When The Family Budget Does Not Allow For Healthy Food

As I go in to the grocery store I notice that junk food is priced lower than healthier food. Some cereal and bread are highly priced at $3.96 to about $4.50, whereas most chips, noodles, and cookies are as low as seventeen cents to $1.98.

So I ask myself, is junk food cheaper just so that companies can make more money while also making the community and poor people unhealthy at the same time?

For me, chips, noodles, massive amounts of potatoes, fast food, soda, and candy are some of the things I consume on a daily basis.

My diet doesn’t consist of much since I don’t eat breakfast or lunch, only after school mostly, but then dinner is a different story. When my mom cooks I usually eat chicken with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and corn.

At school I usually don’t eat because the food isn’t very appealing. It looks like someone chewed it up and spit it out. The turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy look rotten and burnt, yet it has no flavor. Most of the other food like pizza, burritos and sandwiches are the same: no flavor. When I do eat at school, I usually go to the salad bar to either make a salad or a sandwich. The cafeteria does at least have fresh veggies and fruit.

Not having enough money for the healthier things in life forces my family and me to eat unhealthy. My mom pays all the bills and supports my brothers and I on her own. Sometimes she doesn’t have enough money to get healthier food since it can be expensive.

It is difficult to live without healthy food in the house, especially since I’m female, African American, and diabetes runs in my family.

Last year at my annual doctor’s appointment, my doctor told me that I needed to exercise more and change my eating habits to avoid going in that direction. We discussed the fact that since my mom spends most of her income on rent, so with the little money she has left she buys bags of cereal, noodles, burritos, hot dogs, lunchmeat, ground beef, Rice A Roni, canned fruit/vegetables, and anything else that is cheap. She also places a monthly order at a meat store where she gets packs of beef, deli, and chicken for $135.

Knowing that I’m a borderline diabetic is painful. I’m scared because my dad had one of his legs amputated since he is diabetic and never took care of himself. Sometimes I think to myself that if I don’t change the way my family and I eat, we’ll all be in the same boat as my father, or even worse.

There was a time when my mother was feeding my three brothers, three friends and me. Things got really tight for us so my mom set up a schedule of when we could eat. After she bought the groceries she would separate our food and put them in Ziploc bags with our names on it. She would also do the same thing with our cereal. She’d pour the dry cereal into a bowl just until it reached below the top of the bowl and then pour it into Ziploc bags as well.

During that same time, when it came to dinner, my mom would typically cook a big pot of what we call “elbowginni” which is like spaghetti, and we would eat that for four or five days for lunch and dinner. After all of it was gone, we would eat sandwiches until my mom made something else that would last us a few days.

These days, when my mom does have enough money, she will also buy fresh fruit, but only enough for us to have two pieces of different fruit. If she can’t afford it, then we settle for canned fruit.

I wish there were an easier answer to this unhealthy food issue because many other families also struggle to put food on the table. I notice that usually around the first to the tenth of the month, when people get their food stamps, most of the prices on healthy food are up, like for example, bread, cereal, eggs, milk and fruits. I think that they go up because this is the time people need them most.

This may lead poor customers to believe that they are better off purchasing burritos, noodles, processed meats, starchy items, and other cheap food.

I asked my brother’s friend Christian why he thinks this problem exists. He told me, “If you think about it the only reason why junk food comes off as ‘cheap’ is because there are a lot of artificial ingredients in it, and they’re easy to make.”

His answer is understandable, but I think there’s more to this problem. Maybe if we worked together as a community and did things like have more community gardens and nice parks where people could walk, we would gradually change the health of the community.

Through community gardens, we could also have food giveaways like the Convoy of Hope that took place the other year in West Fresno. The goal of the event was to bag as much food as possible and give out fresh produce so families could have something a little healthier to eat.

My mom says that studies show that kids aren’t eating healthy. She also says that with the economy as bad as it is, most people make enough money to pay rent and utilities, and then use what’s left over to buy food. They buy what fills the children up or can feed a lot of people. It’s not healthy or a part of the daily servings, but it’s all they can do to make ends meet.

She says parents do the best with what they have, and she would rather buy noodles, hot dogs, and burritos for us to eat two weeks of the month so we can eat meat and fresh veggies the other weeks. My mom estimates that we spend about $300 on food every month. I asked my mom why we can’t get food stamps, and she informed me that she earns too much as an office worker even though we barely get by each month.

I realize that I am a little more fortunate than others, but I still struggle with trying to eat healthier. I have to start somewhere, so I’ve decided to exercise more, cut most of my junk food habits and gradually replace them with food that is less filled with starch, sodium, and fat. Using my family history and my fear of becoming a diabetic as motivation, I know I that I will become healthier in the years to come.

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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