This year I finally made the decision to consult with a nutritionist, to clean up my eating habits and become healthier. I quickly found a correlation between physical and financial health, and have since changed my diet and simplified my life. This required learning how to eat organic on a budget.
When I first started forming new habits, I thought buying organic food would mean spending a lot more money at the grocery store. Which is partially true, but I’ve learned some tricks and tips to eat organic on a budget. Organic food is more expensive because the quality is better, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay within a reasonable budget.
1. Develop a relationship with local growers and farmers
Farmer’s love to talk about their product, so it’s easy to befriend them and create a personal relationship. For the most part they are very honest and will answer any questions, like what exactly goes into the food they grow or raise.
Another reason to develop relationships with the farmers, is to find out what’s in season. Produce that’s in season will generally cost less (or even be on sale if there’s an abundance) than food that’s out of season. Towards the end of the season, many growers are looking for families and individuals who will take any excess off their hands, for free.
2. Create a meal plan/shopping list based on what’s in season
In general, I can be very lazy when it comes to grocery shopping, cooking and eating. But I didn’t know what I was missing! Now, I like to take my time at the produce stand or grocery store. I make a quick meal plan at home, that corresponds to a shopping list of what’s in season. During the off season or winter months, using preserved or canned foods is generally less expensive and the food often tastes better. This can help you easily eat organic on a budget. Another way to save money during the colder months is to look for frozen/dried fruits and root vegetables.
For non-perishable foods like rice, quinoa, beans, nuts and grains try buying in bulk to save money. These are inexpensive but healthy staples, that can be stored in your pantry and cooked at the last minute, for a quick addition to any meal.
Recipe Ideas: if you don’t have any recipes ideas or need some inspiration, look no further than Pinterest! I love “pinning” healthy and organic recipes throughout the week, then browsing them when I plan my shopping list. I like to use allrecipes.com to input the ingredients I have on hand, and it translates it into recipes and meal ideas.
3. Find a local farmers market or food stand
Buying from local farmers and distributors is somewhat of an adventure. You never what you’re going to get, or if the season was prosperous or not. But if you’re up to the challenge, you can enjoy a beautiful array of seasonal produce all year long. The prices are often cheaper because they only sell the produce and meat, that grew really well. Visit localharvest.org to locate a farmer’s market near you, or EatWild.com to find grass-fed meats and other wild game.
Some farmers, that have produce stands at the bigger markets in my area, sell more expensive produce. One way I get around that is by finding other local food or produce stands, that aren’t associated with the bigger markets. Many of them are located in their front yard, on the side of the road, or sold directly out of the back of a truck (that’s how I get my local honey, and it’s delicious!).
4. Show up at the end of the day
If you develop a good business relationship with a local grower, you can pre-order your food and get an even better deal. Another tip, is to browse the stands at the end of the day. Many farmer’s won’t want to haul unsold produce back home, and will generally negotiate on the price. But even if you don’t get them to budge, many of them will throw in extra items or multiples, to sweeten the deal.
5. Join a local CSA or Co-op group
A CSA is a community supported agriculture group where families purchase memberships for enough produce to feed a family of 4, for about 15 weeks. In return you get a box of vegetables, eggs, fruit or whatever that farm provides. There is a bit of risk involved since you can’t choose exactly what produce you will get. If there’s a dry season, your share of the spoils will be lean. However, this step cuts out the grocery store middle man, and takes you straight to the source. It can be very helpful if you want to eat organic on a budget. Lots of food can be purchased for up to 50% off the normal organic store price. If you’re just shopping for yourself or your partner, you can split your CSA box with another couple. This can save you even more money!
6. Grow your own food or barter with someone who does
I live in an apartment complex, so even though I can’t grow my own massive garden, I can still grow some fresh herbs. You don’t need a lot of room to grow your own food. Some plants, like tomatoes, can be grown in a small pot on your deck or porch. Fortunately for me, my sister has a big backyard with a beautiful garden. Since I can’t grow my own produce, I barter with her to get fresh fruit and vegetables and trade services (like babysitting or helping with her taxes).
Final thoughts on how to eat organic on a budget
There are all kinds of little ways you can eat organic and local food for less, all while developing good business relationships with other families and growers. Use the tips above to find the way that works best for you. Then you will not only be eating better, but you will be supporting the local community, saving money and staying within your budget at the same time!
This article is part of our Budgeting Tips Resource Center. If you’re looking for additional information about budgeting tips, be sure to pay a visit!
Image 1 credit: AndyRobertsPhotos