June 20th, 2011
05:05 PM ET
The joy in eating comes from choosing what to munch on, based on how you feel.
But that “I-eat-whatever-I-feel-like” could mean overeating, mindless, emotional or unhealthy eating.
After a week of following MyPlate’s guidelines on a budget, I learned it takes a lot of planning and calculating. But it's possible.
For a week, I tweeted my meals on my Twitter account, @MadisonCNN. I planned my meals to ensure I had fruits, vegetables, lean protein, grains and low-fat dairy, while sticking to a weekly budget of $61.27.
I tried to eat out as I normally would, instead of eating all my meals at home ,which would’ve been unrealistic.
I ended up caving to a $3.72 frozen yogurt on the last day of the challenge. I was already 31 cents over budget, but the froyo pushed me way over. I didn't realize that until Sunday night.
Here are my observations in bite-sized pieces:
1) MyPlate took me much longer to eat, because I had to finish various components.
One afternoon, my lunch took me two hours to finish because of meetings, interruptions and phone calls. I felt like I was eating all the time because it took me such a long time to finish.
The big difference was that I wasn’t eating fast, convenient foods that easily fit in my hands like a snack bar or a burger. So I ate at a much slower pace.
When I got hungry, I snacked on mostly bananas, apples or grapes. But I also felt like I was constantly eating.
After a meal, I never felt hungry or uncomfortably full. Eating MyPlate slowed down my pace and made me more aware of how I felt after a meal.
2) It gets easier. Promise.
At first, the challenge seemed daunting.
The first two days, I felt hopeless – especially for a girl who seldom cooks and accidentally cracked a runny, underboiled egg against her table (messy).
I sought advice from foodie co-workers and sections like Cooking Light’s Budget Cooking that estimates how much each serving costs. I visited the grocery store three times in one week to price shop for the food I wanted.
Menu planning got easier as the week went by. There was some nice encouragement, including from CNNHealth contributor @AmandaEnayati who wrote, “I want to tell u that it gets easier with time & practice & also food gets yummier.”
3) Portion control is key.
Eating from the bento box ensured that I ate only what was in my container and didn’t go overboard on the portions. Having a visual cue helped me control how much I consumed.
On Twitter, @CliffWeightLoss asked: “Are you tracking any variables, such as weight, body fat %, or BP [blood pressure] during this experiment?”
I didn’t want this to be about calories or weight loss, but I had a doctor’s appointment three days before I started the challenge.
I lost 2 pounds by the end of the week and I wasn’t exercising any more than normal.
4) Your variables matter.
Eating to an ideal can be harder depending on where you live, access to stores/farmer markets, income, time constraints, food allergies or dietary restrictions.
Eating MyPlate might be difficult, but what’s the harm in trying?
Finally, I compiled the best affordable and healthy eating tips from blog readers and Tweeps:
Mollie: The expensive fruits & veggies are usually those that are out of season. Learning what types of fruits & veggies are in season when you go shopping is an easy way to cut costs. Also, if you find a great price on something fresh or you have grown an abundance, you can always blanch and freeze the extra.
Jennifer: I spend roughly $50/week for myself and my son and we eat a very healthy, well-balanced diet. It's possible to not spend a fortune, depending on your diet. We're not huge meat eaters but I buy extra when it's on sale. We eat seasonal fruits and veggies, don't buy a lot of prepackaged food (except things for bag lunches due to school rules), and don't buy a lot that doesn't get eaten.
Erin: I have found that it is possible to eat healthy, including fruits and vegetables and stay on a budget. When I go to the farmers market, I can get a big tub of organic spinach for $2. The grocery store sells that same tub for $6. That $2 allows me to have spinach salads all week for lunch. I also watch sales ads and watch for coupons (driscolls.com has berry coupons; Earthbound Farms will mail you coupons if you email them; Dole Pineapple puts out coupons every couple of months, etc). My husband and I eat healthy meals at home for $50/week including fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, and organic dairy products. Trust me, it can be done!
Thanks. And happy eating!
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.