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Granola Bars, Cereal, Lunch Meat & Bread: my love/hate relationship

Having recently moved, my new neighborhood supermarket is Safeway in addition to a small, great local produce stand.  I find myself accomplishing my supermarketing tasks very, very slowly.  Not only do I try to enjoy the time without kids (when I am able to escape to market without them), but I am stuck on the labels.  I look carefully.  

Granola bars: the 70% organic CLIF bars run over a buck a pop but a box of the Quaker Oat bars ("now made without high fructose corn syrup" the box boasts!) will give you 8 for $2, if on sale.  The economics are compelling.  The kid CLIF bars usually run about $0.75 each, still significantly more than the ones I usually consider "candy bars" more than anything.  I struggle.  Do I have time this week to make my own (this one being the favored recipe so far)?  The wrappers.  I think about the wrappers.  Can we make an art project out of the wrappers?  Make a reusable shopping bags for holiday gifts?

Cereal: this is a treat in our household.  The poor children beg for it.  I sometimes look past the high fructose corn syrup (why do Rice Krispies need HCFS as a sweetener?) and reason that the iron-enrichment is worth it.  Why not?  On special, we could get two boxes for a few dollars, compared to the one box of my preferred brand of "natural" cereal.  What are your preferred O's?  Does it break the bank?

Lunch Meat: Oscar Mayer was on sale.  And, as I was humming "my baloney has a first name, is O-S-C-A-R....", I was thumbing the list of ingredients: ham, water, sugar...... sodium nitrite.  Is sodium nitrite bad?  Well, it could be.  But, it also does good in preventing botulism.  To be sure, though, the meat processing industry have indeed found ways to make us lunch meat that do not include sodium nitrite.  I've seen it at the store "No Nitrites", but it's just a bit too expensive.

Then, the bread: we have had long conversations about our decision-making process on the bread.  We look for lower sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, more whole grains, no enriched processed white flour (but wonder bread can be so good!).  We look for loaves under $5, please!  Under $2!  There are so many things to consider.

Between choosing these four items and whether or not I buy them, I could easily spend 45 minutes. It is a balance, and we all have our own ways that we juggle the cost, the convenience, and the health impacts.  What frustrates me to no end is how much I feel bombarded to buy the cheaper varieties, which often end up being the less healthy options.  How easy it is, though: cereal for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, granola bar for snack.  That's half of the day's meals, taken care of with just a few dollars and a few boxes.  It's not a decision I feel good about.  To eat out of stuff that has been previously wrapped no longer feels right to me.  That's just me.

When I go to the market, I wonder: why is it so hard to buy whole fresh foods?  Why do many factors push us to buy the convenient food, the cheaper food?  How can I continue to afford the whole food if it is priced higher than the processed food?  All of these things, I wonder, in my love/hate relationship with granola bars, cereal, lunch meat and bread.  It's a luxury to be armed with all the information we have, to have the time to ponder these questions, but I know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.  

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I am a member of Know Thy Food (food buying co-op here in ptown) that allows me to buy food such as veggies, dairy, and bulk grains for a great value. One of my favs that you mention above is bread; they have a direct pick up with Dave's Killer Bread for less than $2 a loaf (normally $5). I buy 6-10 loaves at a time and throw them in the freezer. Might be worth looking into for that alone!

I have a job outside the house and two small kids, but I actually find that it's easier and less stressful to make snacks and lunches myself than to agonize over labels. I spend about an hour to an hour & a half on a sunday morning to mix up enough dough for the week, then bake 2 or 3 loaves over the next 7 days as needed. i also make crackers or muffins or some other portable baked snack/breakfast food. Homemade bread costs less than $1.50/loaf. I really like to bake, and I understand that not everybody does. Please note that I am not saying that it is more virtuous in some way to bake your own bread -- I'm just agreeing with the original poster that reading labels is stressful and time-consuming, and for me this works better.

Fruit (sliced apples or pears, frozen blueberries), nuts, sunflower seeds, homemade popcorn and homemade crackers are easy portable snacks, and they're much cheaper than any of the packaged snacks. You can get bulk organic popcorn on sale for less than $1/pound, which means a snack-sized serving costs something like 6 cents, and my kids think it's a special treat.

You can get really discouraged comparison shopping like this. I have a few things that I staunchly refuse to buy, such as ANYTHING with sodium nitires (which I believe to be linked to alzheimers and creating holes in brain matter), HFCS, and mainly products that either have a gazillion ingredients, or have more than a couple of long name chemicals that I don't know what it is.

thank the government for subsidizing corn.

I hate the fact that I have become the type of person and mother who reads with interest these types of posts while thinking "that's me". I have stood in front of the milk case on many occasions before reaching in, thinking...deliberating... "gosh, the non organic is sooooo much cheaper and we drink soooo much milk". I have a job...in fact I'm a business owner. When did we become a society when the average person has to spend so much time deliberating over spending just a few extra dollars to feed their family healthy food? It's sad.

