I am a mother of 2 kids. My husband is back in college. Yes, we are tight in budget. Should I buy good ingredients such as organic veggies or grass-fed beef for my family still? I maybe able to do it by cutting one dish from everyday dinner instead of 2, or eat meat or fish 2-3 times a week instead of 6, 7 days a week?



brandon January 24, 2011
farmers markets
mayuchico January 22, 2011
Thank you very much for great advice everyone! Every posts are really helpful.
innoabrd January 22, 2011
Bravo to stephskitchen for her very realistic, BOTG take on the question.

Her mention of eggs reminded me of how on our recent trip to Spain, every meal in the villages included eggs. Every meal. Good, cheap protein.

Her mention of an Irish husband also brought to mind a stew I've been making from Clifford Wright's Real Stew. Great book, 300 different stews from all over. Mostly very simple preparations (though there are a few doozies in there), but authentic stuff with authentic flavours. No, Virginia, stews don't have to all taste alike.

Anyway, this is "Chickpea Stew with saffron from Cordoba" Probably the cabbage that was the Irish link for me. This is one of those whole-is-greater-than-the parts recipes.

Combine in a casserole and simmer for 1 hr: 4 cans chickpeas, with their liquid; 1 carrot, diced; 3/4 lb. pealed and diced boiling potatoes; 1 fresh green chili, seeded and chopped; 1/2 lb. Irish or Canadian bacon; large pinch saffron; 1 cup water.

Add one small head for green cabbage, cored and chopped (or shredded) and simmer 1 hr longer. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

This may be so basic as to be self-evident, but just in case: if you're on a budget, there is no reason for you to use canned beans. Ever. Buy dry beans and cook them yourself. Its much. much cheaper.
lifestooshort January 21, 2011
I have been in a very similar situation for the last couple of years, and have cut way back on Whole Foods expenditures...and unfortunately, there's no TJ's where I live :( I think when you're strapped for cash you can't take an extreme stand on organics, and when you have two kids you can't drive to multiple farmer's markets and grocery stores just to put dinner on the table. I've tried to be creative and flexible to stretch our dollars a bit further, and most of all I try not to get too neurotic about the food I'm feeding my family. A CSA can be a great option, as others have suggested (especially if they deliver, since you're a busy mom); I've found that the prices at farmers markets can sometimes rival Whole Foods. I've been using the Environmental Working Group's shopper's guide to pesticides in produce (http://www.foodnews.org/), which has helped me to figure out when it's most important to buy organic and when it isn't such a big deal. I have also been trying to cut back on our meat consumption, which has been tricky with an Irish husband who usually feels like it's not a real meal if there's no meat in it. So I make things with eggs like tortilla espanola and veggie-filled frittatas, or with just a little bit of meat like spaghetti carbonara or bean-and-sausage stew (one I've been wanting to try: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/dining/03apperex.html?ref=dining), or a higher-than-usual ratio of veggies to meat than my Irishman normally eats, like chicken tagine with lots of zucchini and carrots. Other vegetarian options that satisfy my carnivorous family are chick-pea curry, and AntoniaJames's delicious cauliflower and red lentil soup (http://www.food52.com/recipes/7020_red_lentil_and_cauliflower_soup)--and there are lots of other great recipes in the cauliflower contest that I haven't had the chance to try yet. I got a slow cooker and have been using cheaper cuts of meat. I still buy organic meat about half the time, and I worry a bit less about conventional stuff since we're eating less of it overall. Best of luck to you and your family!
latoscana January 21, 2011
So many great suggestions and comments here! One other idea to keep in mind: look to peasant cuisines that reflect the ingenuity of generations of cooks who have solved the problem of feeding their families at low cost. Mexican, Asian, Indian cuisines (and many others) all feature strategies for stretching the expensive items, like meat, and combining them with cheap and flavorful ingredients, like rice and beans. Investing in quality spices makes it all feel like an adventure, not a chore.
healthierkitchen January 21, 2011
I'm so glad that in so many areas your farm markets are less expensive than the grocery stores. What I find in the DC area is that they are quite a bit more expensive, but, I do believe well worth it. A great example is a head of cauliflower that I bought in the fall at my farmstand which was between 5 and 6 dollars. WF had them 2 for $5 on sale later that week and they were local. While I am firm in my support of local farms and do believe that our (and our children's - Go betteirene!!) long term health is totally affected by what and how we eat, it is generally not cheaper in DC which is a shame. Some of the farmstands will take food stamps though, and I think all the publicity surrounding this disconnect will help. Bottom line is as everyone is saying that it requires effort and planning, maybe going to a few different shops and markets each week and COOKING (which we all here do) to be able to still eat healthfully on a budget. Two quick suggestions on shopping. I find my local coops have way better prices on just about everything than WF and our other local supermarket chains, and you can buy from bulk bins for so many grains and beans, etc. Mine also has great prices on a local farm's grass-fed, no additive milk and local eggs. Also, Costco, if you are eligible and have one nearby has a lot of great deals and is carrying more and more options on the healthier side. I buy my Fage Greek yogurt there now - a huge tub for close to the price of the regular tub in most stores. They are not great on the local organic produce scene, but you can get Cara Cara oranges and Meyer lemons for unbelievable prices. They also sometimes have wild salmon and organic chickens. Just another option.
innoabrd January 21, 2011
I'm feeling a little inadequate after betteirene's rather fabulous rant above. However, a few thoughts and opinions:

