Changing your eating habits can be hard. The intangible aspects such as emotional eating, food disorders, education, attitudes and upbringing can, even though difficult, be worked on from where you currently are as a person. Small changes can add up to big benefits.
But what about physical barriers? It’s a fact that some people, no matter how motivated, can’t imagine how they could possibly put their newly discovered knowledge into action.
While the reasons for this are many and varied, let’s take a look at some of the more common hurdles that create barriers to healthy eating.
We all want to feed healthy food to our children but let’s face it: if you’ve got more than one child, that doesn’t always feel possible. Like little baby birds, they gather around with their little beaks open chirping “Food! Food! Food!” And you end up tossing in the first thing that comes to hand just to fill their bellies.
I know, I’ve been there.
And it doesn’t get any better when they get older. You don’t have to physically feed them, true, but they can plow through a kitchen like Tasmanian devils, leaving nothing in their wake but empty shelves and dirty dishes. Those $1 frozen pizzas and burritos may seem like the only way to keep your sanity and your pocketbook intact.
Do not despair…I have solutions.
Save Those Leftovers! Put them in a prominent spot in the fridge and attach a post-it that says, “Eat Me!” If it was good for dinner, it’s good for a snack.
The Incredible Edible Egg. With an average cost of less than 15￠per egg and an amazing nutrition profile, it can’t get better than this. These can be whipped up in a pan or microwave in no time flat by the most rudimentary cook. Hard-boiled eggs last for a week in your fridge and take less than 20 minutes to prepare so cook up a dozen (or two) to keep on hand for egg salad, pickled eggs or just straight-up noshing.
Not So Forbidden Fruit. Fruit is high in fiber and provides bulk that helps to keep your little darlings full faster and longer than some other foods. Bananas are always a good (and inexpensive) choice but keep an eye out for deals on other fruits as well. Melons (including watermelon) tend to cost less per pound than other fruits but require prep that may not be appealing or safe for the younger set to take on. I always remove the rind and cube melons in advance. You’ll find them to be much more popular when they can be scooped directly from the bowl!
Uncan Me, You Cad! Canned tuna is high in protein, low in fat (when packed in water) and often available for less than 80￠per can. Mix it up with a bit of mayo or mustard for a delightful snack on crackers or bread.
Spread It Around. Peanut butter is good for the soul. It’s also inexpensive and has a great balance of healthy fats, carbs and protein to leave a person feeling satisfied and full. It goes with bread, crackers, apples, celery or straight off the spoon. It can even be mixed up with some soy sauce, honey and red pepper sauce to serve over noodles.
Sow Some Oats. ½ cup rolled (old-fashioned) oats mixed with one cup milk or water will cook on the stovetop in about 5 minutes or in the microwave in half that time. This quick, easy and nutritious snack can be mixed with cinnamon, sugar, milk, jelly, bananas, peanut butter or about a million other things that are just hanging around the kitchen! Let your kids use their imagination to come up with creative combos!
A food desert is defined by the USDA as having “limited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food”. In one report, nearly 6% of the US population claimed they did not have adequate access to healthy food because it was difficult to get to the store.
There are a number of reasons for this including age, physical/mental/emotional difficulties or income but the most common cause is not having a vehicle to get there. Even in areas where public transportation is available, the act of juggling numerous grocery bags while riding a crowded bus or subway (including transfers) is a daunting prospect.
Many of these people are reduced to obtaining food at local fast food restaurants, corner or convenience stores that lack fresh, healthy choices.
All is not lost.
Many convenience stores (especially the large chain gas/grocery combos) have responded to the call to eat healthier. Many offer fresh fruit and healthy snack options such as hummus cups or hard-boiled eggs.
Take a good look at the grocery items that are available. It’s likely that you’ll be able to find healthy choices such as milk, eggs, natural cheese, unflavored oatmeal, peanut butter or canned tuna. Don’t forget to check the freezer section for frozen meats (such as uncooked burger patties) and vegetables.
Check for nearby farmers’ markets, which often carry locally grown fruits, vegetables and meats. While some of these items (especially the meats) can be more expensive than the supermarket, they can be stretched by serving them in soups, stews or stir fry.
Reach out to friends and relatives who have transportation and ask if you can “tag-along” the next time they go shopping. If they’re going anyway, there’s probably no reason that you couldn’t go with them.
