At any given time, we're challenged with balancing the simple economics of cooking wholesome foods. When you're working on a budget, you're charged with prioritizing some choices over others; couple this with the challenge of limited regional availability of some foods. So here's what to look for and how to prioritize your family's food choices.
- Best: Wild game, local grass-finished beef, bison and lamb as well as pasture-raised pork.
- Better: Non-local grass-finished and pasture-raised meats purchased from a reputable company.
- Good: Organic or free-range beef raised without hormones and subtherapeutic use of antibiotics, organic and natural pork raised without ractopamine or subtherapeutic use of antibiotics.
- Limit or Avoid: Meat raised from animals in conventional, confinement operations and that are treated with growth hormones, muscle-promoting drugs, and routine antibiotics.
- Tip: If purchasing the grass-fed and pasture-raised meats stretches your budget, consider purchasing less expensive cuts like neck bones, arm roasts and shanks as well as supplementing with highly nutrient-dense, but inexpensive organ meats.
Poultry and 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 eggs, omega-3 eggs and meat from “free range” chickens and turkeys.
- Limit or Avoid: Conventionally raised poultry and eggs from farms that disallow free movement in birds or employ battery cages.
- Tip: You can raise your own hens for eggs, or check out the farmers market and local bulletin boards to find someone selling eggs close to home.
Fish and Shellfish
- Best: Sustainably wild-caught fish and fish roe with low mercury levels such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Wild-caught shrimp from sustainable fisheries, like spot shrimp, and shellfish like oysters, mussels and clams that are sustainably farmed in clean waters. Cod liver oil from fish caught by hook-and-line in sustainable fisheries.
- Better: Sustainably wild-caught fish with borderline low mercury levels such as skipjack tuna. Sustainably farmed fish.
- Good: Wild-caught fish with moderately high mercury content such as halibut, albacore tuna, and sablefish.
- Limit or Avoid: Fish high in mercury content such as king mackerel, blue fish, orange roughy, grouper, shark and ahi tuna as well as farmed fish (except when sustainably farmed) and farmed shellfish from countries with unjust labor standards.
- Tip: Check out Seafood Watch for guidance on choosing sustainable seafoods and the NRDC for investigating the mercury content of fish and shellfish.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Best: Fresh locally, organically or biodynamically grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Better: Fresh and frozen organically grown fruits and vegetables.
- Good: Fruits and vegetables that aren't organically grown but that have low pesticide residues. Organically grown vegetables and fruits that are canned in glass jars.
- Limit or Avoid: Fruits and vegetables that aren't organically grown and have high pesticide levels. Most canned fruits and vegetables.
- Tip: The Environmental Working Group puts together a list every year of fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest pesticide residue.
- Best:Raw whole milk, butter, ghee, cream and cultured dairy products from grass-fed cows, goats, sheep and camels.
- Better: Vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk, butter, ghee, cream and cultured dairy products from grass-fed cows and goats.
- Good: Organic vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk and organic butter, ghee, cream and cultured dairy products.
- Limit or Avoid: Ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk and cream. Dairy products from animals routinely treated with antibiotics and growth hormones.
- Tip: The Cornucopia Institute offers a dairy scorecard that analyzes how well national and some regional dairies treat their animals and how closely they uphold organic standards.
Fats and Oils
- Best: Whole, unrefined fats including raw butter, ghee, suet and tallow from grass-fed cows, bison and lamb, lard from pasture-raised pigs, schmaltz from pasture-raised chickens as well as single-source organic extra virgin olive oil, organic and sustainably farmed palm and coconut oils, as well we organic cold-pressed sesame oil, nut oils and avocado oil and fair-trade, organic cocoa butter.
- Better: Cultured butter made from organic pasteurized milk, conventionally produced extra virgin olive oil, refined coconut oils and avocado oils.
- Good: Butter, Light Olive Oil.
- Limit or Avoid: Margarine, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, other vegetable oils, shortening and hydrogenated fats.
- Tip: Check out this guide to which fats to use for cooking and which to leave uncooked.