Tuesday, February 26, 2008

French Lentils with Spinach and Sausage

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.


Beverly said...

All great points! And well-taken. (Also a delicious sounding recipe, by the way.)

It is true that lentils are way more filling and just as economical (perhaps more than) than Top Ramen. I also wholeheartedly agree that people need to branch out and invest in learning about new, healthier foods and interesting ways to cook them. These activities are free and available to anyone. I didn't mean for my comment yesterday to suggest that you were elitist or that eating healthy is unrealistic for lower economic classes; I was just lamenting that it's more difficult to get healthier foods.

I guess what I am wishing for is more public information about healthy eating on the cheap -- like your lentils idea! What a great one, right? But you don't often see a TV ad or grocery store point-of-purchase stand about easy recipes involving lentils and frozen spinach. You see ads or hear jingles about Hormel chili penne pasta. You are right; people need to invest time in themselves. But I'm also thinking that time is a real luxury for some families -- I guess I have been exposed to more of these types of families through a few of my blog readers, who seriously do struggle to be able to buy weekly groceries and rush from shift job to shift job -- no time to research food. Then again I suppose they could use the time online to research healthy recipes! Anyway, it's just opened my eyes to how lucky I am to have not only money for food but time to research the preparation of it. I would love to help make these ideas more generally accessible to the public. Lots of good food for thought. Thank you!

Sarah C. said...

I am with you there! This information should be made more readily available. I would also appreciate some free time away from my studies and researching healthy meal options.

Beverly said...

OK, you have totally inspired me. When I am in the position to take on more freelance projects, I really want to work on something that WOULD make this type of info more readily available. Maybe it is something we can collaborate on together. It could be a web site, pamphlets (I am still thinking about the appropriate media), whatever, about easy, delicious, economical, healthy & fresh meals. It could be useful for college/grad students, those short for time, people who are intimidated by using fresh ingredients, and of course people who think they may not have the income to eat well. I am going to do more thinking but it is totally something I want to do.