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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Granados

The Struggle to Afford Healthy Food Options

In a little time as a decade, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is becoming an increasing issue in the United States, over currently being the highest leading cause of death. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all conditions that are tied with it as well. Several individual lifestyle changes can prevent it from worsening. However, this isn’t an option for many Americans living in poverty or low-income situations, as it is hard to eat healthily. Thus, making it difficult for that population to prevent CVD.

For higher-income families, eating healthy is accessible; those in low-income situations face the opposite. In an article reflecting off a book titled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, National Center for Biotechnology Information states that “research has investigated the trade-off between money expenditure and time expenditure in food productions. These studies have found that low-income individuals … are time-constrained for meal preparation … the strain on time to prepare meals are affected by the labor intensive and busy schedules low-income parents and individuals have to deal with.” This means that individuals struggle to keep up with eating healthy. In an article written by National Public Radio, interviewing Connie Williamson, a mother said, “You can get leaner cuts of meat, but they’re more expensive … You can get fresh fruit every couple of days and blow half of your budget on fresh fruits and vegetables in a week’s time, easy.” Building onto this, it mentioned that “she spends hours driving around each month looking for deals.” Not only is money a big issue for these families and individuals, but time also adds to the struggle.

Even if they have opportunities to get healthy food options, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be guaranteed or that there will be an option to choose the healthier option. “For example, the Williamsons have a garden behind their apartment in downtown Carlisle. They grow lots of healthy food … But when Alex [their son] was thirsty after a walk, his mother gave him a plastic water bottle filled with orange soda,” said NPR. “A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents … Do the math,” Connie Williamson said. It has been agreed upon that healthy food options are possible for low-income families. However, in recent times, that claim has been debunked. “Many nutritionists insist that all Americans have equal access to healthy fresh foods: if only they made the effort,” says Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. These nutritionists and many others who believe in the same objective fail to realize that when income and budgets decrease, the food choices switch towards cheaper but more energy-dense foods. “The first items dropped are usually healthier foods - high-quality proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Low cost energy-rich starches, added sugars, and vegetable fats represent the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs”.

Every American, whether facing food insecurity or not, asks themselves: “what can I do to bring more healthier food options to low-income families?” The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) represents nutritious diets at a varying cost. The Low-Cost, Moderate, and Liberal Food plan accompany the TFP as well. The USDA established these to guide Americans in response to the Great Depression. As there is a consensus that the TFP is the cheapest food plan out of the four mentioned, this will be the main focus. “One way that the TFP achieves its cost objectives is by using inexpensive foods … The only fresh fruit choices were low-cost oranges, apples, bananas, and grapes,” said Drewnowski and Eichelsdoerfer. The caveat to creating low-cost nutritious diets is that they would lack variety and be unappetizing. Even organizations like the USDA fall short of making a plan that would please every American.

Fast-food chains are massively popular, both locally and globally. However, healthy fast-food chains are scarce. Salads became a trend recently and promoted from being thought of as “bland” and “simple” to Instagram-worthy. Salads have also been consumed more and more by the general public with additional ingredients such as tofu, beans, hummus, bell peppers, corn, and more. It seems all fine and dandy, but some downsides of these new chains remain. In a video, Business Insider exposes the company Sweet Greens with their $12 salads. “Its popularity means more people might be choosing to eat healthier but at an average cost of over 10 dollars per meal, the healthy revolution could be leaving millions of Americans behind.” Although healthy food options are becoming more popular and widespread for Americans, it comes with a large price tag. These chains that prioritize high quality, fresh, and nutritious ingredients become forced to charge higher amounts due to the higher spending these chains undergo. Business Insider states, “Fresh C.O. and Dig Inn for example both bought a farm to source ingredients … and Sweet Green works with over 300 farms.”

Not all is at a loss for Americans who are looking for a change. Chains are now becoming more accessible to low-income neighborhoods. Business Insider interviewed Sam Polk, the CEO of Everytable, who started his salad chain company with a new concept. Instead of every single store settling on one specific menu price, each store accommodates their prices to serve their location better. Polk stated, “Our meals cost seven to eight bucks in some communities and other locations, like Compton and Watts and South LA, which are communities that have been left out of a functioning food system, we’ll sell the same meals for five or six bucks.” However, this does not change the fact that Industries like Sweet Greens or Dig Inn overpower these companies that want to seek change. These chains are strategically opening in high-income locations to continue growing their franchise, customers, and fanbase.

It is a common goal for Americans to be as healthy as they can be. Cardiovascular disease and the factors that follow it are increasing dramatically. A way to prevent this is by incorporating more healthy foods into our diets. It sounds pretty easy at first, but it is not so simple while noting the struggles that lower-income communities face.. We can support businesses like Everytable and their mission to bring healthy, affordable meals to everyone in American regardless of income. We can offer support to organizations like Feeding America or food banks, and volunteering at them or spreading the word about them. We can also start conversations to talk about food insecurity and find help for those who need it. It is all about uniting and being conscious about the low-income individuals of America. We need to stop focusing on what cannot be done and start looking for windows of opportunity with a positive mindset.


Business Insider. “The Rise of $12 Salads.” Youtube, Business Insider, 26 July 2020, Accessed 01 February 2021.

Drewnowski, Adam, and Petra Eichelsdoerfer. “Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?” Nutrition Today, 2010. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, Accessed 04 February 2021.

Fessler, Pam. “Eating Nutritiously A Struggle When Money Is Scarce.” NPR: National Public Radio, NPR: National Public Radio, 20 July 2010, Accessed 02 February 2021.

Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. “4 Individual, Household, and Environmental Factors Affecting Food Choices and Access.” Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1st ed., Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2013, p. 234. NCBI, Accessed 01 February 2021.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service. “USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food (monthly reports).” USDA Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 07 June 2019, Accessed 03 February 2021.

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