Monday, May 10, 2010

How to shop organic/whole foods. on a food stamp budget, for real, from someone on food stamps!

So I am writing this blog because once upon a time not long ago I set off on a personal journey that I am still on to try to eat and live healthier. When I began my journey I did what many of us do and hit up Google hoping to find some great advice about shopping, cooking, and living organic on the cheap, especially if you were like me a family on food stamps. What I found was a few helpful sites and very few articles that addressed people eating organic on a food stamp budget and those that did were written by well meaning people who were "experimenting:" with cash budgets in the amount that a family their size would receive if they were on food stamps (the SNAP challenge). That's cool but what does that do for me?
 A person who really is living day to day with an EBT card trying to live a sustainable healthy lifestyle with a large family and a job. It did nothing but make for interesting reading since most of these people had advantages that the average family on food stamps don't have i,e, one person at home all day and or advance cooking skills and fancy cookware. So I have decided to write my advice on how to do organic/whole foods on a budget. DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be an expert or have special knowledge really I'm just speaking from my experience. 

1) Price compare and use coupons- as much as I love my local co-op especially since I work there, many national chains now have their own lines of organics, such as Kroger, which are not as much of a drain on the budget example my regular black beans cost $.69 Kroger organics $.99 I can spare the $.30 vs $.60 or more elsewhere. Same with soy milk and other items. You can also save using online retailers like Vitacost which often have great BOGO offers on food items and offers free shipping for orders over $45. I often use them for dried fruit when it's on sale using my cash food budget. Most of us on SNAP still spend cash on food. Coupons are often hard to find on organic products, however many companies have printable coupons on their websites if you register with them. Also this site has a great alphabetical list of printable coupons including organic/whole food brands (I realize that this assumes one has access to a computer and internet which many SNAP families do not).

2)Make a menu and actually use it- this one takes work for me but it does save you money because you don't waste by buying on impulse and you can maximize sales. 

3)Keep it simple smarties- There are simple meals with simple ingredients  that are healthy, and can be made with low cost organic items. Thank goodness for beans and cous cous with veggies (I'll get some recipes for ya'll) So find stuff you can make with a steady supply of staples that you can keep on hand.

4)Start Cooking and cut those potion sizes- If you want to buy higher cost higher quality food that usually means replacing the convenience foods and cheap unhealthy foods which generally requires more cooking and a little more time, but with a little planning it can be done.  I try to cook and freeze on my days off (a huge pot of chili takes just as much work as a smaller one) it is a very old trick of busy moms and you don't even need containers you would be surprised how many things you can freeze/refrigerate in storage bags, including soups. Another way to save by cooking is to make your own items from hummus to applesauce there are many things that take little effort but have a great financial payoff.  I know I know it takes some prep but I myself being the slacker I am often cut up veggies while watching T.V. on my folding T.V. tray. So I can relax and get some stuff done. Also cut your portion sizes if you are not already watching them most of us being Americans eat too much and make too much food that we end up throwing away. So recognize if you have this habit and STOP it will save you money and help your health. Extra protip-if you see a bread maker at a thrift store grab it you can save a lot of money making bread at home with minimal effort but I would never pay full price for one.

5)Make it yourself/Grow it yourself-I did say live organic too, right, meaning cleaning products and such and since we are talking about cooking,  you can make many of your own cleaners too. I make my own laundry soap, and use liquid castile soap that I buy in bulk to clean almost everything.  They are environmentally friendly, I use less, and in the case of the laundry soap I save money. Also it is awesome to have a home that is mostly free of chemicals. The money I save on cleaners goes into the fruit and veggie budget.
My newest endeavor this year is container and raised bed gardening at my house (which I rent). Basically it is gardening with limited space for your own use. The awesome thing is my kids LOVE the idea and it will save a good amount of money especially on tomatoes. Other good news about gardening on a food stamp budget is that you can actually purchase seeds with food stamps as long as they are food seeds this includes organic seeds (yippie!!!). I will be blogging about this more in depth soon.

6)Eat less meat- check my other blogpost for why eating less meat is a good idea, but it also saves money meat is expensive and not required for every meal or everyday, I'm not saying you have to become a vegan just find some good recipes for other protein sources like beans and meat alternatives like tofu and TVP, my kids love it!

7)Buy in bulk- If you are lucky you have a local whole food co-op or other grocery that has a well stocked bulk department, I save a good deal of money by shopping in the bulk department for flour, salt, sugar and other stables because the per pound prices is considerably lower. (if you don't have one in your town and you buy some food with cash consider using cash and pricing these items online) Also at our co-op if you order a by the case you get 15% off so I usually budget to order our brown rice every 3 months by the 50 lb bag. With the discount the price is equal to non organic brown rice. Similar deals can often be found on Amazon using their scheduled shipping service subscribe and save (this requires using cash not SNAP).

8)Befriend your local produce manager and farmer market merchant- when people know you they are more likely to make a deal with you so at every store I shop at I know the produce manager BY NAME why you may ask because he/she marks down produce and produce is expensive and will generally let you know when sales are coming and when they are going to mark stuff.
As for farmers market merchants they need to move their items so I am always open to buying slightly bruised/over ripe items, for a significant discount. Many merchants will also discount items at the end of the day so they don't have to haul them home. Being able to negotiate is a huge plus. *Hint-many farmers markets now take food stamps too* (Caution-not everything sold at farmers markets are local be sure to ask!)

9)If you can, get a freezer- when I find good deals on peaches, (I live in MS and at certain times can buy whole boxes for $10) we eat and use some and then I cut up and freeze the rest. Same with bell peppers, onions, blueberries, and many other freezable fruits and veggies. This way my good buy doesn't go to waste, I know where the veggies came from and I have saved over prepackaged frozen. (sidenote: local doesn't mean organic it is up to you to ask if the farmer uses organic gardening practices.)

10) Sometimes you will have to compromise-Now this one is tough for me because it means I have to compromise but living while broke is full of compromise- figure out what you can live with buying non organic, lets face it there are going to be times when the budget just will not allow you to make a healthy balanced diet and keep it all organic or even really healthy, especially if you have a family my size, so make a list of the items that are must have for you, for me its produce first and then grain, especially those that have been ranked as having the most pesticide residue such as apples, carrots, lettuce, and celery. My family eats quite a bit of fruits and veggies so this is important for us and it is pretty much non negotiable.
So those are on my top ten.
 I hope someone reads this and actually finds it useful if not I am having a great time rambling on and working on my writing skills :-)  Please remember I am still on this healthy journey myself so I am just trying to share my experiences. Peace, blessings, and good health!!!!
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