1) I'm with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when it comes to meat: eat good quality meat less often. I'd also suggest that you work on learning how to cook the cheaper cuts. Yes, for a party I'll do a whole beef tenderloin for sandwiches, and yes, everyone enjoys it, but frankly you get a lot more flavour for the buck with shank or hanger or oxtail and that's the sort of thing I'm more likely to cook for my family. I tend to do a lot of braises or stews and with the veggies and a starch, I can get a lot of meals out of not very much. I'm a lot less price sensitive here in South Africa than I was in London (I can buy good tenderloin here for about $6.50/lb. In London it was about $25/lb), but the reality is that I prefer the cheaper, fuller-flavoured cuts.

2) I'd also agree with what has been said here about buying whole poultry. I'm lazy now, but in my poorer days, I'd always do whole chickens. Break it down yourself and save the back, neck and wingtips for stock. If you don't feel like making stock right then, throw them in a ziplock and into the freezer. Last night I made chicken wings (a Vietnamese caramelized orange sauce) and cut all the wingtips off and threw them into the freezer for stock later.

This applies not just to poultry, mind you. You can save carrot shavings and veg trimmings and make terrific veg stock. Amazing how much flavour you can get out of something you might otherwise have thrown out. And stocks freeze beautifully.

3) I've never been stuck on organic as a label. I'm interested in good food. One of the things I learned when I managed a farmers' market in London is that smaller farms just can't afford organic certification. Just having the organic label doesn't necessarily make it better. If you're going to really stretch to buy organic, do some research and find out what the labels actually mean and then you can make some informed decisions about what you feel is a priority for you and what is not.

I think you'll find that trying to eat seasonally and locally just ends up being cheaper and better. Even when you're buying supermarket produce. I spend June and July visiting family in Denver and one of the supermarkets, King Soopers, makes a real deal of buying a lot of their produce locally. Rocky Ford melons, Colorado sweet corn. It's great, its fresh and its cheap. If you want strawberries in the middle of winter, it's gonna cost you and they're gonna come from Mexico.

4) Decide what it makes sense to splurge on, and be smart about it. Don't buy good extra virgin olive oil for sauteing. Use a lesser oil. OK, so buy yourself a small bottle of something good, but use it where it counts, where you'll really taste the difference, like on a salad.

To me, basic yellow onions are a commodity. I'm gonna chop 'em up and saute them and no one is going to taste the difference if I don't buy organic. However, a veggie that will feature, now that might be worth splurging on.

