Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eat Cheap and Healthy: How to Help Others?

Last week, we posted Food Money Matters: Why Healthy Eating Doesn’t Have to be Expensive, in which we asked readers if you thought eating healthy and frugally was possible.

The response was overwhelming, wonderful, and skewed towards “Heck yeah!” While I know CHG readers may be a tad pre-disposed, it's comforting to think we’re not taking crazy pills over here.

However, my post was a little short on solutions, and one of the last commenters, GrowingRaw, brought up an excellent question. If y’all are up for it, this week I would love to brainstorm some ideas:

What are the best ways to identify and offer help to people who may be interested in improving their eating habits and health? Given other difficult stuff that goes on in people's lives, how reasonable is it to expect their diet to be a priority? What's a reasonable amount of support to offer without being patronising or creating dependencies?

Michelle Obama’s obesity initiative is a solid start to long-lasting institutional change. But on a personal level, the issue is (as always) fraught with tension and complicated emotions. So, how can we help others to eat healthy and inexpensively without being jerks about it?

Though I don’t know the answers, I have some ideas (listed below), and I’d super-like to hear more from y’all. Together, I think we can do a lot of good.

Don’t assume folks want to be helped.
They may be perfectly happy the way they are. They may be completely knowledgeable about nutrition and finances. They may just be trying to put food on the table. They may be too dang busy. They may have four kids and one stream of income. They may have genuinely attempted to change their eating habits, with little luck. They may be using food as an affordable form of comfort (which is totally fine). Situations differ, and that's okay. If someone isn't receptive to your ideas, now may not be the time.

Don’t assume your experience is universal, or that you know better than others.
Entering a situation assuming you’re the expert can be a turnoff. Because the stay-at-home mother of four in Tallahassee leads a very different lifestyle than the single Brooklyn food blogger (represent!). Our income, routine, storage, time, skills, transportation, and nutritional needs don’t match up, and what applies for me may not apply for her.

Cook for someone.
Make a wonderful, inexpensive meal for someone you love. Casually mention the price tag, maybe? If it doesn’t take too long, definitely mention the time of preparation. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, maybe the roasted chicken or turkey chili.

Start a potluck.
Try to incorporate a theme. Put a cost cap on the dishes, or have everyone make something from scratch. Offer ideas to others, if they need ‘em. Turning food into a social event is a good way to get people involved in its creation.

Take somebody grocery shopping.
She/he might be wowed by how much food you buy for so few dollars. One of the reasons I started cooking more frugally was seeing what Crystal could snag for $60. I didn’t know it was possible.

Be available for questions.
Answer them to the best of your knowledge, and without judgment.

Start a multi-family shopping pool.
This idea comes from reader chacha1: “Once a family decides to eat healthy they will find a way to get to the places where they can buy proper food. I think this is something churches could be organizing, but individuals [can] think creatively about doing multi-family shopping pools, etc.”

Last week, a lot of commenters mentioned that cooking and shopping classes could be helpful. If you have the knowledge, skills and time, why not share ‘em?

And with that, the comments are open. Assuming they want to be helped, how can we assist others in their quest to eat healthy and frugally?

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