I wasn’t intending to continue writing about affordable nutrition this week, but the subject refuses to die in my head, so I’m going to try to wrap it up today (for now).
There was a good set of articles in The Seattle Times a week ago looking at childhood obesity as it affects the population (generally) and some local families (specifically). In “State still seeks winning strategy against childhood obesity,” affordable healthy food was mentioned as part of the equation (not surprisingly). As one of my future professors, Adam Drewnowski, put it “Obesity in America is an economic issue.” This is about more than just money: People living in poverty are short on more than money…they also are short on time and education.
It doesn’t help that junk food is cheap and available wherever you look, healthy food…not as much. However, the article also references a recent year-long USDA and Institute of Medicine (IOM) study looking at access to healthy food. They concluded that better access to produce and other healthy food (i.e., elimination of “food deserts”) is unlikely to make much difference in obesity rates.

“The supply of healthy food will not suddenly induce people to buy and eat such food over less-healthy options,” the IOM report concluded. 

After all, even those with the best access aren’t eating their vegetables. Most of us get about half of what’s recommended, research shows.

The reason for this is both intuitive and well-studied. Eating decisions are driven by taste. Then cost, Drewnowski says. Then convenience. “Health,” he says, “is last.”

It may be that abundant access to unhealthy food is a bigger problem than limited access to healthy food. Especially if people don’t know what to do with healthy food, or perceive healthy food as being much more expensive, or think they don’t have time to prepare healthy food.
One topic of conversation in my graduate program advising meeting on Friday was the undergraduate food studies class that the University of Washington started offering a few years ago. Turns out students are starving (pun intended) for classes like this. There is this phenomenal lack of understanding about where our food comes from and how to prepare it. Did today’s young adults learn nothing about cooking when they were growing up? I’m guessing not. I think the problem began with the rise in convenience foods during the 1950s, and the accompanying marketing campaigns telling women that they shouldn’t have to work so hard in the kitchen. Then women began entering the workforce, but were still responsible for feeding the family. So they leaned on convenience foods even harder. And if they weren’t fully using their own cooking skills, why would they pass them on to their daughters…or their sons!
And so here we are, with a growing rate of obesity and other chronic diseases. If a genie gave me three wishes to bestow on every nation battling these health epidemics, this is what I would choose:
  1. The understanding that healthy food does not have to be expensive.
  2. The insight that healthy food does not have to be difficult or time-consuming to prepare.
  3. The motivation to choose healthy foods most of the time, even if unhealthy food beckons.
On that note, here is a healthy, delicious, easy, affordable recipe! You can’t toss a wooden spoon without hitting a recipe for baked oatmeal somewhere. I’ve already posted one tasty recipe, and yesterday I finally got around to making Heidi Swanson’s take on this yummy, healthy, affordable breakfast concoction. Since I’ve already posted a few recipes from her newest book, Super Natural Every Day, I normally would not post this one (I feel funny about “giving away” more than a few recipes from any single book, unless I made significant adjustments to it), but this recipe has already spread far and wide, on food blog galore and in Whole Living Magazine.
I made the recipe exactly as-is (with blueberries, naturally), except I left out the sweetener, and topped it with unsweetened shredded coconut and a dab of almond butter. It was delicious. It has a wetter, more oatmeal-like consistency than the other recipe, especially if you serve it right away (when I packed up the leftovers, it had firmed up…but then oatmeal cooked in a pot does the same thing). I wouldn’t hesitate to make this for company, with some maple syrup or brown sugar on the side for those who have a sweeter tooth than I do.

Baked Oatmeal
Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus more for coating baking dish
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup fine-grain natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups milk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 1/2 cups huckleberries, blueberries, or mixed berries
Maple syrup, for drizzling

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. Combine the oats, half the nuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the milk, egg, half the butter, and the vanilla.
  3. Arrange bananas in a single layer on the bottom of the coated baking dish. Sprinkle with two-thirds of the berries, then cover with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle milk mixture over the oats. Gently tap dish on a work surface to distribute liquid. Scatter remaining berries and nuts across the top.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Let cool slightly. Drizzle with remaining melted butter and maple syrup.