Topic 1 Economic Barriers

For many individuals, a significant barrier to healthy eating is cost.

Foods higher in nutrient density, such as fruits and vegetables, are associated with higher per-calorie costs than refined grains and sweets. Additionally, the extra time required for preparing and cooking healthy meals may make healthy eating seem more difficult for those with limited time and money. A healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and a plant based diet can be difficult for individuals and families with very limited food budgets.

In addition, the investment in equipment necessary for cooking, as well as access to a kitchen, may be obstacles for some individuals. However, those with even a modest food budget can follow the principles of culinary medicine, if they know how to cook, meal plan, and have access to a kitchen.

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Counseling patients on adopting a healthier diet requires an understanding of how economic barriers contribute to underconsumption of healthy foods. A key step when working with patients is to acknowledge cost as a barrier to healthy eating, and to discuss individual concerns and limitations with patients when introducing steps towards following culinary medicine practices. The approach to dietary behavior change to move along a spectrum toward a healthier diet—is particularly useful in working with those of limited means because it acknowledges the varying levels of difficulty that people face in making dietary changes, encourages changes of any size, and acknowledges that any step toward healthier lifestyle is positive and beneficial.

Eating Healthy on a Budget:

Don’t buy prepared foods

Healthy foods can actually be quite inexpensive if purchased in their unprepared states. The grocery bills really add up when purchasing prepared or partially prepared dishes made with these same ingredients.

Learn to cook and do it often

Find the time and learn the skills needed to cook. The more you cook, the healthier you’ll eat and the less money you’ll spend.

Buy in bulk and buy just what you need

Many dry pantry staples, such as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, can be purchased in bulk at grocery stores and supermarkets. When purchased in bulk, these items are usually lower cost than pre-packaged items. For fresh items, make sure to buy in bulk only if you can use the quantity purchased—either by eating fresh or freezing—before it spoils.

Avoid food waste

Know what fresh items you have and make a plan to use or freeze them.

Turn cooking into a social activity and practice meal prepping

Because lack of leisure time is a key barrier to healthy eating, frame cooking as an activity that the whole family can participate in. This may make it more appealing to those who currently see cooking as a time-consuming activity that doesn’t fit into their busy schedule. Similarly, strategizing how to meal prep to efficiently prepare several meals in advance may be appealing to those who do not have time to cook on a daily basis.

Buy in-season and look for sales

These are great strategies to save money on produce. Similarly, look for grocery stores in your area that carry produce that has limited shelf-life remaining to find steep discounts.

Go to the farmer’s market near closing time

You can bargain with vendors for steeply reduced rates on produce because they don’t want to have to take leftover produce back with them when the market closes.

Avoid canned fruits and vegetables

If you have a freezer, it is generally more economical to purchase frozen over canned fruits and veggies. Frozen also tastes better than canned and is less likely to have added sugars, salt, or chemicals leached from the plastic lining that occur in commercially canned food. If you do buy canned, avoid those with syrups and high salt contents.

Avoid empty calories

like white bread, cakes, cookies, and other items that are highly processed and filled with refined flours and added sugars because these may, contribute to food cravings and have limited nutritional value beyond extra calories.

Make your own stock

in recipes from vegetable scraps.

Learn when buying organic matters

Emphasize that fresh produce does not have to be organic to be a healthy choice. Any produce that can be added to the diet is better than none at all.

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