Tips for Eating GREEN on a Budget
Eating green and saving money at the same time may seem almost impossible in today’s world. Fuel prices continue to fluctuate, affecting our food choices as shipping costs dip and soar. Most farmers must meet supply and demand with the added burden of applying pesticides and other chemicals to their bounty to ensure nothing spoils from their farm to your table.
If that’s not bad enough, try comparing the cost of purchasing a bag of organic apples as opposed to a regular bag. The good news: There is a way to eat green on a budget.
Just What Does Green Eating Really Mean?
Eating green is basically choosing to eat pesticide-free, minimally or non-processed foods, and those items with very little packaging. For example, when you buy a can of red beans, you are paying for the processing of those beans. Chances are, this food has already been cooked and may have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to your grocer.
To make matters worse, the actual can may be lined with a chemical compound to keep the food from going rancid. Some canned items contain the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA. This chemical is making headlines lately as recent consumer studies indicate this item may be linked to some cancers and reproductive problems. It bears mentioning that even some organic brands of canned food items also contain levels of BPA.
How willing are you to change your diet to be healthier?
Processed food does lose some nutritional benefits as well due to the canning or packaging process. And, think about this: Once fruit is picked, and the longer that fruit remains off the vine or tree, it’s losing valuable nutrients. In addition, if nutrient preservatives have to be added to that fruit to maintain its freshness, that’s all the more reason to avoid foods that are not in season.
Many processed foods also undergo intense heat before making their way to the can or box. Salt and sugar may be added as well as an additive to further preserve the food – ingredients that are not so healthy for diabetics or heart patients. Let’s talk about some topics that may be helpful to you as a consumer trying to eat and purchase green food.
Sustainability and Organic Food
In the simplest sense, sustainability is a way our biological systems remain productive over a long period of time. Farmers that utilize sustainable methods of growing employ strategies that enrich the soil by proper crop rotation and maintain fair trade strategies.
Going hand in hand with sustainable growing methods, farmers who choose to grow organic crops will not use pesticides or harmful chemicals to prolong the life of the plant. These farmers work with the land to conserve the soil and the water for future generations.
Foods labeled USDA Organic mean that the product does not contain conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and has not passed through the irradiation process. Irradiation prevents spoilage or early maturation of a product in addition to protecting the food from some insects. Many consumers may feel that this radiation activity causes the DNA activity within the product to change and, in effect, question how this action may affect the human body.
A label that is certified fair trade ensures that those who handle and harvest the product you’ve just purchased are working in good conditions at a good wage. A closer look at fair trade practices also certifies that watersheds and forests are better protected during the harvesting, while at the same time prohibiting GMOs and chemicals. If you purchase organic coffee, the container or package may be marked with a certified fair trade stamp.
Does Organic Really Cost More?
Yes and no. Organic farmers do not receive federal monies and this special type of farming is very labor intensive. Once consumer demand increases for organic products, the prices will reflect that interest and eventually drop. In many supermarkets and organic outlets, these products already are becoming popular and some of the meat and produce labels actually reflect a cheaper price than the non-organic items in many cases.
Consider also checking into local co-ops that support sustainable growing practices. You can often save money on organic produce by buying directly from the grower.
BPA - a carbon-based synthetic compound used primarily to make plastics. It is also an endocrine disruptor which can mimic estrogen and function of the hormone estradiol with the ability to bind to and activate the same estrogen receptor as the natural hormone. It has been known to hinder women's fertility and cause harm to developing children.
Fair Trade - an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability.
Irradiation - the process of treating food with a specific dosage of ionizing radiation in order to slow or prevent food spoilage and prevent the spread of invasive insect species.
Watersheds - the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place so that all living things are inextricably linked by a common water source.
GMOs - is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
Companion Planting - the planting of different crops in proximity for easier pest control and pollination, and to otherwise increase crop productivity.
Crop Rotation - the practice of growing a series of dissimilar/different types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons. It mitigates the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped, and can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants.
Composting - the process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue.
A local health food store may offer local co-op groups to help you get quality organic foods and still save money, and joining is usually very simple. You can try to locate an organic co-op in your neighborhood. BountifulBaskets.org is a great one to try! I have used this one for years and highly recommend it to all of my friends and family members.
These small co-ops typically charge a small membership fee (“donation”) and you receive a bag of mixed produce, a co-op newsletter, and/or even a few recipes specific to what you are getting in your bag for the week. The co-ops can become a great way to incorporate new foods into your diet at a low cost. We get new foods we’ve never seen before in our baskets every new season.
Buy in Bulk
Try buying a little more than you need and consider freezing some of your fruits and vegetables after washing and cutting them. A little research can help you identify those foods that are easy to freeze and those that you can’t. For example, you may freeze cut up pineapple, peaches, corn, and most berries. Radishes do not freeze well though.
Large containers of foods will also cost less than individual packages, like those you can get at Costco. Consider what organic foods you can buy in larger quantities such as meat, fish, poultry, cheeses and seasonal fruits like berries that you use on a regular basis.
The following are only some of the items that are relatively easy to freeze:
- Meat, poultry and fish – Make sure these produces have not already been frozen. Read the label. Save money by buying in bulk and when you get home from the store, separate the meat and package it yourself. Buy butcher paper and masking tape, then simply wrap, tape and freeze! Label the packages and add the date. It’s that easy.
