Written for Local Magazine
The Food We Eat: Eating Organic on a Budget
Finances are tighter in our home than they’ve been in years. We also have food allergies and diabetes in the family, so we really strive to be as healthy as possible but cutbacks are necessary right now. I don’t want to have to make the choice between breaking the budget and my family’s health. Is buying “organic” really worth all the extra money?
Pinched in Pocketbook
Even if money is tight you shouldn’t feel you have to choose between health or slowing savings. With some planning and changes, you eat very healthy a tight budget. Actually, you can really save if you’re savvy. So let’s take a closer look at what you’re actually buying under the “organic” label and how you’re using it.
WORTH BUYING ORGANIC -aka- THE DIRTY DOZEN:
This is a family of fresh produce that are known to really soak up and carry pesticides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers into those who consume them. If you’re looking to buy organic in order to avoid this sort of thing, these are worth your money. They include: apples, cherries, strawberries, imported grapes, pears, nectarines, peaches, raspberries, bell peppers, spinach, celery, potatoes.
On the other hand, the following are fruits and veg that tend to harbor very little farming residues. This means that you don’t really see the benefit when you buy these organic, so shop for the lowest price and feel good about it! These are: avocado, bananas, kiwis, mangoes, pineapples, papaya, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, onions, and peas.
PLAN AHEAD USING WHOLE INGREDIENTS
For instance: A whole oven-stuffer roasted chicken is enough for two nights plus chicken soup that you can freeze for flu season. That whole chicken costs the same as a package of premium boneless skinless chicken breasts that is just one night’s dinner for the family. Roast seasonal local veggies with the chicken for a one-pot meal. Reserve a small portion of those same veggies. Voila. Dinner for two nights plus a carcass to make soup with- using the same veggies you saved plus a few more and handful of rice, barley, or small pasta stars or alphabets for the kids to enjoy. That’s three to five dinners (depending on how hearty your soup is) for the cost of one. Not only can you afford to buy organic, but you’ve also turned it into another couple of meals by making authentic chicken soup and stashing it in the deep freeze for later. Pulling a dinner out of the freezer on a night when time is short is healthier and cheaper than stopping at the local McBurger Queen.
WHAT’S ACTUALLY IN THERE?
for that “organic” label- do you want to pay extra for “organic chicken soup”? Maybe. Read the label. Chances are, you’ll find that it contains “natural chicken flavor”, (what IS that anyway?) partially hydrogenated fats, preservatives, (Disodium EDTA and whatnot) and maybe even colorings. That “organic chicken soup” is indeed made with organic chicken, but what about all that other stuff in there? That sure isn’t organic. And it costs a couple bucks for a can. You have the choice to make a gallon of your own chicken soup from leftovers or pay the extra bucks for this tiny can of “organic” soup. So if you’re really dedicated to paying extra for organics, make sure you are getting the benefits you’re paying for.
THE HIGH COST OF CONVENIENCE
We pay through the nose for convenience. Here’s an example of how to beat that trap. You want some cantaloupe, it’s in season and it sure looks great. Stop and think. DON’T buy that precut melon in a plastic container made from petroleum, from the melon that was broken in transit or otherwise unsuitable for sale as a whole fruit, maybe cut on a counter cleaned with chemical cleaner… probably fine, really, but who knows? DO buy the whole melon for the same price which gives you twice the fruit! Spend three minutes to cut it up, stash the cubes in the fridge for a quick-grab snack for later, and throw the rind out back in the compost pile. It will always be less expensive if you do your own prep, cutting and cooking. Not only do you know exactly what is in the food, but you’ll find yourself eating healthier, fresher, and leaner. Note: If you have kids with food allergies, this is definitely the way to go, as prepared foods can hide some nasty surprises for especially sensitive persons.
MEAT, EGGS, POULTRY & ALTERNATIVES
I personally believe that meat poultry and eggs are always worth the extra investment of buying organic. I like to take it one step further in considering the animal’s quality of life. (I have my own hens, so I know what they are eating and how they live.) I prefer choosing eggs from pastured hens, wild caught fish, venison, and grassfed beef, bison, or lamb. When looking for ingredients that my garden has not provided, I buy local whenever possible. We eat meat maybe three times a week. The rest of the time we prepare vegetarian dishes. Did you know: grain and legume combos (beans ‘n rice) provide all the amino acids present in animal proteins. It’s very inexpensive (a pound of dried navy beans is only about a dollar and enough to make a big pot of soup for 4) and every bit as healthy as a traditional meat-based meal. In fact, it’s more healthy when you, consider the lack of animal fats and saturated fats.
Approach your food from a different angle. Go ahead, it's worth a try. The rewards are tremendous.