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    3 Tips to Eat Healthy & Sustainable on a Budget

    Eating healthy can be difficult. Every day, I come across a new blog telling me how I should be eating (with colorful, unattainably-perfect photos that looks nothing like the meals I make at 8:30 at night).

    Eating healthy while trying to be sustainable and surviving on a fixed-income budget can be even harder. The supermarket is expensive and rarely has locally-sourced foods. Organic food can be astronomically priced and impractical if you go the Whole Foods route. And sometimes ordering out feels easier. (Plus, when you live in a restaurant city such as ours, it’s hard not to.)

    I love food. But I don’t have a huge the budget and have dietary restraints of a mostly vegan diet. How can you avoid blowing your entire food budget when the main objective is to put a meal on the table for yourself or your family?

    3 ways to eat healthy & stay on a budget

    1. Organic: To Buy, or Not to Buy

    First things first: Let’s clarify what it means for food to be grown organically versus conventionally. Organic foods simply mean that the method of harvesting the food has been done in the most sustainable and chemical-free ways possible.

    Conventional methods of growing food include the use of pesticides for fruits and vegetables and chemicals or hormones in the feed for meat and dairy. But organic food can also be nearly twice the cost of conventionally produced food.

    So, while your standing awkwardly in the supermarket staring at the $1.99/pound tomatoes vs $3.99/pound organic tomatoes (which look pretty much identical), consider the skin. Fruits and vegetables with thin skins, such as strawberries, peaches, apples, cherries, and tomatoes, tend to suck up pesticides the most. Others, like avocados, pineapples, kiwis, eggplant, asparagus, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, and sweet potatoes, tend to not absorb chemicals and have less need to be grown organically.

    The biggest concerns of conventional meat and dairy are antibiotics and growth hormones, which are by federal law prohibited in their organic counterparts. Though the jury is still out on how antibiotics and growth hormones affect human health in the long term, although it’s safe to say there’s a possibility of repercussions. If extra hormones and antibiotic resistance freaks you out, consider organic for these.

    Also, the USDA Organic certification is not needed for small farms whose gross sales do not exceed $5,000 per year. Your local farm may still be organic or use organic methods. How can you find out? Talk to your farmer.

    2. Local & Sustainable

    A better way to avoid the supermarket price dilemma is to support local agriculture.

    Philly is littered with urban farms, co-ops, CSAs and Farmer’s Markets, ready to bring you local, in-season produce and foods. Just consider: Headhouse, Greensgrow, Mariposa, Rittenhouse, Clark Park, Iovine Brothers, all throughout the city. For me, there’s nothing like a Saturday morning spent at a small farm carved into a slice of the city, picking up affordable fruits and vegetables grown nearby.

    Farmer’s Markets are in every corner of the city, even as small, mobile pop-ups, and usually source their produce from farms within the city or from nearby farms in Lancaster or New Jersey. Although there’s the convenience of going to Trader Joe’s, it’s equally satisfying to go to your local farmer’s market and speak to the farmers directly.

    As for co-ops, Mariposa has been running the game for a while, but South Philly and Kensington are well on their way.

    CSAs are another great choice to get your local veggies delivered to a site drop-off near you. I’ve been excited for my summer CSA to start since March. You essentially pre-pay the farm for a season and they bring you their veggies in return. Easy, peasy.

    Buying locally has many benefits – supporting local agriculture and economy being one. For food sustainability in the long run, how feasible is it for each of us to have our food shipped over 3,000 miles? Consider the carbon footprint of even one full-order at a supermarket, where foods are often imported.

    One complaint about buying local and organic is the shelf life.

    Pay attention to the proper storage and handling. For instance, asparagus can last a few days longer just by trimming the stem (right down by the end where it starts to become more rigid) and placing them stem-side down in an inch of water. Adding a loose plastic bag on top can also add longevity.

    3. Plan Ahead

    Meal prep not only saves time, it clears your head for the hours from 4:00 to 5:00 when it suddenly becomes important to know what you’ll make for dinner. It’s also a solution to the anxiety of questioning if your bunch of radishes in the fridge will make it to next Tuesday.

    Find a time that fits your schedule. Cooked vegetables can last at least a few days longer than fresh, and can be added to rice or grains or salads throughout the week. For vegetables like potatoes, carrots, asparagus, radishes, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers (basically, anything that can withstand roasting) try placing in a large roasting dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts need to bake longer, so either bake separately or add your less-hearty vegetables after about 15 minutes (I usually bake heartier vegetables around 365 for 20-25 minutes). This is also great for fall and winter vegetables like squashes and turnips.

    For other vegetables and fruits like peas, strawberries, and blueberries, you have options!

    • Freeze them. Just plop veggies into a pan or baked dish to heat them up – and frozen fruit in smoothies can’t be beat.
    • Bake them (pies!)
    • Reduce them to a jam (warning: this takes a lot of fruit).
    • Veggie broth! For vegetables just beginning to turn or excess stems and leaves (i.e. ends of broccoli, leaves of radishes) you can easily make into veggie broth. Collect your scraps in a container in the fridge. After a few days, toss everything into a slow roaster with just enough water to cover all of the vegetables. Keep the heat to low and roast for up to 10 hours. Toss out the scraps and you’ll have a delicious veggie broth to add to soups and savory sauces.

    Eating healthy, sustainably, and frugally doesn’t have to be daunting. Try something new, support local food sellers and give a damn about what you’re putting on your plate.

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    About Alisha Ebling

    Alisha Ebling is a writer, biker, vegan food consumer, and lover of all things book-related. You can find more of her writing on her website, or follow her @alishakathryn.

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