Many people who want to eat organic food think they can’t afford it. They know that organic food costs more than standard grocery store fare, so they assume that an organic diet is out of their price range. That’s what I used to think, but a recent experiment showed me that my family can eat a lot of organic food without spending more money.
Several months ago, we switched to a whole food, primarily organic, diet. Although our normal diet is fairly healthy, we had read about the anti-inflammatory benefits of a “clean” diet and wanted to see if it would reduce the arthritis pain in my husband’s hands. (It did.) We tried it out for a month, eating organic dairy, organic fruits and vegetables, high-quality meat and chicken (about half organic), organic grains, free-range eggs, nuts, coconut oil and olive oil. We eliminated white sugar and white flour and almost all wheat products. We ate no processed food, and we rarely ate out.
And we waited for our food budget to collapse.
But it didn’t happen. Our average monthly food bill (groceries + eating out) for that month was slightly lower than the previous month. Not much lower (less than 1%), but lower nonetheless. So we actually spent less but ate better. Here are 7 things we did that reduced the cost of eating organic and whole food:
• Get organized. Unless you have money to burn, you can’t wing it on a whole food diet – you need a plan. The first step is to make a menu and grocery list every week. Although I normally plan dinners, I found that I needed to plan breakfasts and lunches too, because we couldn’t fall back on a bagel or frozen meal in a pinch. Next, organize your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Get rid of foods you don’t want to eat. Take stock of the organic and whole foods you already have on hand and put them where you can find them quickly and easily. Then, keep those areas organized; take 10 minutes every weekend to keep your refrigerator, freezer and pantry under control.
• Use everything and don’t waste anything. I hate to waste food, but I sometimes lose track of what’s in the refrigerator and end up throwing things away. But I can’t afford to throw away organic food, and you probably can’t either. So keep track of what you have and don’t let anything go to waste. Put the date on leftovers so they don’t get too old to eat. If something needs to be eaten, incorporate it into your meal plan. If you can’t, freeze it. I could have kicked myself when I had to throw away delicious soup made from an organic chicken, simply because I didn’t use it or freeze it in time.
• Keep things simple. Don’t complicate your life with elaborate meals or stress your budget with prepared organic foods. Instead, stick with simple foods prepared well. Grilled chicken breasts, baked sweet potatoes and a tossed salad, for example, or London broil with roasted new potatoes and vegetables, make simple, delicious meals that save money, time and stress. (For more simple dinner ideas, download my free ebook, which includes 24 simple, healthy meals and 22 tips for simplifying food prep and cooking.)
• Take advantage of low prices, sales and discounts. Discount stores carry some organic items, and stores like Costco and Aldi are increasing the number of organic foods they sell. I bought staples, including organic tomato sauce, flour, butter and milk, at Wal-mart. Farmer’s markets offer a wide array of fresh produce, often at very reasonable prices. Even the high-end grocery stores, which many people assume they can’t afford, run sales and offer discounts. So sign up for their text or email deals and install their apps on your phone. I rarely went to Earthfare without one of their “$10 off $70 purchase” discounts, and I stocked up on items there as they went on sale.
• Make some foods you would normally buy. We figured out early in this experiment that we needed to have more healthy snacks on hand. But most snack foods are pricey and contain ingredients we were trying to avoid. So we started making toasted walnuts, energy bars and granola every weekend. They satisfied our snack cravings and could fill in as an emergency breakfast if needed. I also made homemade salad dressings every week, and we started experimenting with making yogurt (because organic Greek yogurt is really expensive!).
• Cook extra whenever possible. Many meals can be doubled easily, with almost no extra work or mess. Cooking extra food saves time, but it also saves money. When you can turn leftover dinner into lunches to take to work, it reduces the likelihood that you’ll have to run out and grab something from a restaurant. And when you make a double batch of dinner and freeze half, you have a healthy and inexpensive “fast food” dinner on hand for a particularly hectic night, when you might otherwise pick up a fast food meal or go out to dinner.
• Cut way back on eating out. Making this change does two things. First, it helps you stick to your real food eating plan, because it’s difficult to eat clean in a restaurant. Second, it keeps food costs down because, let’s face it, eating out gets expensive.
A diet based on organic and whole foods isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to break the bank either. With a bit of planning, organization and effort, you can eat well and feed your family well without blowing your food budget.