1 in 5 Cannot Afford to Eat

We cannot thank Allie enough for today’s guest post. I personally was raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. Fortunately for me, my mom made patronizing thrift stores, going to yard sales, and couponing fun. I remember we had a “game” where we took a calculator with us to the store to see if we could keep the cart under a certain amount. I caught my mom in a lie to a cashier once and accidentally outed her, as she attempted to float a check at the grocery store (knowing they wouldn’t deposit it until her actual pay day).

But all of these experiences made me who I am today. I like to give back and help where I can, saving money on buying used, and admittedly spoil my children in ways that I wish I’d had as a kid. Our family is part of the extremely fortunate few in this country, we can buy almost anything we want (if we plan a little) – including most importantly, high quality food.

Accordingly, when it comes to figuring out how to manage Paleo on a tight budget, I’m no expert. I’ve shared a bit of my knowledge on The Live Love Eat podcast in regards to WIC. I have experience from LLL with coaching breastfeeding mothers through their process, as WIC is a wonderful resource for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, but that’s about all I know.

It is SUCH an important topic. One the community needs to understand. A topic we should all care about, talk about and want to DO something about. I just didn’t know how to get good information out there.

So when Allie, a member of our Facebook page, agreed to write a guest blog in response to our update of “It needs to become a priority for the US to re-prioritize how we subsidize and nourish those who struggle to put food on the table” linking to In The U.S., 1 in 5 Can’t Afford To Eat Every Day, I was thrilled.

Allie is a mother, striving to achieve the health benefits of paleo, while also struggling with how to do so on an extremely limited budget. I sincerely hope that as you read this it helps you in a few ways:

  1. You understand the enormous challenge of overcoming this system for health, wellness & nutrition for the entire country
  2. You come away with the ability to educate those around you on the importance of this topic
  3. You have some ideas of how you can help

Four years ago when we had one child, two incomes, and no known food sensitivities, stories like the one Matt & Stacy posted would have been completely off my radar.  But then my husband’s hours at work got cut and I was laid off.  Then I got a new job and found myself pregnant again in less than a year.  About the time we became pregnant with our third child, my husband finally found a new job—after nearly two years of cutbacks and filling out job applications—and I found myself as a stay-at-home-mom.

Like many growing families, we had weighed the cost of working with daycare vs. staying home, and found that leaving my job was far less expensive than working to keep 3 kids in daycare.

When I quit working we moved to a small town to be closer to my husband’s new job.  We settled in and I started noticing things about my older son that I’d never seen before.  The eczema he’d had since he was 6 months old was getting worse, and managing his violent tantrums was taking over most of my day.  I felt like I was losing touch with my son at a time when we should have been growing closer.

I read everything I could about food allergies and sensitivities to see if I could find a trigger for his eczema.  Fast forward through negative allergy testing, numerous consultations and ineffective medications, and what felt like a never-ending cycle of trial and error with detecting food sensitivities.  Finally a friend recommended the “Paleo” diet.

Once again, I started reading everything I could find.  The science behind the Paleo diet made sense.  Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon the PaleoParents blog, I felt like my prayers for my son had been answered.  The stories they shared about their boys helped me to see my little guy in a different way.

I shared some articles with my husband, and we began to apply some of the methods: we cut out grains and dairy, dumped artificial food additives, incorporated more lean meats and good fats.  We saw major improvement in the health of the whole family in just a few weeks, and I wasn’t spending all day managing violent tantrums.  Things were going great!

Right about that time we realized that we were running out of savings.  The necessary dietary changes had taken a major toll on our grocery bill. I took myself, my older boy, and our newest son in to sign up for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) supplemental food program.

Because my son’s allergy testing had come up negative we were encouraged to follow the WIC recommendations. Basically, the Food Pyramid we all grew up with.  In no time, my boy got worse.  He became moody again and violent, had 45-60 minute screaming tantrums.  Sometimes I had to spend 10-15 minutes just trying to make eye contact with him or get a verbal response other than crying.  We learned quickly that following the WIC guidelines would not work for us.

My son (and to a lesser extent, me and my other two children) is gluten sensitive, egg sensitive, has violent reactions to corn, and cannot handle artificial anything (sweeteners, colors, flavors, preservatives).  While he doesn’t have life-threatening allergies or celiac disease, we’ve been strongly advised by three physicians to avoid eggs, grains, gluten, artificial additives, and to limit dairy.  On WIC we have a few choices, but for the most part it’s grain- and dairy-heavy.

