Eating Healthy on a Budget


by Karissa Hearn

Having small change in your pocket and not much in your stomach leaves some Trenton locals in quite a predicament when it comes to keeping healthy.

The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and other local organizations in the area help to provide meals to the working poor and the homeless.

According to Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) Director of Operations, Melisa Rivera, TASK feeds about 300 to 500 visitors at lunchtime, and between two and three hundred guests at dinner.

The soup kitchen tries to offer meat, a vegetable and a starch with every meal, Rivera explained.

Jeanne Molloy, a Registered Dietician and Sodexho employee at The College of New Jersey in Ewing said, “Make it colorful.” Molloy suggests vegetables, fruit, beans, etc. Specifically, these foods contain fiber, calcium and vitamin D, “nutrition powerhouses,” as she calls them.

Molloy specifically stressed the importance of Vitamin D. “It is the key to turn on the immune system,” she said. Vitamin D is prominent in fish, healthy cereals, milk, and soy products.

Tony Usery, a visitor and student at TASK said he would eat anything. “I eat it as long as it tastes good!” Usery laughed.

The soup kitchen makes a variety of food for its diners. “Pasta with meat sauce,” Rivera said, “baked chicken, we do everything.”

According to Usery, who has a particular fondness for kiwi fruits, they (TASK) have meats, fruits, and vegetables, but not a lot of snacks. Something that Usery said there was plenty of was PB and J. “They must have a line with elves on it, making peanut butter and jelly,” Usery said. According to Molloy the protein in peanut butter keeps hunger away the longest.

“They serve good food,” Curtis Hemingway, a Trenton local said. Hemingway, a Diabetic, put aside his notebook and pencil as he is studying to obtain a GED. He started at an 8th grade level and has been working towards it for about five years.

Another food option for many of these people is to grocery shop using food stamps or other resources. Hemingway often does this.

Hemingway is not homeless. He shops on a fixed income. Generally, Hemingway keeps his purchases healthy with chicken, fish, vegetables, and fruit. His guilty pleasure? “Those cream donuts,” he said.

Molloy’s had a couple of easy suggestions to make grocery shopping on a budget more efficient and healthier:

  • Plan your meals, and make your shopping list based on the plans.
  • Plan for at least one meatless meal each week. “This will get in your fiber goals, and be easy on your pocketbook,” Molloy said.
  • Shop the perimeters of the store. That’s where you will find the healthiest items, untouched by processing plants and manufacturers.

There is also another way to keep it cheap, the dollar menu. According to Molloy, “the dollar menu can be great because it’s a smaller serving size…pair a four piece chicken tender with a salad—that’s a beautiful thing,” she explained.

Have a Wendy’s crispy chicken sandwich, extra lettuce and tomato and half of the bun, and a baked potato without the sour cream. For just two dollars, “you’ve got some real nutrition going on there!” Molloy said.

Eating cheaply and eating healthily do not often go hand in hand, but there are resources and options available to make sure a diet is the best it can be. Know your goals, plan your meals, and keep a healthy variety as best as you can.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of The Wall newspaper.