Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to feed your family an organic diet on a budget? The answer is yes! I’ve done it for years and here’s how.
I shop four stores. I know, that sounds outrageous, but with a little menu planning, it’s not so bad. If you plan two weeks of meals at a time, and buy your pantry staples and freezable meats and veggies for those two weeks at once, shopping four stores is very do-able. The four stores are Whole Foods Market, Walmart, Target, and my local grocery chain Rouses.
The first question people ask me when they find out I’m a “granola mom” is how I know if a product is really organic since producers can put anything on a label. A certified organic product has the little green USDA Organic seal on it. Always look for the seal if you’re shopping in a store (you’ll see why I say “in a store” later) for organics. Ok, let’s get started…
The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen
First, you need to familiarize yourself with the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen.” The dirty dozen are the 12 most important foods to buy organic, and the clean 15 are the 15 foods least likely to contain pesticide residue.
The dirty dozen are apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes.
The clean fifteen are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms.
A good rule of thumb is if you eat the entire fruit or veggie, buy it organic; but if you typically peel the fruit or veggie, then it’s OK to buy the conventional. Obviously this is not true across the board, but it’s a good guide. Pay close attention to produce that has a stem, like an apple or pear. Pesticides and residue tend to collect near the stem.
Another fruit and veggie tip is to hit the frozen food aisle. The freezing process removes some of the pesticide residue from conventionally grown produce.
Whole Foods has their own generic brand called 365 everyday. Generally, 365 products are priced in line with (maybe a little more than) well-known conventional brands. Not all 365 products are organic, but if not organic, they are at least not genetically modified (GMO.)
Walmart has a decent organic produce section – spinach, baby carrots, apples, and celery are usually found in their organic section and priced less than Whole Foods.
So what do you do when the fresh local strawberries are in season and on sale? The carton of Louisiana Ponchatoula strawberries is $2.99, and the same sized carton of organic California strawberries is $5.99. I buy the local strawberries and use a homemade fruit and veggie spray to remove some of the pesticides.
In an empty spray bottle (purchased from your local dollar store – more about these spray bottles later) pour one cup of water, one cup of white vinegar, one tablespoon of baking soda, and the juice from ½ of a lemon. Simply put your produce in a colander in your sink, mist the produce with your new spray, and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Then rinse and enjoy!
Finally, my last produce tip is to shop farmers’ markets! It can be expensive to get the USDA Organic certification; so many small farms may be practicing organic farming but can’t afford to get the USDA label. If you frequent your farmers’ markets you can talk directly to the folks who grow your food, and ask them questions about their growing practices. You’re also eating food with a much smaller carbon footprint when you shop local!
I’m only going to hit on the meat staples in my family’s diet – pork chops, chicken, and ground beef. It’s easiest to talk stores and product names here. Naturally, all of your meat can be purchased at Whole Foods, but it’s going to cost you. Sometimes you can get pork chops on sale at Whole Foods, so stock up if you catch a sale!
For chicken, I buy either the Rouses brand which is antibiotic and growth hormone free, or the Heartland brand found at Walmart – which is also antibiotic and growth hormone free. If I’m buying chicken to freeze I buy the large pack of Heartland boneless skinless chicken breasts. A large pack typically contains about 6 individually packed breasts that are freezer ready. They are around $4.50/lb, and the breasts are large enough to split into two portions. Dietitians are telling us that our dinner plates need to contain less meat and more veggies anyway!
The ground beef I’ve been buying is a brand called Laura’s Lean ground beef, found at Rouses and Target. It’s not grass-fed, admittedly, but it is free of antibiotics and growth hormones. It runs around $6/lb. Grass fed ground beef can be purchased at Whole Foods or Rouses (Maverick brand) for about $10/lb. My philosophy with meat is to buy less, but always high quality. (If you’ve ever seen anything on meat produced at factory farms, you’ll understand why.)
Similar to meat, I look for my dairy products to first and foremost be free of growth hormones and antibiotics. After I satisfy this requirement, I see if there is an organic option.
For milk, Smiths and Kleinpeter (available at Whole Foods and Rouses) are two local brands that are growth hormone and antibiotic free. They are also pricey, but not as much as organic milk.
Rouses’ house brand milk is also antibiotic and growth hormone free and priced lower than Smiths and Kleinpeter. The city of origin on the Rouses brand is not a Louisiana city, however, but Rouses is a Louisiana company so it’s somewhat local, right?
For cheese, look for the packaging to say “Made with milk from cows not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics.” Generally, Whole Foods is the place to find this. I’ve read that there is a number (877-505-2267) for Walmart to find out if the cheese sold in our region is free of growth hormones. I haven’t checked into this yet, but when I do I’ll share the info with you.
Organic yogurt is readily available at Whole Foods. Walmart sells Stonyfield Farms organic yogurt. Rouses stocks Stonyfield Farms organic baby yogurt made with whole milk. My three-year-old still eats baby yogurt! Target also stocks Stonyfield Farms baby yogurt as well as their organic YoKids yogurt tubes. For butter, I buy organic – 365 at Whole Foods is the best deal.