Ah! This is my constant battle! And I don't even come close to having an answer. What it ends up being is some sort of mish mash between stocking up on Fred Meyer non-organic milk when it's on sale, and splurging for the organic one every other time. Bread, we go the medium route. We often get whole wheat Country Oven bread when it's on sale (no HFCS, and whole grains, but it's no Dave's...)for 3 for $6 at FM. Sometimes 4 for $6 with a coupon. Then we freeze. I am going to look into the above suggestion though. Dave's Killer Bread is amazing, but we eat a lot of it, so I usually can't afford it. As far as granola bars go, I have been forgoing the granola bars completely because I can't fork out the $1/bar for the organic Clif bars. I make a double batch of homemade muffins on the weekend (some combo of carrot, apple, pumpkin, coconut, raisin) with oats and whole wheat flour and then use them for snacks and lunches all week. I also look the other way as I also dump in a 1/2 cup brown sugar to the batter or add some chocolate chips. I know plenty of people who shovel out hundreds of dollars every week to buy everything organic and wonderful from New Seasons, but we simply can't afford that. So I go the half and half route. Sometimes splurging, sometimes scrimping. As for the wrappers thing, (we do fruit leather, so wrapper issue is the same) I just hope that on some global scale, using cloth diapers and driving a non-minivan helps even things out a bit.

This speaks to my heart. It's nice to know I'm not the only momma who struggles with these things.

Speaking of Dave's Killer Bread, there's no reason to pay anything close to full retail for it as it's available frozen at their outlet (the Healthy Bread Store) in Milwaukie, across from Bob's Red Mill (another great source for bulk/quantity pricing on whole grains and mixes). The more you buy, the cheaper it gets; some varieties are less than $2 a loaf.

@anon, i feel you about the milk! i can't afford the organic on a regular basis, but Whole Foods carries their 365 brand of RBST-free milk for 2.50/gallon which is more affordable. we go through a gallon a week. it does seem ridiculous to have to choose between expensive healthy food and cheap unhealthy food. and @andrea: thanks for the tip, i have never heard of that store!!

When my kids were younger and resources tighter we used to by Organic for the kids and regular for us. My husband used to laugh that he'd get in trouble if he took a piece of the 'kid's fruit'.

Ohhhhh this is me! this is me! Endless amts of energy, worry, & brain power on this. We swing wildly: "what's the cheapest/use WIC & food stamps," to "use credit card/go into debt for farm-direct only food, bulk, buyer's clubs." Argh. I try to reassure myself that my kids' livers will withstand the junk in the cheap crappy food; and, that like a PP, our choices in other parts of our lives will offset packaging/enviro costs. Then, I freak out (thanks, M. Pollan) and rant at midnight to my husband that future diseases/conditions, early puberty, and the end of the world aren't worth it and, if needed, we can rent our house and live in a hole in the backyard if the food-related debt gets too much.

And don't get me started on take-out/convenience food...that blows the whole curve...sigh. Very upsetting to me, which makes me wonder what the emotional trigger is (meme of mother=food provider?). Sigh sigh sigh.

I know you don't have access to Know Thy Food right now and are stuck with Safeway, but I've found peace in steering clear of Safeway and Fred Meyer except for occasional pit stops for Tillamook cheese (the medium white cheddar in the blue label's my fave) or sale stuff. Know Thy Food (where I try to order organic/natural lunch meats in bulk every once in a while and stock the freezer -- I wait until I'm flush with cash, as happens every couple of months in my freelancing lifestyle :) and People's (where I never have to worry about reading labels; they've read them for me) are the ways I avoid this balance. Also, I don't do granola bars or energy bars for my kids except for very special occasions; instead, like Sarah, I try to bake healthy cookies or granola every once in a while so the boys have choices they can just grab when they're hungry vs. waiting for me to fix something.

I don't really care for Dave's Killer Bread, either (it's too sweet for me); I love the Trader Joe's organic oatmeal and honey bread, and the Bread Stop honey wheat bread (from People's or Fred Meyer), when I'm in one of my non-bread-baking periods.

I almost always steer clear of cereal; it's too much! (too much everything: bad ingredients, questionable nutritive value, processed grains, sugar... etc.) I prefer the super hippy dippy organic stuff from People's, but it's also super expensive. instead we make granola, eat hot cereal (my kids love the multi-grain mix from Gee Creek-- well, two of my three kids do), or just stick with toast for easy morning food.

The more I read about food, the more I'm willing to pay what is costs to buy good, healthy food and go without somewhere else. My family doesn't vacation much but we also don't eat pesticides or processed foods. It's not easy and certainly part of it is related to medical conditions. A friend recently sent me this link about new proof that pesticides in food are strongly correlated to autism: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44260583/ns/health-childrens_health/#.TnmWhXMs2Ya. Another article linked at the end of that explains how processed foods are much more likely to contain toxic contaminants. They recommend eating only whole, organic foods.