5) Make good use of your freezer. Stews and such freeze really well. Make an extra large batch of something, use the whole cabbage instead of wasting some for example, and then immediately freeze half for another time. You'll generally find that making double doesn't actually cost you quite double.

6) American supermarkets are filled with processed, overpriced non-food. Yuck. Just don't do it.

Maybe one of the weekly contests should be "your best meal on the cheap."
RobertaJ January 21, 2011
The best rule of thumb I've heard is to lean towards organic on fruits/veggies where you eat the whole thing, including skin/peel if there is any. For things like avocados, citrus, potatoes, carrots and so on, you don't need to worry so much, since you're not ingesting the whole product. Dairy products are dicier, IMO. I tend to go for products labeled as being from cows that have not been treated with hormones. Same for poultry. I prefer no hormone/antibiotic treated chicken. Kosher chickens and turkeys are a good option for this, although pricier than the no-name brands, they're not as expensive as true organic meat. If you've got a Trader Joe's in your area, they have a large selection of organic/Kosher/non-hormone treated products, and their prices are way more reasonable than WF for sure, and in most cases, even better than the local megamart. As others have said, Farmers Markets and CSAs are a fabulous option. You absolutely know where your food is coming from, and many of them are offering eggs and meat as well as produce. I totally hear where you're coming from, I was downsized in May last year.
betteirene January 21, 2011
So. In today's news is a blurb about Michelle Obama's discussions with Walmart to lower the sodium and sugar content of Walmart's house brand of foods, Walmart strong-arming their food suppliers (notably Kraft) to do likewise, and lowering prices of produce without paying less to its growers--in other words, Walmart's bottom line is taking a hit, which they hope to recoup by gaining more customers with their commitment to a healthier citizenry. Commendable? You might say so, but I don't think it should have taken a president's wife to get a corporation with a disproportionate number of food stamp recipients in its customer base to do something sensible for both our bottom lines and the national health.

Besides, the plan is to be phased in over a five-year period, which is commendable only because it's better than nothing.

The news article also points out (to those who don't do the weekly shopping) that it costs more to eat well: foods with less sodium, less sugar and no trans fat typically cost more per serving than the unhealthier versions, and whole grain pastas and breads cost more than refined varieties. My opinion, and it ain't a humble one, is that grocery store shelves are the only place in America where dark historically has had a higher value than white. Walmart says it will change that, too. Riiiight. Probably by raising the price of white pasta to the same level as whole wheat, instead of vice versa. Cynical? Why yes, I am.

I hope your children are still quite young. It's much easier and cheaper to get kids to eat healthy food when they aren't yet in school, the place where they learn words like "Fruit Gushers" and "Twinkies." (I hope you're not the kind of parent who uses those words at home. Oh, pardon me. I forgot that "Oreo," is one of the few food-related proper nouns which is acceptably taught at home--I'm glad my sons learned from me how an Oreo is done instead of from their friends.)

Back in the 80s, there was this huge scare about Alar being sprayed on fruit such as apples. Alar is not a pesticide--it's a chemical sprayed on fruit to regulate growth to make harvesting easier, and to enhance color. It's also a carcinogen. Organic produce was extremely hard to find back then, so moms nationwide agonized over their two choices: eliminate apples, applesauce and other fruit from their childrens' diets, or take the chance that by feeding their children something so nutrient-rich and fiber-dense and natural and delicious, even if it was washed well, they would be giving their children cancer. I was an apple giver. My six sons range in age from 39 to 25, in height from 6' to 6'3" and are more likely to call in to work well ("Ichiro's playing today!") than call in sick. I like to think they have impenetrable immune systems because I fed them well and sensibly. As a single parent in 1990. Not eligible for public aid. Uphill. Both ways. In winter.

