You want to eat organic, but the cost makes you think twice. It happens to all of us.
We go to the grocery store with the best of intentions to buy all organic, buy tons of fruits and veggies. We remind ourselves, “it’s for our health,” and go running head and hands first into the organic bins. We grab the thin plastic bags, which are sometimes green for organic produce, and fill them up with our feel good, organic fruits and veggies.
The colors start to affect us. The orangey oranges of carrots, grassy deep green kales, royal purples of eggplant and purple cabbage. The sight of berries—deep scarlet red strawberries, royal violet blueberries and blackberries, and blushing raspberries, intoxicates us. And before we know it, we have a cart full of the rainbow (score!) and we are walking with our head held high, floating above the cart, to the checkout.
Our first time we thought nothing of it. We were thinking about our health and eating right. But soon enough that changes.
Organic foods are expensive. That rainbow cart of yummy organics will surely cost upwards of a modest weekly food bill, and you haven’t even added the weekly staples. The grains, mock or real meats, alternative milks, juices, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And, I’ve also been the dreaded customer with shopper’s remorse, asking the cashier apologetically, “Wait, can you tell me which one was most expensive? Can I put that, that, and sometimes that too, back?” I apologize and even take back my own ‘go-backs’ to show my sincerity.
There must be a better, cheaper way.
I have memories of standing next to my Granma’s hip, with my fingers on the edge of the sink, waiting for her to finish washing a piece of fruit. She’d fill the sink up with cold, soapy water, add a cap full of bleach (I know, she added it to our bathwater too.) and hand-scrub our produce. After that, she’d rinse them well, pat them dry, and then set them in a large bowl on the kitchen table for grabbing and eating.
Granma was on to something. We can never be too cautious of the food we put into our bodies. It must be clean and as close to nature as intended.
There is a better way. A cheaper way to buy organic, and eat locally grown produce without spending an entire week’s budget of food money.
We recently bought a juicer to aid our goals of eating healthier—more plant-based/vegan and raw foods. We spend roughly $700 a month on food for our family of four. That includes E’s lunch at work; me and the kid’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner because we homeschool we are always eating at home, and our family’s fun ‘housearaunt’ meals—we never eat-out. Ever. Not even when we travel.
Juicing surely means eating more fruits and veggies, which also means buying more, and buying organic for juicing. Our food budget can’t stretch more, so I have put together our own action plan to eat healthy and organic for fairly cheap.
Here’s my plan:
- Buy organic, but buy smart.
- Grow the most expensive fruits and vegetables we eat, and those we eat the most of.
- Planning ahead, and setting realistic goals.
Let’s break it down.
Buy organic, but buy smart!
First things first? Know what to buy organic, and what you can buy conventionally.
Here is a list of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ from EWG.org. These are fruits and vegetables their studies show have the most pesticide contaminants (even after being peeled or washed).
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Nectarines (Imported)
- Blueberries (Domestic)
- * Green Beans
- * Kale/Greens
*Note: According to EWG, these two may have pesticides of special concern, which need to be avoided.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Cantaloupe (Domestic)
- Sweet Potatoes
Both of these lists are in order, top down, from the dirtiest to the cleanest, and from the cleanest to the dirtiest, respectively. Use this list as a guide when you must choose between organic and non-organic.
Grow your own organic foods.
By far, the best and cheapest way to eat better and save money while doing it is to grow it yourself. We started our garden back in ’05 and every year it expands. Here’s why: during the summer we literally eat out of the garden. A good 60% of our meals comes from our garden in the summer, and I find we only buy pantry staples like grains, beans, alternative milks, etc. We grow the things we eat a lot of that also grows well in our area. This way nothing grown goes to waste, and we never waste our space or energy growing foods that will not grow and sustain us.
Despite what most people believe, you do not need a large acre or even a backyard to grow your own food. Strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, salad greens, and a ton of other foods can be grown in containers on a sunny patio. You can also get a number of fruit trees as dwarfs to save space, but still produce enough produce for your family.
Take survey of your available space, do some research, and start growing your own. You don’t have to start big. We didn’t. But start somewhere. Start growing something you can eat.
Tip: Grow foods from the dirty list, if you can. Those foods that you should eat organic, but have a hard time affording or finding—try to grow them yourself. Strawberries are a perfect container plant and are easy to grow! So are peppers, which in some locations can grow year round. (I still have sweet pepper plants in my garden that were planted last spring!)
When you grow your food, it is similar to cooking your own
food—you are in control. It is cheaper to raise an organic vegetable garden
then one filled with hormones, pesticides, and the likes. Instead of buying
Mircle Gro, Round-up, and other non-organic things for my garden, I implement
cheaper (and sometimes free) practices to ensure our garden grows well. I spend
more money on plants, making our soil healthy, and buying quality, organic
fertilizers that nourish our plants.
Here’s a quick tip: If your soil and plants are stronger and healthier, they are less likely to fall prey to pests and disease. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with pests and diseases, just maybe fewer. So invest in your soil and plant/seed quality.
Plan ahead and keep it real.
Here comes the real work. The best way to shave money off of your grocery bill, in general, is to plan ahead and be honest with yourself. Often times I have thought of a thousand meals I want to make in the upcoming week, bought all the stuff, gotten it all home only to realize 1) I don’t have room to store it all, 2) Now I have to cook/use it all, and 3) There are only seven days in a week.
This is where being honest and practical helps. If you know you have a busy week ahead, then don’t plan elaborate meals that take a lot of work, prep, and time. Also, think about the real number of meals you need to cook for the week (or want to cook), and leave some room for fun, quick meals. We don’t eat out or order-in, but a few nights out of the week the kids and us want pizza, burgers, quesadillas, or something fun. Leave budget space and time in your planning to have these fun meals so that no one feels deprived.
