Set a Healthy Table Without Busting Your Grocery Budget

enviro girlIt’s no surprise to learn that food prices are on the rise.  Severe weather prevented many farmers from planting and harvesting as usual, most of the U.S. has experienced drought conditions affecting crop and cattle production, and  rising fuel costs and demand all combine to make it more expensive than ever to feed our families.  

Enviro Girl has to feed three growing boys, her husband and herself, so she’s vigilant about looking for ways to shave their food costs.  Here are some ways she saves money while eating healthy:

1.  Buy in bulk in season.  It’s a lot cheaper to buy anything when there’s a surplus of supply.  When strawberries are in season, they’re $2 or less for a pint, off-season they cost $4 or more.  If you can buy seasonal fruits and vegetables in mass quantities and freeze or can them for the rest of the year, you’ll save bundles of money.  Enviro Girl buys a few cases of blueberries and peaches directly from a farm when they’re in season and freezes the contents.  Here’s the math on the blueberries:

$26 for a case in season is the equivalent of 30 pints that sell for $4 off-season, or $120.

Often you’ll find farmers selling bulk quantities of in-season produce at farmer’s markets — tomatoes by the bushel, cucumbers by the grocery sack to people looking to preserve it for winter.

2.  Learn how to can or freeze produce.  If you can put up 4-5 food items over the summer months, you’ll have food on hand to use when it’s out of season and you’ll save money because even if you buy that produce in bulk in season, it’s much cheaper than buying it processed at the grocery store.  Enviro Girl doesn’t think you’ll become Ma Ingalls overnight, but she assures you that freezing strawberries, peaches, beans, tomatoes and peppers is a cinch — the prep time involved is minimal for these foods and they’re easy to add into one’s weekly diet year-round. As you learn how to put up a few foods each year, you’ll gradually add to your repertoire and soon have a pantry to rival any pioneer wife.

3.  Grow your own.  A 2 foot by 10 foot strip of dirt running along the back side of your garage or yard can produce enough tomatoes, beans, onions, peppers, cucumbers and carrots for a family to eat for a year.  A tomato plant costs $1.50 at a greenhouse, a vine-grown tomato at a grocery store costs $1.50.  You’ll pick at least 15 tomatoes off a healthy tomato plant, more if you nurture it well.  By growing your own food to supply your groceries, you’ll save money and reduce the impact of rising food prices on your family’s budget.  You’ll also enjoy the health benefits of fresh produce raised without pesticides or herbicides.

4.  Join a CSA.  For $30 a week (on average), you can buy seasonal locally grown produce.  CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a kind of farm business where the farmer sells “shares” to customers.  Customers buy into the farm by purchasing “shares” and they get a portion of the farm’s production in return for their investment.  This is the most direct way to support local farmers if you’re not inclined to grow your own food but want fresh-grown produce.  It’s also less expensive than shopping at a farmer’s market.  In Enviro Girl’s experience, her $30 share was the equivalent of $60 of grocery food.  She hauled home a huge box every week and had plenty to feed her family with leftovers to freeze for later.  Her money supported a local farmer, invested in organic food production and fed her family for less than any other resource around.

5.  Get back to the basics on your table.  Most processed or “convenience” food only seem cheaper, but are really more expensive.  Let’s compare a few foods:

container of oatmeal:  $2.00   OR   box of cereal:  $4.50

gallon of milk:  $3.50    OR   gallon equivalent of bottled water:  $6.00

5 lb. of potatoes:  $3.00     OR   5 lb. of potato chips: $25.00

3 lb. of apples:  $2.90   OR  1 48-oz. jar of applesauce:  $1.78

1 lb. carrots:  $1.00    OR  can of vegetable soup:  $1.30

6.  Skip eating out.  This seems obvious, yet a recent survey revealed that U.S. adults get about 11% of their daily calories from fast food.  About a month ago, Enviro Girl brought her 3 sons to McDonald’s for a treat.  They each ordered a quarter-pound burger with cheese, fries and beverage.  Enviro Girl ordered a $2 chicken wrap and shared her kids’ drinks and fries.  The grand total for their meal?  Close to $20!  For $20 she could have bought a loaf of bread, cold cuts, apples, ice cream treats and liter of soda.  For $20 she could have bought a bag of buns, a bag of chips, ice cream treats and a pound of ground chuck.  Eating out costs much more than preparing food for yourself at home.  If you’re trying to curb food costs, dine in one extra meal a week and you will see the savings add up fast.

7.  Stop buying “junk” food and buy real food.  A bag of baby carrots are as crunchy and cost half as much as a bag of Doritos.  A container of hummus and a bag of pretzels are more nutritious than Ruffles and sour cream & onion dip.  Soft drinks offer zero nutritional value, but add considerably to your grocery bill.  A dozen donuts cost more than a package of bagels and a block of cream cheese.  By reducing your household’s intake of “junk” food, you’ll enjoy a reduction at the check-out lane.

Feeding your family isn’t going to get any cheaper.  The best way to avoid extra expense is to cut out the middle man by buying directly from a farmer or grow it yourself.  Learn how to preserve food while it’s in season and make a habit of shopping for raw foods instead of processed foods, real foods instead of “junk” foods.

Tell us, readers, what are you doing to cut your grocery bill?

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3 thoughts on “Set a Healthy Table Without Busting Your Grocery Budget

  1. I’m pushing the idea of a CSA here but so far no takers. However, several farmers have started letting people pick their own leftovers, things like beans, that don’t get sent out, and for free.
    Our home garden has grown every year. Doc now has 18 raised beds, and I get two for herbs and one for cutting flowers and the rest are veggies. We still have winter collards out there we picked and ate last week.

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