Eating healthy: Perspective from a Pro

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Since starting at Charles Village a few months ago, I quickly learned that the tenants in this building really appreciate having guest speakers come in to talk about a variety of subjects. So far I’ve been fortunate to have people volunteer to teach guitar and talk about the Kitchener Public Library renovations and services; and we’ve also utilized our tenants’ skills in hosting art workshops. But one of the most recent guest speakers I had the opportunity to host was Ruth Thompson, Registered Nutrition Consultant.

Given all her knowledge and experience, our tenants (along with a few tenants from Eby Village) were delighted to have her speak about “Healthy eating on a budget: Food budgeting challenges and solutions”. Eating healthy is a challenge that everyone can relate to; but it’s especially challenging for most of the tenants here as they have limited incomes. Some of the tenants do work, but it’s often part-time hours or minimum wage pay. Others receive some type of government assistance, such as Employment Insurance, Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), or a pension. The bottom line is, even with their rent being geared to income, some of the tenants still face issues of having enough money to buy the foods they need.

The quality of food you eat generally affects your overall health. As you get older, it becomes even more important to be diligent about monitoring how you spend your food dollars. So with this in mind, Ruth designed a presentation to focus on discussing four common food budgeting challenges:

  1. Cost of animal proteins.
  2. Waste from spoiled foods.
  3. Convenience foods with little nutritional value
  4. Understanding food labels.

Many of us know food costs are rising – especially meat! This can be challenging because many people enjoy dinners that are centered on having some type of meat like chicken, steak, or a pork chop. With this in mind, it also means that many of us are likely eating more than the two to three servings of meats and alternatives that are recommended on Canada’s Food Guide. But you don’t have to give up what you enjoy to still eat healthy on a budget; instead Ruth suggested looking at buying less expensive cuts of meats to marinate before cooking or to use while slow cooking soups and stews. Or another option is to look at eating alternative (and cheaper) protein sources such as eggs, legumes, or vegetable proteins.

By taking steps to reduce the costs of your protein sources, you’ll have more money to invest in other areas of your grocery bill, such as fruits and vegetables. However buying these can be another challenge, especially in the winter season when there are less local produce choices available, meaning higher prices. Well Ruth’s solution was to focus on buying products with a longer shelf life such as onions, carrots, squash, turnips, beets, apples, and potatoes. For more variety and the best bang for your buck the next best option is to use frozen fruits and vegetables, since they’re cheaper, won’t spoil, and aren’t packaged in sugars or salts like canned varieties. Although if you do use canned food products, it’s a good idea to rinse them to under water to help rinse out some of the salt and other preservatives.

Avoiding preservatives can be hard though, especially with a busy lifestyle. After a day of running errands, attending school, or being at work, it’s easier to microwave a frozen TV dinner than cook a full meal. Unfortunately these meal options often don’t do your body much good. Yes cooking a meal generally involves some planning and time, but it’s much better than high cost convenience foods (such as cold cut meats, pizza pockets, and fruit drinks) that leave you with a belly full of fat, salt and/or sugar. So how do you fight this challenge? Well you can try preparing large batches of meals such as soups, casseroles, and chili to freeze for days when you need a quicker or less labour intensive meal.

It’s somewhat labour intensive to read food labels, but reading through the ingredients can often help you make the best use of your food dollars. One example Ruth talked about was yogurt. Many companies use advertising to highlight trendy claims like probiotic cultures, but often have long ingredient lists full of things you might not want to eat like sugar and other additives. So it’s important to look at the label on the back of the product to become more aware of all the sugars, oils, and fats that you might not otherwise be aware of.

I hope you’ll find the many tips from this incredible presentation helpful! Everyone left with a lot of new information and food for thought. And again I’d like to send a big thank you to Ruth for taking time out of her busy practice to share her knowledge with our tenants.

If you’re interested in sharing your skills, knowledge or experience with tenants at Charles Village, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me (melissas@houseoffriendship.org) or call me: 519-742-8327 ext. 402.

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