By ERIN TURNER
October is national “Unprocessed Food” month. It is a month where people are being challenged to consume less processed/packaged food and more whole/real food. Seems silly that we have to actually designate a month for this way of eating, I guess it goes to show what our country does and does not consume.
Being an active couponer, I am fully aware that 90% of the food coupons that are offered are for highly processed food. It’s a piece of cake to get a bag of potato chips or a bottle of soda for free or super cheap. It’s a little more challenging to score fruits and veggies for free or super cheap. I find it an utter shame that the majority of coupons, sales and promotions are all based on packaged or highly processed food. If a family was financially dependent on coupons and/or sale foods, they would eventually end up spending significantly more on health-related illnesses due to their unhealthy diet. There are studies that prove this theory but you don’t need to read them to know that foods high in sodium, sugars and carbs are bad for our bodies and over time our bodies rebel and protest the food.
While whole, natural and unrefined foods are going up in price, the cheaply processed, unhealthy foods are becoming even cheaper, drawing in Americans who are suffering in this economic downturn. These cheap foods offer higher calories for less money and when you are trying to make ends meet, that is appealing. I am constantly shocked that it is cheaper to process a can of Spam than it is to process fresh pork chops. Why does this not make sense to me?
I care about what I feed myself and my family. The majority of our food tends to be unprocessed. What does that really mean? To me unprocessed food means whole ingredients (it is what it really is!) and it could be made in a home kitchen. For example, Chocolate Chip cookies: I can make them at home using whole wheat flour, oatmeal, butter and either honey or raw sugar. How about the chocolate chips? Well, a lot of commercial chocolate chips are made of whole ingredients and I’ve actually made my own chocolate chips too. So, even that ingredient in the cookies passes the “unprocessed test”.
I would love be able to tell you secrets on how to buy unprocessed, natural food for the same price as Hamburger Helper or a 6-pack of Soda pop. Other than growing it yourself, there is really no other way. Unprocessed, whole food is always going to be more expensive because of how our nation prioritizes its funding, subsidies and big corporations. So, the frugal but health conscious shopper needs to get smart and be savvy.
I find value in coupons. Not for Hamburger Helper or Pringles but for toothpaste, toilet paper and other non-food items. There are tons of coupons for these items and I depend on these in order to create room in my budget for healthier, whole foods. By using coupons for my non-food items, I usually free up $50 or more per week in our budget. So, don’t give up on couponing just because you want to be healthy! Use it to your advantage!
We prepare the majority of our food. I’ll admit some days I would love to just crack open a package of prepared food and throw it on the table. But with a little preparation on my part, I can create the same principle (quick and easy) by having my own “fast food” ready for those kinds of days. Frozen meals are a great help as are set- menus that are easy to prepare (e.g. tacos, spaghetti,etc.) I’ve also spent some time researching recipes for commercial foods which my kids love, like Macaroni and Cheese, chicken strips and soft pretzels. These are items which I could buy for super cheap at the grocery store but their ingredient list is longer than my 7 year old’s Christmas list (and man, it’s long!).
Breaking your kids of the processed food taste is a challenge and it takes some time and patience. But keep offering them healthy alternatives and slowly they will adjust. My middle son now requests my homemade mac cheese to the boxed dinner. My husband and I also encourage the kids to look at ingredient lists and read them aloud. We talk about all those words we can’t pronounce and what they will do to our bodies. This has helped the kids face the reality of today’s food production and appreciate unprocessed foods more.
Now, I don’t want you to think we are purists by any means. I do love Frito corn chips from time to time, I make a mean batch of Rice-a-Roni and my kids will usually be the first ones in line at the hot dog stand. I think it’s healthy to be moderate when it comes to food. Try to have some guidelines for healthy eating and share those with your children so they also have parameters but indulge a little every now and then.
To recognize national Unprocessed Food month in our household, I am trying to be more deliberate about the food we eat and avoiding those things which are over processed. Since we are up to our eyeballs with the harvest from our gardens, I am dutifully preserving those veggies so they are readily available to us. Personally, I am also trying to be more healthful in my own snacking…instead of grabbing crackers and cheese, I’m going for apples, almonds, jalapenos (don’t ask, it’s a weird fetish!) and cheese. Despite being a little more expensive than a cheap box of crackers, I think I will find more hunger satisfaction in less of these whole foods and not have to eat an entire sleeve of crackers in order to be fulfilled!
So, what are YOU doing to celebrate National Unprocessed Food month? For those of you who coupon regularly, tell us how or if you find a balance between coupons and healthy food.
Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.