Last fall I posted an article on Facebook that generated many interesting comments. One woman's comment in particular caught my eye and I was so intrigued by her that I reached out to her to interview her for the site. She is a single mom who is passionate about healthy living, even on a tight budget. Some people commenting on that thread felt that eating organic food is for the rich, and not the poor. Here is what Krista has to say about that:
1. Andrea Donsky: I often hear how healthy eating and living is not for the poor, or those living on tight budgets. Do you agree with that?
Krista Stevenson: I do not agree. I personally lived on a tight budget, had a young child to feed, and had a ridiculous amount of bills to pay. It was as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and making good choices for myself, and in turn making good choices for my son. I prepared for our future by focusing on the present.
2. Andrea Donsky: Can you share some ways you did that?
Krista Stevenson: I knew eating "in" was much more affordable than eating "out," so that's where I started. If I did smoke I would have quit. If I did drink I would have stopped. I cooked more and involved my son. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and we both grew to enjoy different types of foods that we would not have otherwise tried. I gave up every drink other than water, and felt great. We ate well and we didn't miss the garbage we were putting into our bodies. I know this sounds incredibly hard to some people but I truly believe it's because they are missing what is most important – THEM! We need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. We are all passing along our good and bad habits to everyone around us (i.e. roommates, kids, family, and friends). Once we understand the value of self-investment, we will soon see that eating healthy is not AT ALL expensive.
3. Andrea Donsky: Can you share some food staples you relied on to get you through the month?
Krista Stevenson: Here is my list of the foods we ate on a regular basis that helped to keep our food bill affordable. They are all organic: oats, lentils, corn, cabbage, peanut butter, jelly, grilled cheese, whole grain pasta, homemade salads, grapefruit, oranges, homemade pizza, eggs, honey (no sugar), beans, bananas, brown rice, sweet potatoes, yogurt, lettuce, pancakes and anything that was discounted, or discounted at our local co-op.
4. Andrea Donsky: How do you feel about the current state of our food system? How would you like to see it change?
Krista Stevenson: Our food system is so broken and there have been more and more negative changes only causing it to plummet. Obesity has become so prevalent over the past twenty years as well as many health problems including more cases of cancer and high blood pressure. I believe it is due to the development of the modern, global industrial food system.
I would like to see improvements within the current system, improvements that would greatly boost efforts to grow sustainable, food systems. I would like to see genuine, legitimate labeling on all food labels such as: Non-GMO, no high-fructose corn syrup, no rBGH, no additives, no preservatives, and I'd like to know where my food came from. I would like to see policies in place that make our food safer, in addition, coordinate with the farmers who grow our food. I would like to see our children receive good food at home, at school, at day care and at restaurants.
5. Andrea Donsky: What values have you taught your son about living/eating healthy, and living on a budget?
Krista Stevenson: My son learned many valuables lessons such as:
- Learning to be independent in the kitchen by cooking foods he could prepare on his own.
- Learning how to make good choices when buying food at the grocery store. Just a few days ago we went to our local co-op. He told me he wanted to shop by himself, so I let him. He filled his cart with the items we reviewed on the way there and a few others he chose as snacks. We put back three items we already had at home. He would have not known this a few years ago. It takes time to teach your children and it is time we all MUST take.
- Learning what foods to eat each day (veggies).
- Learning that foods can heal (and lead to zero doctor visits). When eating low, or no sugar, your immune system soars. Sugar is bad for the immune system thus increasing your chance of getting sick. Eating well can help children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth. When a child learns to eat well at a young age, this type of education will help him/her maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults, and prevent illnesses.
- Although my son did not understand the changes like I did, he learned to accept what was given to him and be grateful.
- Learning some gardening skills. We made a garden and learned how to do seed starters. We are currently learning how to grow avocados.
- Learning not to waste. My son was taught not to waste his food and that eating out is a treat (as well as ice cream, cakes and cookies). We enjoy designating these treats on a special day of the week to cook together. We also enjoy cooking a delicious meal on a holiday, such as Valentine's Day, where many people go out to eat. We enjoy it at home. We typically cook steak or burgers and always buy it when it is on sale.
- Learning a new bond. We share a new bond. We learned how to work together and share responsibilities. At seven, he packs his lunch for school on his own. I step in on occasion to see what he packed but not every time. I learned not to buy foods that were a waste of our hard earned money so there is no temptation for him to eat it at the house. He is offered it at school, birthday parties and many other events. I'm okay if he partakes in it there but I am certain to provide the best at home for my family.
