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This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Going Organic on a Budget?

I'm chatting with someone on my facebook page and she said she doesn't buy organic because it's so expensive, and she just can't afford it.  To some extent, I completely understand what she's saying. Our diets are far from 100% organic. BUT, I'm all about small steps.  We have a budget of just over $100/week for food - for 5 people.  Work it out over a month and we get around $16/day for groceries...  That's really nothing!  So we have to really budget things. And frankly, I am not as good at it as I would like to be.  But making changes is about small steps, and that's what I'm doing.

With any change, the goal comes before the plan.  My long term goal is to have a diet based on Whole Foods - Organic, Local and Fresh!  As for a plan, it's a little more complicated than I wish it was, but if I'm going to make this work, I can't just decide to completely change everything...

So here it is -

Step 1 - Make a Rotating Menu
Create a 6wk Menu. Each day consists of 3 meals and 2 snacks.  In the beginning simply focusing on getting the menu together, not necessarily on making sure it's full of organic whole foods.

Step 2- Creating Healthy Recipes
Once the menu is planned - really while it's being planned - Work on how to make these meals & snacks in healthy ways which are at least 50-75% Fruit & Veg.

For example, my family loves Cheeseburger Mac.  In most homes that would mean, pasta, ground meat and cheese sauce. In my home that means ground venison, whole wheat pasta, onions, bell peppers, mixed veggies (mix of peas, green beans, corn, carrots, and lima beans), cheese and cauliflower puree (which is my cheese sauce base).  It hits ALL the same notes as Boxed Cheeseburger Mac, but it's a much healthier version! NO chemicals, no preservatives!  And once you add a salad as a first course, you get a recipe that's 75% Veggie, which is WAY better than any meat, cheese & pasta dish out there!

Step 3 - Making a Shopping List
Menu planned, recipes written... Now compile a shopping list for the entire 6wk menu.  Why make a list for all 6wks?  Because if you want to go "low cost" you have to watch sales and at least attempt to use coupons when you can. Since most healthy foods don't have coupons when you do get them, they're worth using. BUT, if you don't have a clear idea of what you need both this week and in the near future, you can't really take advantage of the best sales.

My shopping list looks like this:
Item Name
Whole Wheat Macaroni
Brown Rice

Each week shop for THAT WEEK, but if you find the items that you need on sale, you can purchase what you need for this week and future weeks as well. This helps you to stay organized, know what you need and keep costs down.

The only thing that you don't want to buy this way is fresh fruits & veggies. The reason for that is because they aren't going to keep for 6wks. So instead only purchase what you'll will need for the next 3-4 days and make use of the sales by keeping snacks, muffin recipes and "first courses" like soup or salads open rather than stick to any one recipe.  For example, a mid-morning snack is could be sliced fruit or veggies, so whatever is on sale that week is what you'd use. And when you have a dinner planned with a "side salad" use the fruits & veggies on sale to create your salad rather than having the same thing every time. This also helps to keep things "fresh" and not feel like you're eating the same salad every other night.

**Our local grocery store even marks down the "USE TODAY" fruits & veggies, so I tend to stop in and go through them almost every day and use that to determine our snacks and whatnot.  This week I got 8 pounds of cauliflower for $6!  Since I use Cauliflower as a base for my cheese sauce and cream soups and add it to my mashed potatoes, I brought it home, pureed it and froze it, now I'll have it when I need it and it's not on sale. They do something similar with meat - offering any 5 packages of nearly out dates meat for $20. Usually I can get really great cuts of meat for very low prices.  IF your local grocery doesn't do this, find out who to talk to about buying the out of date stuff. Many of them will sell it at a discount so they don't have to lose all their profit, you just have to ask.**

Step 4 - Replace
Once you have your diet filled with all the healthy foods you love, it's time to work on replacing them with higher quality, organic and local ingredients.  It may take some time, but in the end it's very much worth it.  And don't fret if it doesn't happen all at once or if you occasionally go "back" to the conventional stuff. No one is perfect, even if we would like to think that we are.

Finding organic, local products isn't always as easy as we would like either. But often times if take the time to find it, it can turn out to be cheaper than the stuff in the stores!  The down side is you often have to buy in bulk, which not everyone is ready for - but if you have a long term (6-8 wk) menu & list laid out, you can easily see what you need and what you have and you'll be ready for "bulk" items.

Local meat, honey, dairy, eggs, fruits & veggies will often fluctuate with the seasons.  So in the beginning it may be difficult to find a groove.  But the more you deal with, and get to know, local growers and farmers the more you'll learn to work with both your menu, and their seasonal have and have-nots.  You'll also learn, over time, what recipes fit what seasons best and be able to bend your menu accordingly.

