The following article is part one in a 4 part series on eating frugal and healthy.
When you think about Cheap meals, the first thing that usually comes to mind is of course macaroni and cheese and hotdogs. For many of us growing up, and for our kids (for those of us in the older crowd) grew up on this staple food, especially if we were unlucky enough to have a parent who either was not gifted in the cooking department, or as in my case growing up, was a single parent with not a lot of time or energy.
The problem is, that these foods, and the many variations of processed foods like them, are simply not healthy. Yes in the short run they are cheap and fast, and in a pinch they require little thought,effort or money. I don’t necessarily think that it is a bad thing for a very occasional meal, everything needs to be in moderation, and I think that applies even to healthy diets. But I get very concerned about the numbers of families, that are consistently eating diets, that are neither healthy or for that matter in the long run cheap. A common excuse is that it is the only things their family will eat, or that they simply cannot afford more.
If you knew that there was a 25% certainty that the typical American frugal diet was going to cause your loved one to get cancer at some point in life, would you still feed it to them? And to further that thought, does it seem frugal to spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care on illnesses that can be prevented by a healthier diet? It is easy to say that you can’t think about that right now, but mounting evidence is showing that diet is a leading culprit in many cancers, and since cancer risks range wildly all the way up to 50% or more, we really can’t afford to ignore these risks.
Fortunately I don’t believe that frugal diets must be cheap and unhealthy diets. There is an alternative even for the time pressed parent, and certainly for the parents that need to keep their food bills as low as possible.
The trick here is to get a realistic view of what you are feeding your family, and what they really need nutrition wise, then balance their needs out with your budget. In other words how much protein do they really get in that hot dog, (not to mention all the fat, additives, and preservatives they DON’T need) and (this is the important part) how much protein do they really need in a given day. Can they get protein from other sources? And will those sources come with other vital nutrients your family needs rather than additives that can potentially make them sick?
The Nutritional low-down
Lets take a look at the facts:
A typical jumbo size hot dog has 180 calories and 18 grams of fat, when you do the math this means that a hot dog is almost all fat, and contains only 8% of your daily protein requirements.
A typical hamburger has 605 calories and 38 grams of fat, this means that 343 of those calories come from fat. It fairs a bit better protein wise it at 34 grams. This hamburger is loaded with fat, and contains virtually no other nutrients.
In my books this makes these protein sources a not so frugal choice.
Virtually all plant foods contain some amounts of protein, some are very high in protein. The difference is plant based proteins are typically low in fat and very high in other nutrients. This gives them an edge over most lower priced meats in at least a few of your meals each week.
Much smaller amounts of lean proteins can be added to plant based dishes, for flavor, and to make it more likely that your family will accept them.
If it is not healthy and does not meet your families nutritional needs then it is not frugal. Two common misperceptions abound in the frugal world. One is that if you are eating healthy it automatically means you cannot be eating frugal. The second is that if you are eating healthy and frugal, it must not taste good.
My next article will address these these two issues, and how to get your family to accept a healthier frugal diet.