This week’s post is a very popular subject. I cannot count, how many times I’ve heard this: “healthy foods are too expensive; I can’t afford to eat healthy”.
Here, you will find, some tips to keep your grocery bill down, while maintaining nutrition. I implement each of these tips myself, so they are proven. The truth is, it does take effort and diligence to keep my food budget in check, but it’s just as hard for all of us, regardless of what you’re putting in your grocery cart. And it may get noticeably worse. The 2012 drought conditions will surely send prices up, especially on corn and soybean products – yet another reason to try to save.
The biggest reason I hear the above statement about health food being so expensive is because people do not STOP buying the other crap too. Of course your bill will double if you are buying double. The point is to REPLACE the unhealthy choices with the healthy ones. Stop shopping the middle of the supermarket. Shop the outer edges and only break the rule when you need healthy staples. Dig deep for willpower and don’t buy the chips, cookies or any other packaged foods.
It’s really easy to break the rule after you put the first packaged item into the basket. The best policy is ZERO.
However, these are a few things I venture into the middle for: low sugar or sugar-free cereals and oats, brown rice, salt, sugar, flour, tortilla chips, Triscuits, goldfish, nuts, quinoa, pastas, jar tomatoes, broth, pretzels, bread, tortillas and gluten-free crackers.
Channel your inner no-nonsense and don’t budge!
Oh, and leave those kids at home!
Produce is at its nutritional best, when mother nature intends it to be. When you shop the season, you’re getting the most nutritious version of that food, available. It’s not naturally growing all year. We have modernized our ways of thinking because our grocer makes everything available all year-long, via imports. And why shouldn’t he? Off season fruits demand top dollar. Remember growing up, you would know what was in season based on the fruit bowl?
The biggest sacrifices we make buying out of season are quality and economy. Yet we keep buying it. You have to notice the difference in taste, color, texture and juiciness. When we import pears or force grow them, you can tell. The pear season is in November, so pears should avoid your basket in March. Typically, the best way to tell what’s in season, is by price. The fruit that’s “featured” or “on sale” is whatever is plentiful. Supply and Demand. We have surpluses of Cranberries in October. So it makes sense that a traditional food served during a holiday in November, requires cranberries. Prices will be lowest when fruits and veggies are at the end of the harvest and farmers are trying to get rid of the crop.
Seasons vary slightly, depending on your part of the country. You could google a more precise and local list for wherever you live.
Here are the general guidelines to follow:
January : cabbage, leak, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, tangelos, lemons, papayas
February : broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, papayas
March : broccoli, lettuce, pineapples, mangoes
April : zucchini, rhubarb, artichoke, asparagus, spring peas, broccoli, lettuce, pineapples, mangoes
May : okra, zucchini, rhubarb, artichoke, asparagus, spring peas, broccoli, lettuce, cherries, pineapples, apricots
June : corn, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, cherries, blueberries, peaches, apricots
July : cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, corn, green beans, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, plums
August : cucumber, corn, eggplant, tomato, summer squash, green beans, lettuce, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, plums
September : eggplant, pumpkin, tomato, spinach, lettuce, grapes, pomegranates
October : sweet potato, pumpkin, winter squash, broccoli, spinach, cranberry, apples, pomegranates, grapes
November : pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potato, broccoli, mushroom, spinach, cranberry, oranges, tangerines, pears, pomegranates
December : sweet potato, mushroom, broccoli, cauliflower, pears, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, papaya, pomegranates
We all love to eat fruit, but it’s not always in season. Take a look at September, for instance. In the months when fruit options are scarce, shop the frozen isle. Sometimes they will be lower priced based on the fruit season that has just ended. I stock up when the prices are down. Translation: what I’m putting into my basket that’s in season in the produce isle, I will also check the price in the frozen isle. Just make certain you are buying a product with only fruit in the ingredient list. Some brands sneak sugar or preservatives into the bag, none of which, are needed. Veggies too. Check the label!
Skip canned fruits. They are full of sugar and possibly Bisphenol A (BPA), as well. Actually, I have stopped buying most canned products because of this. Jar is better.
Buy Less Meat
For a family of four, meat for one night’s dinner can range anywhere from $4.99 to $15.00+, depending on the quality, cut and trendiness. Typically, skipping the meat for one meal, you could save a huge chunk of money, depending on what you substitute it for. If you sub it with in season veggies or a crock pot of navy beans, you are paying a fraction.
Several years ago, we decided to eliminate meat at least one day per week. Here we are today and I cannot remember the last time I purchased meat to serve, besides when we have guests. I do prepare meat for company. We get our protein from other sources like beans, quinoa, yogurt and eggs. I don’t believe we need as much protein as the USDA suggests. BUT that’s another blog post.
