Choosing to eat a diet that is both healthier for you and the planet doesn’t have to break the bank. Eating organic on a budget is possible.
I work part time as we have a young child, which means my husband provides the main source of family income. With essentially just one income we are certainly watching our budget.
However, food is very important to me, so I make sure the majority of our food is organic, and preferably locally grown.
This means that other areas of the budget are leaner to allow a healthy food budget as this is where my priorities lie.
We dine out maybe once a month and we choose leisure activities, such as hiking and biking, that don’t cost money, which gives us more flexibility on our food budget.
However, I still make some very conscious decisions around buying organic food and so here are my tips for eating organic on a budget:
- Join community-supported agriculture: We have an organic produce box delivered weekly that includes fresh fruit and veg from a local organic growers cooperative. I love this because it is easy for me (home delivery doesn’t get much easier!), it’s cheap, and it supports local organic farmers. Some people complain that it means you don’t know what produce you’re going to get from week to week, but I see this as part of the fun. First of all, I can check on-line a week before I get the box to see what’s going to be in it and plan some meals. Second of all, I take it on as a challenge. I often get produce I wouldn’t normally have purchased and so I end up getting creative in the kitchen and finding new recipes. I pay about $30 per week for the box and this is usually enough fruit and veg for a week for our family of 3 (well, 2 and a bit really).
- Get out to markets: If there is a farmer’s market nearby, take advantage of this. You will find cheaper produce that’s in season, and you can even build relationships with the growers. Ask them about discounts on bulk-buying or for discounts at the end of the market – you never know what deals you’ll strike! If you end up with a bunch of produce that’s close to its expiry date, turn it into preserves or make a big batch of soups or stews that can be frozen for quick meals during the week.
- Simple food is cheaper: Basically, if the food didn’t grow on the ground or in a tree or if it didn’t walk, swim or fly, don’t buy it. Raw foods are MUCH cheaper than processed foods and there is far less packaging associated with it. Even organic foods can be processed – pre-chopped vegetables, pre-peeled carrots etc, will all come at a slightly higher premium than your dirty vegetables.
- Make a shopping list but build in some flexibility: I’m a strict list shopper and my husband is a browser, coasting up and down the aisles. It usually costs at least 30% more when my husband does the grocery shopping. However, despite having a grocery list, I allow myself some flexibility depending on what might be on sale. My shopping list usually has what I need, but beside it I list the quantity and the meal it’s for. That way, when I’m standing in front of the produce I can make a decision that some kale on sale is going to be a fine substitute for the broccoli on my list.
- Eat less meat: Our craze over high protein meals has an enormous impact on the planet as animal rearing is a tremendous drain on resources. Lentils and beans are excellent sources of protein and fibre and are cheaper and have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. It also makes a HUGE impact to your grocery bill.
- Grow your own herbs and produce: If you have the room, start organic gardens to save some money on your grocery bills. If you only have a kitchen window, consider growing your own herbs. Often we buy a bundle of herbs and end up using a small portion for a specific dish and then end up composting the rest as we never get around to using the rest. A complete waste of money – grow your favourites in the windowsill and then you’ll always have them on hand.
- Bulk-buy organic staples with friends and neighbours: Speak to your organic suppliers, whether it’s a farmer’s cooperative or your organic health food store, about discounts for purchasing in bulk. You might even find some online organic suppliers that deal in bulk. Then, get some friends and neighbours to go in with you on some items to help reduce the overall cost to everyone.
- Forage for wild food where you can: Even in the city there are abundant sources of food. Young dandelion leaves are great in salads, wild mushrooms can be outstanding, but you have to know what you’re doing so go with someone experienced! I’ve foraged for blackberries, picked fruit trees in public places and even harvested seaweed for soups and dried it for chips.
- Make your own breads, preserves, cookies etc: This is obviously easy for me to say as I only work part time. However, it’s amazing what can be accomplished in the kitchen rather than flaking out on the couch in front of the TV at night. I usually have some music going, or sometimes I bring my laptop into the kitchen and play a movie while I work away baking.
- Keep your eyes open for coupons: Even organic stores have coupons. Get on the mailing list for your local organic stores so that you can hear about the deals and receive coupons. Hopefully they do it all electronically so as not to waste paper. If you really like a product, write into the company and let them know, they’ll often reward you with some coupons toward future purchases.
- Stockpile non-perishables: If you have some space to stockpile non-perishables, this is a great way to save as you can buy a number of items when they are on sale.
- Always buy in-season: Of course, if you’re buying from farmers markets or getting a local organic produce box delivery, this is going to happen anyway. However, purchasing items that are in-season in your region will mean they are at the height of their nutritional quality, that they didn’t have to travel far before getting to you, and that they are cheaper as they are in abundance.
Stick to these simple tips and you will be eating organic on a budget in no time. Please share any additional tips you might have, especially resources for finding coupons – after all, who doesn’t want to save money?! Here’s a short video with some additional tips for eating organic on a budget: