Top to bottom and left to right:
frozen strawberries, carrots, kale
tomato puree, broccoli, artisan lettuces
spinach, banana, apple, grapes, orange
sweet potato, russet potato
Recently there's been a bit of talk in the old blogosphere about how much must be spent in order to get the 4.5 C of fruits and vegetables recommended by the USDA. (specifically 2.5 C vegetables and 2 C fruit). (Don't know what I'm talking about. Have a look here or here for a couple of the more objective outlooks, although the comments aren't always as objective.) The USDA says it can be done on $2.50/day. A bunch of other people say the USDA is living under a rock or perhaps on a mountain far away or maybe under a rock on a mountain far away.
And while I certainly won't argue that the purported scientists, dieticians, and politicians who comprise the USDA certainly must be a troop of Martian invaders having a good laugh at our expense ("Hey, Borg, let's make it look like a prism and keep calling it a pyramid and see if anyone notices." "Okay, (snorking genetically modified frozen soybean juice out nose) "but only if we can change the measurements from ounces to cups and spend over $5 million to do it."), I have to say that I believe folks can eat 4 1/2 C of fruits and veggies--a wholesome, colorful, and balanced blend on $2.50/day. Perhaps even less. It's not even too much of a challenge if you shop the Aldi/Walmart/Costco circuit. It's also possible in other supermarkets if you're careful to shop seasonal and loss-leader items. Co-ops, farmer's markets, and your own garden can also be helpful. In fact, in the summer, I'd wager people can even do the $2.50/day by eating locally and perhaps even organically (or near-organically).
Also, as a parting
It's true that these are not the most nutrient-dense foods, but they are still more nutrient dense and unadulterated than, say, candy or French fries or soda or Cheese Whiz. Therefore if people not eating vegetables/fruits (and isn't that really who the guidelines are there for anyway) start to replace these foods in people's diets, or even merely supplement junky foods in their diets, that's a step in the right direction. After all, they've added some vitamin C, fiber, water, and other nutrients that weren't there before. And that is hardly a bad thing. Enough of those super cheap, somewhat nutritious vegetables and we might even find ourselves on the way to health. Or wealth. Or both. But I don't think we'll have to stick to the iceburg/russet regimen to make it on $2.50.
Here's a sampling of real foods at real prices that I had in my house:
1. Canned Tomato puree: 1 C for $.35 ($1.36 for 29 oz from Walmart--this is not sauce; it's concentrated tomatoe puree: ingredients--tomato pulp)
2. Frozen Strawberries: 1 C for $.60 (2 lb for $3.75 from Aldi; similar or better deals can be found at Costco/Sam's)
3. Banana: 1 C for $.20 ($.39/lb at Aldi, but this is something that's cheap no matter where you get it.)
4. Grapes: 1 C for $.38 (2 lb for $2.29 from Aldi. They were 2 lb for $1.49 last week.)
5. Oranges: 1 C for $.60 (I got 4 lb for $1.99 at Aldi. A month ago that much went for $1.49. The prices are higher now, as they're starting to slide out of season.)
6. Apples: 1 C for $.40 (3 lb from Aldi for $2.99)
7. Russet potato: 1 C for $.14 (10 lb for $2.84 from Aldi)
8. Sweet Potato: 1 C for $.25 (Bought on sale in season from Walmart for $.10-.20/lb; stored for the last 2-3 months in my very cold basement.)
9. Carrots: 1 C for $.40 (1 lb from Walmart for $1.00. You could have gotten them even cheaper from Buy Low a couple weeks ago at $.77/lb.)
10. Broccoli: 1 C for $.35 (I got about 3 crowns or about 9 oz from Aldi on sale a couple weeks ago for $.98)
11. Little heads of a variety of lettuces (petite tango, petite gem, petite oak) labeled 'artisan lettuces': 1 C for $.33 (a box of 4 heads from Aldi--about 9 oz. for 1.99)
12. Spinach: 1 C for $.28 (9 oz for $1.69 at Aldi. I see 10 oz for $1.99 at Walmart fairly often and I know the Asian store in our area has it even cheaper.)
13. Kale: 1 C for $.15 (9 oz from Walmart for $.98)
14. Romaine Lettuce: 1 C for $.14 (23 oz from Aldi for $1.99)
That averages out to $.31/cup of fruits/vegetables, which makes 4.5 C fruits and veggies come up to $1.39. There is variety, color, and plenty of leafy greens. No we don't live in NYC or Alaska, though Indiana hardly boasts the cheapest food in the nation; no this produce is not local or organic (though in the summer it very well might be), yes it tends to be seasonal and I see nothing wrong with some canned or frozen stuff in the mix. And yes, it was measured by me right in my very own kitchen only yesterday.
And now that I'm done dissing on the USDA (because it's fun) and also those who claim that it simply cannot be done (because I absolutely disagree with them), let me pause for a few moments of self-reflection and self-critique. Can a family of 6 whose collective nutritional needs (and let's face it, those USDA standards are surely bare minimums) come up to 11.5-12 C (I've used mypyramid.gov to determine the minimums for the children) of fruits/vegetables a day live healthfully on $6/day. Er, um, well. Maybe. Like if we were very very careful and only ate the cheapest foods of the lot (hmm, kale and russet potatoes--colcannon everyday anyone???) With an average of $.31/cup, we'd be spending $3.72 for 12 C--our minimum daily requirement. If we could reduce that to half by eating only the cheapest we'd be at $1.86, which is a more realistic number. But difficult, very very difficult. Difficult enough that I can pretty much guarantee that we wouldn't do it. Even if I tried to, I'm pretty sure I'd meet with resistance from the troops, who I'm pretty much 110% sure would NOT eat colcannon everyday, having lost touch with their Irish roots a long long time ago. And so, I must ask myself what I am sacrificing to eat very very cheaply and is it too much. I usually get my 4.5 cups. It's important to me and I make it a priority. Kip probably doesn't ever get his, though our dinners usually contain a couple of servings of vegetables. However, Kip is an adult and can therefore decide that he doesn't want to eat a salad with lunch if he doesn't want a salad with lunch. I'm not going to nag or pester because I don't believe in that sort of thing and because it would surely only backfire if I did. But our children... They, as I may have mentioned oh, a time or two, are very picky eaters and therefore it's not always easy to get them to eat their allotment of fruits and vegetables. But if they're tucked into some of the more expensive options like smoothies or if they're lovingly cut into slices at dinner, then we have a fairly decent chance. If they're in colcannon or an inexpensive salad, then we really do not. Much to think about for the mother who wants them to live a long and healthy life. Much to think about.
Any suggestions or thoughts about how to get kid-friendly, inexpensive foods down their stubborn little gullets? Please share. (And for the record, I love their stubborn little gullets with my whole soul.)