This is the third part of the Eating Healthy 101 series, and part 2 of Shopping for Health. As I said last time, you do not have to spend a crazy amount of money to buy produce and/or support organic. I used to think that I had to shell out crazy amounts of cash to eat organic, and to be true to my values of helping our ecosystem, small farms, and my body. Not so. There are a few options that can make it more feasible to integrate organic produce into your kitchen:
1) Find a CSA or local farm or co-op. You can be as involved as you want to be. We were thrilled with our CSA last summer, and even received a discount for being affiliated with the university (as in half price…)! Most will offer you a hefty discount (often = FREE) in exchange for doing a working share (anywhere from 1 to 20 hours a week to help harvest, water, bundle, etc.)
Keep in Mind: With a CSA, you become a shareholder — you enter into the risks of farming with the producer. Thus, you pay, say, $300 or so in advance for a growing season (~ 4-5 months). If a hail storm hits or a crop floods, you won’t be getting any vegetables that week. It certainly makes you appreciate the vocation of a farmer so much more — hard work, with little control over factors that affect your livelihood (weather, etc.)! By joining a CSA, you know where and who your food comes from. You are investing in your community. You also have the unique element of receiving produce that you may not have experimented with before, so this option requires another (more fun) level of flexibility. It’s a nice way to get variety into your diet, indulge your creative side, and acquaint yourself with agriculture — one of the most vital, yet (unfortunately) distant and unknown sources of our life.
Do your research and take advantage. I make sure that I know my options: in the winter, when our CSA and Farmer’s Market are not operating, we mostly get our organic produce from the grocery store. But I know where various types of produce are cheapest, and I always prepare for deals and sales (e.g., when organic apples are on sale for $.50/lb, you better believe I buy 15 or more lbs). Whatever produce you don’t eat, you can freeze. Squash, apples, carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes actually last a crazy long time if stored properly (hard shell squash = MONTHS).
Shop what is in season: it’s easier to anticipate what will be on sale, and it will more likely be local. This is especially useful for organic produce. If something is seasonal, there will be an abundance, and thus an incentive for sellers to get the produce sold before it spoils. Check out this site for a calendar of what is seasonal in your region!
Make a limit for produce using the $$$/lb method. You may be surprised at how cheap it can be. In fact, a recent study showed the people saved on money (and obviously became healthier) by buying more produce and less processed foods. Processed foods only seem cheaper — they aren’t by nutrient and lb. Also, scour. I find that the organic apples at our market are almost always CHEAPER than the conventional. Seriously. You just have to look; most people miss out because of assumptions.
* We shoot for at, or under, $1/lb for all of our produce (and we buy mainly organic). About 80-90% of our produce falls into this criteria.
* Our upper-limit is $1.99/lb – mostly for special occasions, etc. There is some wiggle room for things like organic berries/cherries which tend to be pricier by the lb regardless, but they still need to be on sale. They are occasional treats (see below).
Look for items that are nutrient dense and inexpensive. Recently resources that analyze factors of nutrient density and price have been popping up. Essentially, they help you to understand how to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. These aren’t perfect systems, but can be helpful. Here are some foods that I strongly recommend for staying on a budget and nourishing your body:
* Bananas – (if organic and fair trade – are at the most .$69/lb. And that’s at Whole Paycheck Foods!) Conventional bananas are less than $.50/lb. Consider also how satiating fiber-rich foods like bananas are!
* Sweet potatoes are unbelievably cheap ($.30-$1.99/lb at most), and they are also amazingly healthy. Watch for more recipes involving this wonder food soon…
* Kale, cabbage, and broccoli tend to be lower priced than many other vegetables year-round, and are nutritional powerhouses.
Be Discerning About Organic: Use the Dirty Dozen to guide how you prioritize organics. We always buy organic apples, and never have to go above $1/lb. Sometimes, however, we can’t justify the expense of more negotiable items on the Dirty Dozen, so we don’t beat ourselves up about not supporting organic 100% of the time. We can only do our best. For instance, grapes should always be organic, but if that’s not feasible for our budget, we make them a treat once in a while. It might be an adjustment, but it will save you money, help keep you free of nasty pesticides and carcinogens, and I guarantee you will not take grapes for granted any more! Win win win.
Buy bulk!!! Dried fruit, beans, peas, lentils, grains, and nuts – even various whole grain flours – are all available here. If you do not currently shop in the bulk aisle, give me three bullet-points to convince you:
* We cut our food budget in HALF by switching to bulk bins, rather than buying prepackaged portions. No joke. Compare prices by the lb of canned and bagged goods to see the difference. Oatmeal is especially cheap!
* Soaking and cooking dried bulk items helps control portions and ingredients/additives, as well as the personal fulfillment of not relying on packaged foods.
* It eliminates plastic and packaging that is unnecessary, adds to the cost, and is wasteful for the environment. Bulk saves resources, money, and wasted food, as you can take only what you need.
Buy healthy, plant-based proteins. Bulk bins, again, are your friend here — I am not talking about soy (which may be cheap but comes with a cost of other sorts). Even the cheapest meats average $3/lb, while beans and legumes are as low as $.70/lb! You may try being a weekday vegetarian, if only to save money.
*Beans, legumes, peas, and nuts are all great places to start, and usually are less expensive than their animal counterparts. I find these plant proteins not only make me feel better, they are satiating for longer than meat.
*Don’t forget that dark leafy greens and whole grains (like quinoa, brown rice, and millet) are high in protein! You don’t have to center each meal around an animal, so save some money and try being creative with your protein options.
What are your thoughts? Do these help you save? Any other tricks?