Saturday, February 11, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Organics on a tight budget


I feel a little better today, well enough to write but without the time to edit everything.  So please forgive this very rambling post... and any typos I missed. 

Probably the question I am asked the most is how I can buy organic food with a very tight budget.  Ummmm... it is a challenge but the longer I've done it and the more experience I've gained, the easier it gets.  Neither of us can earn any extra income or I'd lose my health insurance so instead we need to cut costs wherever we can.  Thus, learning to cook for two different health issues with as little spent as possible.

First of all, except for the rare magazine or "pretty accessory for the house", all gifts received go to filling the pantry in some way.  Having stocking the pantry as a priority makes a big difference those months when there is a lot more month than money.

This year I used most of my Christmas cash to stash the deep freeze with meat and veggies found on sale.  I used a gift "credit" card surprise last year for the pantry, including the purchase of five bags of various nuts from my favorite nut supplier in Georgia, a gift that kept on giving for months!  I've used birthday cash gifts to purchase honey at the Farmer's Market.

Amazon credit is sometimes used for pantry basics.  For instance, last month I used it to purchase a large size of maple syrup that I couldn't purchase with cash.  I often use it for kitchen supplies, spices, tea, and the rare times I need an out-of-budget gourmet item (like sherry vinegar).  I rarely use it for ordinary pantry items because it tends to be more expensive than buying on sale locally.

I have also simplified meals and the pantry a great deal over the years.  When the kids were both home and I had more discretionary income, my pantry was often full for the way I cooked then.  However, even when we had more money to spend I have always tried to get the most for the least amount of money.  Back then I collected all the grocery sales inserts from the Sunday paper and made my menu plan from what was on sale, as well as stocking the pantry with items when they were on a "stock up" price.

Once you have done this awhile, you realize many items are on a rotating sale calendar.  If you pay attention (and write it down if you must to remember),  it is possible to stock a lot of your favorite pantry items cheaper this way.  For instance Kroger have had their brand of organic canned tomatoes on their rotational $10 for 10 sale this week, which is my stock up price.  We bought ten cans this time and we've been known to buy twenty when the budget is not as tight.

I had to change my cooking to less carbs (less pasta meals than I once cooked) and less meat.  Since we now buy ground beef that is more expensive than what I once bought (the Kroger brand of meat that contains no added hormones, etc.), I only purchase one pound for each week and I prefer to make a dish that can be extended to more than one meal.

If I do purchase ground beef for something like a meatloaf for company, my husband asks that I warn him.  Since it would take about $25.00 worth of "almost as good as organic ground beef" to make a large meatloaf, there is no way I can use it for company.  Instead as a treat, I will make meat loaf burgers for the two of us so he can have the taste of the larger meatloaf once in awhile.

I do the same by purchasing whole chickens and saving the carcass for soup and extra meat for another meal.  Meijers brand of hormone free "almost organic" chickens tend to be less than other stores and I watch to see if any are on sale or on a manager's clearance.  Otherwise, I have to use their regular chicken.

We prioritize produce using the "dirty dozen" list* so my husband has pretty much nothing on that list if it isn't organic.  Otherwise, I buy the non-organic usually.  On the link I'm providing, they state that green beans are moving up to almost be on the list but right now I don't buy organic green beans (I do, however, grow them in summer).  Citrus fruit is not on the list so we only purchase organic citrus fruit if 1) it is on sale, or 2) I'm going to use the zest in cooking.

The list contains the items he never eats unless they are organic.  They are strawberries, apples, grapes, any kind of salad green, cucumbers, celery, peaches, tomatoes, and blueberries.  The good news is that organic products have come down in price if you know where to shop.  We shop at Aldi's, Kroger, and Meijers most of the time.

Each of those store chains have their own organic line of foods that are very good and a fraction of the cost at places like Whole Foods.  I've also found some organics are cheaper in various stores.  For instance, locally I like Meijers best for organic produce prices, Aldi's has excellent frozen organic fruit prices, and Kroger has very good prices on canned items.  Sometimes the best prices are at other places do to sales.

