On Saturday morning, my son and I got dressed, packed my bag with a calculator, Seafood Watch’s Pocket Guide and the Environmental Working Group’s Wallet Guide to the Dirty Dozen and the Cleanest Fifteen, my cell phone for last minute customer service calls and a pocket book of cash. We headed thirty miles down the road to the next town over where all the big grocery store chains are located to start shopping.
Week 1: $67.67
- 2 Crowns of Organic BroccoliS: $1.98
- 10 lbs Conventional PotatoesS: $2.99
- 5 lbs Organic Carrots: $2.99
- 2 Dozen Omega-3 Eggs: $5.38
- 2.26 lbs Steel Cut Oats: $3.50
- 1 Quart Stonyfield Farms Organic Plain Creamtop YogurtC: $2.99
- Redbird Fryer ChickenM: $3.05
- 3 lbs ClementinesM: $1.98
- 2 Heads Organic FrisÃ©eM: $0.99
- 1 lb Pearl BarleyS: $0.79
- 1.69 lbs Yellow Onions: $1.50
- 3 lbs Organic, Local Jonagold ApplesS: $2.94
- 3 bunches Beets with Greens: $2.97
- 4.45 lbs BananasS: $2.11
- 1 lb PecansS: $3.99
- 1 lb ButterS: $1.99
- 1 head Cabbage: $0.84
- 1 Frozen, Wild-caught Side of Coho SalmonS: $4.99
- 1 lb Coleman’s Natural BaconS, C: $2.99
- 1 lb Frozen Mussels: $4.99
- 1 Small Jar Bear, Unfiltered, Local Honey: $2.49
- Whole Wheat Flour: $1.69
- 1 Cantaloupe: $1.91
- 6 oz. Unrefined Himalayan Sea SaltM: $0.99
- Ground Black PepperM: $0.49
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: $3.79
It’s been ages since I shopped at a grocery store chain. For the most part, we purchase all our vegetables, fruit, meat, honey, dairy products and eggs farmer-direct through our farmers market, CSAs or other share programs. Anything I need beyond that like olive oil, sprouted flour or other pantry staples I buy from our locally owned health food store or online through real food-friendly companies listed on the resources page. Negotiating my way around the grocery store was tough and I couldn’t find many of the items I’d hoped to purchase before my little guy had had enough of the whole shopping business. So dried beans and chicken livers were out for this week, at least.
I didn’t prepare a hard and firm list either. Instead, I calculated the number of fruits and vegetables we’d need to make it rough the week. Fresh vegetables and fruits were the last place I intended to scrimp and save. We’re accustomed to eating around 10 servings or more of fruits and vegetables daily, not the paltry 5-a-day. So, I wanted to make sure we at least hit 5 servings, if not more, of fresh produce. As I added carrots and cabbage and apples to the cart, I ticked off servings until we’d met our goal. Then moved on to other foods from there.
I had to say “no” to a lot of things as well. Not necessarily because they didn’t fit the budget, but because they didn’t fit the goals of this challenge. You see conventional strawberries were on sale for $5.17 for 5 lbs – an awfully good deal. And, as much as strawberries would provide a much loved treat this week, strawberries rank among the most chemically polluted fruits available on the market. If you buy anything organic, strawberries would be one item to strongly consider. Similarly, pears were on sale this week for $0.99 / lb but conventional pears, like strawberries, shoulder a heavy load of chemicals and didn’t make our basket.
Bones were another story altogether. I’d hoped to make a nourishing beef soup this week. I’m accustomed to picking up soup bones for free or very inexpensively, but the price of conventional soup bones hovered at $4.98 a pound. While they may make it into the shopping basket eventually this month, I was already hovering too close to my $75 cut off to include them this week.
It was a time-consuming week too. I spend a lot of time on the phone grilling customer service representatives about how the companies they represent care for and feed their animals. I learned that Lucerne, the Safeway brand, sources its milk from guernsey and holstein cows who aren’t routinely fed antibiotics and who are never given growth hormones and stimulants. The cattle from Laura’s Lean Beef and the cows the contribute the milk Stonyfield Farm’s yogurts get at least some grass in their diets and are, of course, never routinely fed antibiotics or growth stimulants.
