“Easy Healthy Taco Salad w/ Ground Turkey”
“Garlicky Baked Zucchini”
“Blackened Salmon with Lemon Zest”
When someone is trying to learn how to eat healthy, these are some of the first items they will see under the search bar. Many of the titles can get your mouth watering just reading them. The fact that there are literally thousands of recipes online that taste great and are great for you is a beautiful gift for which we should all be grateful.
So what’s the problem?
A grand majority of these recipes assume two things – extra time and extra money.
Look at almost any one of these recipes and calculate what it would cost to go to the grocery store right now and get each of the necessary ingredients. What you will find is that a majority of the recipes would cost anywhere from $10 all the way to $30 per meal.
Here’s the scenario.
Tim is a young gig–entrepreneur who pieces together rent money through various odd jobs and the hours he can manage to collect working retail. He puts in a lot of hours, but everything is low paying and unsteady. He is trying hard to find something he can excel at but isn’t there quite yet.
Tim is also packing on the pounds. The foods he is exposed to, and feels he can afford, are almost all calorically dense and highly processed. The stress isn’t helping either. The smudgy mirror in his tiny bathroom reveals a young man less and less confident about himself. That lack of confidence is a promotion/ new job/ better job killer and he knows it. Taking stock of his situation, he wisely decides that he needs to start eating healthy, lose some weight, and overall take better care of himself. At the least, it may help him land something a bit more steady in terms of income. But all he has ever known are quick foods, processed foods, and drive–thrus. Deep in his ignorance and excited about the change he is about to make, he searches for healthy recipes to get him kick–started. He clicks the first thing that catches his eye – “Quick and Easy Roast Chicken and Kale Salad.” Great! That sounds like a perfect start! He rushes off to the store to buy the ingredients for his first healthy meal on the journey to the new and improved Tim.
While in the store, he somewhat snobbishly goes to the organic section to select the produce, gets pulled into an “Organic, Grass-Fed, Gluten-Free Ranch Dressing,” and grabs a packet of chicken. Now he has everything needed and he heads to the check-out counter. That’s when he realizes that he didn’t pay attention to the prices. $27. That’s far more than he can afford for one meal, but hey, you gotta invest in your health, right?
He pays the money and heads home. Following the directions meticulously, he manages to create a pretty great dinner for himself. The “Quick and Easy” ended up taking two hours, but he’s happy. It tastes great! He can get used to this!
Except he can’t.
He just spent a third of the money he had for food for the week for one meal.
In his excitement to start eating healthy, to see something improve in his life when everything else seems like barely held–together chaos, he had forgotten his poverty. But his bank account hasn’t forgotten at all, and now he must figure out how to make it until pay day on mostly Ramen and dollar menu snacks.
Is that the fault of the recipe? Absolutely not! It was a taste of the high life.
Is it Tim’s fault?
Possibly. But only in the same way it would be his fault if he took a wrong turn in an unfamiliar area without a GPS.
You must give him credit for taking action. An unfortunately large proportion of people never step beyond the “I should really” stage.
But his experience this time will likely force him to pause next time he considers taking action , and that’s tragic. Maybe he can start when he has more time or more money?
That’s the problem. That’s the dark side of “healthy recipes.” It’s not the recipes themselves. It’s the fact that they are usually someone’s first glance into what it takes to create a healthy lifestyle. The extra time and extra money needed for these recipes casts the illusion, particularly to a poor person, that getting healthy requires a lot of extra time and a lot of extra money – a sacrifice for the middle class, but a mile-high brick wall to the poor and lower middle class. Could that be a reason why the poorer a person is, the more overweight they tend to be?
Truthfully, a gourmet healthy meal can put a lot of pressure on the wallet. However, a healthy lifestyle can be cheaper than even many fitness professionals imagine. $50 can stretch to cover two gourmet healthy meals, or it can feed someone with a healthy lifestyle for a full week. All those recipes for how to make passable pizzas, faux-pasta dishes, and gluten-free enchiladas are wonderful. But we shouldn’t be teaching people how to make a healthy “cheat” meal before we teach them how to create an affordable lifestyle of eating. We need to show how the price tag of health can be just as low, if not lower, than the price tag of “cheap” convenience food. If we can accomplish that objective, we can change the conversation and mindset around health of entire communities.
As someone who grew up poor, I can personally attest to how different things could have been for my family if we had simply been shown that eating well was within our reach – that it wasn’t just for the rich. While that was never done for us, I can do it for others. And for all the other fitness professionals out there, I invite you to do the same.