We are extremely grateful that there IS such a thing as the WIC program available to families like ours:  but it’s so limiting for us at the same time.  WIC helps quite a bit with covering groceries, but the food items allowed are things that we shouldn’t be eating. A typical WIC shopping trip for us might include the following:

  • 2 gallons of milk (1% or Skim—the baby gets Whole milk until he turns two)
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 lb either brown rice or oatmeal
  • 1 lb either dry beans or lentils
  • 2 boxes of breakfast cereal (sugar-sweetened and colored cereals are excluded, “whole grains” encouraged)
    2 cans frozen concentrated juice
  • $6 worth of fruit or vegetables (can be fresh, frozen or canned)

For the three of us on the program, we are given one check each similar to what’s shown above, plus one more with milk, rice or oatmeal and cheese, and a third with just milk.  Both boys are allowed $6 a month for fruit and vegetables and, being pregnant with our fourth child, I am allowed $10 per month.  Once I start nursing my baby, I’ll be given a limited amount of canned tuna or salmon each month.

As you can see from the above, it’s hard to cobble together the nutritious, Paleo-style meals we need.  As I mentioned before, we so are grateful for the help.  The more we learn about our son’s food sensitivities, though, the more convinced we are that cutting out grains, dairy and possibly beans/legumes will be the best options for maintaining everyone’s health.  This means more out of our pockets, though.

Please understand, also, with the exception of high-speed internet (a necessity, since we’re homeschooling), we don’t have tons of expenses.  Rent, utilities, insurance, gas for our (paid off) vehicles, and groceries are pretty much it.  We don’t take vacations, we rarely eat out, we shop for clothes second-hand.

All this is not to garner sympathy.  We’re actually pretty content with used cars, clothes, and entertaining ourselves at home, we just really don’t have much money to live on right now.  We could go ahead and cut our grocery budget further, live on ramen noodles and hot dogs and canned peaches, but at what cost?  Either we pay at the grocery store and stay healthy, or we give in to cheap food and pay at the pharmacy and the doctor’s office.

So you might wonder as Stacy and Matthew have, what can you do about helping families in need get real food?  I have a few ideas.

First, write to your legislators and state health departments.  These are the folks who, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, decide which foods are available to families on the WIC program.  The folks spearheading the programs need to be made aware of the positive benefits of the Paleo lifestyle, and of the need for better quality food for struggling families.

Many of you know someone with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, autism or ADD/ADHD.  What you may not know yet is that people with these conditions are seeing improved health when they adopt the Paleo lifestyle![1][2][3]

  • 1 of every 133 people in the USA have celiac disease[4]
  • “According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of an autism spectrum disorders diagnosis is 10 times more likely than it was 10 years ago. Currently, one out of every 110 children is considered to have some form of autism. Many experts believe that number may continue to rise. The rising rates of autism are being reported worldwide.”[5]
  • (From a survey) “Parents report that approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2007.”[6]

You have probably also read about or even seen positive changes in your own homes with regard to weight loss, disease reversal and symptom relief for those who live with diabetes, inflammatory conditions and more.  These are the things that our leaders and decision-makers need to know!

Another way to help is to get involved in your community.

  • If you garden, share produce with your local food shelf:  they’re usually willing to take whatever you have that’s fresh!
  • Start, or volunteer at, a community garden.
  • Talk about the Paleo lifestyle with strangers at the supermarket.
  • If you’re Paleo bloggers like Matthew and Stacy, get in touch with your local Community Education groups, natural food co-ops, or even local high school health teachers, and give a seminar on the health benefits of a Paleo lifestyle.

Share this information with your friends, too!  Let them know how they can make a difference in their communities.  You never know—you may need food assistance one day, too.

[1] Paleo Diet for ADHD  http://www.livestrong.com/article/412178-paleo-diet-for-adhd/

[2] Real life testimonial: Scarlet’s turnaround (Autism & Paleo)


[3] The Paleo Diet & Celiac Disease http://paleodietnews.com/2254/the-paleo-diet-celiac-disease/

[4] “Tell Me What To Eat If I Have Celiac Disease: Nutrition You Can Live With”, by Kimberly A. Tessmer,  RD, LD

[5] BrightTots: Autistm Rates http://www.brighttots.com/Autism/Autism_rates_information.html

[6] CDC: ADHD, Data & Statistics http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html


Allie is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to three sweet kids–who are learning to eat like dinosaurs–and has been married to Steve for 11 years.  They live in a small river town in MN, and are looking forward to welcoming a new baby in February.


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