Food is a very personal subject for most families. I remember when my husband and I first got married, we were both students, with a toddler and a baby on the way. We needed assistance just to buy the basics. We weren't concerned with how green the food in our fridge and pantry was, we were just worried about getting food on the table. And even now, with six mouths to feed and my husband working extra shifts at the ER on top of being a firefighter, there is no way I could buy all-natural, local, organic food all the time on our budget.
We do buy what organic produce we can (occasionally from the farmer's market), and are making the jump to organic milk and cage-free eggs (which have taken a bigger bite out of grocery bill, ouch!). We also don't eat out much, and we try to limit our meat consumption (we're not vegans, we just don't eat meat every night).
My grocery shopping includes a trip to the discount bread store where I can find unexpired whole grain bread at half the price, another trip to a family-owned produce market (which doesn't typically sell organic produce, but has great prices), and then a final trip to my local big grocery store for all the other stuff. We do throw in a trip to the local farmer's market from time to time, but more often than not, it's just not affordable for us right now. But that's where we're at I can't argue with the is-ness of life. But I do constantly reevaluate the groceries we buy and how we can improve the quality of food we eat.
There are several ways we try to live more sustainably when it comes to our food. We have a (huge) homemade compost bin in our backyard, and we save all of our organic food scraps. We started an herb garden last year, and now my lavender bush is in full bloom and we never have to buy rosemary, parsley, or oregano. This year we were able to use our compost to start a vegetable garden (with the addition of some new herbs). It was a bit of an investment up front but as long as we're attentive and water it regularly, we should reap some great rewards.
With all the concerns about pesticides, the effects of industrial farming on animals, water, the environment, and our bodies, how can you make a difference in your own food consumption?
Cook from Scratch
Eating in rather than dining out (or driving thru) is one of the best ways to improve your family's diet. We have no control over what we eat at restaurants, but cooking from scratch allows us to pick the best possible ingredients to nourish our bodies. My husband and I create biweekly menus so we don't have to wonder what's for dinner everyday. Using a menu not only ensures that we have what we need to cook at home (we do have to run back for the basics from time to time), but it makes grocery shopping a whole lot simpler.
Eat Less Meat
More than 99% of the meat purchased in stores, cooked in our homes, and consumed in restaurants comes from industrial farms where animals are pumped full of hormones and live in inhumane conditions. Those same hormones and chemicals enter not only our bodies, but our water sources as well, creating a never-ending influx of toxic chemicals.
Aside from the chemical concerns, meat just isn't that great for us--it's our main source of saturated fats, and I don't know about you, but meat is usually one of the most expensive items on my grocery bill.
Start Your Own Garden
Most store-bought produce is infused with pesticides (that even washing won't rid them of), not to mention the environmental impact of transporting them such long distances. Growing your own (or buying local when you can) is a great alternative.
Okay, so maybe you don't have acres of land for your own mini-farm, and maybe you don't even have a backyard. No matter your living accommodations, there's almost always room for growing at least a few of your own fruits and veggies.
We're limited to the side of our house along the driveway (it's the only spot that gets adequate sun), but we've managed to add two raised beds for both a vegetable and herb garden. And the kids love helping--it teaches them that our food doesn't just magically appear at the grocery store. Along with a garden, we have a compost pile which helps us cut down on the amount of organic waste we throw out.
Avoid the Dirty Dozen
The 12 most pesticide-ridden produce include (in order of contamination) celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes, and imported grapes. If you're going to buy any organic produce, these are the ones to spend the extra money on. According to the Environmental Working Group, you can reduce your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths just by avoiding these 12 fruits and vegetables. It doesn't mean you shouldn't eat them at all, any fresh produce is way better than junkier processed snack alternatives, and when possible buy them organically.
Likewise, buy the green fifteen: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grape fruit, sweet potato, and honeydew melon.
Making Family Meals a Priority
Probably the single best way you can have a lasting impact on your family's health and eating habits is eating together regularly as a family. We eat dinner together every night no matter what. If someone has an extracurricular activity or meeting we move dinnertime to accommodate. There are tons of benefits in sharing meals together, including increased literacy and academic performance, and overall sense of self-worth. For a great book on the benefits of family meals, check out Laurie David's The Family Dinner (I love, love, love this book, and yes, that's an affiliate link).
What concerns do you have about food? How do you make affordable and sustainable choices?