Friday, February 7, 2014

Organic Eating on a Budget

Several months ago my husband and I decided to make the change to organic food. I've always known organic food would be the best choice, but the cost was so prohibitive for us. Then in a relatively short period of time, my perspective was changed by a few different sources:

1) I saw THIS chart at The I love reading The Economist, and I often check their website for their chart of the day. It made me uneasy to realize that Americans, despite having full freezers, refrigerators, and pantries, spend less of our income (percentage-wise) on food than almost any other country. Sure we spend a lot of money per person on food, but we are more likely to spend that money on processed, genetically-altered, pesticide-covered food that is filled with fake colors, flavors, and sugars. I just want to eat how our great-great-grandparents ate: as close to nature as possible.

2) I read THIS book:
First of all, I HIGHLY recommend this book, which is by a Christian woman. She targeting 7 areas of her life to simplify in an effort to make more room for God. The book in a very funny journal of this journey, and it was a life-changing read for me. In the food chapter, she talked often about the sheer excess of food we have in our lives. We have too many options, many of which are not straight from the garden, and the result is, for many Americans, decreased health.

3) My cousin is a butcher at a well known national grocery-chain. He described to me one day how the modifications made to these animals are just disgusting. Every cow he butchers is more , unnaturally large than than the previous one. He described tender loins that are twice the size they should be. He described the dyes they have to use to make the meat appear fresh to the consumers. The entire conversation completely grossed me out, and made me realize the meat we buy at the grocery store is anything but natural.

These three events had me speaking to my husband, and wondering if maybe we should make a change. Instead of buying the cheapest food, maybe we could simplify our diet and buy better quality food. It is the fuel for our bodies, after all!

My husband was on board with the idea. We are both fairly active, and it made sense to take better care of our bodies in this way. I was convinced I could make this change happen with as little cost difference to our budget as possible. I was all excited to get going with this change in our home.... but I couldn't figure out how to go about it.

So here is a list of the tips I have come up with through this journey of "figuring it out" over the past few months. Perhaps eating organically is more within your grasp than you think.

Tip #1: Eat less of the expensive items, and more of the inexpensive items
This might change from week to week depending on what is expensive. But overall, the most expensive items you will purchase are meat and dairy products. They are also the most important to eat organic (think hormones, antibiotics, food dyes, animals fed with genetically-modified grains, etc.). To save money, we try to eat less of these items. That can be difficult, but I have found it to be very doable. We then fill the void with more water, veggies, grains, beans, etc. I also try to cook at least 2 vegetarian meals per week (my meat-loving husband usually doesn't notice a meal doesn't have meat until I point it out). Better yet! Buy a whole or portion of an animal from a local farm and store it in your freezer.

Tip #2: Know a "good price" for the pricier foods
Don't just assume that the organic milk at Walmart is the cheapest around. In fact, I have found that the price of organic milk at Walmart is over $1 MORE than the organic milk at Whole Foods. Carry around a sheet and mark down the prices of meat and diary products at different places. You will quickly know where to purchase those items and save some money.

Tip #3: Know what to buy organic
This is a good time to know the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" lists, which detail "must buy" organic foods and foods you are fine buying conventional. I tend to think, if it has a skin I don't eat, I am fine buying the regular one.

Tip #4: Buy in bulk
Everyone knows this tip, but it can be harder to practice. When you begin to know what a "good price" is for more expensive products, you will be on the lookout for "buy in bulk" prices. The other day I found large containers of organic blueberries on sale for a crazy low price (in February!). I bought three of the containers and stocked them in my freezer for future use. Always be on the lookout for meat and dairy sales, in particular.

Tip #5: NEVER shop without a meal plan and a list
I hate making meal plans and shopping lists. HATE IT! But one of my husband's requirements for switching to this style of eating was "better quality, less waste". By being more strategic about what we buy, we have gotten to the point where we barely throw any food away. This means I usually pick yummy but simple recipes that don't require a ton of small purchases, and I try to plan similar recipes for the same week, so I can share ingredients across recipes. Pinterest has definitely been a great resource for meal planning.

Tip #6: Buy out of bins
At some stores, like Whole Foods, some items like nuts, rice, beans, mushrooms, shrimp, etc. are stored in bins/barrels around the store. You can scoop out and measure exactly how much you want instead of buying pre-packaged amounts. This allows you to buy exactly how much you need for a specific recipe, and not pay any more than necessary. This method is almost always cheaper than buying pre-packaged amounts, so go for this whenever possible.

