Organic Groceries on a Budget
For years, I considered organic groceries to be out of reach and a poor use of our limited grocery monies. Now, several years into retirement and of the age where my husband and I both notice immediate physical results with every dietary change we make, I see things a bit differently. Organic groceries are now something I consider to be well worth the money. That being said, we do still have a budget to maintain.
Within that budget, I’ve managed to switch us over to the point where the majority of our food purchases are organic, at least on the items that are most critical. I’ve done this without access farmer’s markets or CSA programs. While I use those options when available, you won’t see them included in this article, because if they’re not readily available to me, I know there are others struggling with the same situation. So, how did I do it? Here are some strategies for affording organic groceries.
Stock Pantry Staples
I know most people tend to focus on the cost of transitioning to fresh produce, but to me the real money-savings are in the dry pantry staples. I covered this a bit in my recent article on bargain shopping at Whole Foods. Five dollars each for an organic beet might not be in most people’s budgets, but paying roughly two dollars a pound for organic oats, sunflower kernels, sesame seeds, and quinoa certainly is. Ditto with cornmeal. Peanuts are another area where I’ve made it a priority to make the switch to organic. The best price I’ve been able to find on organic raw peanuts is at SuperiorNutStore.com (affiliate link).
Cut the Crap
Seriously, cut the crap out of your grocery purchases. Think hard before you buy even the baked whole wheat crackers or honey-oat cereal. They may look like a healthier alternative at first glance, but comparatively you’ll get more nutrition from a bag of organic carrots. Not only can you use them for dunking and dipping, but they make an awesome dinner side and can be grated for savory muffins or decadent cakes. Also, when you look at the per pound price you are paying, cutting out even two–three boxes of prepared snack crackers and cereals can pay for several meals’ worth of other organic items.
Rethink Your Pizza Sauce
If you make your own pizza sauce with organic canned tomato products, this might not be an issue for you. While it’s not a huge time commitment to do so, in the interest of full disclosure I’ll admit things have gotten just crazy enough on my home front lately that I’ve opted for a more convenient option. When searching for organic pizza sauce however, the best price I could find was nearly four dollars for a small can. For nearly half that price I can get a large jar of organic marinara to use for spaghetti night. It’s no big deal to save enough for pizza sauce or a couple of toasted eggplant subs.
Use Your Yard Larder
Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to garden, there are numerous items in your yard or nearby forest worthy of serious attention. Consider the following:
- Organic Apple Sauce for (Nearly) Free
- Gathering Wild Blueberries
- Foraging for Mushrooms
- Edible Weeds
With only these four ideas, you can make gourmet risotto, organic fat-free muffins and other baked goods, have frozen blueberries on hand for antioxidant smoothies or year round pie baking, and steam organic greens as a free side dish after an afternoon of trout fishing.
Minimize Meat and Dairy Purchases
By reducing your use of meat and dairy by even a moderate degree, monies are made available for upgrading to organic versions of such things as butter, cream, chicken and beef. Here some suggestions for saving money on meat purchases to get you started, and ideas for oven-toasted vegan sandwiches even meat lovers will enjoy.
Redefine Wine Vinegar
With the price of organic wine vinegar (when I can even find it) approaching the cost of a bottle of wine, I figure I might as well enjoy...well, wine. Here’s an organic red wine we drink quite frequently. It’s affordable, and I’ve used it for marinades and such when wine vinegar is called for.
Consider Nutritional Density
By choosing organic groceries that have a higher nutrient value, my system has adjusted to craving smaller amounts. Additionally, many of these foods have a good deal of fiber, making them more filling as well. I’m not saying there isn’t an adjustment period. In fact, there have been a few times in the last month when I over purchased due to the fact that my brain was still shopping as though I was tossing lower density foods in the cart. Don’t get me wrong, many of those foods are still healthy and worth buying. It’s just that including the more nutrient dense foods as the main focus of our grocery shopping runs has made for reduced consumption over all.
Homemade Dry Mixes and Baked Goods
By including dry ingredient pantry staples such as flour and cocoa as I suggested above, you can create your own at-home organic bakery. Here are a few resources to get you started.
- Make-Ahead Bread Mixes
- Bulk Corn Bread Mix
- Large-Quantity DIY Brownie Mix
- OAMC Dry Mix Recipe for Homemade Tortillas
With this short list of dry mix recipes alone, you can launch into organic dinner sides, lunch box treats, or even some of these simple meals based on tortillas. Also consider that many of your other recipes for family favorites can easily be made organic by substituting affordable dry ingredients from your pantry.
Celebrate the Cheap Stuff
While many types of organic groceries are outrageously expensive, many are not. Also, as Wise Bread’s own Carrie Kirby has already advised, when buying organic produce, not every item has to be organic. So pick your produce and other items with precision, and do as much as you can with those items that are super cheap. Some suggestions?
See how those bargain staples can really go the distance if you put your mind to it? For extra inspiration, check out my personal Survival Mode Produce List. It’s what we use at this house when our budget needs extra attention on any given month.
As any of my long-time readers are already aware, I’m a huge fan of buying in bulk. Warehouse stores provide enormous savings opportunities on organic carrots, spinach, butter, soy and rice milks, frozen vegetables, salsa and more. For example, here are nine things that are worth buying at Costco.
While not every grocery chain has jumped on the organic groceries bandwagon, some have. Two in particular that come to mind are Hannaford and Target. Target has their own line of organic butter, blue corn chips and more, as well as a reasonable selection of well-priced organic apples, other produce and meats. The Sweet Bay grocery chain in my area is also apparently owned or has some sort of affiliation with Hannaford, because I see their entire line of generic items (including organics) carried in house. They have been featuring these items since we moved to Florida. It’s here that we regularly purchase organic tofu, spaghetti and the occasional bag of organic Spanish potatoes. There are also superior values to be found at Trader Joe’s, if you happen to have one in your area.
By using egg substitutions in baking, you can channel saved funds towards organic egg purchases for use in main menus. Here are some money-saving suggestions for eggs to help get the ball rolling.
What do I mean? Basically, I’m saying to use the same bargain shopping strategies you’ve had in place for years and put them to use as you begin to transition to organic groceries. Baking from scratch, shopping the perimeter, scoping out coupons and scouring sale fliers all work just as well for organic food purchases as they do for conventional ones.
There you have it, Wise Bread readers. Thirteen shopping tips that we use in our own home to purchase organic groceries on a regular basis. What are your favorite tips for making organic groceries affordable?
All food photos in this article are courtesy of TrekHound.com.