What we eat.
As is the case with many new parents, I think, I first truly became aware of food -- and what it meant for my body (besides how it was effecting my weight) -- when I was pregnant with Pan. At that point, I was really poor, but also really hungry. And so I latched on to a few key foods I read about in some books, mostly just trying to eat iron-loaded greens, and plenty of protein (in the form of eggs, rice and beans, veggie burgers -- because I didn't really understand how to cook meat). Apparently this diet was pretty successful, because when I took my blood levels test mid-way through my pregnancy, my iron had increased by quite a bit -- which is highly unusual in pregnancy (and, as I tend to be anemic, it's also highly unusual with me).
But, when we moved to Spokane, we didn't have our own income, and therefore we didn't really have our own grocery shopping. I -- very gladly -- ate what was available to me. When Sebastian did find work, and we had our own household, I did what I could to keep us stocked on healthy foods, but it all felt so very hard. It wasn't until Heather posted some thoughts on food and grocery expenses that I really sat down with my thoughts and figured where in the hierarchy of importance food figured into our budget.
Actually, here is exactly what I said in response to the post, in the comments:
This is a fascinating topic.
It becomes even more fascinating when you push it into the boundaries of what it means to eat healthy under socio-economic stress.
I have a family of three -- two adults and a babe thats just starting on solids. Our monthly income is about $1,300 (one part-time job and one full-time job, which we do because it is important to us that our baby does not go into child care, but spend his time with at least one of us at home). I would say we spend no more than $200 a month on groceries + household items.
We buy very little to no packaged foods (and what we do buy, we get at a local grocery outlet that has a lot of organic options that are usually 1/2 - 1/3 the normal price -- and within the "packaged" realm, I am including things like olive oil, rice/pasta, flours, spices, etc). We spend $35 every two weeks on a produce box from our local CSA. We started a garden this year, and have harvested a lot of kale (my power food) and lettuce and hopefully will have garlic, tomatoes, and peppers soon, as well as some fresh herbs.
We have assistance through the state WIC program, which covers milk (we can get organic) and cheese (non-organic), as well as some other staples such as beans, eggs, and carrots. Hopefully we will be able to get WIC coupons that can be used at the farmer's market, soon.
I would say that my husband and I are very creative about how we put our money to use. We make our own bread and other items from scratch. We shop for almost everything non-edible at thrift stores, estate sales and yard sales. Though we are resourceful and fairly smart, we work long hours and take care of our babe -- who never sleeps -- using attachment parenting methods, and its exhausting. Many days its hard to find the inspiration and energy to keep doing as we do. The majority of my neighbors, who are in a similar financial situation, do not have the creativity we do. They grew up in this system (we did not) and they know nothing else than to use their food stamps on convenience food. And mostly they are too tired at the end of the day to do anything different.
A lot has changed since then, but also, a lot hasn't. That's still pretty much our income, and we have higher rent and utilities now. But, we also are now receiving food benefits from the state and I've finally adjusted my thinking to having an actual budget for food -- rather than just scraping by on whatever I could pick up when my paycheck went through. We try to only spend what we have in food stamps for food, and that amount has ranged from $150 to $650 a month (it's varied with which of us was working and how much we were working -- as well as how many are in our household).
So often, food is ordered into groups accessed by the different social classes. Poor people eat cheap white bread and cups of ramen, gas station sodas and bags of chips. Organic and specialty foods are for the privileged. The middle class consumes everything in-between.
When we walk into an organic foods market and reach for the items we might usually stock up on at a conventional market, there is definitely going to be sticker shock. Cold cereals, granola bars, toaster pastries, ice cream, freezer dinners -- bought organic, it's all significantly more costly than similar conventional items (and they still aren't actually all that good for you, even in organic form). Produce, meat and dairy are also much more expensive when bought organic or local. Which is why the choice (and it is a choice that can be made by those who fall below the "privileged" class) to eat organically can also be a choice to eat differently.
The more I've read, the more it has become increasingly important to me that the foods that fed us were organically grown and harvested as close to home as possible. And the way that I saw to actually being able to act on my beliefs (and gut feeling) was in shifting our diet, cutting out the "convenience" foods, and re-evaluating the quantity of meat and dairy we consume. We can only actually consumer so much food in a day -- it's best to make each food the choiciest of choices, each bite something that will actually and truly nourish our bodies and health.
A Little About Our (ever-shifting) Food Budget
I need to begin with a little disclaimer: Both of my boys were weaned to organic baby formula before they reached one year. With Pan, I became pregnant when he was 4 months old and my milk supply started to dwindle. Then, when I had surgery, I lost my supply completely. And he wasn't ready to subsist on solids alone, so he took formula until he was one year old. WIC doesn't pay for organic formula (and we were very set on organic formula), so that became a huge part of our food expenses. Ladies, do everything you can to breastfeed, if for no other reason than it is so much cheaper. When Quinn was born, I had my heart set on breastfeeding him until he was at least a year old. Breastfeeding came incredibly easy for me. Neither of the boys ever struggled with it, except for maybe with an oversupply in the early months. But, by the time Quinn reached three months, I was having such a devastatingly difficult time with post-partum triggered massive mood swings. Almost daily I found myself locked in the bathroom, crying. I had to make a choice between breastfeeding Quinn and being a good mother / human being for my whole family, and so I chose meds and weaned Quinn. Clearly, he is thriving, but it still breaks my heart a little bit, knowing what we missed.
But the point is to say, we spend about $150 each month on formula alone. Each of the babes, while they were on formula, have had the most expensive, individual diets. And they are babies in a constant state of very important growth and development, so that's okay. Regardless of what amount of money we have on our EBT card, we go through over a can of formula a week. That's a lot. Two more months until Quinn turns one. Two more months until Quinn turns one. ...
These days we have about $500 a month, minus $150 for formula. And we eat really, really well.
It really does help that Sebastian will happily eat anything that I set in front of him and tell me it is the best thing he's ever had. It also helps that our babies have pretty much eaten what we eat, from the start. I don't cook any "kid meals" and they don't expect to be fed differently than us. Pan will gobble down a tofu-rice-kale stirrfry fast than I can fill his dish, and it's probably because he ate a ton of strained kale (fresh from our garden) when he was first starting solids. If they don't eat a meal I put in front of them, I don't assume that they don't like it. I assume that they aren't hungry, and I don't hesitate to offer those foods again (maybe prepared differently next time?).
This could all change any day, of course. Pan could suddenly become a picky eater. But I kind of doubt it. He really likes to eat.
And that is the really long (and somewhat emotional) recent history of my relationship with food. This week (with the exception of thursday, of course), I'd like to share what our daily diet looks like, the foods I keep on hand, how we shop for those foods, and how I don't meal plan.
PS: You might just want to go back over to Heather's for a good read-through the comments. There are so many different perspectives, so many approaches, so many good thoughts.