Eating Locally and Fresh: Is It Possible on a Budget? by Cherylyn Harley LeBon

lebon_smEvery month, there sees to be a new ad campaign or initiative attempting to influence what we eat, purchase, or otherwise consume.

My favorite food cop is Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. He has been temporarily thwarted in his effort to limit soda consumption in New York City, so he has shifted his attention to an ad campaign promoting salt reduction.

Numerous establishment environmental groups are also adding to the food police’s fight by attempting to convince us to eat one type of fish over another due to “sustainability” issues and current species populations. Other advertising campaigns encourage parents and families to purchase “Locally Grown” products or “Eat Fresh.”

While these ideas might lead some to strive towards healthy eating habits, a one-size-fits-all approach to eating is simply not financially feasible, nor is it physically possible for many Americans.

As a working mom with two small children, our family cooks as many fresh meals as possible. We also try to buy fresh produce when it’s in season — even though the winter months provide a limited variety of fresh foods. During these times, living by the “Eat Fresh” slogan quickly becomes eclipsed by looking for a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables that can still provide a nutritious and well-balanced meal options for my kids.

In addition, abiding by the “Locally Grown” rule may require that one frequent farmers’ markets several days a week. First, one needs to actually have a farmers’ market in his or her neighborhood — which is simply not an option in many urban or even suburban enclaves. Meanwhile, food deserts are alive and well in the United States and need to be recognized as an impediment to healthy food choices for many American families.

And, after leaving work and picking up the children, the last thing on any mother’s mind is likely having to make another stop at the farmers’ market for fresh vegetables. For many obvious reasons, the produce section of their neighborhood grocery chain is the best option.

Although elitists foodies will probably beg to differ, another healthy and affordable option for families is to browse the frozen food section in a local grocery store. Long gone are the frozen entrees of the 1970s that were high in fat, calories and sodium. Now, there are a variety of these entrees that are low in fat, calories and can even be gluten-free!

Similarly, frozen vegetables and fruit allow consumers to add variety to their meals in their convenience of homes and around the kitchen table.

Obviously, some will snub their noses at the thought of a frozen meal. Certain frozen meals, however, can significantly reduce or eliminate additives and unnatural ingredients. Therefore, when I read that packaging, I derive some comfort from knowing what I am feeding to my children.

Sometimes, the boasts aren’t even valid. For example, on time-pressed days, going to a local restaurant where “Eat Fresh” is advertised can sometimes be questionable. Nothing is more disappointing than realizing the soggy vegetables were microwaved, or having to interrogate the server to find out whether the cook used a specific ingredient in your entrée.

I am a big proponent of providing people with choices. I may not be a fan of soda, but I will certainly defend someone’s right to make the choice to consume soda.

Similarly, I am a big fan of eating fresh and healthy meals. But every family must define “fresh” and “healthy” for their family.

The important thing is that we provide our children with as many healthy and nutritional options as our family budget will allow.

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Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is co-chairman of the Project 21 black leadership network. Her Twitter handle is @HarleyLeBon. A version of this commentary originally appeared on the BlogHer web site. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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