Within the past week, while commuting via public transportation in Philadelphia, I have witnessed the following: a mother giving her toddler Cheetos for breakfast, teens on their way to school sharing a large box of Reese’s Pieces, and I even witnessed an adult eating Tostitos chips first thing in the morning. Which sparked me to write this entry. It always pains my heart whenever I see caregivers who don’t or can’t adequately nourish their children or when I see adults who appear to not care about what they intake. Don’t get me wrong, any nourishment is better than no nourishment but I see caretakers way too often feeding their children junk; or I see children eating junk. I should be able to notice this first hand because I use to be a kid and young adult that didn’t adequately nourish my body and often ate junk food. Now, I’m well aware that I don’t know the lives of these people and that what I have witnessed could very well be a 1 time thing; maybe that mom only gave her toddler Cheetos as a distraction while riding the bus, maybe the teens sharing the candy had a hearty breakfast(which included carbs, proteins, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats) before the candy and maybe the woman eating the Tostito’s chips in the morning was just getting off of a night shift and this was her snack, who knows? The reality is that unfortunately poor eating habits are a norm for inner city families which I identify with all too well.
When you grow up in the “hood”, eating healthy and “watching” what you eat was not something that was encouraged, nor was physical activity. I grew up on what I like to call the “bodega meal plan”. Being that my father owned a corner store in Camden, NJ; I of course often got snacks from there as a toddler. Even as I got older, almost every morning while walking to school (at least I walked lol), I would use my allowance on food and snacks at the many corner stores or bodegas I passed on my way to school (there’s literally one on every corner). I would fill up my little black bag with $1 worth of 1 piece candies (Fruit Nas, Laffy Taffy, Blow Pops, Chick o’ Sticks and more), 1 or 2 bags of Homeboy chips, a 24 oz Top Pop soda or Mystic juice, and maybeee add in a Pepperoni or breakfast Hot Pocket, “Willie” Burger (yes a burger for breakfast on Kaiser roll), or a Pizza Pastilio (aka an empanada with cheese, marinara sauce, and pepperoni). Yup that was breakfast; and all of this would be consumed before 2nd or 3rd period!! I would eat the school provided meal for lunch and then afterschool I would find myself at another bodega purchasing more soda or juice, more candy and chips, and even a cheese steak or hoagie; or both (what you know about a cheesesteak hoagie?) And let’s not talk about all the Camden Original Tarantini Panzarotti’s I would eat (drooools). I would then head home and eat my mom’s traditional white rice and beans with some kind of meat for dinner and iceberg lettuce salad. This was my diet (daily intake) for years!! My, how times have changed! I cook and plan most of my meals with the occasional treat meal (not cheat) to a restaurant or ordering in food and very seldom eat junk food (chips, soda, and candy).
So why don’t people from inner city neighborhoods eat better? One suggested reason is, well, … ignorance, like the old saying goes, “If you knew better, you’d do better.” I’m pretty sure if I knew about sugar addiction and calories and the importance of micronutrients and macro nutrients back then, I would have eaten better. Another suggested reason is, well, finances. How many times have you heard that eating healthy or eating better costs too much? While, I agree, the price for a salad is ridiculously much higher than the cost of a burger and fries at your local mall food court but there are ways to eating better without putting a dent in your pockets or bank account. Here are my tips on healthy eating for low income families.
1. The bodega, corner store, “papi” store is not a grocery store, sure you can get some essential items in there and snack on some of their hot and prepared food items every once in a while; but the corner store should never be your primary source for daily meals.
2. Limit the amount of times you eat out or order in food for delivery. Avoid fast food places and “the chino’s” aka the Chinese food store as much as possible. If you’re eating this more than 1 time a month; you might want to reevaluate that, it also saves money. (BTW, while ordering the vegetables is a “better” choice, it doesn’t make it any better).
3. Shop for produce at your local produce store; IT’S CHEAPER-simple!
4. When you shop at the grocery store, shop on the perimeter isles first! These isles tend to have less processed food products which are better for you and your family.
5. Limit the amounts of processed quick “heat and foods” you purchase such as TV dinners.
6. Research grocery store prices in your area; for those who live locally, Aldi Grocery Store has great health items such as flax seed, chia seed, coconut oil, and more! (Disclaimer: while I am aware that there are better brands out there for these products, the one’s I purchased will suffice for those trying to make healthier choices).
7. Familiarize yourself with local health food stores such as Trader Joes or Co-op Markets. I’ve also noticed stores like Marshall’s sell some health food items too!
8. Cook your meals! What better way to ensure what is in your food and how it was prepared if YOU prepare it yourself?
9. Meal prep! I understand this may be hard for some families because you have different taste buds to feed and no one likes to eat the same thing twice right? My suggestion: plan your meals for the week in advance. Try preparing your main dish multiple ways. For example: I may make ground turkey meatballs and whole wheat pasta for first half of the week and the for the 2nd half of the week I’ll have left over cooked ground turkey that I turn into a taco by placing it on a wheat wrap and add all the fixings. My veg heads, I didn’t forget about you; turn your pasta and veggies into a casserole or pasta salad by the end of the week. (These are just a few suggestions).
10. Use less seasoning; you don’t need to use ALL the seasonings in your pantry for each meal you cook! Try using herbs and vegetables to season your foods. You’ll be surprised how much flavor your food has with a little dry seasoning and more natural flavors from produce such as peppers, onions, or basil.
Feel free to comment with any other tips to add! Stay Well!
“Change begins in your mind.”