Food for Thought

“Focus on being healthy, not skinny”-Anonymous

Something strange has happened to me multiples times in the grocery store these past few months. People are coming up to me and congratulating me for being… healthy. They are saying things like, “Wow! You are obviously a healthy eater, good for you!” and “How can you eat like that and pay so little? I must know your secret!” and finally, “I envy people like you who eat healthy.”

Attention everyone: I am not amazing and you do not have to envy me to eat the same food as I do. But, if you want to give me a trophy or a certificate about being so amazing, I would gladly accept your offer.

A little about me so you can understand who I am and how I can achieve this ‘amazing lifestyle’ that everyone else is trying to achieve. I am 25 years old and I work as a special education teacher. My hobbies include camping, kayaking, rock climbing, and rollerblading. I am married to the biggest carnivore in Minnesota and we prepare and cook our meals at least 5 days per week. (We treat ourselves to burritos and Chinese buffets every few weeks.)

I am a teacher, so I do not make a crazy amount of money. My husband is a handyman and, again, is not making a crazy amount of money. We own a house, two cars, and a cat. We budget ourselves accordingly but we leave ourselves some wiggle room. Oh did I mention, we just got married so we are paying off wedding debt too. This is who I am. I want you to realize how easy it is to “eat healthy” and become a supermarket star, if that is what you have always dreamed of becoming.

Every 2 weeks, we allow ourselves $100 in groceries.  That $100 needs to feed and sustain our lifestyles for 12-14 days. During the summer months, we visit the local farmer’s market to support local produce, but on the average shopping trip we support a local grocery store chain. I can honestly tell you that I spend about 75% of my time in the produce section of the grocery store. This usually consumes about 40% of my bi-weekly. I once heard a comment from the friendly cashier, “Wow, you bought all of that produce and your total is still pretty low. I am surprised.”

It surprises me how excited people are to see what I am buying and congratulate me for eating healthy. They act like they cannot eat healthy like me even if they tried. Newsflash: I am not the healthiest eater. Last night, I ate 4 oreo cookies dunked in milk and that is okay. If you deprive yourself from sugars and sweets, you are going to gorge out on them any time you have the chance! Moderation. Instead of 8 cookies, eat 4 and be okay with eating only 4.

If you would like to eat healthier, change your mindset. Change the way you think about food. Everything that you do and all of your habits are based on a mindset that you created. You can change your mindset about food quickly. I did this in about 2-3 weeks. Think about everything you are putting in your cart two times. When you pick up your item as yourself, do I want this or do I need this? If you need it, then ask, how can I prepare and make this into a meal?  If you have any doubts, put it back. If you can’t make something with it, put it back. If you aren’t going to eat it within the next week, put it back. Change your mindset about food. Change the way you think about healthy foods and determine what is healthy.

I don’t eat healthy, I eat right. I fill my body with 80% vegetables, 10% grains and 10% other. I don’t classify myself as a vegetarian because I still eat meat but I don’t load my meals down with meat either. I find alternative proteins and add those into my diet.

There is a diet ‘rule’ that says something along the lines of, “Stay on the outer most portion of the grocery store and don’t go down the isles.” But, how am I going to get cereal, pasta sauce and vegetable stock without going down the isles…? LIES. All of it. Lies. You CAN go down the isles because you are in control of what you pick up. You are in control of what you put into your cart and leave the store with. Leave that prepackaged and boxed food on the shelf. The most processed food that I buy is lunch meat and I cringe every time I put it in my cart, but my husband likes turkey sandwiches.

Don’t strive to be me, congratulate me, or get excited because I am eating healthy. You can eat healthy too. I am living proof that you can eat healthy and still go out to eat once a week in a household of 2 people for $50/week. Think about what you are putting your your cart and evaluate the importance of that frozen lasagna. You can eat healthy if you change your mindset and think about the importance of each item.

For anyone curious,

How I shop: I pick and choose what I buy based on price and availability. Peppers are usually on sale or at a low price, so I pick up 3 of those. I eat these alone, with hummus, in stir fry, and in eggs. I can go through 3 peppers in 2 weeks, easily. Then I mosey down do the carrots, celery, and snap peas. These make great snacks! Next, I grab zucchini, a head of cabbage, mushrooms and some spinach bundles. I always price watch broccoli and cauliflower as these are more pricey items. These become by treats and ‘why not’ decisions. Carrots are the only vegetable or fruit that I buy prepackaged. It is so expensive to pay for packaging. Buy spinach bundles (Shake off that extra water!) and cut them up when you get home. Bagged lettuce gets slimy and spoils faster than a head of lettuce. If you can, leave the packaging at the store and buy the actual item and stop paying for packaging. Then I move onto fruit. Again, grabbing some apples, oranges, kiwi, mangos, raspberries, blueberries and anything that is on sale. I usually pick apples that are priced in the middle of the price spectrum. Same with oranges. I look for sales in the fruit and rarely pay full price for berries. I grab potatoes and onions next and move on. Sometimes I experiment and try a new food or grab something that I haven’t had in a while, but I basically get the same items every week. I move up and down every isle grabbing things I need to make a meal. Pasta sauce, check. Granola, check, Noodles, get in my cart. I move onto the dairy section next, grab 18 eggs, some cheese, diary and soy milk, cottage cheese and sometimes I get yogurt. I grab a loaf of bread and I’m off to the register.