- Learning to drink more water and eat less food. Your body sometimes isn't hungry, it's thirsty.
- Learning to be honest. Don't sneak foods that I may not approve of, just ask.
- Learning to value self. Taking care of self, hygiene, proper diet, and dress are all areas that require time to take for you. When people value themselves they can then value other people.
6. Andrea Donsky: Is there anything you would like to say to those who don't believe healthy eating is possible when you don't have a lot of money to spend on food?
Krista Stevenson: I find that there are many people who do not believe healthy living is possible without spending a lot of money. I have to ask those people these questions:
- Where are your priorities?
- Do you want to feel better?
- Do you want to save money on medical bills?
When we learn to put our health at the top of our priority list we see how quickly we can begin to save money. We matter, and we matter to our children, our family, our friends and the future. We need to help ourselves by eating better, and exercising so that we can help someone
7. Andrea Donsky: Can you tell me about your personal story, your financial struggles, and anything else you feel is relevant to those reading this interview?
Krista Stevenson: I am a single mom on a budget. I was in a ten-year marriage that eventually ended. I received no alimony or child support from my ex-husband. Eventually, I received a small sum of $50 a week in child support but along with the child support came bills that would either go to creditors, or I would have to pay them. It was not an easy time. However, I took my son by the hand and together we walked it together with no family to help us and made some important decisions:
- I homeschooled so I could have unlimited work hours. It gave me the flexibility to work longer hours (I didn't have to work around his school schedule). It also allowed me to bring my son to work with me.
- I ensured we both ate a healthy diet so we would never need to go see the doctor. On the rare occasion one of us was sick we went to the local health store, asked for their advice and paid anywhere from $20 to $30 for some natural supplements that came with zero side effects. We focused on what was important, each other.
- Since I was in charge of the money I ensured every penny was spent on an investment. My health, and my son's health – was and still is – an investment. We felt better, we had more energy, and we had better focus and drive to get things done. The foods we were eating kept us fuller longer and weren't processed so they contained more nutrients. During this time I had developed a severe case of acne (cystic acne). I was in so much pain but through clean eating and whole foods I was able to avoid spending any money at a dermatologist. If you saw me today you wouldn't believe I had this condition.
8. Andrea Donsky: When did things start to turn around for you, and why?
Krista Stevenson: I did some volunteer work, and became better known in my community. Shortly after, I ran for a seat on our local co-op's Board of Directors so I could continue to stay connected to the healthy lifestyle I chose to lead (it was a paid position). I was voted in, and from there things started to come together for me. Because I was eating well, and living clean, I was able to think clearly and actually remember what I was learning! Once I eliminated the processed foods and the sugars from my diet, my focus and attention began to improve, which helped my abilities. I was able to accomplish things I never thought I could.
At around the same time as I was working for the Board, I started my own business. Today, my business is stable and debt free, I am debt free and have served on the Board at our local co-op for three years. I continue to live the healthy lifestyle I did before. It takes commitment, it takes work, and it takes your life to a whole new level.
9. Andrea Donsky: Do you feel organic is too expensive for someone living on a tight budget? If so, what can they do instead?
Krista Stevenson: I am not convinced that organic is too expensive when you take the time to educate yourself on the how food affects our health. When you learn to eat right, your body learns to act right. If you struggle with a food budget and can only spend a small amount of money I recommend making healthy eating a top priority…specifically because of that.
Here are some of my tips:
- Buy foods with ingredients you can read and understand.
- If you eat a lot of one food, such as eggs, then you should buy the organic kind.
- Only buy produce that is in season because it will be lower in cost.
- If you cannot buy all organic follow the list of foods on the Dirty Dozen (avoid these as they contain the highest amounts of pesticides).
- In my town we have a great group of farmers who sell to a variety of local restaurants. It is their promise that they do not use pesticides on any of their gardens and we hold them to it. Also, our local co-op has purchased a farm and will begin growing with that same promise. It is their way of providing quality produce at the store bought price without spending a great amount of money on an organic label.
Andrea Donsky: Thank you for sharing your story Krista. You are an inspiration for all of us.
Krista Stevenson: My pleasure.
Image: sean dreilinger