The Healthy-Local-Cheap Dilemma

I need some help… Some reader help… How do I balance eating healthy, eating local and keeping on a budget?

With only a couple weeks left in the biggest loser competition that I’m having with my husband, and since I’m not exactly doing well at losing any weight, I decided to concentrate more on healthy eating.  One of my biggest challenges is having easy grab-and-go snacks that are also healthy.

I try to eat local as much as possible, but the local produce at this time of year is a little limited (we are just at the beginning of the season)… the carrots and celery are all coming from California or Mexico… So I’m trying to avoid them… which are normally my go-to snacks… So, what do I do?

The rule of thumb is always that convenience foods tend to be more expensive and less healthy, and it is better to make homemade… but if my homemade recipes include things that are not local… How does that fit in?

Healthy_Snacks

I started by buying a bunch of apples and boiling some eggs.  These are good easy grab and go snacks.  I bought eggs from a local farm and the apples were from somewhere in BC  (where they were stored all winter, I don’t know…).  Unfortunately, though, it is nearing the end of the supply for apples from last fall’s harvest, so “local” apples are getting harder to come by… And it is too early for other local fruit to be available.

Muffins

In an attempt to find other snacks, I did some research (aka “googling”) and found this recipe for muffins that I thought sounded tasty enough for me to actually eat them, but full of protein and healthy things.  I bought all the ingredients and made them.  They turned out pretty well, but then I got to thinking… If I am trying to buy only local ingredients, these muffins don’t really fit the bill… I mean, where are my jars of peanut butter and canned chickpeas actually coming from?  And my banana is definitely from somewhere very far from here…  And then I could start down the list of other ingredients… but let’s just not go there…

IMG_3340
Where to these ingredients actually come from?

So what do I do about that?  Do I stop using them?  At what point do I compromise my “eat local” mandate and use some more convenient ingredients?  I think that there is a choice to be made at some point in terms of food… Do you go healthy?  Eat locally?  Or go for the cheap budget food?

I am always so amazed at how low some food budgets are for some of the personal finance blogs that I read.  I’m sure that some of that comes from them living in a different area or country… but I can’t seem to get my food budget even close to that…

I am always trying to eat healthy (well, except when I pig out on a giant bag of peanut butter m&ms) and to decrease my carbon footprint, it makes sense to try to eat local food.  But at what point does that become counter productive to my attempts to lower our expenses and increase our savings?

And I hate to put down the local food producers, but they aren’t exactly cheap… And I know that is because they aren’t producing in huge quantities, and they are growing in more sustainable and greener methods than their cheaper counterparts, but I guess it comes down to priorities…

So this is where I need help… Do I prioritize my health and the health of the planet over my financial goals?  What else can I do to decrease food costs while not giving up all my spare time or having to give up something else?  How do you balance eating healthy with buying local and staying on a budget?  What tips can you offer me to help with my current dilemma?  

 

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12 thoughts on “The Healthy-Local-Cheap Dilemma

  1. We have been trying to eat locally and can relate to how challenging it is! We have done some research to find out what we should buy locally vs the supermarket. For example, if I were to make muffins, I would buy the ingredients at the supermarket. If I want Strawberries which carries a high level of pesticides, I would buy them at the farm. We are still trying to find that right balance. Good luck with your biggest loser challenge!

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    • Thanks for sharing your take on it. It is about finding a balance. We are looking to our own garden for our strawberries this year. We ate our first ripe one this morning. There are lots that are growing, so hopefully we can protect them from the animals and maybe not need to buy any! 🙂

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  2. We’ve learned to be flexible and buy what’s in-season. We’ve become clever and creative in the process. Local produce are, sometimes, expensive. While I like to help the local farmers, I can’t seem to balance between buying local and being frugal.

