Good, Better, Best: Traditional Foods for Every Budget

twenty dollar bills

Let’s face it: not everyone has access to the highest quality of food at all times. Nor is pastured chicken and biodynamically grown vegetables available in every area, but we should all be working in that direction.

So here’s a simple guide.   When the very best is available and within your price range: buy it.   If you can’t find the best, then just shoot for the next best thing.

Red Meat & Pork

  • Best: Wild game or local grass-finished meat and pasture-raised pork purchased from a rancher you know.
  • Better: Non-local grass-finished meat and pasture-raised pork purchased through a good-quality company
  • Good: Organic or free-range beef and organic or natural pork.
  • AVOID: Conventional meat from confinement operations.
  • Tip: If purchasing the best quality meat stretches your budget too thin, don’t give up and purchase CAFO meats; instead, consider purchasing less expensive cuts and supplementing with highly nutrient-dense, but inexpensive organ meats.  Grass-fed organ meats and bones typically sell for $2 to $4 per pound, a fraction of the cost of more expensive cuts and are extremely nutrient-dense.

Poultry & Eggs

  • Best: Wild birds, local pasture-raised poultry and eggs from local, pasture-raised hens purchased directly from the farmer.
  • Better: Pasture-raised poultry and eggs from an indirect source like a local or online grocer.
  • Good: Organic, omega-3 eggs and meat from “free range” chickens.
  • AVOID: Conventionally raised meat and eggs from battery cage industrial chicken farms.
  • Tip: There probably is someone locally raising chickens and selling eggs, don’t be afraid to ask around or take a trip to the country.

Fish

  • Best: Fish and roe from wild-caught,  ocean-going fish from cold waters, plus cod liver oil.
  • Better: Periodic use of fish and roe from wild-caught ocean-going fish, plus cod liver oil.
  • Good: Periodic use of sustainably and ecologically farmed fish and shellfish, plus cod liver oil.
  • AVOID: Fish from fish farming operations, excluding sustainably and ecologically farmed fish.
  • Tip: Use SeafoodWatch.org to determine which fish are sustainably caught/farmed and which are best avoided.  You can purchase sustainable wild-caught seafoods online (click here) and cod liver oil can also be purchased online (see sources).

Fruits & Vegetables

  • Best: Fresh locally, organically or biodynamically grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Better: Fresh and frozen organically grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Good: Purchasing as much organically grown fruits and vegetables as possible while supplementing with conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with low-pesticide residue.
  • AVOID: Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with high-pesticide residue. Most canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Tip: Check out the Environmental Working Groups guide to the pesticide levels in produce.

Dairy Products

  • Best: Raw whole milk, butter and cream from grass-fed cows producing milk containing A2 beta casein (see sources).
  • Better: Raw whole milk, butter and cream from grass-fed cows containing A1 beta casein.
  • Good: Vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized dairy from grass-fed cows.
  • AVOID: Non-organic dairy products from cows of unknown origin.   Ultra high temperature pasteurized organic milk.
  • Tip: Check out the Environmental Working Groups guide to the pesticide levels in produce.

Fats & Oils

  • Best: Traditional fats including raw butter from grass-fed cows, suet & tallow from grass-fed cows, organic unrefined coconut oil, organic extra virgin olive oil, poultry fat from pastured chickens, lard from pastured pork.
  • Better: Butter from grass-fed cows, unrefined coconut oil, poultry fat from “free-range” chickens, extra virgin olive oil.
  • Good: Organic butter, refined coconut oil, olive oil.
  • AVOID: Canola oil, margarine, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, vegetable oils (excluding coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, olive oil and flaxseed oil), shortening.
  • Tip: Check out this guide to which fats to use for cooking and which to leave uncooked.

 

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What people are saying

  1. says

    Noelle –

    You can get back the good bacteria but pasteurization inactivates the enzymes in raw milk. I just posted about it in my post about osteoporosis. You need the enzymes to make sure your body can utilize the minerals.

    You can get enzymes in raw foods.

    Make sure you eat enough raw (soaked/sprouted) nuts, sprouts and seeds, raw veggies, and if you can find it, I’d eat raw milk cheese (aged).

    You can also eat raw fish in the form of sushi (or ceviche), raw meat in the form of beef tartar or carpaccio, and raw cultured foods like sauerkraut.

    Ann Marie

    Check out CHEESESLAVE’s last post: Got Osteoporosis? Drink Raw Milk!.

  2. says

    We are able to get grass fed beef, pastured chickens and true free range eggs along with tons of organic veggies from our CSA. But milk is a hard one right now because it is SO expensive in CO. So we get local natural whole milk and try to consume a lot of it cultured as in yogurt or kefir. Culturing held grow back some of it’s good bacteria, right?

    Check out Noelle’s last post: they grow FAST!!!.

  3. says

    Great post. We also prioritize our foods this way. One thing I differ slightly on:

    Fish.

