There is little doubt that money for food takes a giant bite out of the budgets of the working poor. For those making minimum wage or living on disability or unemployment, the percentage of income that goes to groceries is enormous.
Unless, that is, these families opt for foods with little to no nutritional value. Fast food can be incredibly inexpensive ($1 menu, anyone?), as can a coupon deal on a haul of generic frozen pizzas. But when eating that way on the cheap, you are doing your body an injustice. Cheeseburgers, french fries and frozen pizzas does not a healthy diet make.
So, is it possible to eat well and eat cheaply? Can one get the recommended daily allowance for nutrients and stay within a meager food budget?
One San Diego aims to find out.
The blog Eating in 3D is an experiment in healthy eating on a shoestring budget--the very budget that many, many people must contend with. It is a chronicle of one family of three's attempt to get all the vitamins and minerals they need all for $10 per person per day. And as the author of Eating in 3D notes, this is more than many of the nation's working poor have to spend on groceries, even though it may sound like an incredibly low amount.
I will let her explain what, exactly, Eating in 3D is:
Eat well or eat cheap - you pick. The average American family has fewer than $10 per day per person for food. On this budget, can you meet standard nutritional guidelines within the practical time and financial constraints of real people? Is Eating in 3D (Time-Money-Nutrition) possible? Let's see.
Simply put, Eating in 3D is consuming the proper nutrients – from food – to meet standard guidelines on fewer than $10 per person per day and with fewer than 35 minutes of food preparation time for any given meal.
For simplification, I am using a basic 2000-calorie baseline for all three of us (Ed, Jamie and Celia) in this experiment even though age, gender and physical activity levels impact caloric requirements.
What this family learned is that, while sometimes difficult, eating "in 3D" is possible. Careful planning, careful shopping and lots of nutritional knowledge can make this goal a reality. But is it sustainable? That remains to be seen.
You can look at the graphs of the nutrional tallies here. On this day they did well. However, there was still a shortfall in the whole grain and milk categories.
On other days, they didn't do as well. Birthday parties, lunches out and skipped meals compromised their goals--all of which are part of everyday life.
It is apparent from the Eating in 3D experiment that it is possible to eat well on a small amount. However, it does appear to be quite difficult at times. And as the author notes, many of the working poor simply don't have enough information regarding nutrition to make Eating in 3D work. It is not their fault--eating and nutrition in the US is confusing due to corporate influence, fast food frenzy and tons and tons of mixed signals.
If nothing else, this look at "Eating in 3D" may give you pause about how much you spend on food. Or perhaps it will make you think about your own level of nutrition. Either way, it is a fascinating peek into what it is like to try to be healthy and stay within budget--something millions of Americans struggle with.