For America's working poor, missing even one day of work can mean financial disaster. It can mean not being able to pay the phone bill or buy enough groceries. With so many financial worries, it can be easy to forget about maintaining health. The working poor need to stay as healthy and as strong as possible on the least amount of money.
Families, Children, Food Ideas
I hear many families talk about eating nothing but rice and beans, but there are many other choices for healthy, inexpensive meals. When you do eat rice and beans, add a few vegetables, tomatoes, cooked potato or egg. In fact, eggs and potatoes can be used inexpensively in many dishes. An omelet filled with sautéed potatoes, onions and fragrant herbs is delicious.
Grow your own vegetables and herbs such as spinach, chard, kale, arugula, lettuces, sweet basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. Then add vegetables and herbs to everything you cook.
One of our favorite salads is a baby green salad with chopped papaya, salmon and avocado. Top with a few walnuts. Another favorite is a tuna salad made with mayonnaise, salt and lots of chopped sweet basil. Place the tuna salad on a bed of greens and top with chopped tomatoes, red peppers, salt and pepper.
Several dinners can be made from one roast chicken. First have chicken and potatoes with vegetables. On the second day, strip the bones to make chicken curry with rice. Lastly boil the bones for broth. Add chopped ginger root, red pepper flakes and any vegetables you like for a spicy, healthy chicken soup.
For a Mexican style dish, cook chicken tenders with olive oil, salt and Tabasco sauce. Serve the chicken with simple quesadillas, sliced avocado or guacamole and beans.
For an easy and inexpensive dish, bake sliced potatoes in a casserole layered with a little chopped, soft-cooked bacon and sliced leeks or onions. Top with black pepper.
For a Japanese-style meal, try baked salmon cooked with chunks of ginger root and teriyaki sauce thinned with a little water. Yoshida's Sauce is best. Simple fried rice with egg, onion and vegetables is an inexpensive meal. Add a little chopped ham, if you have it. You can flavor the fried rice with just salt and pepper or add soy sauce and a little sesame oil to taste at the end of cooking.
Make a simple marinara sauce by sautéing onions, garlic and herbs from your garden. Add chopped, canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a pinch of brown sugar. Serve with pasta and vegetables or use the sauce for Parmesan chicken. Freeze what you don't need for another time.
Avoid throwing any food away. Have a leftover eighth of an onion or a little grated cheese? Wrap it well and save it for the next dish you prepare.
I always serve fruit for dessert because it is sweet and far healthier than desserts baked with sugar. There's only one downside to this. That became clear to me when my five-year-old daughter had dinner at a friend's house only to return home and yell at me, "They had cake for dessert! I always thought dessert was fruit!" I can attest to the fact that there is no fury like a child who feels they have been deprived of cake for five years.
But the story has a happy ending. My daughter is grown up now and grateful for our fruit-filled desserts. This combined with a moratorium on soda, most breakfast cereals and all high-fructose corn syrup and my daughter has never had a cavity. One of our favorite desserts is sliced apples, bananas and pineapple sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Papaya with a little lime juice or a bowl of mixed berries decorated with orange slices are also favorites. Luckily, where we live avocados, bananas and papayas are often free for the picking.
At every meal, make sure your children have plenty of healthy food to eat. If you are trying to control your weight, eat only half as much as you want. If not, eat as much as you need to stay healthy, but no more. Save what's left over for another meal or for tomorrow's lunch.
Cut back on junk food, sugar and anything that provides little nutrition. Give up on purchases that are nonessential so that you can buy the healthiest food you can afford. Eliminate old habits like smoking, drinking and drugs, as well as over-eating. It's much more important to stay healthy. The working poor can't afford unhealthy habits. Give up fast food. You can make cheaper, healthy meals at home. What you gain in health, you will also save in money!
Exercise, Entertainment, Socializing and Voting
Exercise when you have time, even if it is only stretches and a walk. Go on walks with your kids. Enjoy nature. It's free!
Find free entertainment and free socializing. Join a book club at the library or make crafts you can sell with a craft group. Invite friends over to pool DVDs. Enjoy the hobbies you love and if you can, turn them into a money making venture.
Mental health is paramount for the working poor. If you need help, get it. Help each other. There is strength in community. Stay healthy so you don't need to spend money on over the counter medicine and supplements. The money you save can be used to buy nutrient-rich foods for you and your family. Congratulate yourself on how well you are doing. Your family needs you and they need you to stay healthy.
Lastly don't forget to vote. Politicians who actually pass legislation will give us a stronger economy and that in turn, will help us all.
The working poor deserve to be healthy, strong and happy. Eat as well as you possibly can. Stay as healthy as you can. Above all, live to fight another day towards a better life for you and your children.
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