Of Budget Shopping and Natural Food

Most of what I read about eating natural and organic food on a budget boils down to, “eat less meat”.  Since, in our house, this is simply not going to happen, (okay, stretching out meat can happen, but protein is a must, and three meatless meals a week is right out) I’ve developed some strategies of my own.

My main strategy is to be very aware of the cost per pound of food. Any good, healthy food that’s less than a dollar a pound is a deal, and warrants stocking up and planning a couple meals based around this food. Around two dollars a pound is acceptable, and three dollars a pound and up is for special occasions or to be used sparingly. Obviously, the general rule can change based on the kind of food (stock up price on beef or pork is anything less than two dollars a pound), but basically, the cheaper something is while still qualifying as healthy, the more of it you want in your diet.

I factor in the ‘clean fifteen’ and ‘dirty dozen’ lists to figure out which produce is important to buy organic. Most things on the dirty dozen list I just skip entirely, because they’re not worth the price of organic (or I splurge on the non-organic version occasionally, but don’t tell anyone…). Lettuce, spinach and apples are organic though, when we get them.

Cabbage, onions, and sweet potatoes are on the ‘clean fifteen’ list, and are often under a dollar a pound at normal price, so I try to use a lot of them. I have three or four cabbage dishes that I rotate through regularly, and another shopper was taken aback around St Patricks day as I was loading thirty pounds of 14 cent a pound cabbage into my cart. (Remember that rule about stocking up at under a dollar a pound?) 🙂

Similarly, we eat a lot more bananas than apples, and more chicken (leg quarters from Aldi, 69 cents a pound) than beef.  (Um, probably tied on the chicken and beef consumption, at least if I’ve managed to find a decent deal on ground beef recently. We *like* beef.)

The hard part is knowing when not to stress out about eating healthy, cheap food. Let me reword that… The hard part is *not* stressing out about eating healthy, cheap food. 🙂  I tend to be a bit obsessive about the perfect solution to a problem, so often instead of balancing ‘inexpensive’ and ‘healthy’ I pendulum between ‘oh, no, we’ll eat something unhealthy and be sick for the rest of our lives’ and ‘oh, no, I’m going to spend all of our grocery money on food that’s too expensive, and we’ll run out and starve. To death!’

Then my husband comes along and reminds me that we have plenty of food around, so starving to death is unlikely, and that God made food to be enjoyed, so it’s okay to eat fun food sometimes, even if the nutritional content doesn’t quite measure up.

As much fun as it would be to go buy all organic, non-GMO, preservative free food at the Fresh Market every week, I’m pretty sure this would not equal wise and responsible use of our money. And if I tried to imitate this by cooking absolutely everything from scratch, and never eating anything I couldn’t make myself, I would spend all my time cooking, and food would still get a bit boring.

So, we eat our homemade raw milk cheese with white flour crackers from Aldi, and our beans and brown rice go on white flour tortillas, also from Aldi. Every once in while, I’ll even make cookies with white sugar (*shocked gasp*) instead of turbinado.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of splurge to remember that food is fun, and recharge my creativity for using healthy, cheap ingredients to make fun food.

Hmm… I wonder if you can make onion rings using whole wheat flour…?