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Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Eating well on a budget is one tough recipe

Get dinner on the table.

If that's your job at home, then you understand the enormity of the task. It's relentless; it's messy; and it starts at the grocery store.

Last month, my family conducted an experiment, "MyPlate on My Budget," and I blogged about it for HeraldNet. Rose McAvoy from "Our Lady of Second Helpings" helped me with yummy recipes.

My question was, could my family follow the USDA Choose MyPlate recommendations and also keep to the USDA Cost of Food at Home "thrifty" budget? That meant spending $5 a day on food per person, but also filling our plates half full of fruits and vegetables. The real kicker was affording fish twice a week.

The result of my experiment was "yes," but this meant making radical changes. I stopped buying organic milk, started buying a lot of potatoes, stocked up on frozen veggies and served several disastrous fish meals that have probably scarred my children for life.

I found that it is easy to get my kids to eat fresh spinach and strawberries, but it's really hard to make them eat frozen spinach microwaved to mush. It's the same thing with fresh, wild-caught Pacific salmon, versus frozen fish flown in from Norway.

The more I studied the MyPlate requirements, the more confused I got. Why does the government want my husband to eat potatoes or corn every day? Why is there no recommendation for Meatless Mondays? Why are they pushing us to eat fish twice a week instead of encouraging people to choose sustainably caught fish more often?

By the end of March, I was beginning to turn into a conspiracy theorist.

I fully support Michelle Obama encouraging families to be active and eat more vegetables. (Laura Bush wants us to read more books and nobody accuses her of trying to orchestrate our free time.) What I can't support is food lobbyists pushing their wacky agendas onto my dinner table.

The basic recommendation of filling your plate half full of fruits and vegetables is good. But if french fries count as vegetables, where does that leave us? Where does that leave children across America relying on school lunches?

There's also something sad going on when (on the thrifty budget) I can't afford to buy milk from Washington dairies. Every time I passed on Darigold or Smith Brothers to buy milk from who-knows-where, I felt like crud.

Food, money, politics, health and the environment: They are all related.

So the next time 6 o'clock rolls around, know this: If cooking dinner every night seems tough, that's because is it. Food is more complicated than we know.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.blog.com.

Story tags » ParentingCookingPersonal FinanceNutrition

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