Eating Well on a Stretched Budget

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Vegan Tamales prepared by Rebecca Lopez for her vegan catering company Rebel Eats.

Vegan Tamales prepared by Rebecca Lopez for her vegan catering company, Rebel Eats. Courtesy photo.

At the H-E-B off of SW Military Drive, weekly cooking demos show shoppers how to eat healthy on a budget. However, theses healthy cooking demos are almost never labeled as “healthy” because the label tends to deter shoppers.

“Especially males, but kids less so,” explained H-E-B’s Southwest Regional Dietitian Lorena Kaplan.

While healthy food and meal preparation are conducive to a balanced lifestyle, factoring in cultural habits may be an important component to encouraging San Antonio residents to adopt healthful habits.

From 2010-12, San Antonio’s obesity rate fell from 35.1 percent to 28.5 percent, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity is 21 percent higher among Hispanics and more prevalent among low-income earners.

With expensive super foods and organics rising in popularity, eating healthy can be a daunting task for families already struggling to put food on the table. Kaplan, in conjunction with H-E-B, leads free grocery store tours every Wednesday at 10 a.m.

“I show shoppers how to eat healthy for $100, often less, per week,” said Kaplan.

Weekly H-E-B cooking demos show the components to healthy meals in one convenient location. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Weekly H-E-B cooking demos show the components to healthy meals in one convenient location. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

The tour begins with Kaplan showing shoppers different staple items they can purchase for good health and a low cost. Organic items, she says, aren’t necessary unless your budget allows.

“Buying 100 percent whole grain bread is just as good as a more expensive bread with double fiber or flax seed, etcetera,” said Kaplan. She also revealed that, for a family on time constraints, frozen vegetables are preferable to fresh vegetables.

“They’re picked at peak ripeness and then frozen. From there they can last for months,” she explained. Buying frozen also reduces the risk of wasting money on food that could potentially spoil and become unusable.

Buying brown rice instead of white rice and whole grain fideo instead of vermicelli are also healthful alternatives that can allow Hispanic consumers to continue cooking familiar dishes.

Affordable milanesa at H-E-B. When portioned and cooked correctly, this cut of meat can be healthy. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Affordable milanesa at H-E-B. When portioned and cooked correctly, this cut of meat can be healthy. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

One particular cut of meat that Kaplan shows to shoppers is called Milanesa— a cut of beef popular in Mexico. For $7.33, one package can feed a family of eight for less than $1 each.

“Often the way it’s cooked is what makes it unhealthy,” Kaplan said, who offers shoppers alternative preparations of the popular cut of meat.

Kaplan also promotes portion control. She encourages eating smaller portions of meat and making room for grains and vegetables as outlined by the USDA’s MyPlate program. MyPlate, and its Spanish sister program MiPlato, encourage filling a plate with a quarter of fruit, a quarter of grains, a quarter of vegetables, a quarter of protein and small portion of dairy for each meal.

Rebecca Lopez, or “Rebel Mariposa” as her friends call her, understands the concept of turning traditional Mexican food into a healthful option. She runs a local vegan catering company called Rebel Eats and has eaten vegan Mexican food for several years. She claimed that her decision to eat healthier food made her feel great and gave her a lot of energy while helping her save money.

“It’s a lot cheaper to eat off beans and rice. Whether we be Texan or Mexican or anyone, it’s very easy to craft these dishes,” she said.

A chile-marinated nopal steak, with black bean puree and plantains, a dish that may be available at Rebel Mariposa's pop-up restaurant on July 18. Courtesy photo.

Rebecca Lopez, a.k.a. Rebel Mariposa, owner of Rebel Eats. Courtesy photo.

Both Kaplan and Rebel agreed that planning meals in advance and preparing essential ingredients during free time on the weekends prevents consumers from being tempted to eat out.

“If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to end up spending the extra money,” explained Kaplan.

In San Antonio 28 percent of deaths are attributed to heart disease annually and 11 percent of people struggle with diabetes, according to the American Heart Association and University Health System, respectively. Both of these diseases show significant improvements when a healthy lifestyle is adopted.

While the transition to healthy eating can take some time, Kaplan noted that even cutting out sugary drinks can significantly improve health.

“Many people stop drinking sodas and switch to lemonade or sweet tea instead,” noted Kaplan, “but these drinks are often just as bad.”

Eliminating these addictive substances from a diet can take time. When Rebel transitioned to eating vegan, she claimed, “I had to detox my thought process.”

Fortunately, she was surrounded by other vegans and vegetarians and people supportive of her diet.

Whether it’s a college student on a budget or a single parent trying to feed his or her children, Kaplan believes that with planning anyone can afford to eat healthy. And with naturally healthy alternatives for staples such as beans and rice, it can still taste like home.

*Featured/top image: Vegan Tamales prepared by Rebecca Lopez for her vegan catering company, Rebel Eats. Courtesy photo.

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