The guide – “Good Food on a Tight Budget” – is designed to debunk the popular belief that low-income families can’t afford to eat healthily.
While many nutrition advocates and even government analyses have suggested that eating well is possible with a limited income, EWG sets out to prove this by providing examples of how it can be done. The guide includes sample shopping lists, meal plans, recipes and tips that families can use to stay within a budget of $35-42 per week, or $5-6 a day, based on national price averages.
EWG said it wanted to make sure its recommendations were doable for the estimated 45 million people who participate in the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps).
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits increased by 70 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.
“With the recession and the number of people on food stamps, there’s a lot of interest in good food on a tight budget,” explained Dawn Undurraga, Nutritionist for EWG, in an interview with Food Safety News.
The average family enrolled in SNAP currently receives about $71 per week in benefits, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Over 1,200 foods and 19 nutrients were analyzed in the making of the guide, says Undurraga. One hundred of these foods rose to the top as ones that provide important nutrients such as fiber or iron.
EWG consulted food and nutrition organizations such as Share Our Strength, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America to ensure that the meals recommended in the guide were practical for its target audience to buy and prepare.
Recipes in the guide range from breakfasts to snacks to main courses to dips and salad dressings. Tabbouleh, Chinese chicken and veggies, turkey chili and baked fish are among some of the dishes described in the guide.
For those worried they don’t have enough time to cook at home regularly, there are many recipes that take around 5 minutes to prepare, such as salads and dips, says Undurraga.
Meals that take longer to prepare can be made in large batches, stored and eaten when you have less time, she says.
“Some of the soups and stews are going to take more investment, but when you make that in a big batch and you divide that over a number of meals, it’s an investment in your health.”
Undurraga acknowledges that, per calorie, unhealthy foods may be cheaper and take less or no time to prepare. The guide, she says, is intended to show that with a little more effort, a healthy diet can be achieved within a small budget.
“We’re not saying it’s easy,” she says. “It’s a challenge. But it’s possible and our guide we hope will provide the support people need.”
Recipes in the guide are “tried and true,” she says, having been tested by EWG staff and approved by organizations that specialize in nutrition for low-income individuals.
For those worried that “healthy” meals are not as filling as french fries or a hamburger, Undurraga says the foods included in the guide include proteins, grains, and starches that satisfy appetite while also providing nutritional benefit.
And, according to the analysis, all of these can be made at a low cost.
“If you cook, things are cheaper,” said Chef Ann Cooper, Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District and founder of Food Family Farming Foundation in an interview with Food Safety News. Cooper contributed her expertise in making nutritious, appealing food for children – and some of her own recipes – to the guide. “There’s plenty of wonderful food out there to eat that anyone can afford,”
Cooper says it’s important that parents use the guide with their children so that kids learn to enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 17 percent of children in the U.S. ages 2 to 19 are obese. Poor diet has been shown to be a leading contributor to this problem.
“If we really want to turn back the obesity problem, if we really want to change children’s relationship with food, we have to find our kitchens again,” said Cooper in an interview with Food Safety News.
While studies have shown that children must be exposed to a new food anywhere from 7 to 12 times before they like it, children who are involved in preparing the meals they eat — whether through growing food, shopping or helping to cook — are more likely to warm to new foods faster, says Cooper.
Some recipes are accompanied by tips on how to make foods more appealing to children.
“The browner they get, the sweeter and more kid-pleasing the caramelized vegetables will be,” says the Kid-Approved Roasted Veggies recipe.
And for those ready to fully embrace the challenge of cooking healthily on a budget, the guide offers additional information about many foods it recommends, including which ones are most likely to carry pesticide residues, which require more environmental resources to produce, and which contain high levels of potential dangerous substances such as mercury.
While these factors should not be the primary concern when grocery shopping, they should be noted and taken into consideration if price allows, says Undurraga.
“EWG’s stance is first of all eat your fruits and vegetables,” she says. “But there are questions about pesticide residues, and if people want to be on the safe side I don’t think there’s anything wrong with providing people with information they can use to make the decision themselves.”© Food Safety News