Healthy Across America on a Budget: The Nutritious America Road Trip

By Abra Pappa for

3000 miles, 8 days, and 500 bucks to get across the country. Could you do it?

Last week my business partner (and best friend), Karen, and I embarked on an adventure across the country to see if it was possible to eat healthy in as many states as we could for as little money as possible.

For nearly a decade Karen and I have been counseling clients on the benefits of a natural, organic, whole food diet. Our company, Nutritious America, works to inspire people around the country to lose weight and clear up various health problems by changing how and what they eat.

In our work we tend to hear a lot of the same “issues” from clients about their struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Topping the list is, “It’s too expensive” and, “Healthy food is not convenient or readily available.” It was time Karen and I put these “issues” to the test.

We have both lived in large urban environments for over 15 years, where healthy food is readily available. I have a farmers market literally 3 blocks from my apartment, not to mention multiple juice bars, organic restaurants, and a Whole Foods Market all within walking distance. Is healthy food expensive? It depends on how you look at it. I spend money on food. I spend money on healthy food. I live by the philosophy, “pay the farmer today or the doctor tomorrow.” I choose to spend my money on food rather than expensive clothes, shoes, or bags. It’s a choice I make. However, I have always firmly believed that healthy food should be affordable for all people in this country. Is it possible to eat healthy and not break the bank? Is healthy food readily available in small towns across the country?

We wanted to find out. This was clearly just a small sampling. In 8 days we stopped in 8 different cities and had less than $30 per day per person for food.

We began by setting a few rules:

  1. Absolutely no fast food – This is an every day rule for me for obvious reasons, but on a road trip fast food tends to be the most typical option.
  2. No processed, packaged, gas station food – There would be many stops to refuel, the car that is, and it is habitual to grab chips, soda, candy bars to keep you going till the next stop… not for us!

We knew along the way there were going to be some challenges, so we also set ourselves up with 3 lifelines to help us get through.

Our 3 lifelines that we could access were:

  1. Kindness from a friend – There were friends and family along the way, this was a way to account for their possible generosity.
  2. Kindness from a stranger – What if someone heard about our journey and wanted to help us out? Could we accept their kindness? One time, yes.
  3. Kindness to ourselves – This may seem vague but it was the most important lifeline. We had one opportunity to think outside of our budget if, perhaps, some amazing food opportunity presented itself.

With our rules and lifelines safely tucked away in our dashboard cup holder we were off. On the way out of Los Angeles we made a quick pit stop for an uber healthy California style breakfast, steel cut oats with flax oil and a shot of acai juice. Yes, we were certain this would not be on a menu in Iowa.

For the next 8 days we chugged along the interstate stopping in small towns and doing our absolute best to choose organic, local, whole foods within our budget. Some towns were easier than others, but overall we finished the challenge spending a total of $431.00. That’s right, we came in way under budget!

Things we learned along the way:

Even in small towns hundreds of miles away from any urban center there are people who are dedicated to the food movement, or at least interested in it. We met a coffee shop owner in Kearney, Nebraska that was super jazzed about local, organic healthy food. He sent us to a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska which was one of the best dining experiences of our life. Read more about that here: The Grey Plume.

No matter where you are there are always healthy choices and oftentimes it is simply a matter of asking the right questions or going a little bit further than the strip lined with fast food restaurants. We found our “quick and accessible” food mecca in Moab, Utah and after a few disappointing attempts we struck some kale gold.

When you see a farmers market grab something. We were able to keep a steady supply of organic apples from farm stands along the way. Apples, combined with our one jar of organic peanut butter (which cost about $4 but lasted the entire trip) was a fabulous quick breakfast or snack on the go.

Believe in the kindness of strangers. The most miraculous thing happened on the last day of our trip. We pulled up to Karen’s new home (she has temporarily moved to Boston to help open the Nutritious America Boston office) and within 20 minutes her neighbor knocked on the door with a “welcome to the ‘hood dinner.” He had prepared a whole wheat couscous salad w/ asparagus, tomatoes, grilled chicken and feta cheese, all with ingredients (except the couscous) that came from his CSA. Seriously. We couldn’t have planned a better end to the trip if we tried.

All in all, it was a successful adventure minus a few minor mishaps (like a legendary fall while hiking in Zion Park, you can watch that one here.) The journey reminded Karen and I why we do the work we do and why we love it so very much. There is a shift happening in this country, and not just on the granola eating coasts that we live on, all across the country. People are beginning to recognize the need for better food, more affordable food and if you look for it, it is indeed there.

You can read our entire blog about the trip here.

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