When you are on a tight budget, like we are, the best way to save money is by eating Ramen Noodles and Mac n’ Cheese, right? I used to think so, until we had to change our eating habits 2 years ago to accommodate gluten intolerance, which is an autoimmune reaction to a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. If you think it’s easy to find cheap convenience foods without wheat or barley malt, I’d invite you to spend the afternoon reading labels at the grocery store. (I’ve had more fun getting a filling at the dentist’s office.) However, that one dietary change shoved us off the processed food wagon and back into the kitchen where I had to learn how to cook for real – not just opening a box of processed food-like substance and adding water, or heating a breaded meat and chemical patty – real cooking with real ingredients.
Within the first year of switching to real food, my husband lost 20 lbs. and began to feel better. He’d never been able to take off weight successfully. I noticed fewer headaches, as well. I then decided to start researching some of the additives and chemicals in our foods, and made a list of additives that had enough red flags to make them worth avoiding (high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, carageenan, MSG, sodium nitrite/nitrates, partially-hydrogenated foods, and certain forms of soy). Gradually, I began replacing items containing these ingredients with healthier versions. Our rule is that if my 9-year-old can’t pronounce the ingredients list, we don’t buy it.
Then, a year ago, we decided the evidence that sugar is the real culprit behind our country’s health and obesity issues – not fat, as we’ve all been led to believe – was too much for us to ignore. So we began to hunt down sources of hidden sugar, and opt for naturally low sugar choices instead. For example, we made simple changes like replacing a breakfast of yogurt, granola, and juice – 90 grams of sugar – with scrambled eggs, a piece of toast, and an orange wedge – 5 grams of sugar. After 2 months of reducing our sugar intake, my husband lost another 20 lbs., and I lost the 10 lbs. that I had resigned myself to accepting as my “badge of motherhood.” Even after adding dessert back in our menu (what’s summer without ice cream?), and indulging during the holidays, my husband has managed to keep off the weight for 8 months. (I plead the 5th.)
So what does all this have to do with joy? How can you eat gluten free*, chemical free, low sugar, healthy food (which is twice as expensive as junk food, according to recent study by the University of Washington) on a budget and enjoy it? That’s what this section of Joyful Choices will be about! I will give you examples of what we ate (and still eat) to lose weight. I will share recipes for delicious meals based on inexpensive real foods that are the new building blocks in our menu. I still bake on the weekends and enjoy delicious desserts (including fabulous gluten free chocolate chip cookies), so get ready for some yummy gluten free goodies! I’ll share how we eat fresh fruits and vegetables – even during the winter months – and do all this on less than $500/month for a family of 4. I can’t wait to share with you the joy of eating real food that’s affordable!
*A note about being gluten free: If you are not on the gluten free diet, don’t let that scare you off. Most of what we eat is “real” food that is naturally gluten free (rice, corn, potatoes). My family members are gluten intolerant, but I still eat wheat and have one foot in both worlds. So while my menus and recipes will be gluten free by default, I will also list wheat substitutions where appropriate. If you are gluten intolerant, be sure and read my Gluten Free Survival Guide and watch for recipes just for you!