- Breads and baked goods – Make bread dough and freeze it for a healthful, homemade surprise at the dinner table. Consider also preparing different cookie dough mixes and freeze for a surprise dessert weeks later!
- Butter and margarine – Pop in the freezer straight from the store.
- Beans – Make up a batch of stove-top or crock pot beans, cool and freeze. Frozen, packaged beans that you’ve prepared yourself make a great addition to soups and stews. Best of all, you don’t need to reach in the pantry for a canned version to replace the healthful alternative you created. Chances are your freezer beans will taste better, too.
- Vegetables – Have fun and explore tasty recipes that incorporate root vegetables such as rutabagas, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, and potatoes. To add flavor, consider making your own chicken and beef broths and freeze these for use in future recipes. Set aside one day in the week to cook, can or freeze the seasonal bounty you’ve grown or purchased.
- Fruits – Grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peeled bananas, apples, peaches, pears, and blackberries. There aren’t many fruits that cannot be frozen.
Freezing and Canning
Simple food preservation techniques, often found in your very own cookbooks, can save hundreds of dollars if you do it yourself. Plus, by doing it yourself, you know it contains no extra chemicals and is organic. Canning your foods in glass jars yields months or years of great food for you to enjoy.
And with a little creativity, canning soups, sauces, homemade pickles, onions, spicy vegetable mixes, and pie fillings can be one of the best ways to preserve seasonal foods at a fraction of what it costs to purchase them from the grocery shelves. Once the initial investment is made in the canning supplies, you can reap the rewards, especially if you try your own garden, and harvest and can your own bounty.
Grow a Garden
In many cases growing a garden may not be feasible, but even a couple of flower pots with some good soil can yield a desirable tomato plant or a couple of peppers. Unused space on a patio can produce nice summer salads. Raised beds solve the problem of poor soil conditions and if you’re lucky enough to have useable property, experiment with larger plots of land.
A little research into companion planting eases the problem of insect control, and crop rotation is an ecologically sound method for maintaining the nutrients of the soil for future crops. Another good resource may be your local state university’s agricultural extension that may offer anything from environmentally responsible gardening tips to natural insect control.
Whatever scraps are left from a meal might be good for the compost pile. You can purchase a ready-made composter from a big-box store or use a homemade barrel version. Composting is a great way to recycle leftover salad, vegetable peels, apple cores, tomato pulp or whatever you may have that usually gets thrown out with the trash.
Composting is hard to get into, but with a little practice, and a little research you could be well on your way to recycling perfectly good food, providing your plants with a rich source of nutrients that will help them grow better than Miracle Grow, and will make you feel better about doing your part for the environment.
Go Vegan for One Day a Week
Saving money by eating nothing but veggies saves in the long run and your body may even thank you! Meat production is big business and requires a lot of natural resources to maintain the life of an animal raised for meat. Think about the grain used for feeding, the water for drinking, and in most cases, the growth hormones and antibiotics used to quickly move the livestock from the yard to the table.
By simply avoiding meat for a single day each week, you can save yourself a little money, eat a little greener, and possibly even lower your cholesterol a little due to getting some much needed veggies for a day. What can it hurt?! This might be the one day many of you get enough veggies for a single day’s serving.
Stock Up on the Basics
Many grocery stores offer bins filled with bulk foods such as rice flour, granola, oats, sunflower seeds, beans and much more. Purchasing these items saves money since you are not paying for the marketing and advertising of the brand boxed versions of the same food. Truthfully, there really is no difference between the Brand name foods you buy and the generic versions of the same foods, as long as you find ones you really like.
To add to the savings, bring your own bags, or like Costco, just have them put the items right back in your basket to load into boxes in your car. Not only are you saving money on the “Brand name,” but you are saving the Earth by using your own packaging methods.
Eliminate Processed Food Items
Removing processed or convenience food (canned, boxed, frozen, pre-packed, dried) may be the most difficult task in choosing to eat green. Just take baby steps. They say the easiest way to do this is to stay on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Because all of the processed, pre-packed foods are on the inside.
Try letting go of one thing at a time. Making your own breads might be the easiest place to start, then start growing some of your own vegetables. (I’ll offer you tons of great recipes for these below.) It’s not easy, nor is it always practical to remove everything all at once. However, once you’ve taken this road, and replaced the packaged crackers for, let’s say, carrot sticks or homemade bread, the health and budget benefits prove well worth the journey.
Eating green on a budget does not have to be difficult. Tons of people all over the US and all over the world are choosing to grow their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs, make their own bread items, and freeze, dry, and can their own foods. It takes a little bit of time, a lot of research, and some experimenting, but it can be done.
However, this way of life can be a little challenging, especially if some household members are not on board. Consider using a journal to track expenses and jot down recipes, experiment with using more fresh fruits and veggies in your meals instead of buying cans or boxes, and get creative with your recipe ideas.
Maybe you can use my Bisquick Alternative recipe instead of buying baking mix, make my Homemade Tomato Sauce for your spaghetti and pizzas, or try your hand at making your own Homemade Cornbread or rolls from scratch. Cooking is a lot of fun, especially knowing that you are eating healthier, saving money, and making your own delicious meals for your family rather than just cracking open a bag.
Green eating is not just about salads and no junk food. Eating green is a life choice that includes decisions in a lot of areas. Once you’ve started on this path, the benefits will prove well worth the effort for you and your family!
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness