A Scalable, Healthy Diet For Broke, Busy Entrepreneurs December 2011

From the first day I moved out of my parent’s house and began to confront the challenge of buying my own groceries, I’ve been slightly obsessed with eating healthy. But I’m not your average health-obsessor. I’m an economical health obsessor. Perhaps where most people are okay with spending more money to eat healthy, I’m profoundly bothered by the scalablity of my diet – probably due to my engineering and entrepreneurial mindset.

So my goal is simple: eat insanely healthy meals (mostly vegan, paleo, and low-glycemic index) that take less than 5 minutes to prepare on less than $40 a week. After all, I’m an entrepreneur and autodidact. I have no free time and no money.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in both Asheville and Raleigh over the last two years and run plenty of dietary-economic experiments with my grocery-buying habits. Asheville is internationally famous for its local- and organic-food movements. And it has this grocery store called Amazing Savings. And yes, it’s amazing. Think of it as taking mostly organic Whole Foods food that is about to expire and then buying it for less than Food Lion prices. I shopped almost exclusively at Amazing Savings for all of Spring 2011, but I eventually noticed that buying fresh food even at insanely cheap prices was not as economical as you might think. Fresh food goes bad quickly, and this soon-to-expire food expired just days after buying. So I found myself having to shop every two or three days and allowing much of my food to go bad. In the end, I was spending more like $50-$60 a week.

Then, this summer I moved back to Raleigh and no longer had access to the amazement of Asheville’s health-obsessed marketplace, but I began to come to terms with this quickly as I read that fresh produce is not necessarily as nutrient rich as canned and frozen food; produce begins to lose nutrients as it ripens, and unsurprisingly by the time produce has been sitting in boxes and on the shelf for weeks, it’s not nearly as nutritious as its canned and frozen counterparts that are not only cheaper, but were also preserved just minutes or hours after being harvested. Thus, I began my obsession with canned food. After having taken a course at UNC-Asheville in the spring that pushed the mind to think about living off the grid, I loved the fact that canned food could keep for years after being canned. One could buy canned food in bulk for ridiculously low prices, stockpile it in their pantry, and rarely even have to visit the store. This was a great diet and a healthy one, but it gets better.

In the fall, I learned that much canned food has plastic lining that is potentially cancerous. Additionally, I noticed that frozen food was a lot cheaper than canned food and much easier to find in organic varieties. It is also a bit healthier due to the fact that its nutrients are locked in when it is frozen, and damn, it is so much less mushy!

So two years after beginning my quest for a scalable, insanely healthy diet, I’ve found the jackpot. I wake up every morning, make a smoothy by blending a banana, some frozen blueberries, strawberries, and mangos with peanut butter and almond juice. Sometimes I’ll add peaches or cherries. Everything is frozen, inexpensive, USDA organic, and 100% vegan. For lunch I’ll make steel-cut oats or perhaps some lentils – a good source of protein and iron. For dinner I heat up some frozen broccoli, corn, spinach, peas, and squash in the microwave, adding creole seasoning for flavoring. To hold me between meals I eat avocados, apples, mixed nuts, dried fruits, and bananas with peanut butter. I’ll buy half a pound sushi-grade salmon once a week (if only it was less expensive! I would love to have raw salmon every day). Every meal takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and is vegan, paleo, inexpensive, and organic. I stay away from processed food, the bad fats, carbohydrates, and stick to low-glycemic-indexed foods. I feel great every day, have lots of energy, and spend minimal time and energy on my food. In fact, I would argue that my diet is less time consuming and cheaper than fast food.