Where to start:

1. Look for things that are the least processed in the least packaging:
Yoplait GoGurt tubes and Dannon Crush Cups-No. I don't care if your class is saving boxtops for education--if Yoplait really cared about your health and your education, they'd donate cash without the boxtops.
Fage, Chobani and Oikos in 1-lb. tubs-Yes, because you use your own bowls and spoons instead of slurping it out of plastic.
Frozen 100% juice concentrate in carboard tubes with tin ends-Yes, and use your own glass or BPA-free plastic pitcher and your own water, and purchase reusable, freezable drink containers to make your own juice boxes for the kids.
Ready-to-serve juice drink made from concentrate and someone else's water-No. (Hmmm, what's worse. . .a $2.89 half-gallon plastic jug with 10% real juice clogging the landfill, or, for $1.97, 100% juice in 10 little plastic-coated foil-lined cardboard boxes, 10 plastic straws, and the heavy plasticized cardboard protective shell that protects them in your trunk?)

2. A package of 12 dry and hard peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate no-bake cookies from Walmart costs $3. For that money, you could make 50 of the same cookies. Well, not quite the same because they wouldn't be dry and hard unless they sat out on your counter uncovered for three days. If you can find a recipe, do it yourself. Make your own granola--it is unbelievably better than anything you can buy. Tortillas, English muffins, raisin bread, soup--it can be done. We can help. I have very successfully made homemade Twinkies, Just-Like-A-HoHo cake and Cheesecake Factory cheesecake. Unfortunately, a recipe for decent homemade Oreos doesn't exist--I'll save you the work of trying them all because I already have.

3. Starting a garden, organic or not, from scratch can be quite expensive even if you've got the sun, soil and water on your side. But I don't know one gardener who isn't willing to share a harvest; the 140 of us in my local community garden donate the overflow from our personal plots to neighbors, co-workers and the food bank, and in last year's dedicated portion of the garden, we donated more than 10,000 pounds of potatoes, corn, green beans, squash and eggs (yes, we have chickens). Our motto is "If you help, you can harvest." If your community doesn't have such a program, check into starting one.

4. Do a little searching for local meat purveyors. It's not easy to find better quality at a lower price, but you'd be surprised how often you score. I'm lucky to have a farmer 8 miles away who sells grass-fed chuck roast from happy cows for $4.99 a pound, vs. the local chain grocery that had Select-grade pot roast from miserable cows on sale (!) for $5.99 a pound.

If you have more time than money, make the time and expend the effort to go the farmer's market twice--once at the beginning of the day for what you want, and once at the end of the day to score deals on what the vendors don't want to haul back home.

5. Try really hard not to waste anything, including paper towels (anyway, you should be using a wire rack to drain fried foods and a washable towel to wipe off your counters). And don't waste the Sunday or Wednesday paper--be diligent about clipping coupons for what you use. Don't let a coupon or a store display tempt you into buying something that will take up kitchen space and then rot. Imagine yourself taking that cash and throwing it out the car window, because that's exactly what you're doing when you buy something you don't or can't eat.

6. Sugar, flour, butter, eggs, cocoa, yeast, Hellmann's/Best Foods mayonnaise, olive oil, canned tuna, raisins, tomatoes, beans, pasta of all shapes, couscous, cornmeal, oatmeal, cheese, rice, potatoes, milk, yogurt, peanut butter, walnuts, sunflower seeds, popcorn (not microwave), a whole chicken including giblets, a 2-lb. pork roast, a flat-iron steak, some apples, bananas, a lemon or lime, cabbage, celery, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, brocolli, onions, garlic, apple juice--You can feed your family very well (and buy toilet paper) for $90 to $125 a week if you don't buy anything labeled Kellogg, General Mills, Post, Nabisco, FritoLay, Pepsi, Coke, Campbell's, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Hershey, Nestle, Stouffer, Gerber, Ore-Ida, etc., etc., etc. I have intentionally left Ben and Jerry and Haagen Dazs off this list so that you won't accuse me of taking all the fun out of your food..

Yes, I realize the people who work at those companies need to eat, too, but really--how many people do you see working the conveyor belts when you watch an episode of "Unwrapped?"