Also, do not go food-shopping hungry, when you are in a rush, or when you have no clue what you will make for the upcoming week. It’ll just end in food budget disaster. Trust me on this one. Make a list, even if it’s in your mind, and have some idea of what you want/need to buy for the upcoming week. Plan and prioritize your meals and shopping, so that you can make the most of your money, and get your shopping down quickly, and painlessly.
Confession: I love grocery shopping. I look forward to it. We do it as a family and often have lots of fun, though by the third store the kids are asking every five minutes, “How many more stores?” Even if there is none, or it is late at night, E and me always tell them 2-3. Just to hear them sigh. Of course if they know Target is on our list, they perk right up.
In addition to knowing what to buy organic or conventional, here are six tips to buy your produce more economically.
Six Tips on Buying Produce CheaplyTip #1: Shop the farmer’s market and/or join your local food co-op. I know farmer’s markets are the cool, hipster, sexy foodie trend. But there is a good reason—when you shop the farmer’s market a few things happen:
- You eat seasonally, which is better for your health.
- Your food travels less distance, so it is fresher, your carbon footprint is smaller, it needs less waxing and other things to ‘preserve’ it since it isn’t traveling to another country, and it is cheaper—for everybody!
- You can talk to the grower about the produce and ask questions. When was it picked, is it organic, how to store it, what does it taste like (they love to give away samples—trust me), best ways of preparing it, how long will it keep, is it ripe or when will it ripen. The list of valuable things you can ask and learn about your food is long. And isn’t there something magical about speaking to the person who grew your food? I think so.
- You support your local farmer and local community. Mom & Pop businesses are the backbone of our countries’ financial system, and so investing in and supporting our local growers does wonders for our own community and country’s financial health.
- You feel better about what you’re eating, how much you’re spending, and who you’re giving your money to.
Tip #2: When you shop the grocery stores, buy local-grown (often there will be signs up or ask your produce guy/gal), and buy what’s in season. I know strawberries in the middle of December sounds amazing, but unless you’re in South America, those berries had to travel quite a few thousand miles to reach you. Why not try local-grown apples? Seasonal fruits and veggies are often better quality and cheaper.
Tip #3: Plan ahead and shop what’s on sale. Grab the ads of a few different stores, compare your options, and then choose accordingly.
Tip #4: Shop around. I never shop at one place. We eat a lot of alternative, vegan foods, which means everything cannot often be found beneath one roof. Sure, our Sundays are filled with grocery store hopping, but we often find better deals this way. I buy produce from our local farmer’s markets, the health food store, Sprouts (our Whole Foods), Trader Joes, and our local Ralph’s, Fresh N’ Easy, Win-Co, Target, Costco or Food 4 Less. Yeap, we get around.
Tip #5: Costco, Target, Wal-Mart—they all have their place in your grocery shopping. Do a little research and/or window shopping to see what your local big box shops have to offer. We shop a lot at Costco. From printing paper to pineapples. We also have a Super Target and Super Wal-Mart near us that we shop at often. They have great food prices on pantry staples (even good, vegan stuff) that we often buy during the month and will often have great deals on produce too.
Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to buy frozen. I rarely buy canned foods (except for tomato paste, sauce, or stewed tomatoes), but we do buy frozen, organic vegetables and fruits. So you want strawberries and it’s the middle of winter? Buy them organic and frozen. The great thing about buying frozen fruits and vegetables are that they are frozen at the peak of freshness, just hours after harvest. Sure, some vitamins and minerals are lost, but eating them is better than not eating them and if frozen helps, then go for it. We keep a Costco pack of organic, mixed vegetables in the freezer so that no matter what, we can put vegetables on the dinner table every night. We also keep frozen fruits for smoothies and baking.
So let’s sum it up:
- Buy organic, but be smart about it: 1. Choose your organic battles wisely, 2. Grow what you can, and, 3. Plan ahead when shopping.
- When in doubt, either ask the produce guy/gal, or buy organic.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables well. Get some veggie wash, a scrub brush, and a salad spinner to make sure you wash all things you consume fresh.
- Never decide eating no vegetables is better than eating conventionally grown produce. If you cannot buy organic, or it is not available to you—don’t fret, do what you can, wash everything well, shop the clean list, and promise yourself that you’ll do better as soon as you can. Eat your fruits and veggies no matter what.
- Buy what you know you’ll eat in a few days/week. I know it all looks amazing, but one way to save money (which happens to ensure you are always eating fresh produce) is to buy your produce often. Don’t try to stock up, unless it is something known to store well. Instead, pace yourself, plan ahead, and buy what you know you and your family can consume.
- Consider buying other foods organically. I don’t buy everything organic, but there are other things that should be eaten organically, such as: milk (dairy or alternative), eggs, meats, and mock meats, grains. Do your research and make sure you are equally informed about what goes into your other foods. Especially if you eat animal products (milk, eggs, cheese, meat).
- Have fun and experiment. Eat to live, do not live to eat. But most of all make sure that eating and shopping for your food is something you enjoy. You are nurturing and caring for your body and those you love. Do it with love and good intentions in your heart. Health is wealth!
It is my hope that I have armed you with some great tips and tricks to eat a clean, organic, healthy diet on a budget. It will surely take work, but it is most worth it. We do not have control over what genes we have inherited, and some of the health ills we have or will be dealt during our lifetime. But, we do have the power to control what we eat and that may be the biggest, most revolutionary thing we can do for our own health and wellness.
Take control of your body—it is yours for this lifetime. Treat it well and it will thank you with a wonderful life. Your wonderful life.
Your wonderful life begins and ends with everything you eat.
Peace, love & blessings!