding what qualifies as “high-quality fuel” when you are on a very limited budget. A glass of freshly squeezed celery juice might be the ideal way to start the day from a nutritional standpoint, but when it takes an entire bunch of celery (at a cost of $4.99) to produce one glass of juice and you need to feed four people, seven days a week, that just isn’t practical.
Instead, work to understand what you can eat that is low in sugar and carbohydrates, high in protein, and calorically dense. You can’t just keep buying overpriced boxes of processed breakfast cereal that leave you hungry again by 10am. You need to find more cost-effective alternatives that offer better nutrition. A boiled egg, for example, might not seem like it would be very filling compared with cereal because of its small size, but it has about 12.5 grams of protein and 9.4 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate, while the cereal is mostly carbohydrates, which are not nearly as satisfying.
In other words, you must start reading nutrition labels and choose not only “healthy” food but the items that are a combination of best quality at the lowest price. Yoghurt, for example, can be found on sale for as low as $1.09 but should you buy it if it is loaded with sugar and has 17 grams of carbohydrates per serving? Or would it be better to buy a large container of whole milk plain yoghurt (at a similar cost per units serving), which only has about 9 carbohydrates but a whopping 16 grams of protein per serving, and flavour it at home with a splash of vanilla or a little bit of chopped fruit?
Next understand that the more a food has been processed the higher the price per serving (and the lower the nutritional value) it usually is, and the more of it that you throw away, the less of a bargain it is. Take chicken for example, if it comes frozen in a box I guarantee you that a big part of what you are paying for are bones, water, preservatives and packaging. If you buy a whole roasted chicken however, not only can you get eight reasonable servings of meat, you can use the carcass to make delicious homemade chicken soup very inexpensively, which will feed the family for another one to two nights.
Also, keep in mind that when one type of protein seems too expensive you can usually find less expensive alternatives if you really look. As a rule, frozen ground turkey is significantly cheaper than ground beef and just as tasty. The cheapest canned tuna tastes just as good as the pricier brands (and has the same amount of protein) and beans or lentils can add protein to any dish with a sauce when the price of meat is just beyond contemplation. Dried beans, which can still often be found for about $2.50 per bag, offer 7 grams of protein per serving on average as opposed to rice, which is a similar price, has a similar number of carbohydrates, but only offers about 3 grams of protein per serving.
Finally realise that cooking from scratch only seems expensive when you do not have a kitchen pantry stocked with basic items (which you can build up a little at a time each week once you understand what to purchase) and only seems time-consuming when you choose the wrong recipes. Spaghetti sauce in a jar might seem convenient but if it is $7 a jar and loaded with sugar and preservatives is it a good deal when you can easily throw a can of chopped tomatoes (at a cost of $1.79) and a few spices from your cupboard in a pot and make a healthier, tastier alternative for far less money?
If you need help finding low-cost recipes, understanding nutritional labels, stocking your kitchen pantry, or shopping on a very limited budget just turn to YouTube. There are literally thousands of videos giving step-by-step instructions for everything from meal planning to grocery shopping and cooking on a very small budget.
The big takeaway is to determine what your priorities are – more protein, less sugar, fewer carbs for example. Then, check every item you buy.
Look at the label before the price. If it is nutritionally acceptable, then check the price. Buy on nutrition first, then on price.
And above all, if you are really not managing to make ends meet sufficiently to feed your family please do not despair and do not suffer in silence. Please reach out to a family member, your church or the Department of Financial Assistance.
Robin Trimingham is the managing director of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a business consultant, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://bit.ly/3nSMlvc or firstname.lastname@example.org