    Here’s my rule of thumb (which also happens to be what Nina Planck argues for): If you’re eating carnivorous fish (like cod, salmon, or tuna), it should be wild. If you’re eating herbivorous fish (like carp, trout, or tilapia), it’s not so bad to eat them farmed (and in some cases, it’s arguably better for the environment).

    Cheers,
    KristenM
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

    Check out FoodRenegade’s last post: Do You Eat Illegal Baked Goods?.

  4. amanda says

    we get raw milk in CO directly from the farm and IMO it’s not any more expensive than most of the country. the coasts are the most expensive from what i have heard. i guess it depends on what you deem expensive, but we pay $7.50/gallon. the cream and butter are of course quite a bit more.

  5. says

    I’ve been looking for raw milk for a few weeks here in MN, apperently they are pretty strict about selling it, theres a special secret handshake you need to know to get it. Raw goat milk is much easier to find, does anyone know if it has the same health benefits?

    Check out bradk’s last post: Cobb Salad for Lunch.

  6. says

    Awesome post, Jenny. I love how it is organized and makes use of color to really make your points stand out. This is really practical advice for people who might not be able to afford or find some of the best choices. Just because you can’t have the best doesn’t mean you have to scrap healthy eating altogether!

    Check out Haley W.’s last post: Spaghetti with Pancetta and Morels.

  7. says

    I love your list! It’s very succinct.. just the kind you want to print out and take with you shopping!

    I don’t know of any place near me that offers pastured fat and lard from good chicken or pork. The most I have found is some rendered goose fat from Whole Foods and I’m not sure what the source is. I think I will stick to coconut oil and EVOO instead.

    Check out Erica’s last post: The Best Boiled Eggs in the World!.

  8. says

    Thank you for this list. Little by little I am learning so much from so many of you about eating this way. This is becoming one of my passions. I am thankful to have the information.

    Check out peg’s last post: Passion: The Beach.

  9. says

    Good points and most fish farming is bad, but there are some operations that are learning to farm fish sustainably in enclosed tanks and use waste water to grow crops. It’s early days, but I think some farmed fish may become a better choice that wild in the future. As always, just my opinion.

    • Jenny says

      Good point, Phil, but I think the problems associated with fish farming extend beyond the environmental factors of old-school farming methods; rather, my primary concern is that the fish from farmed operations are not fed a natural diet. Farmed fish are often fed corn and soy which is decidedly unnatural for aquatic species. Like meat from CAFO operations, farmed fish just doesn’t have the nutritional profile of wild-caught fish.

    • Jenny says

      Canola oil is on my no-no list (after years of being on my yes-yes list ;)) for a number of reasons: 1) it’s not a traditional food anywhere considering that it is a modification of rapeseed oil which is naturally toxic that made it edible; 2) it has a very high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio which is unfavorable; 3) it is processed at high temperatures (even expeller pressing can result in high temperatures) which oxidizes the fragile polyunsaturated fatty acids and introduces free radicals into the oil and 3) it has a very, very high chance of being contaminated with GMO. When it comes to baking, we stick with coconut oil which is phenomenal for its culinary properties, subtle flavor and fantastic nutrient profile. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid (otherwise only really found in good quantities in breastmilk). Lauric acid is an antiviral. So that’s why we no longer use canola oil at all.

    • martie says

      I don’t use oil in baking i use apple sause of any other fruit puree. If it calls for 1 cup of oil or butter i use 1 cup of fruit puree. I also use egg whites and no yolk to couteract this, 2 egg whites =1 whole egg. Sometimes it won’t have the same consitency as you were use to but if you mess around with the eggs (ex it wants 2 eggs i put in 1 whole egg and two egg whites) or add some butter/fat such as coconut oil for 1/2- 1/4 of the oil/butter needed to go with the fruit puree.

      • Jeanmarie says

        Martie, it almost sounds like you’re trying to avoid fat and cholesterol, which is a common mistake. Applesauce adds basically a lot of sugar, and eggs, especially the yolks, are a great source of protein, fat and cholesterol, the nutrients we need to build healthy brains, neurotransmitters, cell walls, hormones, etc. Eggs also provide Vitamins A and D, at least if from pastured chickens. Don’t be afraid of fat and cholesterol. They have been wrongly demonized by people and organizations with an agenda that doesn’t support human health, however well-meaning they may be. Check out some of the articles at http://www.westonaprice.org for details on why naturally saturated animal fats and others like coconut oil are so good for you.

    • Jenny says

      You should be able to get it at any health food stores, and many grocery stores carry it too. Choose the unrefined version (it has a subtle coconut flavor that I REALLY like). Alternatively you can get it online from amazon and even nutiva.com. Nutiva is the brand we use – it’s good stuff.