Some organic foods are normally not that much higher in price than those that are not organic so I purchase them organic all the time.  Locally I can get organic carrots, celery, and potatoes at a very reasonable price.  Sometimes in-season the organics can be purchased at pretty good prices, too.  I found bags of organic apples last fall at a great price in October.  Otherwise, they are just too expensive for everyday use.

Since there are just two of us, I buy organic hormone free milk for me (Hubby uses almond milk and I only go through a half gallon every few weeks), organic cream for him, organic butter (unless I am doing a lot of Holiday baking then I stock up on whatever is on sale), and he sometimes buys one package of organic cheese a month for his use. 

There are some items we can only get at the health food store so he stops by there on Senior Citizen Day for a 20% savings. We don't buy organic eggs but we do get free range eggs from a local farmer, either at the health food store or from him directly when the Farmer's Market is available.

In the summer, I will purchase non-organic items at the Farmer's Market as they tend to be either not sprayed at all or sprayed less since the growers eat what they sell.  I read an article about eating organic that said eating food from the Farmer's Market is the next best thing to organic.

It takes a lot to be able to put the organic label on your food and many small growers cannot go to that extent of certification but if you talk to the grower, they are (usually) honest about how anything edible is grown.  The one problem (for a tight budget) is that Farmer's Market foods can be costly but it is so worth it if you can shop there.  I love supporting the local farmer!

I do buy some non-organic food if it is just for me because to be honest... I have bigger fat to fry (so to speak) than if something is sprayed.  My husband is so sensitive to pesticides and additives that he can tell almost instantly.  Much like MSG affects him and our kids.  I rarely notice anything at all.  Carbs... yes.  Chemicals... not so much.

I also fill in the rest of the menu with regular split chicken breasts, pork loins, ham, non-MSG sausage, and turkey (all purchased for the freezer when on sale) as well as some non-organic produce once in awhile.  I have to!  This month I purchased one bag of organic new potatoes and one bag of non-organics so at least half of the potatoes have not been sprayed.

Cold weather cooking is the easiest for me to stretch the grocery budget.  I make a lot of various kinds of soups.  Soup also makes for leftovers with just two of us, so the next day there are less dinner dishes!  When possible, I think of different ways to use the "leftovers".

Tonight we are having leftover chili but I'm serving it over a whole baked potato for Hubby, a half a baked potato for me (they are large potatoes!).  Last night the chili was served with some organic corn chips (bought on sale) broken up and sprinkled on the bowl of chili and a tiny amount of non-organic shredded cheese.  (Hint, if you are going to use just a little cheese go for the sharp cheddar... lots of flavor with less cheese.)

Sometimes I'll peruse a cookbook and try something new just because I find that fun to do.  Usually, though, my menus are in season and made to incorporate organics for as little as possible.  We are definitely eating far less meat than we once did and rarely eat out (which is a no brainer on a tight budget, anyway).  I still do some baking but not nearly as much as in years past.

Although... sometimes we cheat and have a fast food sausage egg McMuffin or go to Cracker Barrel for breakfast (especially if one of us has received a gift card for a birthday or Christmas).  After all, some things in life are just too good to live without!

I hope this helps a little.  It takes a lot more thinking ahead and planning when you are eating organic on a tight budget but it can be done.  Not perfectly.  But good enough.

*Dirty Dozen and Clean 15... here.
If you have trouble getting that link to load, the EWG official dirty dozen list is... here.

Image:  The Fruit Company

3 comments:

Vee said...

I don't know how you do it. Pretty sure that I could never be this organized. I am blessed, though, to have a local farm where I purchase my meats. My stash is getting a little low here in February...will have to plan better for next winter. I had no idea that people could need Organic food...thought of it as a luxury. Thank you for the enlightenment.

Deanna Rabe said...

This is very helpful, Brenda. We can't afford organic everything either! So we do the dirty dozen as much as possible, and buy local or store versions of almost organic. Sometimes here our local farmers just don't want to pay for the organic certification but they are growing organically.

Anonymous said...


Thank you Brenda ... it must have taken a lot of effort to put the article together when you are not feeling so well! Mairin.