Eating Frugally With MyPlate
The USDA recently unveiled its new food icon, MyPlate, which has been receiving plenty of media buzz thanks partly to the star power of its top advocate, Michelle Obama. The new MyPlate icon replaces the old Food Pyramid and is meant to help families to eat more healthfully by providing an idea of what your dinner plate should look like. (See also: Food Pyramid Replaced by “MyPlate” via Healthy Theory)
The big question for many of us is whether or not it is possible to eat affordably by following the MyPlate icon. Naysayers are quick to point out that many grains, fruits, and vegetables are expensive, and that the MyPlate icon is unrealistic for most households. I do not believe that is true. I think that it is possible to eat healthfully and follow the guidelines of the MyPlate icon while keeping your costs down. Here’s why.
MyPlate Is a Guideline
While the MyPlate icon is supposed to simplify healthy eating for most families, you do still have to use common sense. It is a guideline with a great deal of wiggle room within it. For example, having your plate half-full of fruits and veggies doesn’t mean you should go to Whole Foods and fill your cart full of out-of-season, imported fruits and vegetables. Those are sure to be more expensive! Rather, shop for seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables at your local market. Shop around and find the supermarkets that offer the best deals on produce. I often find that ethnic markets offer the cheapest prices on vegetables.
Yes, this will take a little more work, and you might have to stop at a couple of stores instead of one gargantuan supermarket. That is the price you’ll have to pay for eating healthy, affordable food. Is it worth it to you?
Less Meat and More Vegetables Is Easier on the Wallet
One thing that should make us frugal shoppers perk up is that the MyPlate icon recommends that less than a quarter of our dinner plate be filled with protein. First of all, this means that we will be eating less meat. Meat can get expensive, especially if you’re trying to find good-quality meat! Serving less of it means that you can splurge a little on better meat and seafood, but consume less. And remember that protein does not equal meat — other great sources of protein like tofu, edamame, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, and eggs typically cost less than a good cut of meat.
You could try instituting a household tradition such as Meatless Monday, where every Monday you serve a meatless meal. It is one step towards moving away from a meat-dependent diet and putting a little more protein variety onto the plate.
Buy What’s On Sale, and Cook From the Fridge
I’ve recently started forcing myself to shop for groceries only once or twice a week. This makes me plan out what I need to buy a little better. For example, if I know I’m going to need five kinds of vegetables to serve during the week, I’ll look for the vegetables that are on sale when I go to my favorite market. If tri-colored peppers are expensive, maybe I’ll go for the cheaper broccoli crowns instead. Or I’ll buy a bag of carrots or a head of cabbage instead of the out-of-season hothouse tomatoes.
During the week, I cook the produce that I have in the fridge, instead of being inspired by a recipe and then going out to buy all of the ingredients (they’re never on sale when you want them!). I’ve eliminated a great deal of waste by making myself use up what’s in the fridge instead of shopping for new produce.
This does force me to be a little more creative and adventurous with my cooking and try out vegetables that I’ve never cooked before (can you believe I had never cooked beets before this little experiment?). On the plus side, the variety of vegetables you get by shopping this way is good for you!
Have a Well-Stocked Pantry
I like the designation “grains” on the MyPlate icon because it makes me think of whole grains, unlike the designation “carbohydrates,” which makes me think of gobs of white bread and cake. Having an assortment of healthy grains (and I assume that potatoes are included in this category) in your pantry can help you to come up with healthy, affordable meals. Costco is a great source for affordable rice, pasta, oatmeal, and quinoa. Sure, they come in 10 or 20-pound bags, but they won’t spoil for a long time.
Keep a variety of whole grains in your pantry, add to that the fruits and vegetables that you buy on sale, and supplement your diet with a small amount of meat or inexpensive plant proteins, and you’re well on your way to eating frugally using MyPlate.
I haven’t addressed specific issues such as special dietary concerns, lactose intolerance, and other situations in which it might be difficult to follow the MyPlate guidelines. What do you think? Is it realistic and affordable for you and your family to eat according to the new food icon?