One Moveable Feast: Serve Up Organic Meals Without Blowing Your Budget
I’ve been interested in the effects of nutrition on the human body since I wrote a paper on porotic hyperostosis for my college anthropology course. I’m fascinated with how local food supplies translate into cultural and physical characteristics, how past cultures survived, and how they just figured things out. Unfortunately, my own evolution was a similarly slow process. I got lax with my food choices throughout the remainder of the 90s and Aughts. But through my discovery of my child’s sensitivity to food coloring in 2011, I realized how much additives were affecting my own health too. I started to pay attention to what we all ate.
You’re already avoiding food coloring and chemical additives if you shop for organic, or even just all natural foods. You can be fairly confident that your family isn’t ingesting additives, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, irradiated produce & fertilizers. And you can be proud that the products you choose result in better treatment of animals, a healthier environment, and less bio-accumulation and disease. Some folks claim that eating all natural foods helps their adrenal fatigue – I tend to agree, as I’ve logged everything I’ve eaten before and after our dietary changes, and I feel better than I have in years.
But the slow economy isn’t making healthy living easy. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Thanksgiving feasts will be more expensive during this already very difficult year. It would seem that reaching for those petroleum-dyed “green” peas in a can would be less painful than buying fresh, unaltered peas. And yet – organic food sales are rising, especially among new parents shopping for organic baby food, and childless people in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties who value the environment and local community. As these young adults and toddlers age, their tastes will continue to be reflected in the markets.
I am hopeful that healthy eating will one day be so common that it will be cheaper than processed “Big Food”. People from all income levels want organic food. More than half of people with a high school diploma would buy organic food if given an affordable choice. A small shift in Americans’ buying habits could be devastating to the Big Food industry, and cause them to rethink their offerings and prices. Maybe “voting with our dollars” is what it will take to move the government to stop subsidizing GMOs and toxic foods (it may be our only defense, as we’ve seen how powerful food lobbies are in Congress this week…Pizza as a vegetable in school lunches? Really, Washington?).
There’s a learning curve with shopping for organic and all natural foods, I’ll admit. I had to reset my radar for “good deals” to organic prices after we changed our diet. And holy bird, navigating all natural personal care products can be incredibly confusing and intimidating. Luckily, we have a bounty of choices, and the interwebs, to help us along the way these days. To help you with your frugal Thanksgiving and holiday fetes, I’ve compiled some best practices from over thirty web sites. No more dumb looks, mumbling to yourself, wandering aimlessly, or curling up in the fetal position in the health food store! Okay…so it’s just me. Again.
What does organic mean?
Many shoppers are doubtful about the USDA certified organic label on foods because they don’t really know what that means. How does this tiny green and white oval justify spending almost twice as much? And who has time to read three paragraphs on the back of a broth carton? With a little shopping savvy and some basic background information, you can start to understand why organic and all natural foods are more expensive. Organic food preparation is more labor intensive, composting and “natural fertilizers” cost more than chemicals, properly caring for animals who live longer takes time and money, and the cost of keeping pesticides away from organic crops can be expensive (especially in court).
You can find out what the USDA organic standards are here.
Figure out your own priorities and what works for YOUR family. Your budget may make it necessary to omit certain things now. Start by cutting out excess processed and prepared foods. Buy more nutrient dense foods, and your body will adjust to eating less (oats, whole grains, beans, nuts, rice, and snacks like trail mix and dried fruits).
Shop your pantry first, make a menu plan, and then make a shopping list of needed ingredients. I love this site for kitchen management – it’s full of tricks and food facts from chefs and nutritionists to help you waste less and make the most of the food you buy. This site should be used to teach home economics…sure wish I’d had this advice for oh, say, the last 20 years.
Try to buy these foods organic, because of the higher chance that pesticides will be absorbed: Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, peaches, apples, nectarines, celery, pears, plums, potatoes, bell peppers, raspberries, grapes (imported), strawberries, spinach, carrots, and cherries. Oranges are often sprayed with FD&C dyes to make them appear more nutritious. The following foods have less chance of being contaminated by pesticides, so you can buy them non-organic when your budget is tight: Grapefruit, papaya, kiwi, broccoli, asparagus, onions, bananas, peas, mangoes, cauliflower, pineapple, avocado, watermelon, cantaloupe, and corn. For more information, check the Environmental Working Group’s guide for buying organic produce – They update their list of the “Clean15” and the “Dirty Dozen” annually. You can also check the comparative pesticide loads of many fruits and vegetables here.
Search for farmer’s markets in your area, where you can find organic fruits and vegetables cheaper than store organics (and in their natural, florescent lighting free surroundings – !!!) – but do ask where the foods come from and if they are in fact organic. Some sell organic products but do not display the USDA “certified organic” label because the actual certification process can be too expensive. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program to receive weekly boxes of seasonal vegetables and fruits for a great price. Ask questions to be sure it’s organic, and grown locally. Some CSAs even post recipes on their websites to correspond to each week’s selection. Find co-ops that support local farmers, and volunteer to work at farmer’s markets or co-ops for food discounts and an enhanced “locavore” experience.
