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Good Food: Cheap and Delicious

September 26, 2011

Illustrating that good food doesn’t have to be expensive has always been a prime objective at Oldways (some of you may remember Cindy’s boisterous “Med Price is Right Game” from the 15th Anniversary Mediterranean Diet Conference back in 2008).  So we were thrilled to see Mark Bittman’s op-ed piece, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” in yesterday’s New York Times where he shares our view that preparing healthy, delicious dishes at home provides sound nutrition and saves money.

To demonstrate this, Mark compares a fast food meal for four ($27.89) to a balanced home-cooked dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and salad ($13.78) along with an even less expensive option: pinto beans and rice ($9.26).

Mark writes:  “The fact is that most people can afford real food,” which he (and we) define as “rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh/canned/frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread [we like to say whole grain bread], peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home – in almost every case a far superior alternative.”

As part of the Scientific Consensus Conference on the Healthy Pasta Meal that we organized last fall, we did our own research related to pasta (an excellent carrier for delivering more vegetables, legumes and other healthy foods often under consumed) and affordability.

We priced the same Pasta Primavera meal in 13 countries – from the U.S. to Brazil – and found that the average price of a pasta meal was just 90 cents per serving! 

We also compared the cost of a pasta meal to another simple meal that families might make and consume at home — chicken thighs, carrots and rice — in the U.S., France and Chile.  We found that it may be possible to cut meal costs by half or more, each time a healthy pasta meal is consumed in place of other choices.

The answer to creating real cultural change around this issue Mark says is to “get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.”

And as Mark points out our bad eating behavior can be “countered by educating children about the better way.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Let’s allow our children to grow up seeing us cooking in the kitchen (and enjoying it!).  Let them crack an egg, shred the cheese, wash the lettuce and take pride in creating something wonderful from a few simple ingredients.  If not before, they will certainly appreciate this “gift” once they are living on their own – on a budget.

If you need a little help to get started, Oldways and the Mediterranean Foods Alliance put together, The Power of $2, a sampler of a dozen colorful, delicious main dishes and sides including Penne with Tomatoes, Pita Pizza, and Coq au Vin for $2 or less per person.  Fortunately, eating well does not have to break the bank.

–Sara

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