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    • I do also want to support the local farmers, but it definitely does increase the spending… I’m sure it’s better for me… but it’s just so hard, eh? I’m considering trying these local produce boxes where you can get them delivered to your house every week with a selection of what is in season locally. It would definitely make me get creative because some of the things I’ve seen listed in the boxes I’ve never cooked with or eaten before…

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  3. Ugh, the struggle is real! I feel ya so much on this one! I support whatever balance you try to find, but here’s what works best for my family. We support local farmers and businesses as much as possible. But since we can’t live off of strawberries and collard greens, I bite the bullet and fill in the gaps at the grocery store. Organic, fair-trade, free-range, GMO-free, all that jazz. And when possible, I try to not buy too much out season because that means it’s more likely to be coming from another country. But I’ve also made my piece with the fact that some things just won’t be local ever. Like bananas. My toddlers LOVE ’em. We go through like 28/week in this household. Globalization isn’t always a bad thing. Providing a living wage to a farmer in Guatemala who produces shade grown, organic coffee is awesome in my book. But then comes the toughest part – the cost. My family eats all gluten-free, mostly organic, and we average $1000/month in groceries. According to a report from the USDA in April 2016, the average family of 4 on a thrifty budget spends $561.80. That is a difference of $5,258/year. That being said, the ADA reported in 2013 the average person with diabetes has $7,900 (diabetes related) medical expenses each year. So I say you continue to spend money on a healthy, balanced diet and save yourself (and your country) the medical costs down the road. Because even if you knew you wouldn’t have to pay those medical bills, wouldn’t you still shell out $5,000/year just to ensure your family is healthier and happier?

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    • I just had a chuckle to myself picturing someone living off strawberries and collard greens… haha!

      We eat mostly gluten-free and dairy-free as well. (I am totally gluten-free, but my husband still enjoys his breakfast bagels and such.) I haven’t really gone with the organic thing when I am going local. Most of the local farmers around here may not be certified organic because it is quite an expensive process to actually get the certification, but their produce is grown organically. (If that makes sense?) That is part of why I’d like to buy from them too… Organic produce is so expensive from the supermarket. Our grocery budget for the 2-3 adults in our house (part time teenage stepdaughter) is averaging around $700-$800 per month right now (plus about the same in restaurants – ugh), but that’s not always going for the local option… It might increase if I go that direction…

      But it is smart to think of the potential health costs too… So many things to balance out… Am I any closer?

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      • I think you’re getting there! I would say to strive more towards healthier choices than worrying about the costs. Maybe challenge yourself to JUST purchase healthier options for a couple months. Once you’ve mastered that, then you can focus on more local purchases. And then once you’re the Queen of Healthy, Local Eats, focus on finding less inexpensive, healthy, local options. 🙂

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  4. I think this is an incredible personal decision. A CSA or farm is awesome if you have access to something like that. I eat food in season because it just tastes better. The strawberries in Ontario now are amazing vs what you would get in December. There was also a news report saying that a producer was fined because he labeled the food as grown in Ontario but it was coming from Mexico which I know doesn’t happen all the time but it is worth noting. I focus on eating healthy and trying to keep the budget in check. I’m not sure I could get healthy, budget conscious and local all at the same time. I think you have to focus on what is most important to you.

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    • That’s totally the thing, right? I don’t think I can get all three at the same time, so I have to figure out what balance is the most important to me… And right now, I’m leaning toward more expensive so that I can get the local and healthy options… The more I support the local growers, the more they can grow and the more local options there will be for me. If I go with the local option, it will definitely be healthy, so that’s two of the three boxes checked…

      That is really messed up about the labeling things as local when they aren’t… I hope that doesn’t happen here!

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  5. Sorry for the late reply. I eat seasonal produce only and aim to keep it all from the west coast (we live in the Puget Sound region). I first go for local (farmers markets and produce stands), then fill in from the supermarket. In the winter, I will splurge on tropical fruit (bananas, kiwi) and citrus. When something is in season and cheap, I stock up and process the produce by canning, freezing whole, cook-puree-freezing, and making staples like jam, sauce, and salsa. We’ve got our food budget down to $350 per month for two vegetarians. My main tactics for eating healthy is to minimize processed food (no food from a box), freezer cooking so we don’t eat out when we’re tired, and if I want a treat, I have to cook it myself (cookies are a favorite, or pie, or cake, etc). Meal planning around what is in season helps keep the food waste down and our budget happy.

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    • It sounds like you have this healthy/seasonal eating thing down pat. I really want to learn to can and store foods so that I can stock up when things are in season. I also need to build myself a place to store that sort of thing… Hopefully with the renovations I’ll be able to do that.

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