Tip #7: When you run out, you run out
My husband is a milk-aholic. He could probably go through a gallon a day without a sweat. But, organic milk is pricey. So we agreed that 2 gallons a week (still A LOT) is our limit. If we my husband goes through all that milk in 3 days, then he doesn't have any for the rest of the week. Period. We don't do mid-week shopping trips. This has forced him to be more conservative with what we have.

Tip #8: Make a salad before dinner
Organic salad items are not very expensive, and a yummy salad can be easy to make! It is also a great way to fill up on the right kinds of foods before everything else. So I have begun to make a salad every day as the first course of our dinner. We finish our salads, THEN I bring out the main meal. We end up eating less of the non-salad course because we filled up on salad first. This means we almost always have leftovers and our food goes further. If you are not a huge salad fan, make a salad taste yummy by adding things to it that you do enjoy, like different types of fruits and cheeses

Tip #9: Grow it yourself if you can
We live in an apartment, and our porch doesn't get very much sun, so we don't have many options for growing our own food. But we hope to be able to do this someday. This is by far the cheapest way to get your own organic produce. 

I understand that organic eating is a choice, and not one that all of you will make. But I want to show you that it is a lifestyle that is achievable. My husband and I have managed to make this lifestyle change with very little cost difference from our old way of eating. Even if it does end up costing us a bit more in the end, we'd rather pay the farmer than the doctor, as the old saying goes.

In the end, it provides so much peace of mind knowing that I am eating as close to nature as I can right now. And that, I think, is the first step to good health.

Follow me on pinterest HERE! And please share if you have any tips as well! I'd love to hear them


  1. Great ideas. I am very lucky at my current stage in life that I can afford to buy organic products on a fairly regular basis. I also follow the majority of the ideas you gave - but one area where I could really improve is the eating the expensive stuff less often. My husband loves a chunk of meat with a side of vegetables for dinner and since he often requests it, it is still in our menu rotation even though it is our most expensive meal every week! I guess I would rather have a little less in the grocery envelope and have a happy hubby vs the other way around!

    Good for you on making the switch to organic! I am trying to work on the local/in season effort now and I bet you will be on that path soon as well.

  2. Milk-aholic, that is funny. I am that way too with whole milk which is a major source of weight gain for me I think. If I don't buy it I don't miss it as much, but when I buy it, yikes.
    I am bookmarking this because I want to eat organic, and I am on a student's income living at home. My family as a garden, and I don't think they use pesticides, so that is an option in summer (I love Kale chips) if I could make myself eat more veggies. Meat is killer though. I also don't meal plan, so I have wasted a lot of food or eaten boring meals.

  3. I love that book! We have started making this change as well - first it was just moving away from processed foods, and then we sort of naturally started down a more organic path. We aren't 100% there yet, but moving in that direction. A couple of things I've learned: I also try and do vegetarian 1-2 nights a week, but even if I am cooking with meat I will reduce the amount we eat in a meal by reducing the role the meat plays (i.e. instead of just having a slab of beef it will be the filler in an entree or if I use hamburger meat in something I always half the amount of meat I used to use and substitute black beans) I also pack my lunch everyday and will now either make a big batch of soup on the weekend that I can portion out as leftovers for lunch or make myself a meatless salad - either way I have inexpensive, easy options. We've also switched to only once a week grocery shopping and meal planning - groan! But as much as I dislike it, I can't ignore the fact that we are def eating healthier and saving money! I'd love to know some of your vegetarian recipes that are a hit with your husband!

  4. I am totally with you! I started switching out everything in my pantry about 2 years ago and I (hope!) I will never go back! And it actually SAVED us money! We eat healthier, better quaility, and more exciting and interesting food and it has actually saved money just because the style of eating changed. I am so thrilled. And thrilled for you! It truly is amazing how much you have to start reading lables when you cut out HFCS, MSG, food coloring and hydrogenated oils! Even just those 4 ingredients TOTALLY changes ones grocery list.


I love to fellowship with others and hear what they have to say. I would ask, however, that you be mindful of what you write and try to be uplifting and respectful. Thank you for sharing!