One issue that I didn’t consider prior to yesterday morning is that of palatability. I purchased Omega-3 eggs at the store on Saturday knowing that they pack greater nutrition than the standard grocery store eggs, and those extra omega-3 fatty acids are worth it when seeking a nutrient-dense diet. So, on Sunday morning, I whipped up a batch of bacon, beet greens and scrambled eggs. The flavor of the eggs was foul, to say the least. Far from the wonderful flavor of farm fresh eggs, the omega-3 eggs were fishy at best. And I’ve got to tell you fishy eggs don’t combine well with beet greens and bacon. I threw my hands up in the air and sheepishly headed back to my laptop to scratch out all references to egg in the menu for the week. What a waste! While I’ll likely keep them around throughout the month to include in baked goods where other flavors may disguise their industrial nastiness, I gave a lot of consideration to giving them to a friend, the food bank or the dumpster.
Yogurt and melon presented another striking example of palatability issues. The yogurt we usually rely on comes from our cow share and we purchase it in big ½-gallon mason jars. The flavor is unsurpassed: strikingly fresh, sweet and pleasantly tart. The yogurt I purchased from the store, however, tasted sour with an almost bitter aftertaste. No wonder folks prefer sugar and HFCS-sweetened yogurts to the plain varieties found at the store.
Next week, I’m hoping to pick up some hormone- and antibiotic-free red meat and beans, if I can find them before an inevitable meltdown occurs.
Where I Scrimped
We scrimped on organics and red meat, though I’m a big believer in including both in the diet on a regular basis (read my reasons for eating red meat).
While a 5 lb package of ground beef was on sale for a ridiculously low price of $1.50 equating to $0.30 per pound, I’m hoping to avoid the inclusion of conventional beef this month. Conventionally raised beef is littered with problems and while the store simply didn’t stock any grass-finished meat, they did stock hormone- and antibiotic-free meat at a hefty price. Part of the benefit to eating red meat is the inclusion of CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, found in the fat of grass-fed beef. Of course, that nutritional treasure dwindles the longer the cow has been off grass and on grain. Grocery store meat, with rare exceptions, is primarly grain-fed. Moreoever, it’s heavily treated with antibiotics and hormones neither of which I want in my food or in my body. We’ll see how it all turns out as the pennies start to disappear one by one.
Organics, as you can imagine, was another challenge. We don’t, as a rule, purchase conventionally grown produce. Yet, an all-organic diet would kill our budget in an instant; moreover, many of the organic foods at the market are poor quality, limp and pallid in color. Instead, I relied on simply avoiding the dirty dozen or twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest chemical load and purchased organics when the price point worked out in our favor.
Where I Splurged
Two areas where I’m doubtlessly going to receive comments are our splurges: seafood and premade yogurt.
It may seem strange, no, it will seem strange that I spent a good chunk of our budget on wild-caught frozen salmon and frozen mussels. These foods are highly dense in important nutrients. Wild-caught salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and potassium while mussels are rich in vitamin b12, riboflavin, selenium, manganese and iron. These are important nutrients and well worth the money.
I can hear you now, “Why buy yogurt when you can make it for so much less!?!” Sure, a gallon of Lucerne’s pastuerized milk was one sale for $2.49 this week. A fantastic deal given that Lucerne eschews the use of routine antibiotics and never treats their cows with hormones or growth stimulants. Here’s the challenge: every gallon of milk in the store was homogenized. Homogenization dramatically changes the nature of the fat molecule, and some researchers have posited that such a change in the fat molecule may contribute to heart diseases and other ills. What it comes down to is this: the less processing, the better.
My Best Find this Week
It’s a toss up this week: the two heads of organic frisÃ©e marked down to $0.99 and the unrefined sea salt for $0.99 both were great finds.
Budget Tip of the Week
I’m loving managers specials. Remember those 5 lbs of ground beef for $1.50 that I chose not to buy? Managers special. The $4.99 container of unrefined sea salt marked down to $0.99? Manager’s special. Same with the ground pepper, frisÃ©e lettuce and one or two other goodies.
S: Purchased on Sale – M: Manager’s Special – C: Coupon Used