Posts Tagged ‘health’

Food for the Soul

I’ve been preoccupied with food as of late.  More specifically, food quality.

All of the horror stories about melamine-enhanced, petroleum-based and exploding food combined with my increasing discomfort with manipulating food into foodstuffs, makes me glad we switched, albeit gradually, to mostly organic and local foods in the past several years. It has been one-by-one: first fruits and veggies (like the dirty dozen), then, as our research unearthed more tangible health problems caused by horrendous industrial farming practices, CAFOs, additives, synthetic dyes, and other such manipulations, we switched to organic dairy and local and organic meat.

There are hundreds of reasons to switch to local and organic food.

The hard part: affording it.

I’ve said it before, and it hasn’t changed: we are a one (woman’s) income family of 4. Our grocery bill has expanded with everyone elses, and our income hasn’t caught up. There are a few ways we cope:

Buying in bulk doesn’t necessarily mean buying large quantities. So, I bring my jars to the local food coop and only get what I need, which is much cheaper and dramatically reduces the packaging required.

We cook more. Cooking at home brings meaning to mealtimes, consciousness and thoughtfulness to our food and provides a much healthier diet to our mouths. It’s also tremendously cheaper to cook than eating out.

We pack lunches for work and travel. We avoid the toxic fare at convenience stores and money-sucking habits of eating lunch out during the day. We’ve even committed to brewing our fair-trade, organic coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of conventional coffee out.

We grow food.  After the upheaval of last year’s attempt to sell our home, we’ve dug in full-force and committed to being here, now.  That means more investment in growing food.  We only use organic seeds and starts and compost.  We are looking forward to the season’s harvest of raspberries, strawberries, black raspberries, sugar snap and shelling peas, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, broccoli, dill, chives, chamomile, kale, spinach and more.  Now, that’s food security on a budget.

Menu plan.  I plan the week’s menu before the grocery trip so that I am only buying what I need and a couple of additional things.  The combination of menu planning and a reuseable grocery list (cardstock in a plastic sleeve and a dry-erase marker) makes meal planning and grocery list making easy, helping me avoid repeats, too much food rotting in the fridge–in other words, waste, waste, waste.

Stick to the perishables.  The farther down the shelf-stable isles you get, the less healthy the food is, anyway. 

Reduce meat consumption.  Being vegetarian is a worthy goal, but our family can’t do it for many reasons.  And  eating healthy meat is a priority.  So, we reduced our meat intake and increased our veggie and fruit intake.  Better health + lower bills=happy wallet.

Get over it.  We’ve finally come around to the belief that you pay one way or the other.  We choose to invest in quality, healthy food to avoid the illness and poor long-term health issues that can arise from an unhealthy diet.  Similar cash outlay, but we don’t have to go through feeling poorly and can support fair wages, local farmers and environmentally responsible food production in the meantime.

What do you do to increase the quality of your food without breaking your budget?


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So, in my efforts to be green on a shoestring, it turns out that there are so many things that can be done around the house to help out the earth, our bodies, AND our wallets.  It doesn’t all have to be fancy, expensive accessories!  Although there is always room for improvement (and I expect to hear from you about other improvements), here are a few tips I can offer to get started on Green-ing the paper trail on your home.  

First Action: Always reduce the amount you use.  This includes less toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, computer paper (remember to use BOTH sides always!), junk mail, etc… 

A few words about junk mail: I spent many minutes on the phone calling catalog companies and asking them to stop sending me catalogs.  This has helped my want for things I don’t need and since I’m computer savvy, I can browse the entire “store” online when I do need something.   I also called people I do business with (credit card companies) to stop sending me solicitations and statements.  There are also do-not-mail lists that actually work (Warning: some require your Social Security Number, but they’re generally legit–be savvy.). 

I am proud to be a two-rolls-of-paper-towels-per-year kind of lady.  How?  Read on, my friends.

Second Action: Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper only (or as close as you can get).  This can actually drive up the cost of one’s household expenses, but if rule #1 above is applied, it can even out or be cheaper.  Half the consumption for less than twice the price makes it cheaper.  Also, when combined with coupons, wholesale clubs and price comparisons, it can be as cheap or cheaper than the non-recycled/less-recycled, virgin wood paper–even if you haven’t reduced your consumption.  In our house, paper towels, toilet paper and computer paper falls into this category. 

