Wednesday, October 19, 2005

From the Mailbox: Economics of Obesity Follow-up

After yesterday's Economics of Obesity - Part 2 - my e-mailbox quickly filled with letters that both thanked me and chastised me. The praise and criticism was split about 50/50 with some telling insight into what folks think is important in their daily life.

I'll start with some of the praise:
  • You're dead on when you advise reading through the circular and planning the meats first. One step I'd add, which I do, is to see what meats are on sale and decide meals for the week based on what I can buy on sale. I try to buy enough meats to use leftovers for lunch the following day or as a leftover meal smorgasborg later in the week. And, great advice to use leftover veggies in omletes in the morning! Often we have just a small amount of vegetable left and it often gets I'll toss it into our omletes instead!
  • I have a very small budget for groceries each week and one thing I do is try to consolidate much of my shopping into some items on a monthly basis. I have just $250 a month for food and that's less than the amount you used and we do manage to eat mostly fresh foods. It is really hard though. Instead of shopping each week for everything I need that week, I take my monthly budget at the start of the month and stockpile things when they are on sale that can be used all month, like canned tuna, when it is on sale. When meat is on sale I'll buy a lot of it and freeze it. Just last week our grocery store had ground beef on sale for 99-cents a pound and I bought 10-pounds and froze most of it for using it all month. I can't do that with the fruits and vegetables, but for anything that can be frozen, this saves a lot of money.
  • Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh and are almost always much cheaper, especially if you buy the store brands in the bigger bags. When there are coupons for the name brands, don't buy them the week the coupon is out though, the sale price isn't really a good deal that week and will get better when it's almost expired. I've seen this again and again and now just put the coupon aside and wait.
  • I think people wind up eating unhealthy because they think they're getting a good bargain with the boxed or pre-made foods. Years ago I realized that something convenient like the pre-made roasted chicken is more expensive than making it myself. The roast chicken by Tyson's is $5.99 for less than two pounds chicken cooked and that includes the bones and stuff you waste too! When whole chicken is on sale I can buy one for 99-cents a pound and get a 5-pound chicken for $4.95 and a packet of seasoning for $1.00...more than twice the chicken for the same money!

Then, of course, were the critics:

  • Do you really think people will only drink water all week? Your shopping list completely failed in reality since most people want to have something to drink other than water and milk!
    My reply: You're probably right, and that is something I acknowledged in my article. One thing folks can do is make their beverages rather than buy them. Make room in the budget for a box of tea bags and some lemons and make iced tea. This is much more economical than buying iced tea mix or bottled teas and you can control the amount of sugar added (or completely leave it out). One could also use lemons and limes to flavor water too!
  • Your shopping list had no snacks! There is no way that kids are going to like having apples and peanut butter for a snack, not in this world anyway. And kids need some juice too to drink.
    My Reply: Let's pretend you're right - that kids don't want to have apples and peanut butter for a snack. So, we should feed them what? Chips? Donuts? Since you didn't state what you'd suggest, I can only assume that you're talking about the very things that are contributing to the childhood obesity we're seeing today. There are ways a parent can get creative and offer more "traditional" snacks while still offering nutrient-density in their child's diet. For example, if oatmeal is one of the things on the shopping list in the week, make some oatmeal cookies with the kids. Not only are they going to be a better alternative to the packaged cookies with questionable ingredients, you'll also have an activity you can share with your children! Oh, and kids don't *need* juice...try whole fruit, it's better for them!
  • Meals can be stretched more if you buy pasta, rice, beans and bread and don't eat so much meat. You don't have enough of any of these things in the pretend shopping list and these items are lifesavers for those of us on a tight budget.
    My Reply: Sally, the point of my exercise in trying to put together a week of shopping on a tight budget was as much nutrient-density with mostly fresh whole foods. While rice, pasta, beans and bread may make it appear you're stretching the meal out, you're decreasing the nutrients in the meal overall, especially if you skimp on the sources of whole proteins to buy more rice, pasta, beans and bread. On a limited budget it really is a balancing act and, in my opinion, the most important mutrients - those that are classed "essential" - must be the items you consider first in putting together your list. Pasta, rice, beans and bread are not rich in "essentials," that is, quality protein and fats. While you certainly can include pasta, rice, beans and bread - these should be accompaniments to a meal, not the foundation of a meal, from my perspective. These should be secondary to meat, poultry, fish and the fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables which are more nutrient-dense per ounce.
  • Tuna in oil? Are you nuts? Tuna in water is better for you and has the same protein as tuna in oil with less fat!
    My Reply: Ahhh, the calorie issue! You may remember I noted the reason for choosing the tuna in oil was both calorie density and nutrient-density. Tuna in oil has a much higher level of fat soluble vitamins than that packed in water. Specifically, tuna (light) in oil has 201IU of Vitamin D, packed in water - zero. For Vitamins A, E and K the tuna in oil again has higher levels of each! Add to that the minor difference in calories - tuna in oil is 168 calories for 3-ounces and tuna in water is 99-calories - the nutrient-density makes the tuna in oil a much better choice since you'd be hard pressed to find the same vitamins in a source for just 69-calories! And, just to be clear, the tuna in oil has more protein too - 24.76g in 3-ounces compared with 21.68g in the tuna packed in water.

Keep the mail coming - the ideas and suggestions you all have are great and as I get more good ideas in my email, I'll update in the future!

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