About ten years ago I had the great honor of working with the Children’s Aid Society and their Early Head Start (EHS) Program in two Harlem schools. For those who don’t know, Head Start is a federal program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. EHS, part of Head Start, specifically works with pregnant women, infants and toddlers.
Hired as a nutrition consultant, I developed food and nutrition curriculum to educate the EHS educators. In other words, my job was to answer the question, “What should this incredible team of teachers be teaching when talking anything edible?” The next step was all about piloting a family based program where I met with parents and children in their homes for an evaluation then took each family through an individualized food and nutrition education program.
What did I learn throughout my two years with EHS?
- People were starving for information
- Most everyone wanted to do better, but didn’t know how
- Healthy food costs more was the standard belief
- Most knew how to cook
What I find astonishing is that what I learned working with this low-income community is absolutely no different than what I see with almost everyone I work with, regardless of socioeconomic status.
During the course of my time with EHS, I arranged to take my ladies to Whole Foods Market for a Shopping Education tour (part of my culinary nutrition schtick). While I don’t speak Spanish, I knew the women were cursing me in their native tongue—most likely thinking (or even saying), “Look at this upper middle class white girl taking us to a fancy market. She has no clue.” Despite, I held strong as we made our way from their hood to mine. I knew that the cost of eating healthfully wasn’t as steep as they all suspected. And lo and behold, as we perused through the market the women were in awe noting that most staples cost less and their common choice packaged foods had healthier (and cheaper) alternatives in the Whole Foods 365 brand.
Funny enough, last week I came across an article entitled Whole Foods Plays Bargain Grocer In Manhattan. To summarize, a study by Bloomberg Intelligence revealed that a basket of 97 items, from orange juice to frozen pizza, was $391.39 at Whole Foods, compared with $398.44 at Fresh Direct and $458.84 at Gristedes. Food Emporium and D’Agostino also were more expensive than Whole Foods in New York City.
I am not saying that Whole Foods equals 100% health supportive cuisine, but they do better than most. So shopping at one of their markets can be a surefire way to make better choices overall and not break the bank.
Does eating healthfully cost more? The answer is definitively “No” if you know how to navigate food. If you want more than a sneak peak on how this can be done, check out Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. And as I often say to my clients and students, you will pay for what you eat no matter what—so do you want to pay on the front end or the back end (as in at the doctor’s office)?