Third Action: STOP USING PAPER!  Okay, this can be difficult when you need to print out your plane tickets and such (see Second Action), but there are ways to totally eliminate other paper streams:

USE TOWELS.  FOR EVERYTHING.  I actually forgot to mention paper napkins in my riff above.  We’ve used cloth napkins for so long, I forgot that they even made paper ones.  Cloth napkins (C’mon folks, 50c at the thrift shop will pay back in a month), rags and dish towels can solve any clean-up you have in the kitchen.  (True Confession: I do use paper towels for one thing only–cracking and peeling a boiled egg.  I guess we all have our vice, but being able to crack and peel an egg, rinse it off and then pat it dry with the same paper towel is very satisfying and easy clean-up.  Then I can stuff the whole thing (sans egg, of course) into the compost bucket, something which always is in need of brown matter).  Do not fool yourself into thinking that the extra laundry (soap and water) will negate the green-ness of using towels and cloth napkins.  Nice try.

Our family’s stash of not-so-fancy facial tissues.

The other thing I forgot to mention at the beginning (and had to go back and insert it) was facial tissues.  I only remember these when I visit other people’s homes.  While we use these for everyday use as well, when you have a dastardly cold, cloth tissues will save your face (and your wallet).  They are so much more soft!  And easy!  All you need to do is take a pair of pinking shears to flannel from anywhere (your fabric cabinet, your old pj bottoms, your partner’s favourite shirt…) and cut approx. 6″ x 6″ squares.  Done!  find an unused basket or other storage receptacle and make it kid-accessible.  When we’re sick, we keep a special bin on the washer for “snot rags” and throw them into a hot, hot wash to make sure they don’t actually pass germs around.  Otherwise, they get tossed in with all the other laundry.  Ditto on passing the buck with the “extra” laundry.

An additional, and perhaps more radical solution: The Family Cloth.  Many of you know about the FC, perhaps some of you use it.  It takes a strong will and certain brashness to do the FC.  Lost?  A brief explanation: replace your disposable and flush-able toilet paper with reusable cloth.  (And, though the term insinuates it, there isn’t just one, you can have many family cloths.)  Just like the facial tissue I just mentioned.  They can be made in the same way (perhaps a wee bit bigger), or you can purchase inexpensive ones like these from my favorite retailer.  If you cloth diaper, it’s a logical next step, especially if you use cloth wipes.  Just throw a wet bag next to the toilet and throw the contents into a diaper wash (or the cycle you used for diapers if they are no longer a part of your life–lucky you!).  If you’re worried about odor, put a wet bag in a step-lid trash can with a charcoal filter (available in most places that sell trash cans) and take it out when the bag is full or you’re ready to do laundry.  That’s it!  Imagine if you had a stash of these in your car and had them available for unanticipated field potty breaks!  No more foliage identification crash courses! 
This is actually something that my family hasn’t signed onto yet, but a few times when the toilet paper has run out and I’ve refused to buy the cheap virgin bleached stuff, we’ve re-appropriated my youngest’s wipes for our toilet use and it was just fine and there were actually no complaints….hmmm, makes me wonder why I haven’t switched before now!  Perhaps that’s our next step.  A little closer every day. 

What’s your next step?

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To help us reduce the expense of feeding our family healthily, cleaning our home with non-toxic materials and living as holistically as we can, I am constantly in search of ways to get what I need on the cheap.  I haven’t yet made the leap into making my own cleaning supplies, though to do so would be the cheapest.  A home with a stash of white vinegar, lemons, salt and baking soda can easily be as clean as a home with chlorine bleach–and much, much healthier.  However, we do purchase “green” cleaning supplies, mostly through a wholesale buying club.  But, sometimes I can even beat that with a little creativity.  For example, I recently needed 7th Generation cleaning spray.  I like their company’s mission and products.  My local co-op sells it for $5.50, my wholesale club sells it for $3.50, but my local Target sells it for $2.99 and the 7th Generation website allows consumers to print coupons for $1 or $2, so I scored a bottle of general cleaning spray and another of glass cleaner for $1.99 each.  Almost half of the wholesale price.  And, while I’d rather shop at my local co-op for everything that I can (and avoid WalMart no matter what the savings), I draw the line at saving 64% elsewhere.  What are your creative money-saving techniques/tips/cheats?

