In a recent comment, it was suggested that natural foods may be unaffordable to some families. In the new push to eat less processed foods and more fresh produce, this is a concern. While top ramen are certainly sold 10 for a buck, a similar sized bag of dried beans or lentils can be purchased for the same price and are substantially more filling and offer a wider range of nutrients needed to maintain health.
In the following dish I used frozen chopped spinach which is considerably more cost effective than the fresh counterpart but still offers some vitamin benefits. To make the meal more cost effective I could have used ground beef instead of italian sausage and dried spices instead of the fresh ones I added. The meal was pretty inexpensive for me to eat as is because a cup of dried lentils and 1/2 lb of sausage made three mid-sized meals for me that were perfect accompanied by a piece of fruit.
I have no doubt that being on a restricted budget places certain limits on the food that can be purchased. I also think that culture is just as, or perhaps even more, restricting than price. I have been introduced to various flavors and ingredients because of the life experiences I have had and because my parents cooked a particular way. Those experiences I have had certainly affect what it is I choose to cook or what flavors I favor. I am definitely biased, probably due to my place in academia (among other things), but I do not think you can claim ignorance in this case. I have reached outside of my comfort zone for food. I research new recipes and how certain ingredients are to used. I watch cooking shows for inspiration. I browse the cookbook section for ideas (though I rarely buy any) and I glance through the news or nutrition section to get a general idea of the food happenings. However, I do not think you need to all those things to eat a healthy diet.
Maybe its the elitist in me, but I think people too often hide behind restricted finances so that they dont have to give up the much easier MacDonald's/Cup-o-noodles meal. There has been a movement where economically privileged people, even some congressmen and house representatives, have taken the challenge of feeding their entire family on food stamps just to 1) highlight that the poor DO need more money allocated towards purchasing food and 2) to disprove the myth that the poor have to eat less healthy foods. To present the issue fairly here are two blogs that offer opposing views. DC Hunger Solutions provides accounts of the food consumed and the difficulties of being limited in funds and time. Rebecca Blood takes the challenge a step further by only eating organic foods on the food stamp budget. These are only a few of the myriad blogs devoted to the food stamp challenge and the range of people participating in the effort is impressive.
The blogs all highlight the fact that eating healthy isnt easy. Sorry folks, it isnt easy for anyone. The evil calorie is lurking in every vending machine, waiting at every gas station, ready to leap from every grocery store isle. It isnt easy to find the time to make food from scratch. It isnt easy to try new food items. It isnt easy to be on a budget. Just because it isnt easy does not mean that it cannot be done. Take some time. Make some effort. Invest in yourself.