Eliminate Convenience (see also STOP – above)
This is the biggest and similar to the first item on this list. Are you ready? STOP buying packaged and convenience foods, entirely. Frozen pizza is expensive and bad for you. So are chips, pastries, Rice-A-Roni, Kraft mac and cheese, canned soups and lots more that would take the entire page to list. You know what foods they are. Those are the foods that are making you feel terrible, breaking your budget and settling into your midsection for the winter.
And, if you need one more reason to skip them: these foods are also making Wall Street rich.
The other items, not so obvious to avoid: pre-cut veggies and fruits that your grocer cuts, deli prepared items (like pimento cheese spread and honey glazed salmon), prepared, cut or seasoned meats (like those pretty little shish kebobs in the meat case) and bagged produce (like Broccoli-Wokly).
Stock Up and Freeze
When it is in season, use it, but also save some for later. I love to make huge pots of soups that use fresh and in season veggies for the occasions when things are sparse or when I need convenience. You can freeze most soups for at least 90-days and some, even longer. Beans too. If you double the recipe, freeze the leftover beans and you can avoid buying canned. It really doesn’t require much more effort to double most recipes. Try it out. Gallon size zip bags make great storage for soups and they lay flat.
Freeze in season fruits and veggies yourself. Sometimes you should wash first, sometimes not. It’s worth taking a look at this publication from Iowa State for guidelines on how it’s best to freeze, most produce.
CSA’s and Community Gardens
Especially for those of you that live in or around major metro areas, options are out there for farming cooperatives or community gardens. They can really save you money.
The CSA or Community Supported Agriculture programs allow us to partner with a local farm by buying into the farm for a growing season (by shares), which means, assuming the risks, as well as the rewards. It usually entails weekly pick up’s at pre-determined locations and you will get a pre-determined amount of produce. The box of produce will be: in season, fresh, organically grown (if you are a part of an organic CSA) and probably more superior than anything you’ve ever bought from the grocery store. The CSA does have a few downsides. The money you pay to the farmer is not warrantied. If the farmer has a bad crop, bad season or another disaster, you also assume the risk. And, you might not like all of the vegetables in the box. It’s not like the grocer, where you pick and choose each item. I think the CSA is best suited for those that are adventurous in cooking and can turn produce they don’t like, into a meal anyway.
Another option is a Community Garden. Here is a publication from North Carolina State University that outlines the benefits of this type of arrangement. I have seen more of these, again, in urban areas of the country where farms are sparse and produce is typically more expensive. Everyone shares the workload in the farm and everyone enjoys the harvest. The benefits of the community garden are extensive, but most of all, the whole family can help. Also, you have some control over what is grown and you garner a great sense of community.
Local Harvest is a good place to begin your search for CSA or Community Farm options near you.
For those of you that read my blog regularly, will chuckle at this one. I am an admitted bean pusher! They are super economical, easy to prepare, full of nutrition and versatile in hundreds of recipes. Need I say more? For a great bean instruction manual, read an earlier blog post: The Absent American Food: BEANS. Seriously, what other food can you feed an entire family for less than $5? Beans= $1.25, an onion is about .60 cents and a box of organic broth is $2.99.
It’s so cliché, but true. The more you buy, the more you save. An economy bag of quinoa at Costco, costs less than if I purchase the equivalent number of bags at the local market. If you know you’ll use it, it’s worth a membership. We go through pretty much everything I buy there, before it goes bad. If you find you can’t use it in time, it’s not worth the savings. The things I most commonly buy at my Costco are eggs, feta cheese, milk, celery, spinach, wine, toilet paper and detergents.
Of course, they can always be counted on for things you don’t expect to buy, too. If you are an impulse shopper and this one gets you into trouble, skip Costco all together. I only buy what I go in the store for and I only buy things I know I will consume anyway. Here is the other side of the Costco debate. Only you know what’s best for you. AND stay away from the packages of Craisins and granola bars.
Skip the Middleman
Have you ever spent a morning in June picking your own strawberries? That is one of the coolest things to do with little kids, but truth be told, I enjoy it myself.
The week we pick them, we have strawberry EVERYTHING. You can puree strawberries and freeze it for use in things like oatmeal and yogurt, over the next several months. Apples, blueberries, tomatoes, lima beans, green beans and peaches are other things I’ve enjoyed picking. Prices are typically better and you truly get the choice crop.
Again, Local Harvest is a great source for finding pick your own farms.
But beware of spiders!