The cost of feeding your family healthy food
I know how much it costs to feed three kids. A LOT.
I know how much time and planning and energy and MONEY goes into giving rapidly sprouting children, aged 12, 10 and seven, healthy home-cooked meals EVERY DAY because my wallet is as empty as my broken dishwasher.
And over the last couple of years, it’s become ever more expensive to put the good stuff into my kids’ bodies.
Partly, of course, this is due to the fact that the more children grow, the more they eat, the more they continue to grow. They’re inconsiderate like that!
But it’s more than that – what I’ve noticed is that the foods we’d all regard as healthy – vegetables, fruit, non-processed, start-from-scratch, animal welfare-mindful ingredients – cost a darn sight more than the villainously unhealthy alternatives.
This isn’t in my, or in your, imagination.
A study last week by The Centre for Diet and Activity Researches at the University of Cambridge found that products officially designated as healthy by the Government now cost an average of three times more than less healthy alternatives.
Boffins tracked the prices of 94 key food and drink items between 2002 and 2012 and discovered that healthier food such as fruit and vegetables was found to be consistently more expensive than those high in fat and sugar, such as frozen pizza.
For example, you would need to buy and eat around 30 cucumbers to gain around 1,000 calories, compared to about one 200g packet of ginger nut biscuits (about 20 biscuits).
They have also risen more sharply in price over the 10-year period. In 2002, 1,000kcal of healthy food cost an average of $5.65, while shoppers buying less healthy alternatives could spend just $1.77 to gain the same amount of calories.
By 2012 these figures had changed to $7.49 and $2.50 respectively.
Although in percentage terms the less healthy foods still increased significantly in price, in absolute terms the healthier foods rose by $1.84 per 1,000kcal over 10 years compared to just $0.73 for the less healthy items.
In other words, ‘healthier’ foods are 36 per cent more expensive than the bad stuff.
Now I’m not evangelically obsessive about ensuring nothing fatty, salty or sugary gets into my kids’ diet.
I was brought up on Findus Crispy Pancakes and chips, sausage, chips and beans, fish fingers and chips, Bird’s Eye beefburgers and chips, Vesta curry and chips, Spam, Spam, Spam and chips and – as is the Old Fart’s mantra – they never did me any harm.
So I believe there’s nothing wrong about giving your kids pizza, burgers, bacon, hot dogs and chicken nuggets for tea (as long as they’re not ALL on the same plate).
And there’s nothing wrong with letting them have just one Cornetto for dessert, followed by a bag of crisps or a biscuit to snack on while they’re being read their bedtime stories.
There’s nothing right about it, either – but if you don’t fed them to your children every day, for every meal, then two or three times a week is fine, surely?
In fact, what I’ve learned is that by feeding my kids the cheaper, processed, more bung-it-in-the-oven convenient stuff (if it’s so toxic, why not make it illegal in the first place?) it frees up my time to plan, shop for and cook healthy – and delicious – meals.
It’s about having a family budget and balancing it to create a balanced diet for you and your children.
Because feeding your children healthy food isn’t all about money: it’s about effort.
It’s about taking the time to plan ahead, to devote a day to cooking a batch of everything from start-from-scratch Bolognese sauce, or veggie curry, and then freezing them and then using those batches as bases for more creative meals by adding a few simple herbs and spices to transform them into different dishes (bolognese sauce + chilli powder + cumin + kidney beans = chilli con carne; veggie curry + puff pastry = comforting pie).
It may be a fact that ‘healthier’ ingredients cost more, but what are we going to do about it?
Give up and just stuff our kids with fat-salt-sugar laden junk every morning and night that will eventually kill them?
Or give up an afternoon in the pub, or an episode of EastEnders or Corrie, and get cooking? It might well be true that many parents don’t have the money, but surely, even the busiest can find the time to feed their children what’s good for them.
After all, they are what they eat. If you’re stuck for ideas, the NHS Choices ‘Eat4Cheap’ website has some good suggestions for cooking healthily AND saving money.
• Draw up a weekly meal plan, incorporating ingredients you already have, write a shopping list and stick to it.
• Don’t be swayed by impulse purchases or special offers, just buy what you need.
• Try not to shop when hungry. Studies show that people who shop when hungry are more likely to spend more, especially on less healthy foods, such as high-fat and sugary snacks.
• Be strict about buying only what you’ll actually eat. Plan your meals so that all ingredients on your list get used and that includes fresh herbs like basil or parsley.
• Freeze unused food.
• Cook extra portions for your evening meal so that you can have the leftovers for lunch the next day saves time and money.
• Frozen fruit and vegetables come pre-chopped and ready to use, are just as good for you and are often cheaper than fresh varieties.
• Try a few vegetarian meals during the week because veggies are much cheaper than meat.
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