Eating Healthy on a Budget: Wal-Mart style
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photo by A Shepherd

I recently broke my long standing boycott of Wal-Mart. I haven’t been in a Wal-Mart willingly since 2008.

It wasn’t to purchase anything. I do my bargain shopping at a mixture of Mama Jean’s (a local natural food store), Target and Big Lots. It was to do research for my work site wellness workshops.

I recently took an assignment doing wellness workshops for the employees of four residential care facilities in the southwest Missouri area.  I knew very little about each group prior to the first visit other than their wellness program was relatively new. My goal was to get people participating. I have a whole series of lectures (as part of My Fitness Foundation program) so I was sure I had plenty of material to get them interested.

What I learned very quickly is that what you and I take for granted does not apply in Smalltown USA. My favorite topic – eating healthy on a budget – was going to need a makeover. I realized some of my strategies go out the window when you’re dealing with a Midwest food desert.

It makes me sad to think of these towns as food deserts. Especially as I drove past the planted fields and pastures of commercial agriculture. All that food destined for unknown processing plants and none left for local residents. Only one of the towns has a farmers market. They tell me it’s a small one, with very little selection and higher prices. My suggestion to support those farmers falls on deaf ears and feeds the sentiment I hear so often– eating healthy is too expensive.

I often complain about our lack of a Costco or Trader Joe’s. What I forget is I am lucky to have Mama Jean’s (so so lucky), Target and a handful of other grocery stores to choose from. I pine for another trip to Ferry Plaza but I forget to be grateful for the 3 farmers markets I can shop at.

In Smalltown USA they have Wal-Mart. If Wal-Mart is all they have (or at least perceived as all they have, I did pass a small grocery store or two) then Wal-Mart is what we will work with. Here are the updated tips I was able to add to my eating healthy on a budget presentation after my reconnaissance mission.

  • Whole wheat pasta is $1 a box for the Great Value brand. It’s not more expensive and you can make it last longer by paying attention to your serving size.
  • Go to the gluten free section to find things like Kind or ThinkThin Bars. Often people look in the granola bar section and miss these easy snacks.
  • They do have Amy’s Organics meals and they aren’t that much more expensive than those other frozen meals.
  • Great Value Crunchy Nuggets are cheaper than Cheerios and higher in protein.

The best thing is I also learned many of my tips hold true at Wal-Mart.

  • Buy dried beans instead of canned. Make the whole bag at once using the crockpot method, freeze and use as needed.
  • Shop seasonally. Asparagus was front and center at Wal-Mart and on sale. Yeah for spring veggies!
  • Go generic. Great Value cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are just as good as the brand names.
  • Get your veggies in the frozen section out of session or if you’re afraid they will go bad. Staples like broccoli and stir fry blends can be lifesavers on a busy night.

What it all boils down to, as with all things on this fitness journey, is choices.  No matter where you shop you can make healthier choices if you are willing to look for them. Will it cost you a bit more at times to choose a healthier option? Honesty, in today’s dollars, it might be a few more. But compare that to the $100,000 plus cost of a heart attack or the thousands of dollars a year to treat diabetes and you’ll come out way ahead.

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