When you get a ride, concentrate on finding items that will last until the next you’re likely to get a ride. Consider canned items such as tomatoes, legumes or tuna. Shelf-stable products like pasta, dried beans, bouillon and rice are always good choices.
Get some meats to package for the freezer (make sure you have the containers or bags needed to protect their freshness!) and cruise the freezer section for frozen vegetables and fruits. Bread can also be frozen for up to 3 months or buy the yeast and flour you need to make it yourself.
OK, so maybe you just don’t have the money to buy groceries. Maybe you got laid off or had an unexpected expense that has left you short on funds. Maybe you’re living on a fixed income. Or maybe you took the only crummy job you could find while you look for something that actually pays the bills. It happens. I’ve certainly been there.
Income-based programs such as WIC (for families with young children), SNAP (food stamps) and CSFP (for seniors) are all programs that are available to those in need.
Child Nutrition Programs offer free and reduced meals programs for school-aged children and typically provide breakfast and lunch, often even during periods when school is not in session. Ask at your child’s school or visit their website.
Many people make the mistake of assuming they’re not eligible or are embarrassed to apply for these services. Many programs have surprisingly lenient income levels so it doesn’t hurt to check. Applications can usually be done online from the comfort of your own home and benefits are often loaded on debit cards so you’ll look like every other person in line using a debit card!
Food pantries are also a great option, whether you use their services on a sporadic basis or regularly. Some have income and/or residency guidelines while others are open to all. It’s likely that, with a few phone calls, you’ll find one that will work with you!
For more information on these programs and other ideas about how to stretch your food dollar, please click here.
Lack of Time / Competing Priorities
This is a big one but it’s often not given the attention it deserves. What happens when we tell people we don’t have time for something? We often hear things like.”You need to learn to manage your time better” or “If you really wanted to, you would find the time”. Not helpful.
There are countless reasons why some people literally don’t have the time to cook. Some work long days or multiple jobs. Others have a long commute. Parents have to oversee homework, grooming, transportation, school meetings and other basic needs of their children, often in addition to a full time job and their own household chores. Many of us have had to, at some point, care for a family member who is sick or has other special needs.
Time management and desire often have no place in our inability to find time to plan, shop, prepare and cook healthy meals. What’s the answer, then?
These kits are easy to order and easy to prepare. The cost, including shipping, generally starts around $12-$15 per person, which is a similar cost to picking up takeout on the way home.
Slow Cookers and Instant Pots. The main difference between these are that one is prepped in the morning and cooks all day while the other is prepped when you get home and cooks your meal super fast. They’re both an effective time saver because you can make a one-pot meal with very little effort. The only decision you have to make is whether you prefer to dump everything into the pot in the morning or when you get home.
Groceries To Go. I’ve used this option on many occasions and it’s a real-time (and frustration) saver. Put the app on your phone, pick a time and make a grocery list. Items can be added or removed from the list right up to a few hours before pickup, as well as adjustments to your pickup time. Simply pull up to the door on your way home from work and your very own personal shopper will load those groceries right into your car. This is usually available without any added fees, as you often see with delivery or shipped goods.
Leftovers. You’re probably tired of hearing me harp about leftovers but here I go again. I love ‘em. They’re great for no effort meals later in the week!. Eat them as they are or turn them into quick and easy soups, sandwiches, salads or stir frys! Click here for more of my thoughts on leftovers.
Pre-Prepped and Ready To Go. Check in the fresh produce and freezer sections for fruits and veggies that are already trimmed, sliced, diced, chopped or julienned. The same goes for meat and seafood.
Have The Whole Family Help. Sound impossible? I spent a considerable amount of my childrens preteen and teen years driving them to sports, music, clubs, field trips…you name it! And this is what I said, ”I don’t have enough time to come home from work and make supper (lunch, breakfast, snack, whatever) before your (whatever it is they’re doing). If you want a ride and if you want to eat, please pack food to take with us.” Or I would ask them to prepare a simple meal if we had time to eat at home. And it worked. Sandwiches and fruit/veggies are easy to put together and kids enjoy it when they can choose the menu!
What About You?
These are just a few suggestions but I’m sure there are many more situations and answers out there.
What about you? What barriers to healthy eating have you faced? How did you overcome them?
Let me know in the comments below!
All my best,