I think a lot about access to whole, organic foods. Not just who can afford them, but who can physically get to a place that sells them. With Trimet's very limited bus transfer policy, it's hard for people to take the bus, shop and still get home without having to pay again. Is access to good, healthy food a luxury? It often is in this culture. We have to do something about that.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't buy Cliff bars for kids any more than I'd buy the Quaker granola bars. They are both full of sugar. Sure, the Cliff bars use organic cane juice, but to me, that means it's candy not food.

I also feel this same pressure--and unfortunately, I think there is no easy answer. The convenience route will always hold some appeal and marketers have started to get good at touting key words, like no HFCS and no trans fats, that parents are looking out for on labels. My aunt once gave me some sound advice that I try to remember when I freak out about food (and other parenting guilt traps), "Guilt is a useless emotion." Which is of course exaggerated (guilt is not totally useless), but the point is that we will make compromises in our parenting and it matters so much more what we do everyday (make the best choices we can) than what we do once in a while (compromise when something is on sale or we are feeling burnt out on bread baking). The fact that you read labels at all and try your best is really such a victory for the future health of your kids. It does make me incredibly sad that not all families have the choice because of the higher cost of organics and limited time (not everyone will have the resources to bake their own bread). I do hope that this obesity crisis will be a wake up call to Americans and perhaps we can make some small changes over time if more and more people demand organic. Perhaps...

I have been making my own granola bars lately, because I can't have all of the soy that are in my usual clif/luna bars. I'll be trying to create a pumpkin variation today to welcome fall! http://thehappinessofrainydays.blogspot.com/2011/09/healthy-ish-granola-bars.html

Are you kidding me? This sounds like some of the least important shit I have ever heard of. Making shopping bags out of dirty old food wrappers? Why don't you just make condoms out of them, for fucks sake!
Good thing we have urbanMamas to point out our first world problems. If I did not know better, I would think there is nothing more important going on in the world than what fucking energy bar to buy.

I'm clearly not alone in constantly trying to figure out how to feed my family well and not go broke. I've looked at Know Thy Food's website in the past and maybe I'm missing something. Aside from the great price on Dave's bread (which I'm not willing to make a whole trip for), I don't see the great values.

Does anyone shop at Costco? I've been wondering if it would be worth the membership fee. I understand they have a decent amount of organic products these days.

lol@ scott! actually, the part about reusing the wrappers is SO "Portland". a little extreme tree huggish....

Mamajoy, we do shop at Costco and it's been great in terms of pricing for things that are easy to store - nuts, bread, (or really anything that's freezable) laundry soap, oats, rice, pasta etc. We definitely get our money's worth, especially when I'm planning meals the way I like to. You just need some space to store all the food you buy in bulk.

Yes, posters here do think about how to feed their kids healthy food on a budget, and worry about how their choices affect the environment. Because this is a web site for parents in Portland. Many posters see their connection to global problems: tainted food supplies, thoughtless overconsumption of resources and climate change. They see themselves as having some responsibility, some agency. But if you want to view these issues through a lens that doesn't involve families and parenting, the New York Times is just a few keystrokes away.

Scott--
Can you dial down the anger a bit? If this doesn't include information you find important or helpful, there's no need to read it and certainly no need to rant at anyone. Shrug it off and move on to whatever you do find important in the world.

Thanks,
Urbanmamas fan

We shop costco and find it very cost effective with lots of local/organic/whole foods to choose from including Dave's Killer Bread.

Although I did find Scott's post fairly hostile in tone, I think his reference to "first world problems" perhaps is something people don't want to address or admit here.

There's no doubt there are issues of class when the topic of food comes up in the UM community. I prefer to keep my choices personal because otherwise it turns into a "What are the Jones' eating?" kind of conversation that I frankly find pointless. I honestly don't care whether someone feeds their kids organic, fair-trade, corn fructose-free food. It's none of my business, and frankly I don't have the money to buy a lot of the options that I often see discussed in this community. It's a personal and economic choice for families.

Information is out there in countless forms/media if people want to share what they buy, how much it costs, etc. I would much rather see energies focused on issues that can bring parents together, such as improving Portland Public Schools. Or, how to improve food options *within* the schools, to tie it back all together while we're technically on the subject of food. Seriously, I am not going to place judgement on another parent because they don't have the time to make their own freaking organic, homemade, *insert-your-preferred-dietary/food-adversion-here* GRANOLA bar. Let's get some perspective folks.

The UMs get to post whatever they find to be important. You don't find it to be important? Choose a different blog or forum that covers issues that you are passionate about. Can't find one? Take your own time and start one. What is so difficult about this concept?!!!
I appreciate all of the talks on non-HFC, organic, whole foods, etc. I see great value in providing good nourishment for my family. I sacrifice a lot of luxuries so that my child has the opportunity for healthy foods. Thank you, UM, for providing this conversation.

Tj...Hear, Hear!

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