Feb 14 2008

Help this reader eat well on a budget


A question from a reader:

I prefer (when possible) to buy organically. I’m very sensitive to the preservatives, dyes, and chemicals you find in most processed and even plain ol’ non-organic goods and produce, and I’ve done a lot of research on the toll they can take if you’re like me. My perspective on it is, I’d rather pay my grocery bill than my doctor’s bill. But with a tiny post-college budget, eating the finer things isn’t exactly an easily attainable goal. I can’t sacrifice things like car insurance for organic spinach. Any tips? Do you think your readers might have any tips?

My goodness! That’s rough to have such sensitivity. I think it is important that you eat foods that keep you healthy and well.

Since you’re a recent college grad, I’m guessing you might be living in an apartment right now. Even so, have you considered growing your own vegetables? Even if you grow just one or two items on your porch or on your window sill, that could be a great way for you to save some money. Check out this article on Wise Bread and search Google for more on this.

You could definitely grow herbs in your home, since they hardly take up any space.

Once the weather warms back up, be sure to visit your area farmer’s market. I hope they’ll have organic selections that you can eat. The prices there are likely to be much cheaper than in stores.

Seek out organic farms in your area (depending on where you live) and see if you can buy directly from them.

What suggestions do you have for her?

11 Responses to “Help this reader eat well on a budget”

  1. When I was in an apartment, I didn’t have a very sunny balcony, but still managed to grow cherry & roma tomatoes with some success, as well as herbs & pole beans (balcony railings = poles!) The best option for organic produce, was, as you said, the farmers’ market. I noticed that some people at the market bought large quantities of whatever was in season, so they could take them home and preserve them for year-round local organic produce.

  2. I live in an apartment and since I’m on the lower floor, I’ve had good luck with the Topsy Turvy tomato planter and other planters from the same company in order to grow organic veggies and herbs.

    You can also check out localharvest.org to see what markets are in your area.

    If it’s possible to pay for it, you could also find a local, organic CSA through there. I’m a member of one and while the initial payout of around $300 seems like a big hit, when you have 18 weeks of fresh veggies from that in the summer, it’s really not that expensive. That way, you know who grew your veggies, you are helping support a local farmer and you get super fresh items.

    Also, for some items, you may be able to check out Aldi’s or even a Meijer’s. They seem to do pretty well on organic frozen and canned veggies and other pantry staples. Not all of Meijer’s organic veggies are in their organic section, either, at least for the one near me. I’ve found that some of the veggies that aren’t as common or popular (Swiss chard, some other green, baby bok choy) are organic even when they are in with the rest of the veggies.

    And like was mentioned, local farm markets are the best when it’s in season. They are usually much cheaper than groceries and much fresher. Not all places may be certified organic, some are just too small to afford it, but many still grow their veggies and fruits without pesticides and are GMO-free.

  3. I second the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) recommendation. Many farms that do CSA’s let you go out to the farms on the weekend and pick extras and the like, lots of fun.

    Another good strategy for cheap organic food is buying in bulk. This is easiest if you have a lot of storage space. Amazon can have good deals (we get 48 rolls of 7th Generation toilet paper), go through a wholesale distributor, or directly to the manufacturer (we get 5 gallons of detergent from Ecos).

    Distributors may have a minimum order and want to deliver in big increments, think cases of soy milk or 25 lbs of rice. We live in a group house w/ a lot of storage space so this isn’t a problem for us, if it is for you, you might think about doing a buying club with friends and neighbors. You all just have to agree on what to order and how to divide it up. Some buying clubs have operated for decades and have dozens of people participating, you can be as organized about it as you want. It takes some work but wholesale can get costs in half or more.

    Finding a distributor can be challenging, talk to your local small organic or health food grocer and ask them who they use. You’ll probably have to call them to get a catalog mailed to you. When you order make sure they can/will deliver to residences, you don’t wank an 18 wheeler showing up at your apartment looking for a loading dock :)

  4. I’ll have to check out the CSA idea – thanks!

    One thing that I try hard to do when cooking organic for my family is to stretch the meal over a couple of days. For example, I love making stews in the winter time (just throw the meat and veggies in the crock pot). I will usually serve it the first night with bread or biscuits for a hearty meal. The next night, I will take the leftovers and serve it over rice. I’m also lazy, so this method works well for me :)

    Overall, the cost is not too bad, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to know that my family is well-fed!

  5. My top piece of advice is to learn to cook, and to bake. Then you will have the knowledge necessary to tweak, change, or create recipes within your budget with seasonal ingredients.

    In addition to growing your own, have you tried sprouting? I get organic mung beans from EarthFare – two tablespoons of dried beans turn into 1 quart of sprouts in less than a week! No sunlight needed, and you can have fresh organic produce year round.

    Get a jar. Put two tablespoons of small seeds or beans (mung beans, lentils, etc.) in the jar. Cover with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin. Use a rubberband, string, or mason jar ring to keep the material in place. Cover the beans with water and soak overnight. Drain the water. Rinse and drain 2-3 times a day for 4-5 days. (I stored mine upside down in the dishrack to make sure it drained.) When the sprouts are about twice the size of the original seed, eat. Some people like baby sprouts or more mature sprouts – figure out at one point they are the tastiest to you. (Don’t use kidney beans).

    Cut back where you can to free up $ for specialty items. For example, cut back on meat or substitute
    Lentils and Rice

    That recipe is really good! This week I made one pound of lentils and 3 cups of brown rice; we’ve eaten it in enchiladas and as burgers and I’ve STILL got some leftover that I’m going to freeze. I fed NINE people for three meals -with leftovers – for under $3.

    Search out places that carry food you can eat. I buy Annie’s Organics Mac and Cheese at BigLots for 65 cents. They have Wasa crackers, too.

  6. Consider buying organic for only the top 20 or so most contaminated produce. And look into frozen organic produce, especially during the colder months. Also, go veg instead of paying for organic meats and eggs, if your diet permits.

    Using your crockpot to make stews and soups that can be stretched out is a great idea.

  7. Buy what’s in season since that produce will be cheaper. Find the stores with the lowest prices – usually in my area, Whole Foods is cheaper than Ralphs when it comes to organic. I highly recommend Trader Joe’s but I know they’re not everywhere. Costco has quite a few organic products as well now – eggs, milk, produce, etc. Make things with inexpensive ingredients from scratch – bread comes to mind. She may not be able to eat like a gourmet, but she’ll be eating healthier than the vast majority of us!

  8. All the good ideas have been suggested already but I’d just like to add that if you don’t have the space to grow food or would like to grow more so you can preserve, I suggest looking for a community garden. Bigger plots of land mean you can garden to your heart’s content and preserve/can all the surplus to tide you over the winter.

  9. Sometimes the big name natural grocery stores, such as Earthfare, Fresh Market, etc, can be pretty exepnsive. But sometimes they have excellent sales on their organic produce so be sure to check their weekly flier (usually posted online as well). When the farmer’s market is not in season, try to seek out a small local grocery/herbs store. I live in a pretty mainstream town, and even here we have three different small natural foods stores. While some of their prices can be quite high, produce is usually *much* cheaper than the organic produce at a normal grocery store.

  10. Interesting!

    Do you or your readers have suggestions for feeding a twosome one of whom is a Celiac (gluten-free) and the other a diabetic living vegetarian?

  11. You can sign up for Mambo Sprouts. They are a coupon booklet that is delivered to your mailbox. I save a lot of money with them. Also, Target coupon generator has some GREAT coupons for organics. I just printed out their Morning Star $2/1 coupon and used them on a clearance item at Target (and ended up making $.25 per box bought. :) ) ALSO, there is a GREAT forum out there http://organicgrocerydeals.com (please use my username lvg4him when registering). There is where I learned about the Morning Star coupon. You can print the Target coupons from there (it is free to print them and free to sign up). There are also Target coupons for Archer Farms Organic Fruit Leather (which I also stocked up on).

    Another thing we do is buy from farmer’s markets. Start saving right now. Farmer’s markets are really cheap (I am able to get produce for cheaper than conventional. MUCH cheaper. Then I freeze some stuff. I plan on doing it in even more stuff this year. We just made the most amazing peach pie from peaches I froze last year.

    Anyways, I hope this helps.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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