There are some things that you'll always end up going to the grocery store for though - unless you want to start (and this is a good idea by the way) making your own pastas, breads, cereals, condiments, and so on...  So when it comes to these products, experiment a little bit. Find companies you can trust!  Find organic products that are sold right in your grocery or see what you can find on sites like Amazon. Often times you can buy the stuff in bulk on Amazon at a cut price.

For example - I am a "spice snob." I have gotten to the point where I only buy from one of three companies when it comes to spices. They are ALL Organic and I nearly always buy in bulk because it's cheaper.  In fact, comparing the prices to the "Brands" I see on the shelves, I usually end up paying LESS!

So shop around, find good solid products at good prices! They DO exist! Here are some of the brands we love:

  • Cascadian Farms - USDA Cert. Organic breakfast bars, cereals, frozen veggies, fruits spreads and more. I have found this brand at WalMart, Giant Eagle and other local grocery stores.   I do NOT recommend buying this one though Amazon, as the prices there are nearly twice what you'll pay in the grocery. WalMart.com however offers the cereals starting at $3/box. 
  • Simply Organic - USDA Cert. Organic Spices, Salts and Baking Products. Again, these are available in many grocery stores. At first glance they seem to be more expensive than conventional brands, BUT you can print manufacturers coupons from their website. Plus you can order straight from their website.  Simply Organic also has an Amazon Storefront which allows you to order their products (often at less than what is listed on their own website!)
  • Bob's Red Mill - USDA Cert Organic Whole Grain cereals, flours, oats, flax & chia seeds,  mixes and more!  I will say, I have found Bob's to be slightly more expensive than the other stuff. But once you taste it, you will NEVER go back! They are available in most grocery stores, allow purchase direct from their website and are an Amazon seller as well.  
  • Annie's Homegrown - While not all of Annie's products are organic, the majority are.  However, even those which are not organic are free of preservatives, artificial flavors and colors AND they are all GMO free!  The best part is that their products lines mirror those of more conventional companies - dinner kits, snack crackers & mixes (perfect for lunches & parties alike), dressings & sauces, and lots of kid friendly stuff like gummies. I've found Annie's in most grocery stores, and they are available at great prices - my kids love their Organic Mac & Cheese and it's actually cheaper than Kraft!  Again, you can order from their website and they are an Amazon seller as well. 
These are just some examples of the products we have found.  I've also discovered that "Discount Grocery" stores have now started to get their own organic food lines. If you have an Aldi near you, I can tell you I've been finding more and more USDA Cert. Organic foods in their isles - including fresh fruits & veggies - at "discounted prices."  My local grocery store has bananas at $.59/lb. Aldi has Organic Bananas at $.49/lb.  So not only is it organic, but it's cheaper than the conventional option! So check discount places near you and see what they have, you may be shocked!

Step 5 - Grow & Preserve

If you don't already have a garden, now it the time to start one.  Growing at least some of the fruits, veggies, herbs, and possibly even grains that your family eats can greatly impact your budget and your health - both in a good way!

Start small and choose produce that you know you will use. For us, the number one item (besides herbs) is Tomatoes! We eat tons of them, literally. Spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, sloppy joe sauce, pizza sauce, salads, sandwiches...  You name it, we have tomatoes in it - just don't tell my kids or husband who claim to "hate tomatoes." Other ones that we usually grow are bell & hot peppers, green beans and grapes.

Excess produce from your garden can be preserved by drying, canning and/or freezing. And leaning to do these things is very much worth it!  Making your own Spaghetti and Pizza Sauces with your own home grown Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers and Herbs is without a doubt one of the best feelings in the world! And when you compare the price of a jar of sauce from the store to the home grown price, there is a HUGE difference!

Many people are intimidated by the idea of canning. But there are so many time tested recipes out there now that there is no reason to fear!  Find a good recipe and give it a go. It's very much worth it!

And if you have friends or family - or a local gardening group - around, talk to them about swapping surplus produce or canned products. It's a great way to expand your options!  Some gardening groups even get together for "preserving parties" if they have somewhere to do it. Picture your kitchen full of wonderful ladies all gathered around the cauldron... I mean stove, mixing up their favorite recipes and canning them up. Sharing recipes, knowledge and friendship... Sounds like heaven to me!

This seems like a long project. And truth be told, it is! It's a life long project! Because it's not a diet or a temporary change, it's a new way - or I suppose a very old way - of life. Where food is whole and natural. Where it brings people happiness and health. And yes, it is work. But when you love what you're doing, is it ever really work? More so, it's worth it. It's giving your body the best it's ever had. It's giving your children the best start. And it's creating a way of life that can, and should, be passed down - creating a little bit of a healthier world in the process!

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