When I first came to the US I was horrified by the food prices. I remember walking into a grocery store and feeling completely overwhelmed. After ten minutes of shopping my brain shut down and I walked out. I gave my grocery list to my host mother and waited in the car. My college years were spent avoiding the supermarket as much as I could.
Slowly, I began scouting out boutique grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and local butcher shops. I was raised on grass fed meat, raw milk, and fresh produce from our vegetable garden, and and I began to seach for ways to obtain the same kind of nutritious foods I grew up on, but without spending a fortune. It took me a couple of years, but I finally found ways to offer my family nutritious food on a tight budget.
Here are ten rules that have helped me:
1. Eat food in Season
Eating food in season is both economical and nutritious. Stores sell produce that they didn’t have to import from somewhere far away like Chili or Australia for a lot less money. Asparagus from California will be cheaper in the Spring than Winter, when it has to be imported from South America. Avoid eating and buying food that couldn’t grow in the weather you see outside; your body and your wallet will thank you.
2. Memorize the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean Fifteen’.
Organic food is more expensive than conventional, and often times a trip to the store for some simple produce can leave your bank account in a bad state. Not all conventional produce will send you straight to the ER – some might though! So you should know when it is OK to cut corners and when breaking the bank is really the better deal in the long run. The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen are a convenient summary of what fruits and veggies should definitely be purchased in their organic varieties, and which ones aren’t so badly effected by chemical additives. I have found it easier to just memorize the list rather than pulling it out my my purse or trying to find it on my phone every time I am at the store.
3. Shop local when possible.
Some of the time small local farms can’t afford the organic label even though their food is of a better quality than big corporate organic companies. Their produce is fresh and usually reasonably priced. You should be able find their produce at farmer’s markets and local grocery stores. Just the other day I bought local lettuce still covered in dirt and slugs that cost a dollar less than its “organic” counterpart.
4. Plant a garden in your backyard.
A tiny vegetable garden in you backyard can be a huge money saver. Even in a relatively small space, you can produce loads of fresh fruits and veggies – often more than you even want to eat – for the small upfront investment in starters and seeds. If you don’t have a yard, see if any of your friends who have a larger space would let you plant a garden in, in exchange for some of your veggies.
5. Purchase a CSA box.
Participating in a CSA is very cost-effective, as more often than not the produce is sold at close to wholesale cost. The only caveat is that you have to eat fresh, local, seasonal food delivered in person by a farmer from your community. What a drag! Do some research to find out if your town has any CSA programs – chances are they do. If you are from the Eugene/Portland area, the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition has a decent list of active CSAs.
6. Split meat shares with friends.
Purchasing a cow or pig and splitting it with another family is a great way to save money. Last winter we barely bought any meat from the store thanks to this system. This method of purchasing meat will ensure that you are getting antibiotic free, farm raised meat for your family at close to wholesale prices.
7. Make food from scratch.
I know that sometimes it is inconvenient to make your own bread, broth, or salad dressing. There have been many times that I succumbed and bought these items at the store for literally ten times more than it would have cost me to make them at home. I wont even mention some of the ingredients on the labels. When you are really short on money, making food from scratch is a life saver, especially if you have a little extra time.
Looking for advice on how to make some things you might otherwise buy at the store?
8. Check the distressed shelves at grocery stores.
I have made many dinners for under ten dollars thanks to the distressed shelves at our favorite local grocery stores. Find out if your grocery store has a reduced price section of some kind; if they don’t, suggest that they start one. That food might be getting thrown away! (For my Eugene readers, Sundance and Capella have great distressed produce sections with reduced prices.)
9. Ask your butcher shop for unwanted meat scraps and bones.
Most butcher shops, especially if they have a more conventional clientele, have parts of animals that they are more than happy to give away, because they just can’t sell them. Kidney’s, chicken feet, chicken livers, beef bones – some of the healthiest food you can eat is often free for the taking if you can muster the courage to ask for the weird bits that others don’t want. If you think your butcher might be holding back, make friends with him/her; ask their advice, admire their inventory, and thank them for their time. Few things in life are more advantageous than being endeared to a good butcher.
But what are you gonna do with all those beef bones? Bone broth is a huge help when you are on a tight budget. I use it as the base for soups, sauces, gravies, or even just as a nutritious immune boosting beverage during the cold season. Even if I am just making vegetarian rice and veggies for dinner, simmering everything in broth gives the meal a whole new dimension culinary and nutritionally. The weeks I don’t have broth simmering in the crock pot always seem to turn out a bit more expensive.
10. Shop only on the periphery of the grocery store. Avoid the aisles.
I encourage you to try this for a week. Don’t shop inside the aisles for your groceries. Shop around the periphery of the store. You will be avoiding all the prepackaged foods, which are often not only nutritionally inferior but also more expensive! Instead of buying that five dollar sack of preservatives, grab a few potatoes, slice them up, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and put them in the oven with some bacon grease for a few minutes. The best chips in town for half the cost!
This post was featured on Monday Mania, Your Green Resource,Thank You Body Thursday, Whole Food Wednesday, Natural Living Monday, The Gathering Spot 29, Frugal Days, Fat Tuesday, Simple Meals Friday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Part Wave Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Fresh Food Wednesdays,