The first couple of times you shop for organic and all natural foods, do some comparison shopping and then note which brands suit your needs. This will make future shopping trips so much easier. Remember that the stores with the largest organic selections will usually have lowest prices. But conventional stores may have lots of organics too, so don’t limit yourself to just health food and specialty stores.
Buy from bulk bins at health food stores to save on packaging costs. Price clubs such as Costco sell bulk organic vegetables, fruits, salads, berries, canned tomatoes, and juice boxes. Seek out “case discounts” at Whole Foods and other health food stores for staples such as milk and baby foods. Form a buyers’ club to buy in bulk with your friends…here’s a guide for how to get one started.
Try to shop only the perimeter of the store, not the aisles, as this is where the staples are located. This helps you cut down on impulse buys that are not on your shopping list. Use the 80/20 rule suggested by the Organic Valley Family of Farms: 80% of benefits come from 20% of items you choose – this means you should buy organic versions of what your family uses the most. Buy house brand products when possible, as they are just as good as well-known brands. Publix has an affordable organic line called Greenwise, and Whole Foods has their own “365 Organics” brand.
Just as with non-organic shopping, it’s wise to stock up during big sales, and they do happen. Turn sales into jackpots by clipping coupons from store booklets near the entrance and checkouts, or print coupons online at sites like organicdeals.com, WholeFoods.com, MamboSprouts.com, SmartSource.com, RedPlum.com, Coupons.com, IHeartPublix.com, IHeartKroger.com, and individual manufacturers’ sites. Get exclusive coupons by becoming a fan and “liking” a company’s Facebook page.
Other Ways To Save:
Save money by focusing on just buying organic milk, meats, butter, cheese, eggs, fish, and produce with thin or no rind. This also reduces pesticide intake from bio-accumulation.
Eat smaller meat portions. A serving of meat or meat alternative protein should be about the size of a deck of cards.
Use less dairy so that you can splurge to buy it organic less often (dairy contains pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics).
Try one or more meatless meals per week.
Stock up on Tofu and tempeh when they go on sale.
Add flavor to any meal with tamari, balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, etc.
Round out meals and stretch your dollars with ground flax seeds, coconut milk, black beans, canned tomatoes.
Buy dried fruits on sale, in bulk.
Stock up on shelf-stable quarts of almond milk and soy milk. They last longer than cow’s milk but provide the same amount of calcium and protein.
Make your own spice mixes with bulk spices and a coffee grinder.
Start your own garden from seeds or sprouts (SNAPS recipients can get free seeds). Start small with one plant, or share gardens with neighbors.
Pick your own produce by googling “You Pick” farms. Organic berries and veg are cheaper because of the farm’s savings on labor. Your kids can have fun while learning about where their food comes from.
Join RecycleBank for savings on food, and to teach your kids about a more sustainable lifestyle.
Barter with neighbors for what your family needs.
Search for an overabundance of neighbors’ produce on Neighborhood Fruit.
Order in bulk online and search for coupon codes. Some stores have free shipping deals.
Bake your own bread with organic flour. It won’t last as long as highly processed breads containing preservatives but that’s soooo okay.
Cook in bulk and freeze portions for later.
Buy produce in season, while it’s plentiful and on sale – Freeze cut up fruit (berries, pineapple, strawberries, mango) and cooked veg (spinach, beans, corn). To prepare, spread them out on a baking sheet so they’re not touching and set the tray in the freezer, then bag them when fully frozen. Search for what is in season by each state here.
Soak and cook dried beans, and then freeze for later.
Brew tea and add some juice (pomegranate, orange, apple, grape) for a quick, healthy flavored drink. Hanson’s and Trader Joe’s also sell all natural flavor packets which are easy to bring to restaurants and special events.
Avoid buying expensive bottled water, as plastic is worse for the environment. Use a tap filter and refill your reusable bottle often.
And last but not least (and perhaps most fascinating to me) – I’ve been reading about more and more people foraging for food! Check out this guy’s advice, and perhaps take the kids on a fun scavenger hunt for a side dish!
Whether you buy organic or conventionally-grown produce, always wash it before eating. Here is a simple cleansing formula from www.nestlette.com that you can make at home:
1 cup water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 a lemon or 20 drops of grapefruit extract
Spray it on, let sit for 5 minutes, wash off.
After the feast, you’ll need some help to settle your upset stomach, but skip the petroleum-dyed TUMS. Use papaya extract tablets (half the price of TUMS), or apple cider vinegar with water, or baking soda with water. And after you wake from your food coma and conquer those stomach woes, use all that clean-eating vigor to clean the oven with vinegar and baking soda instead of harsh sprays that leave toxic residues. Clean cutting boards and counter tops with a spray mixture of water, natural soap like Bronner’s, vinegar, lavender oil, and tea tree oil. Use borax on linens.
“Forget about the things you want, Be thankful for what all you got…” – Dan Auerbach, “Goin’ Home”
So yeah…try something new this year. Turn this holiday bounty into a learning moment for your kids. Explain how and why they can use healthier ingredients to fuel their bodies. And use this celebration to teach priorities, such as being grateful for what you have – a home, transportation, food, your body, and each other. And if we put our money where our values lie, then maybe this holiday can serve as a learning moment for food manufacturers, too.
I wish you a very joyful and plentiful Thanksgiving!
Now, I wanna know – What in your cart MUST be organic????