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Clam Dip and M&Ms

It’s pretty disgusting and shameful, but that was an actual lunch I had the other day.  Clam dip and chocolate candy.  Well, there were potato chips involved, you know, to scoop the dip–and to avoid feeling like I was just having dip for lunch.  I struggle between philosophy and logistics.  If it were up to me, we would eat entirely organic, local food in this house, with minimal red meat, a lot of fish (I know, not local) and vegetarian meals and more beans and legumes.  But, we are a family of four on a single income (a woman’s to boot–still 78 cents to the man’s dollar) with so many priorities in health, home–life, that I often feel like I can’t keep up.  And, my family has input in the menu.  And they aren’t always healthy requests.  But, little by little, our diet gets better…at a dear price.  Let’s be honest, this house spends several hundred dollars a month on items from the grocery store, co-op, or at the farmer’s market, not including eating out (which is a nasty habit for our bodies and our wallet).  As the principle grocery-shopper with occasional requests from the rest of the family, I try to get the best food I can.  I still can’t be honest with myself that we over-shoot our budget by at least $100 every month because of mid-week grocery shopping for initially forgotten things.  But, when we learn about how to eat better, we try to apply it. 

I started trying to correct our chicken nugget and instant potatoes diet right before I got pregnant with Em 5 1/2 years ago.  It got better while I was nursing and even better when she started eating solid food and we wanted to avoid her ingesting things like pesticides and hormones from the get-go.  We avoided all unnatural or added sugars before she was more than 2 (and I consider that a remarkable feat, considering our personal tendencies as parents and our respective extended families…).  Then I conceived again and was put on a sugar- and carb-free diet.  I did it for the sake of our second child’s and my pregnant body’s health, but was unhappy about it, having been brought up on pasta and ice cream.  My energy soared and my weight plummeted (though not in an unhealthy way for me or the baby).  So, it turned into more of a habit that I occasionally slip out of to this day. 

I started reading Michael Pollan, books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle and Moosewood cookbooks.  We joined the local natural foods co-op and I volunteered and shop on discount days to give us a better price.  I buy fresh produce (which, even organic fresh fruits and veggies out of season is cheaper than any meat).  I dialed down our red meat in-house preparation and only buy local, grass-fed, free-range and otherwise happy and organic meats.  I use coupons for natural foods and household products.  And, we’re healthier.  Last fall/winter we were sick all or in part from the end of October through January.  And again in February.  This past and current season, we’ve staved off all but one nagging earache that Em had for 2 weeks.  I firmly believe it’s because we eat better, use less- and non-toxic cleaners and incorporate all of the healthy eating tips we can.  And, we experiment for dinners.  We are by no means a picture of healthy eating all around, but we have made awesome improvements.  Here are a few moves we made to make eating healthier more affordable:

~Coupons – but not for prepared food.  They’re hard to find, but there if you look often.
~Buy in bulk.  this doesn’t mean buying a ton of something, but only what we need for that week or a certain recipe, which makes the price tag for organic or specialty items much less ghastly.
~Cook from scratch or with actual ingredients.  I make my own granola bars.  I have no patience for recipes that call for condensed soup or already-prepared items like “cooked chicken.”
~We experiment.  We use wheat germ and brown rice and bulgur and more.  Which we never would have 5 years ago.
~ We pack lunch.  And snacks.  And water bottles.  Every time we get in the car.  This avoids the stops at convenience stores for snacks that are loaded with fat, sugar, salt, GMOs, chemicals, hormones and all sorts of other crap.
~ We seek to learn every day.  I seek out ways to make something instead of buying it.  I plan on learning how to make cheese, butter, bread and all sorts of other things. 
~I purchase bulk coffee beans at the co-op and grind the amount I need right there in the store and make my coffee at home.
~I start a new commitment every day.  Clam dip and M&Ms happens all too often, but my commitment to eat better and be a better example continues to remain strong, and I get a little closer everyday.

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Let’s celebrate the small things in life.  Where I am, there are no roses in bloom to stop and smell on a leisurely walk, so I’ll start with some things that are more season-appropriate.  This morning, both of my girls decided to sit down at the table and do puzzles while breakfast was prepared.  This is usually such a hectic time, it was nice to see them both with calm bodies and focus.  Of course Gee, the wee’est is usually game to do whatever her older sister, Em does.  It was a beautiful sight!

I had the opportunity to start a sewing project from start to finish in one day!  I cannot remember such an occasion–even if it meant patching a pair of pants with fusible web.  The cold weather (think single digits) was enough to inspire quick work for a new pair of cozy overalls for the youngest.

I’m also pleased that we made it to the YMCA to do some semi-impromptu swimming despite the aforementioned single-digit temps combined with snow and bone-chilling winds.  It felt great and both girls loved it.  I forget how strong I feel in the water and how satisfying it is to see the girls master new things every time we are in the water.  I’d like to make it up there at least once a week to keep that feeling fresh in my mind. 

I’m a pretty pessimistic person by nature, but today was  a great day!  Let’s have more of them!

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