Dear Home Ec 101,
I just got back from the grocery and I’m despairing. I’m trying to be frugal these days, but still I don’t want to intake HFCS and I like to choose organic eggs and milk when I can. And I feel like it’s a balancing game to keep my family healthy but still be able to put money in the bank.
I know I need to plan meals around sales, and currently I’m actually trying to clean out my freezer because we have a ton of frozen meat, but I’m talking about foods that you buy every week, perishables that you can’t stock up on, when you want to be cruelty free or organic or just not eat HFCS.
Math is Hard
A family’s grocery budget is based on a series of compromises.. While my personal motto is know better, do better, I also realize that there comes a point where you just have to let it go.You could read articles, blogs, and papers about every ingredient, process, and dietary ideal for the rest of your life and still be confused about whether or not you’re making the best choices for your family.
You could also be hit by a bus tomorrow.
If you wanted to, you could wander down a path of fear and forget that food is meant to be savored and enjoyed.
Personally, I believe you are making good choices, wanting to avoid HFCS and choosing organic when it’s possible. My point is to make your choices and then quit worrying about it. Nutrition, is a developing field, new ideas are promoted one week and retracted the next. No one has it perfect, so there’s no reason to kill yourself pursuing perfection. (There’s never a time for that anyhow, the stress alone will undo your efforts).
Heck, there are many times where I don’t even manage to make the organic choice.
Here are a few suggestions to help reduce your bill without compromising your dietary principles.
When you tailor your diet around seasonal produce, you’re taking advantage of produce at the peak of its flavor and nutrition.
If you have a Farmer’s Market in your area (and that stupid bill never makes it out of the House) get as much of your produce as possible from there. See if any of your local grocery stores buy locally and patronize them. Offhand I know that both Bi-Lo and Piggly Wiggly try to source produce locally when possible, but it’s still a good idea to check with your store’s manager. If your grocery store does source locally, in-season produce will likely be priced accordingly. (I can’t control for all factors, but this one is usually a given, since it’s in line with the economic principle of supply and demand).
Also don’t assume that certified organic is the only choice. Many small farmers have not been able to pursue the certification for some reason that actually doesn’t have an impact on how the produce or animal is grown. Sometimes the produce or animal producer is in the process of being certified. Find your supplier and talk to them. From what I know, many agricultural professionals are looking to open the channels of communication. It can’t hurt to try.
When seasonal produce is limited hit the freezer section for the next best option.
Don’t go for the fancy steamer pouches -who wants to bet the ads this post triggers are for exactly those?- Look at the fancy options and write down the ones that pique your interest. Typically you can make the same recipes with little extra effort, much more cheaply at home. I will admit that the coupon gurus may be able to beat me at cost per serving in this department.
Steam your vegetables and toss them with butter or olive oil heated (infused) with your favorite herbs.
Treat vegetables or legumes as the entrée.
I’m an unapologetic carnivore, but I put a lot of thought into our sides to keep our consumption in check. I know that both in the health and cost department vegetables and legumes are often much cheaper per consumable ounce than lean protein. Compare cabbage at $0.39 a pound to ground beef at $3.45. It’s easier to limit the our consumption of protein to recommended amounts when the accompaniment is not a pile of canned, overcooked soggy green beans.
On a tight budget, watch how much your recipes rely on cheese and butter. (I am not suggesting you choose low fat options, just watch the number of cheese heavy recipes you serve in the course of a week).
Stock is a great way to increase the flavor of your recipes while taking advantage of items that would normally just go to waste (chicken bones, vegetables on the verge).
Watch your waste.
As a nation, we Americans (I can’t speak for our Canadian and European readers, I haven’t seen your studies) waste a LOT of food. For one month keep track of how much food was thrown away. Were leftovers in the fridge too long? Did the milk go sour? etc
There’s the possibility that you’re unintentionally buying more than your family consumes.
Try these suggestions and understand that inflation and time constraints take their toll. There is a point where you won’t be able to cut your budget any further without compromising your principles. If you can afford your principles, keep them and let the worry go.
Send your questions to email@example.com