4 Genius Tips For Making Healthy Eating WAY Less Expensive & More Accessible
As a registered dietitian, I'm bombarded with messaging about healthy eating everywhere I turn. Between #fitspo social media posts and magazine articles about the next best diet, it seems impossible to get away from an image of healthy living that consists solely of kale, kombucha, and perfectly Instagrammable quinoa bowls. Now, don't get me wrong—I'm a fan of those things. But, for many of my clients, these items are expensive and inaccessible. And, most importantly, these images make healthy eating appear as if it's for only the privileged few—when, in reality, healthy eating can be achieved on any budget with a wide variety of foods. I've included some ways below that I make healthy eating inclusive for clients of all backgrounds and budgets:
1. I remind my clients that healthy eating on Instagram is not always reality.
Those perfectly put-together bowls and gorgeous dishes? No matter what any Instagram influencer says, the majority of those items did not take "minutes" to put together. They also tend to be very one-note—it's not often that these healthy eating influencers incorporate cultural dishes or get creative with inexpensive grocery staples in their posts. I often find that my clients think healthy eating is too hard simply based on the images they've seen—which tend to be curated by a small (and mostly white) audience. I assure my clients that Instagram is not always reality and that healthy eating is a possibility no matter one's background or income level. And it's a message that goes for more than just food posts. I also remind my clients of this fact when they're looking at fitness and beauty posts, many of which are curated by a similar audience.
2. I recommend modifying foods instead of removing them altogether.
Whether it's churros, pupusas, or glazed doughnuts, any culture has its share of foods that are absolutely delicious…but may not be the ideal source of vitamins and minerals for our bodies. Instead of completely removing foods from a diet, I'm an advocate for modifying cultural staples and favorite treats. For example, if nachos are a family tradition, I advise switching up the toppings to incorporate more veggies like peppers, tomatoes, and onions. For candy fanatics, I recommend swapping Reese's Cups for a version with dark chocolate and almond butter. By modifying favorite foods, my clients can get the nutrients needed without sacrificing their budget, depriving their taste buds, or completely erasing long-held cultural traditions.
3. I counsel my clients not to ignore the inner aisles of the grocery store...or skip buying produce because it isn't organic.
I can't begin to count how many clients I've had who will say things like, "I just see the prices of avocados/organic lettuce/raspberries/insert produce item here…and I just can't afford that." Though I'm definitely an advocate for your grocery store's produce section, there are budget-friendly, healthy options in the grocery store that may not fit the standard image of healthy living. Frozen fruit is a great example! Frozen fruit may not be as photogenic, but it has great nutrients at a quarter of the cost (plus, it lasts much longer!). I'm also a huge fan of portable snacks like almonds—since they're packed with protein and fiber, a handful keeps you full and provides you with health benefits that other snacks won't. I also tend to get asked if it's OK to buy fruits and veggies if they're not organic. I'm a huge advocate of plant-based eating, so I always tell my clients that non-organic fruits and veggies are much better than no fruits and veggies at all.
4. I assure my clients that food is more than just its nutrient profile.
When I first begin working with my clients, I often find that they use negative words like "guilt" or "shame" to describe their food. Oftentimes, it's the foods that have a rich cultural heritage with recipes that have been passed down for generations…but my clients are still wary of them from worries about fat, calories, sugar…you name it! While I will always advocate eating whole foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, I know firsthand that food is more than just the ingredients in it. Certain foods conjure up memories of days spent in the kitchen with relatives or special events like weddings or baptisms. One of those memorable foods for me is a piragua. My grandfather actually sold piraguas in New York City after moving from the Dominican Republic, so it's a food that holds such special memories for me (and is absolutely essential on a hot NYC day!). I will always tell my clients to enjoy their abuela's incredible flan or their mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies. There's plenty of room in a balanced diet for many types of food—even though the flan may not quite fit the #healthyeating hashtag on Instagram.
Wendy Lopez is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator who is passionate about educating communities on plant-based eating in ways that are accessible and culturally relevant. She completed her master’s in Nutrition at Hunter College in 2013, and finished a dietetic internship at Brooklyn College in 2014. She is the co-author the 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot, the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy, an online platform that provides resources on living a healthy, balanced life. She regularly partners with national brands like Quaker, Sunsweet, The Almond Board of California, and the Blueberry Council, to create delicious recipes and curated multimedia content. When not working on creative projects, Lopez also provides nutritional counseling and diabetes management to clients in a clinical setting. She uses an integrative and individualized approach towards nutrition, health, and wellbeing.