4 Tips to Spend your Food Dollars on Real Food

Some of us may be trying to pay off debt as quickly as possible (raising hand). Some of us may be trying to build a savings account (raising other hand). Some of us may budget. Some of us may not. Some of us may have to put a month’s worth of expenses on a credit card just to get by. Whatever our current situation with money, one thing is certain. We all spend some of our hard earned money on food.
We view money as a blessing from God and we try to honor him with that, not just by giving 10% to our church like the Bible says, but by being aware of how we spend the other 90%. While money is not the most important thing to have, it definitely dictates what kind of life we live.

I recently read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. The book consists of over 60 suggestions of how to view the food we put into our body. My husband and I spent an afternoon in the library, and I finished the book in about an hour. It’s an easy read, and he brings up some very good points. Most of these rules we follow, while others I hadn’t yet considered. While I do recommend flipping through the pages of this book, here are some things to think about when it comes time to spend your Food Dollars.

Find Local Sources

I’ll start here. Mr. Pollan believes in eating locally, and I do too. When going out to eat, we’ll pick a local place over Chili’s/Applebee’s/you name it every single time. We shop at farmer’s markets and are looking into joining a CSA. While I don’t want to get into all the benefits of eating locally, consider this: if you were a small business owner with no money to put toward advertising thus relying on your community to purchase the products you work so hard to make, wouldn’t you want them to buy your product?

Which leads me to the next consideration.

Don’t buy food that is advertised on TV

How many advertisements do you see for a whole food product? Aside for the few commercials for nuts, I can’t think of many. An apple farmer doesn’t need to tell you why you should buy his product because you know the benefits of eating an apple. Think about any real food, cantaloupe, avocado, pasture raised beef, kale, strawberries. Would you actually need someone to tell you why you should be eating those things?

My guess is you wouldn’t. We all have an inherent knowledge of real foods. Our ancestors survived only on things that came straight from the earth or that they could make themselves. I think this know-how has been passed on. That’s why companies spend millions of dollars a year trying to get as many of your food dollars as possible. They know they have a product that probably couldn’t sell itself, or at least not sell as well if they didn’t drill into our subconscious (who really pays attention to commercials these days, anyway?)  the picture of a happy kid, playing in the luscious grass lawn with a Beagle pup running alongside enjoying a tube of Go-Gurt…

Along with the already present confusion upon meandering the grocery store aisles, we should also be angry. Angry that companies have invaded our homes via TV, magazine, Internet, radio making us believe that the cardboard box encasing a yellow log resembling cheese is food.

Very little of our Food Dollars are actually spent on real food, instead we fill our carts with food-like substances. While I do believe in free will, companies have made our choices seem small by drilling their products into our heads.

Don’t buy food you couldn’t make yourself

Now, I understand, if you haven’t started a real food journey, or if you’ve only been on it for awhile, this one is hard. Do I make everything I bring into my house that we eat? No. But could I? Maybe.

This thought came to me a couple years ago. I told my husband I wanted to make something new, I don’t remember what it was. It may have been yogurt or crackers. Whatever it was, it was something I had never made before, but that we ate frequently. My husband thought, like many of us do, that this was something you could only get from a grocery store. My response, “If big companies can produce thousands of these a day, then I can make it in my home too.”

This consideration boiled down is that most of what we’re buying from the grocery store is made of things that we would never bring into our kitchens. Think of something you make at home, something at least mostly homemade. Cookies? Meatloaf? Now, look up a commercially-produced version. Are they even close to having similar ingredients? I’m going give a pretty confident “no” here.

Companies have to fill their products with preservatives. They may be sitting on the shelf or the freezer for weeks. Do your homemade cookies even last that long? Mine certainly don’t.

Believe it or not you can make your own applesauce, granola, cheesecake, breakfast burritos, ice cream, yogurt, almond milk, crackers, butter, vanilla extract, or ketchup. If a company using obscure ingredients that we cannot pronounce can make something, we can too! Take pride in what your kitchen can produce.

Don’t buy food that makes health claims..

..unless you know for certain the claims are true. For instance, a bag of oranges may claim to be “high in Vitamin C”. If what you are eating is a real food, then there will be real claims to health. Everything else has been altered, had things added or removed, fortified, or reduced in order to make such claims.

Most health claims are based on previous products. For instance, most cereals now claim to be “made with whole grains”. Consumers see this, and think that said cereals are healthier than the ones without the same label. Most likely, cereals made with whole grains are more expensive than the the cereals not containing whole grains. But that’s okay, they’re healthier for you, right?

Companies know what you’re looking for. They know there has been a push by the government for more whole grains, so they will do what it takes to get your Food Dollars. Such claims do not equate health. Such claims just mean these foods are “supposed” to be healthier for you than similar products on the market previously.

It is sad really, that food scientists are given so much power over our health. There’s a reason you’ve heard of so many diets, The Atkins, Mediterranean, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. These are what some would call fad diets, and they are fads because they base their nutritional value on what society is currently saying is “healthy”. Unfortunately for those who follow such diets, research findings change, the government is paid by lobbyist from a different company, and companies know they have your attention.

I am not a doctor, but I know for certain that something coming from a box that promises to “lower your cholesterol” will not do as good of a job then if you completely eliminated that product from your diet and turned to a real food alternative. Hands down, in every case a real food is going to be better for your health than something from a box, bag, or package.

What do “food rules” do you follow to bring more real food into your house? Have you thought of some of the stuff you’re eating as “food-like substances” instead of food?
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