    • martie says

      i got mine on amazon, since it’s great for baking, toothpaste and also diaper cream for cloth babies so i use a lot of it. FYI it goes to liquid at 80 degrees or so and doesn’t go back to soild form so don’t leave it in your car in the heat (learned the hard way!)

      • Monika says

        Actually, it does go back to solid. I “use” my jar as a temperature gauge in the kitchen, if it’s above 24C the oil in it will be liquid, if it goes back down, it goes back to solid ;-)

  10. Jola says

    Regarding dairy products, as far as I know, A1/A2 casein is only a problem in cow milk, not goats or sheep milk. Any raw grass-fed goat or sheep milk would fall under ‘best’ category, is that correct?

  11. Jenny says

    That is my understanding too, Jola. Yaks, goats and sheep produce A2 milk so the casein issue one that only centers around cow milk.

  12. Rose Bohmann says

    What’s the difference between A1 &A2, and how can you tell which is which? The dairy I get my raw milk from has brown swiss cows. Is that A1 or A2? or does it depend on something other than the breed of cow?

  13. Jenny says

    Kristin -

    I’m so happy you liked the post!  It’s important to realize that while optimal may not be achievable on every budget, or accessible in some locations there is always another option.  No excuses not to eat well, eh?

    Blessings -

    Jenny

  14. Darcy says

    This is the kick-start I’ve been looking for! I have access to grass finished beef and pasture raised pork. I’m on the lookout for poultry and eggs. One item I haven’t seen on your posts (which I love by the way) is beef tongue. I may have missed it as I am new to the website.

    This muscle is low in cost and a very dense protein. It does take some time to cook but it’s well worth it once you taste it. It’s very beefy and (once cooked)very tender. I’m curious to see if you have the nutritional value of it because I would like to keep it on my list.

    My thanks to you and your readers for all the helpful advice.
    Darcy

  15. Jenny says

    Darcy -

    Thank you so much for your comment!  Grass-finished and pasture-raised meats are such a joy in the kitchen.  So deeply nourishing.  I actually haven’t been able to come across a beef tongue yet.  I remember eating it as a child (we were poor and it was cheap).  Do you have a recipe for it you really like?

    - Jenny

  16. Jana @ The Summer House says

    In California, I pay 8.99 a half gallon for raw whole milk
    and 3.99 for low-fat raw milk
    soooo I often get the lowfat raw
    and supplement with low temp pasteurized organic whole milk that is not homogenized.

    Uggh….get with it people. Fix our food system. this is so ridiculous.

    We went to Ruth’s Chris steak house and I asked if they had any grass fed beef. The lady looked at me like I was crazy-why would I want grass fed when I could have corn fed? No, she didn’t actually say that but her experssion and tone said it.

  17. says

    You have to watch out about wild game. In many areas in the US the deer are very high in radioactive cesium. Wildlife from freshwater wetlands can pick up lead (from shot) pesticides (agriculture) mercury (coal power plants) and other toxins from industrial discharge into the air and water and onto the soil. Remember now that wild caught seafood can come from the Gulf of Mexico, which although it has been declared safe, it is far from it. I am chronically ill from eating wild fish and game. I worked tagging catfish for the California Department of Fish and Game 30 years ago, and ate the free catfish I got for lunch and dinner for the duration of the job. I also consumed a great deal of wild duck for a couple of years. I now am poisoned by mercury, lead, cadmium, DDT, organophosphate pesticides and other petrochemicals, and it doesn’t feel good!

  18. says

    Maybe someone already said this but you might want to add to pasture raised meats/poultry/eggs animals that aren’t fed soy or gmo grains. Even among farms in the WAPF shopping guide I’ve had a hard time finding farmers that don’t feed soy to their animals.

  19. says

    We’re lucky to have a local rancher walking distance from our home in Bradenton, FL. They do have to label the dairy for pet consumption but at least we can get it:-). Fresh Raw milk, cream, butter. Free living chickens produce our eggs, grass fed beef that live long happy lives, if we want it. Our milk is $4/half gallon, eggs $3/doz. Happy here!

  20. Monika says

    Thanks so much for this post, Jenny! There have been a few of this kind on your blog, and I love that you’re not a “must follow the guidelines perfectly or you’re wasting your money/should budget otherwise/don’t care enough about your family”-type of person. I’m actually quite fed up with that attitude on my local wapf board, instead of giving helpful hints like what you just posted here, if you can’t do something that’s in their guidelines, all you get is “well, economise somewhere else” or “you’re wasting your money by buying second-best”. You still have to eat while saving up the money for the expensive stuff, so…
    So, again, thanks. It’s much appreciated.

  21. Monika says

    By the way, are there any options for unflavoured oils to make mayonnaise with? I really don’t like the taste of olive oil in my mayonnaise. I have one option of buying “cold-pressed” sunflower oil, and the other option I’m aware of is organic mayonnaise made with expeller-pressed canola oil, from the health food section at our grocery store. Is either one of those a real option?

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