It makes me mad and sad that you have to make food sacrifices for a college education, both of which have such giant impacts on your childrens' futures. But you know what? We can help! If we all made the sacrifices we're suggesting you make, we could totally change things right now, not gradually over the next five years. So what if we put the people who make preservatives and plastic packages and fake juice and convenience rice out of work. . .maybe they could band together to build greenhouses on top of grocery stores so that my watermelons wouldn't have a 1,500-mile ride from the field to my kitchen, or open a local Niman Ranch franchise, or harness the heat of the Sonoran Desert to power my refrigerator or breed a wild rice that grows in hurricane-prone Mississippi River bayous or citrus that can tolerate a hard freeze or provide on-site health care to migrant workers or learn charcuterie from Brian Polcyn himself. Our economy would what. . .collapse?

Repeat after me: Healthy safe food is not an option. . .We must feed our children well. Now, not five years from now.

Geez, from Walmart to anarchy with one question. Care to join my club? There's no registration, no meetings. . .you just gotta pay the dues, or else your children will.
casa-giardino January 20, 2011
What's wrong with a meatloaf, pasta and peas, baked ziti, chicken cutlets (not the $5.99/lb.)? I pay $1.99/lb. and do the trimming myself.
mainecook61 January 20, 2011
It used to be that thrifty cooks stretched ingredients in that completely out-of-fashion entity, the casserole. Older cookbooks are full of them but it's a rare cookbook index today that even mentions them. I think they got a deservedly bad name because of their association with canned soup. However----good quality ingredients in a shepherd's pie (delicious with ground lamb), in homemade mac and cheese, in a tuna casserole (lovely one with dill and leeks in a fairly recent Bon Appetit feature on one-dish meals)---well, you get the idea. And follow the good advice of others above. In particular, never ever throw out a chicken carcass; it makes such lovely soup.
Queen O. January 20, 2011
Understandable dilemma, but I agree wholeheartedly with people who say try to reduce meat use to allow for more healthy meat choices and take a look at the "Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15" produce/pesticide list. http://www.foodnews.org/EWG-shoppers-guide-download-final.pdf This will help you decide where to put your organic dollars to minimize pesticide exposure to your family. I just interviewed a woman from the local Sustainable Food Center who was explaining how it IS possible for her to still eat mostly local, mostly organic with a budget of only a few dollars per meal. Don't give up and best of luck to you.
usuba D. January 20, 2011
I have been producing ONLY organic products for the last 25 years. I grew up in the conventional business and saw practices that would make your blood boil if you only knew. I am talking in all categories of the food industry. I am a strong believer in eating less, but eating very high quality. It isn't about which is more nutrient dense, organic or conventional, but all of the "processing aids"(antibiotics, pesticides, chemical preservatives, etc) used to produce conventional foods and the short cuts taken. Why is there such a tremendous increase of food allergies compared to 40 years ago? Are we, as humans more sensitive to the environment around us than we will admit? Any why is the organic industry the ONLY industry that grew over 20% last year and the conventional food industry saw no growth? There is nothing more important in life than family. Do not put them in harms way.
ChefDaddy January 20, 2011
The cheapest way to buy organic grown everything except fish is my local winter farmers market. Much cheaper than every where else and better quality. Hopefully you have a winter farmers market.
healthierkitchen January 20, 2011
here is the inverse list - the pesticide levels of these 12 fruits and vegetables are purported to be low to undetectable: Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kiwi, Mangoes, Onions, Papaya, Pineapples, Sweet corn, Sweet peas

healthierkitchen January 20, 2011
There are some really great suggestions above. I would definitely vote for meat fewer times per week or using it more as a garnish and buying good quality grass fed. A one pound package of ground beef or lamb, is not terribly expensive when used with pasta, grains and vegetables for a whole family. Also, if you know how, or can learn, it is much cheaper to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself than to buy parts. As for vegetables, in my area the CSAs and farm stands are generally way more expensive than grocery stores. There is a list put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that has been printed up and discussed in tons of magazines that identifies which fruits and vegetables are more likely to absorb chemicals and fertilizers than others and can help you identify which might be more prudent to buy organic when you can. According to them it's not necessary to buy organic for all. these were the worst for pesticides:Apples, Bell peppers, Celery, Cherries, Imported grapes , Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Raspberries, Spinach, Strawberries