This one is simple; you can’t beat the prices of Whole Foods’ 365 brand pastas. I don’t really care for the taste of whole wheat pasta, but have found that if I use the smaller pastas that hold a lot of sauce (such as the twisty ones, or little shells) the taste is much better.
For a spaghetti dinner, I still use regular angel hair pasta. 365 also makes a very affordable long grain brown rice. If you’re one of those who only likes white rice, try long grain brown rice – I hardly notice the difference!
I’ve also been exploring with quinoa lately. Target sells a good-sized bag of uncooked quinoa for around $7. That’s kind of expensive (although the same price as a large bag of Uncle Sam’s white rice), but the bag lasts a long time. Whole foods sells frozen quinoa that only needs a few seconds in the microwave and it’s ready to use.
My good friend, Gretchen (of Gretchen’s Grains), sells frozen organic whole grains, but only in the Northwest right now. She tells me that they are working on being able to ship their product to New Orleans, so as soon as it’s available I’m going to be ordering from her every month! I’ll pass along the info when she’s ready to accept NOLA orders.
In the meantime check out her website to learn more about these grains and get some recipe inspiration! I promise this blog post is not a secret shill for this company, but when one of your good friends has a started a small, high-quality food business, it’s hard not to be proud of her, and want others to know about it.
Processed foods and snacks
OK, so I have a three-year-old; processed snacks are a part of life! We like the 365 products, Earth’s Best Organics, as well as Annie’s Naturals. The 365 products are obviously only at Whole Foods, but yet again priced competitively.
Earth’s Best products are at Whole Foods, but expensive. Some EB products can be found at all four of the stores I shop, but the best selection is at Whole Foods.
Annie’s Naturals are at Whole Foods and are expensive. However, Target has a great selection of Annie’s products at good prices and they regularly go on sale! Target’s house brand, Archer Farms, sells some organic products too – my daughter loves their fruit strips, and they’re very affordable.
Did you think I forgot that I said I’d talk more about spray bottles? I make many of my own cleaning products. They are cheaper, greener, and as effective as regular products. There is very little that can’t be cleaned with some combination of vinegar, baking soda, and Dawn.
I buy my spray bottles from my local Dollar Tree. I’m pretty sure any dollar store type place will sell spray bottles. I don’t use leftover bottles from Windex, say, because I don’t want any residue in my homemade cleansers, but if you clean them out, they’ll do just fine.
A great all-purpose cleaner is plain old vinegar and water in a spray bottle – 50-50. The vinegar smell goes away as soon as it dries, but if you HATE the vinegar smell you can add an essential oil found at Whole Foods. I’ve never added the essential oil, because the smell goes away so quickly.
One note on the vinegar and water cleaner – I don’t use it on my granite countertops. I’m not sure about the pH, so I use Simple Green’s stone countertop cleaner – about $5 for a bottle.
To clean your shower glass, bathtubs, and bathroom sinks, use a scotch-brite dishwand with the green head. Fill the dishwand half full with Dawn, and the rest with vinegar. Let it mix together, and before every few showers turn on the water and wet the surface you’re going to clean. While you’re in the shower quickly scrub the walls and rinse – it takes about a minute and works really well! I store my wand head side up in a Mardi Gras cup under my bathroom sink. How does the rest of the world function without Mardi Gras cups?!
If you need to REALLY clean your tub: wet it, sprinkle baking soda over the tub, take a wet wash cloth (I save old wash cloths to use as cleaning rags) and scrub. Rinse and done.
To clean tile floors: In a Dawn bottle that is almost empty I add water and vinegar and shake it up. To clean, I squirt the mixture on the tile floor and wipe with a cleaning rag. Done!
An alternative to antibacterial Febreeze or Lysol spray is water in a spray bottle with a few drops of tea tree oil.
An alternative to fabric softener is to put vinegar in the rinse cycle. I don’t have a fancy washing machine, so I add it when I add the detergent. And don’t worry! It does not leave your clothes smelling like vinegar.
An alternative to fabric stain remover is a simple baking soda and water paste.
To clean your kitchen sink, sprinkle it with baking soda, scrub with wet cleaning rag and rinse. Here’s a tip: when you’re wiping you sink out wipe the under-side of the rubber part of the opening to the garbage disposal. You may be grossed out if you’ve never done it before, but that’s exactly why it needs to be done!
To deodorize your carpet, sprinkle baking soda and vacuum.
To clean windows or appliances, use a microfiber cloth and water in a spray bottle. The damp cloth is also good for dusting. When you’re done, toss in the wash. Just don’t use a dryer sheet in the dryer.
I’ve read about several homemade combinations for a wood floor cleaner using olive oil, rubbing alcohol, or castile soap, but I haven’t had the chance to try any out yet – so let me know if you have a good one! I use Method’s wood floor cleaner and a terry cloth-covered dry mop.
So that’s a good start to greening your diet and household! If you have any tips please let me know in the comments section below. I’m always on the lookout for a great organic deal or a new DIY household cleaner!
Much Mommy love,