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Cheap (Organic!) Eats: Healthy Groceries on a Budget

If a product is labeled as organic, that means that it was grown without any artificial pesticides or other harmful chemicals, that it is not genetically modified, and that it has been handled in a safe and sanitary manner. Organic, natural, whole foods are tastier, healthier, and more eco-friendly than their conventional counterparts. Unfortunately, because organic foods are more labor-intensive, they also often come with a higher price tag. Here are some tips and tricks to fit organic foods into any budget.

  • Buy in bulk.Whether you get your rice in a 25 pound sack or you fill up a bag from the bulk bins, it will almost always be cheaper per pound than buying individual packets off the shelf.
  • Stock up on staples when they’re on sale.Make a list of nonperishable items you use on a regular basis – like canned tomatoes or dry pasta – and refill your pantry when they go on sale. Even things like cereal or shelf-stable soymilk can be stocked up on, provided you keep an eye on the expiration date.

  • Avoid convenience foods.They are always more expensive than their homemade equivalents and are usually also more nutritionally empty. You’ll save tons of money if you learn to bake your own cookies and crackers… and save the organic cheese puffs for a special treat rather than an everyday snack.
  • Join a co-op.Every co-op is different. Some are private buying clubs for members only, other are storefronts at which everyone is welcome. Some require a yearly fee for members, others ask for a one-time stock purchase. Some offer an up-front discount for members on all purchases (usually between 5% and 15%) and others will send out a rebate check at the end of the year based on how much you buy. There may be other discounts as well, like member-only sales or coupons, or an increased discount in exchange for volunteer work. Ask around.
  • Plant a garden.The cheapest – and freshest! – food is the stuff you grow yourself. If you have yard space, convert some of it into a vegetable garden, or plant some berry bushes or fruit trees. But even if you live in a studio apartment, you can still grow herbs on a windowsill… and make pesto with basil still warm from the sun.

  • Shop at farmers’ markets or join a CSA.Locally grown produce is many times fresher than anything the supermarket has to offer – once you’ve had sweet corn cooked the same day it was picked, you’ll never go back to the sad-looking plastic-wrapped ears at conventional grocery stores – and is almost always cheaper, since when you are buying directly from the farmer there is no middle-man to pay, and the transportation budget is far smaller than for something shipped halfway around the country or the world. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and to join one means buying a “share” in a particular farm, and in exchange getting a box of their produce every week throughout the growing season. One share is usually meant to provide enough fresh vegetables for a family of four, and many CSAs offer half-shares, which are great for couples or singles.
  • Learn to preserve your own food.Canning, freezing, and drying are a few ways to preserve summer’s bounty from your garden, the market, or your CSA box. It’s a bit more work, but raw ingredients are almost always cheaper than the prepackaged finished product on the grocery store shelves, and the result is a kitchen full of delicious food all winter. And I guarantee, nothing beats homemade salsa.

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