EATING CLEAN ON A BUDGET
Written by Ariana Hamidi 4/1/17
If you’re anything like me, feeding your family healthy whole foods free of chemicals is a top priority. A lot of people think that many foods are out of reach, too expensive, and I am here to tell you it’s just not true! You can nourish your family organically and frugally, so I’ve created a list below of ideas on how to do that. The first piece of advice is: be committed! You may have to give up certain conveniences or treats; you may have to offer your time and labor, but your body will be healthier and your bank account will be fuller. Write a monthly amount to what you can spend on groceries and stick to it however you can. For me, it means using cash only. Other families might fare better with apps like Mint. Budgets are very personal and only you will know what works for your family. No matter what that number looks like, these tips can help you keep costs down while improving your health and well-being by feeding your family the very best you are able to give. In the case of our children, you are helping them grow and thrive into strong human beings with healthy immune systems. It’s worth it!
1. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
This is the best piece of advice anyone can give. It is critical in today’s society to build community and work together to become as self-sustaining as possible. It’s also the best way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body. If you’re unsure where to start, ask friends, find a workshop, check out books from the library, read blogs. Lots of cities are establishing community gardens where you can rent space. If you’re in the suburbs or rural communities, chances are you have some lawn you could turn into a garden. If you rent, building a few raised beds with cheap wood can still produce a substantial amount of vegetables and is simple to break down when you move. Apartment living? A long as you have a porch, you can have a garden using only large pots. Start small, and build from there. Plant herbs for flavor and amazing health benefits. (Did you know parsley has more iron than a serving of meat?) Once you gain experience, expand if your housing allows it. Raise chickens or ducks for eggs, goats for dairy, plant an orchard, berry bushes, or whatever excites you. There’s really nothing more satisfying than getting your hands in the earth growing food that you pick from your porch or backyard, tastes delicious and is relatively free! Be sure to buy organic and non-GMO seeds, and use local soil whenever possible. Many landscape businesses will sell an organic mushroom blend by the yard. It is also a good idea to have your soil tested for lead and other contaminants. Many states provide that service for a small fee. We had the soil at our rental home tested for $15 when we moved to RVA last year before we established a large garden.
2. EAT LOCAL
I am fortunate to live in a city that has a farmers market open almost every day of the week. The key to saving money at a farmers market is to shop around and avoid impulse buys. Compare the prices of each stand before purchasing. Make notes about how these foods compare to grocery store prices and quality. Sometimes I choose lesser quality produce from Kroger if it saves me a few dollars, other times I opt for the fresher ingredients. In the height of the spring/summer season it’s easy to find a good deal at the market, just avoid purchasing extras we often see like baked goods, hot foods, or artisan cheeses, as these items can break the bank.
Another way to eat locally is to do your own fruit picking. Last summer we went to Barry’s Berries, Pleasant Field Farms, and Newcastle Bee and Berry farm to pick blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. The cost and quality are fantastic in comparison to any berries offered at the grocery store, and you don’t have to worry about exploiting someone’s labor with the big brands like Driscoll’s. We always pick as much as we can handle (with three kids running around) take them home and freeze them. I was lucky enough to have a family member gift us a vacuum sealer and it has allowed us to enjoy fresh picked berries all winter long for the last several years. (Investing in a deep freeze is an essential element to this money saver).
3. TASTE THE RAINBOW
Diversify your plates. Eat fruits and veggies in season, as you are more likely to find a great deal. Stock up on asparagus and peas in spring, pumpkins, and squash in fall, greens in summer. Like they say, too much of a good thing is…too much? I think life would be pretty boring if we were to eat the same meals on repeat each day, and frankly, I have no interest in living that way. I am a frugal foodie and to do that I constantly push my palate to keep things interesting, whether it’s spending a whole week figuring out how to love kohlrabi or giving offal to my baby. My goal for my kids’ meals every day is that they will get the full rainbow of colors in their meals. A typical example of that for us would include red bell pepper, sweet potato, banana, kale, blueberries, and grapes. (Purple is the hardest one for me to achieve consistently). I like to think of it as my kid’s multivitamin, but that’s another post entirely! When that’s not possible, or when you have a very picky eater, (for some of us that might even be most days), do what you can. Make smoothies. Hide veggies in meatloaf, mashed potatoes, or spaghetti. Try to acquire variety based on shopping sales or plan your meals around your CSA haul.
4. CSA or WORK SHARE
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an opportunity to support local farmers while enjoying the benefits of homegrown organic foods. You pay for a half or full share up front, and each week you pick up whatever crops they have harvested that week (May-November). It typically comes out to $30-50/week for a nice variety of chemical free vegetables. Many CSAs also have fruits, eggs, dairy, and fresh bread. Check the web or social media for the names of various CSAs in your area, then write emails to them asking if they are accepting new members. They should be happy to tell you about their growing practices in detail and if they’re not, move on! When my family moved to RVA last year I tried one of the delivery box services (there are several) but I was disappointed in the quantity, quality, and price so I canceled. It was not worth the convenience for me but you may find that is a good fit for your family. I did find a CSA that was Certified Naturally Grown (Victory Farms), which seems to be the new standard since it’s becoming harder to trust the safety of organic pesticides in USDA Organic food. This year I found Willow Hill Family Farm in their second year of a CSA. They also offer a work share (check them out here), five hours of farm work in exchange for the CSA share. Since we have been missing our Pennsylvania homestead so much, I chose this option. They offer a variety of seasonal no-spray, non-GMO vegetables, pastured eggs, lamb, and pork. My family enjoys connecting to our food through harvesting and building relationships with farmers so I am very excited about this season!
5. BUY IN BULK
Pretty simple. Only buy what you need and skip the extra packaging altogether. Another instance of …good for the planet, good for your wallet. Natural grocers (like Ellwood Thompsons in RVA) will typically allow you to bring your own containers to fill. An example of the savings: I can buy three times the amount of organic rolled oats in bulk as I can packaged for the same price. The same is true for dried beans, rice, and flour.
6. MEAT AND RAW DAIRY SHARE (Vegan friends look away!)
If you can front the cost, buying a ¼, ½ of a whole cow, lamb, or goat is a great way to eat local and save money. Although this way of purchasing is certainly more expensive than buying factory farmed meat, it is a better value for families who choose to eat grass-fed beef and other pastured livestock exclusively. This season I found someone to split a ¼ share with me from Fresh Branch Farms (they can be found on Facebook). I have bought beef from them several times and it’s simply amazing! I also feel good about supporting a young family like mine. Many farms also offer a raw dairy share, such as Avery’s Branch Farms, who deliver at various drop-off locations in RVA.
Just this week I had a friend offer to buy some pastured chickens from her neighbor in exchange for some of my homemade bone broth. I gladly accepted! Whenever I can barter labor or supplies and avoid the exchange of money I do. This is another way of building community. Ask your friends and acquaintances if they would be interested in this. Perhaps you have a neighbor who always has an abundance of tomatoes but can never find a sitter for her children, make an offer to barter! Be creative and outgoing as there’s so much to gain and really nothing to lose if they say no.
8. START A CO-OP
Start your own co-op (or find an established one) so that your food is sourced locally and directly without the inconvenience of having to visit all the farms yourself each week. I have a friend who does this in Austin, TX with a group of parents committed to eating clean. The group was formed on Facebook and has almost 400 members. The process looks something like this: a member scopes out a food source and posts to the group to gauge interest. Once a source is voted on and chosen they negotiate with the farm to buy a large order each week. They use Google forms to manage the ordering. The food gets delivered to the main organizer’s house and she keeps it frozen, refrigerated, or in coolers until each member picks up what they bought. Some members pick up for rural members and establish secondary pickup locations. They buy everything from meat, poultry, pork products, broth, eggs, Elderberry syrup, local honey, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and certain pantry items. This is a unique way of tailoring your eating to both your budget and lifestyle. I hope to have a part in making this happen in Richmond!
9. SHOP MULTIPLE GROCERY STORES
I know I know busy parents don’t have time to shop different stores each week, so you’ll have to decide how much of a savings is worth the extra time. If you look at it over the course of a month, I’ve been able to save up to $80/month with this method. For much of the year when our CSA or garden is not producing, we do a Kroger trip once a week, and a trip to Whole Foods, Ellwood Thompsons, or Aldi 1-2 times a month. We have certain dietary restrictions and some items much be purchased at those grocers. Kroger has a great natural foods section as well as organic produce, Aldi has affordable pantry items, Whole Foods has a nice seafood counter, and Ellwood Thompsons has a great bulk section. Each place offers something. I know a lot of people enjoy Click List, the online ordering system that Kroger now offers. If you are someone who makes a lot of impulse purchases, this is a good option for you. Stick to your list for meals and avoid the budget bumps!
10. STOP EATING OUT!
Seems obvious, but for some, this might be a tough sell. Dining out, even at casual restaurants, is expensive. As someone who has worked in the service industry for many years, I always tip at least 20% (as everyone should) and that really adds to the cost. Because my family is living on a strict budget, we almost never eat out. We limit ourselves to special occasions maybe 3-4 times a year. Additionally, restaurant food has a lot of added sugar and salt and even if you choose a spot that sources locally, you really can’t be sure where all the ingredients are coming from. If you have to eat out, limit yourself to one drink and skip the appetizers and desserts. Look for lunch specials or nightly happy hour deals.
11. AVOID PROCESSED FOOD
(As much as possible) Let’s get real, everyone loves junk food…. at least in theory. Momentary pleasures of salty or sweet are something most folks can relate to, not to mention the convenience factor packaged foods provide when you have kids! But in reality, these foods are not helping your body or your budget, even if they are “Organic junk food.” I’m not here to judge anyone’s choices in any way because I definitely indulge plenty, but you may need to make a few rules for yourself in order to keep the spending in check. I give myself a rule that if I decide to buy the kids some kind of convenience food; it has to be on sale. When I see a great deal on a processed food like organic rice cakes, I buy a few extras for my pantry. Today at the grocery store I avoided all of it because I did not see a good deal and these foods are not necessary to any of us.
12. HOMEMADE IS BETTER
I grew up on junk food, but later taught myself how to cook and now I make everything from scratch. I like to experiment, take risks, and rarely use recipes. If you’re a novice cook, check some books out at the library or look online for ideas. You really don’t need every ingredient listed in a recipe. Cooking and baking at home not only tastes far superior to anything store-bought, but you can control the ingredients. No fillers, preservatives, stabilizers, or other things you can’t pronounce. Worried about time? Use the crockpot; get an InstaPot, freeze dishes, or do a little meal prep on the weekend. Find a few go-to dishes that you can whip up in 30 minutes or less. Cooking homemade is a major money saver. My favorite way to make meat stretch is with soup. I can feed my family of five plus several lunch leftovers with one pound of meat. I use bones and wilted veggies (I collect both in my freezer over time) to make my own broth, fill it with cheap nutritious vegetables like cabbage, kale, carrot, and potato, and I have 3 meals for under $15.
I hope some of these ideas help your family on the path to both wellness and financial freedom!
I’d like to give a very special thanks to Ariana Hamidi for writing this incredible post today 🙂 I’ve had family visiting so I wasn’t able to write a full post this week ( Prioritize what’s important to you my friends) If you’d like to check out what I’ve been up to this weekend follow me on Instagram I make new post there daily. If you haven’t subscribed yet make sure you enter you email so you never miss a post.