Shopping for natural and organic meals to a family of four - without breaking the bank!
Tight budget! Are there two more anxiety-producing - and familiar - words in the English language?
No matter what tax bracket you fall into, you've probably got a food budget. If you're like Jennifer Martin, a stay-at-home mom from Haddon Heights, New Jersey, you've got a very tight food budget: $90 a week to feed a family of four. Moreover, you're trying to make sure everyone in your family gets three healthy meals a day, made with organic ingredients whenever possible.
"Shopping healthy and organic on a budget is really important to me, " says Martin. But that's not always easy when she's juggling the preferences of her husband Matthew, a high school history teacher who is “meat and potatoes" kind of guy, a three-year-old daughter, Katie, who's something of a picky eater (no peanut butter!) and a 15-month-old son, Patrick, who eats “smaller portions of whatever we're having. "
Martin already has some cost-saving tricks in place to help her stay within her organic budget. She prepares meals from scratch and does all of the cooking herself. She makes extra portions of dinner, which she then packs for lunch the next day for Matthew to take to work. When possible, she buys her fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farmers market where the prices are lower than at the supermarket and the quality is generally better.
Like many people, Martin hasn't been able to go entirely organic because the food costs more. Instead, she makes her buying choices based on quantity of consumption. “If we eat a lot of it, I try to buy it organic, mostly fruits and vegetables, and cereal. I haven't been able to make the switchover with milk and meats because of trying to keep costs down, but I'm nervous about the hormones in cows. "
Martin's doing a great job, but she could get an even bigger organic bang for her buck with some help from an expert. She teamed up with chef Akasha Richmond, a cookbook author and chef-owner of Akasha's Visionary Cuisine, an organic catering company in Los Angeles. Chef Akasha took Martin to purchase groceries at a local Wegman's. As a guideline, Chef Akasha used Martin's $90 budget as well as the “10% organic" goal set by Mission Organic 2010, a campaign launched by The Organic Center, a nonprofit founded to promote organic products. Mission Organic 2010's objective is simple: for 10% of every food dollar spent to be on organic food production by the year 2010. As a consumer, the easiest way to do this is to make sure that one out of every ten items in your shopping cart is organic.
After taking a look at what foods Martin prepares, Chef Akasha saw a few areas that could use improvement. “She could use more ‘foods that swell. ’ Beans and rice, for example, are more economical and can be stretched farther, especially in soups. I also see some more room for better quality meat and more vegetables. For example, organic top sirloin is roughly $6.99 a pound - they don't even need a pound for two adults and two kids for a stir-fry. " Chef Akasha suggests 12 ounces, plus bulking up the dish with whatever vegetables are on sale. “I'd also like to see her use more ethnic ingredients to spice up her dishes. "
Martin was thrilled with the results of shopping and creating a meal plan with Chef Akasha: an entire menu for a week that includes three meals a day. While the final tally came in about $6 over Martin's usual budget, the quality of products greatly increased. Only natural foods were chosen for the Martins, 30% of which were organic, whereas the family purchased little organic in the past. Emphasis was put on produce and whole grains.
"There were some ingredients I usually blew right past because I assumed they were out of my budget, like avocados or fresh ginger, but I was surprised to find just how reasonably priced they are - and they open up a whole new variety of foods that I can prepare, " says Martin. “I was also surprised to see that I can actually manage to make the switch to organic dairy. And I'm definitely going to pay more attention to the bulk foods section the next time I go shopping - I was shocked to see how much more affordable it is to buy things like whole grain rice that way rather than prepackaged!"
These money-saving tips for natural and organic grocery shopping will help you stay within your budget
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