Soozll January 20, 2011
Buy your favorite (local/organic) items that will serve more than one meal when they are on sale. When chicken is on sale, buy several (and cook several if you don't have freezer space). I use the carcasses for soup and load it with veggies, I make several lunches or dinners from them during the week from stir fry, to casseroles to salads and sandwiches. There is a lot you can do with a large size piece of meat, poultry or pork and it saves time by cooking it once and using it in a variety of ways.
Here's another thing to think about, follow FDA serving size guidelines at meal time, too, if your family tends to go for second helpings. The portions people tend to eat (not saying that you do, just something to think about IF you do) these days is usually quite a bit more than is recommended for health and weight maintenance. Portion control can help get the kids into better eating habits and save money as well.

Voted the Best Reply!

Verdigris January 20, 2011
For fear of being called a philistine, I would say that you should look for good produce, but not neccessarily organic produce. The studies are in not conclusive that organic is either nutritionally more sound or systemically more sound than conventional farming practices. Canned and Frozen veggies often have more vitamin content than the produce found in our produce aisles as they are preserved within hours after harvest. Fresh produce sits around in warehouses and on trucks and loses a lot of it's fragile vitamin content.

If you can afford shares in the Local Community Support Agriculture group, that might be a way to go to get super fresh produce that is seasonal. You may need to learn a few preserving techniques and your family may need to learn to eat new veggie types, but it is often an incredibly inexpensive way to get good produce AND you support your local farmers.

Another approach would be to grow some of your veggies if you can. Lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, spinach, etc can even be grown in containers on a balcony or in a window. Thereby stretching your food dollar.

Use absolutely every part of the fruit and veggies that you purchase. Don't throw away broccoli stems as they can be made into slaws or used in stews. Clean scrapy veggie pieces can be used in soups or thrown into salads. Even Apple peels can be boiled to make juice for apple jelly.

As for meats, going to more vegetarian meals per week is one way to cut costs. It's important to make sure you get the protein balance correct in those. Or go to cheaper cuts of meat that take longer to cook. Use more organ meats. Make your own stocks and broths from parts of the meat you would typically discard.

I have found soups a good way to add variety and nutrition to a meal and make use of items that probably would not be consider main course worthy. A Soup is also a good way to get a meal started, and may reduce over all consumption of main course items as the soup is filling.

Consider making those items you might typically purchase prepared such as bread, tortillias, bread crumbs, soups, pasta, polenta, and fresh cheeses.

Eliminate things like bottled water and sodas from your diets. They are convienent, but not a neccessity.

Consider your menu planning so that what might be remaining from one mean can become a transformed ingredient in a meal in the next few days.
Sadassa_Ulna January 20, 2011
Such a good question. I was laid off in October (after being furloughed for a long time) and found that I was gradually going to WF less and less, and therefore buying less organically grown produce and free-range,etc. If your family - kids especially - will eat vegetarian options like beans then maybe this is a good time to try eating more vegetarian, because it is usually less costly. I still like to buy organic when I can because I like to support organic farmers, so that usually means organic that is also local/in season (which is always a plus). Some weeks I buy non-organic milk and other weeks I do, it really depends on what my bank account looks like that week! I think one way to look at it in a positive light is to consider that some monetary limitations might get you to experiment more and try new things. Also, this might help (or freak you out):
aargersi January 20, 2011
I am not a mom but I think yes, keep getting the good stuff, and meybe do some whole grain based dishes 1-2 nights a week instead. Do you like tofu by any chance? I have that for my main 1-2 times a week, I love it ... here is one great idea!

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