Without question, the easiest way to save money in the kitchen is cooking from scratch. Thankfully, I enjoy it, so I’d definitely never drop it! I tried couponing and trying to save money, but I ate more processed convenience foods in one year than in my entire life —just because it was “free.” I realized free wasn’t worth it. But, cooking from scratch is. I would much rather spend the time in the kitchen at home than in the stores and on the net trying to find deals.
However, even with cooking from scratch, I’m having a hard time keeping the grocery budget under control with rising prices and expanding appetites.
My goal is to list all the real food practices and foods that you really should be eating and divide them into those that will save money over a conventional diet and those where you must spend more to get more, like organic food or superfoods.
Here is Where you Save
Homemade chicken or beef stock
Homemade broth is highly nutritious, boosts immune system function and can help relieve symptoms of a long list of common ailments. Real broth is one of the main components of the GAPS diet because of it’s gut healing properties. The homemade goodness of real broth is vey easy to achieve and economical to make at home.
Making beef stock is pretty straightforward. I used a simple recipe as a guide, but basically all you have to do is roast some beef bones in a crockpot and then simmer them for a looooooong time until all the marrow and meat scraps are falling off the bone. You can add some veggies and spices for added flavor to make a broth if you’d like.
Buy in bulk
If you want to save more money in your pocket, buy food in bulk and divide the order with others. Staples such as organic brown rice or oatmeal (even spices) are great to order and split with friends.
Check out Azure Standard. It’s a virtual “whole foods” store at incredible prices. You can find anything from grain to meat to sunscreen. Azure has drop-off locations through out the US. Place your order online (they also have a catalog) and once a month, meet at a specific spot. A large truck pulls up and the driver hands you your goods.
Sometimes, you really need to get to know the right people. Try a local farmer’s market, chat up your farmer, or strike up foodie conversations at church. In no time at all, you’ll gather around you a list (keep their emails!) of people with whom you might find deals.
Also, you can sign up for “Subscribe and Save” through Amazon, which enables you to order products at a discount and get free shipping. This is great for organic, unprocessed sweeteners!
Picking and freezing your own fruit
Every list of superfoods includes berries, particularly blueberries. They have multiple benefits including weight maintenance, disease prevention and contributions to longevity. Another of their greatest benefits is that they are combat inflammation which contributes to all chronic diseases.
Berries are high in fiber, low in fat and have no cholesterol, which also lowers your risk of heart disease. Other health benefits include promotion of gastrointestinal health, protection against macular degeneration, and berries may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re not growing your own berries, which very few people are, you stand to save a bundle by visiting your local U-Pick fruit farms. In case you are not familiar, u-pick farms provide you an opportunity to pick their fruit at prices highly discounted from normal grocery produce prices. To find out where you can pick blueberries or other fresh fruits, an on-line website called Pick Your Own lists U-Pick farms throughout the States.
Once you’ve picked your fresh berries, wash and drain them, then remove damaged berries. To reap the benefits of berries throughout the year, place the washed and dried berries in a zip-lock bag and store them in the freezer.
Remember that an apple, even a conventionally grown one, is always better than a jar of applesauce with X chemical on sale with a coupon.
No surprise here. You probably already know about this great food buy. Dry beans are easy to cook in a slow cooker and can be used in just about anything. One pound of beans generally makes the equivalent of about 4 cans.
Beans are great for stretching out a meal. Soups, pastas, and many Mexican dishes can be almost doubled with a wide variety of beans. As a kid, my mom always made beef tacos with beans and potatoes in the mix. I thought this was “normal” but later realized she was stretching her dollar.
If you have any leftover they also freeze well. Plus, the canned variety won’t break the bank either.
This is Where you Spend
There’s no getting around it — high quality animal food products always cost more, as does organic produce. It’s a bummer, but you can still balance the budget while eating well if you focus on spending more here.
Here is a short list of why I love coconut oil so much:
- Has antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial properties (can kill colds and viruses). I like to make my own toothpaste with coconut oil!
- Fights yeast infections/Candida
- Contains lauric acid, which:
- Reduces the symptoms of Alzheimer’s sufferers
- Inhibits cancer growth
- Promotes heart health
- Has medium-chained triglycerides, which is great for energy and metabolism, as well as your cholesterol levels!
- Promotes strong bones
Use coconut oil as a buttery spread on toast, in soups and smoothies, or as a nourishing skin creme.
Make sure you choose an organic coconut oil that is unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and does not contain genetically modified ingredients. Try buying in bulk for a better price point.
Free Range Eggs
Personally, eggs are one of my top 10 superfoods. They are one of the highest quality proteins you can find. They may get a bad rap, but the truth is they are a great source of essential amino acids, a perfect protein building block for lean muscles, maintenance and repair of your body tissues such as your skin and internal organs. But, there’s not much you can do about the price of free-range eggs. I console myself that eggs are super healthy and pound for pound generally cost less than meat.
For on-farm pickup, eggs are available year round. Check out Eatwild.com to find local stores, restaurants, and markets that feature grassfed products (eggs, dairy and meat – see below).
I’m not a poor college student any more, but putting myself in debt for organic, grassfed meat is a questionable habit. However, I do care about my health. No amount of money saved is worth consuming antibiotics, chemicals, and whole host of other questionable ingredients. I try to buy grassfed beef because there is definitely a difference nutritionally and in taste. The difference may just help you and me look better, feel better and perform better later in life.
I pool together with my friends to buy a cow from a local farmer here. Some farmers, I’ve heard, even store the beef for you so you don’t have to buy a chest freezer. Our cost for grassfed organic meat tends to be about $5/lb.
Check out Eat Wild to find an organic farm selling grassfed meat near you.
My biggest splurge would be buying organic produce. I like to think that my money is doing more good for my health when I put it towards organic fruits and vegetables.
If you have budget constrains, choosing wisely is important to maximize getting what you pay for. A good rule of thumb is to buy organic fruits and vegetables that have skins (like apples) because they absorb most pesticides and herbicides.
Also, try to stick to the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list. I don’t worry as much about conventional broccoli, cauliflower or avocados, but when it comes to apples and greens, I splurge a little. Because right now in America, going totally organic is pricey, here is the list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen from the Environmental Working Group to help you minimize your exposure to chemical residue on your produce: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
If you become a member of a co-op pr CSA, then you can get a box of fresh, all organic produce for a fraction of what you’d pay at the store. Check Local Harvest for a CSA near you.
Frankly, I want to prioritize the overall quality of all my food.
Let me make one simple statement. Buy whole foods. Why pay for cardboard boxes and plastic with prepackaged foods when you can use that money to buy actual food!
We all know it takes wisdom to help balance care for your health and your budget, while trying not to spend forever in the kitchen. Finding affordable sources for excellent ingredients will help. You can turn the couponing ship around and live a more natural life without filing for bankruptcy after shopping for groceries! Make real super food a budget priority. Spend some time cooking and meal planning, and you can eat almost exclusively whole foods and even good, real well-grown food.