One thing that has changed in our journey to real food is how we shop. In many ways we completely relearned this shopping skill. This was not something that happened overnight and in some ways it wasn’t completely an easy task.
Before we could relearn our shopping we needed to figure out how best to spend our limited amount of money. We choose to concentrate our funds where we feel they can do the most good and provide us with the most nutrition. We concentrate on fats and proteins.
Eat naturally-raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
Eat whole, naturally-produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil and the tropical oils—coconut and palm.
These tend to be the most expensive items in our budget, primarily because we scout out the best quality items we can.
Grass fed beef as opposed to feed lot beef (grocery store beef), wild caught fish as opposed to farmed fish, eggs from pastured or free range chickens as opposed to battery chickens (grocery store eggs), and free range or pastured chickens as opposed to factory chickens (grocery store chickens).
Real (raw) milk products do tend to be more expensive than conventional. Depending on where you live you may find raw milk for $3 a gallon or $18 a gallon. Or you may live in a state where it is difficult to obtain raw milk. Visit realmilk.com for more information about raw milk in your state.
Did you notice anything about the above items?
Most of them come straight from the farm/ranch. We get most of our beef from a rancher in a town near us and occasionally from other farmers/ranchers when they have a ‘special’. We get our milk from a farmer. We get our eggs from a farmer of sorts (okay, I’m the egg farmer. We supply our own eggs and sell our surplus to others).
Shopping your local farmers and ranchers will get you the highest quality ingredients for you money. Yes, you will spend more than if you stick with conventional grocery store items but you will also notice a difference in the taste. Your local farmer may or may not be certified organic or use organic practices. Be sure to ask questions to discover their practices. Know your farmer!
What if you can’t find/afford these items from local farmers? The next step would be looking at someplace like a ‘health food store’ (Natural Grocers in my town) or even your local chain store for organic or free range products. Because we raise our own chickens (we have not found anyone near us that raises chickens) if we run out of chickens in the freezer before the next batch is ready we purchase free-range and/or organic chicken from the store. This is something we need to do in our area (that or not eat chicken). Online ordering may be an option for you also.
What if organic is still out of reach pricewise? Then you will need to make some tough choices. Meats are more important than grains or vegetables. If you are buying either of those organic you may wish to switch to conventional and put your food dollars toward the higher quality meats. What if you absolutely cannot find any more money to put toward meat? If I was in that position (and I have been), I’d stick with whole cuts of beef (roast) only. Not hamburger because of the issues with contamination. You can cut the beef roast at home into steaks and you can even chop it in your food processor to make something like hamburger (I do it all the time with our wild game, it is more of a mince but still works) or ask the butcher to grind it for you. Because of the confinement operations and processing that accompanies chickens it is best to stick with free range or organic. One of the best series I’ve found on choosing meat (and other ingredients) is from KerryAnn at Cooking Traditional Foods. It is her Good, Better, Best series and definitely worth a read.
Coconut Oil and Olive Oil
Traditional fats are also more expensive than their grocery store counterparts. Traditional fats, unlike their grocery store counter parts, are the building blocks your body needs to achieve excellent health. Good healthy fats will help your body function properly. You can read more about healthy fats at the Weston A. Price website, specifically The Oiling of America and The Skinny on Fats. I can find some of these traditional fats locally. The Natural Grocer in my town has coconut oil and decent quality olive oils. Olive oil from the regular grocery store is certainly a better choice than the canola oil sitting next to it so if that is what you can find/afford then start there. For the best prices, I’ve found that ordering online makes sense. The thing is that even though you will get a lower price per ounce/pound you will need to put out a chunk of money up front. We buy our coconut oil in 5 gallon containers. We buy olive oil one or two gallons at a time. You can do this too but you will need to budget and plan to make those larger purchases. I would not recommend going into debt (credit card) to buy these things.
Butter is quite readily available. Organic, non –pasteurized butter (which is preferred) is not as easy to find. Kerrygold butter is from cows mainly on pasture and can be found in many chain super markets. I have read some recent controversy about Kerrygold butter suggesting that since it is not from 100% pastured cows it isn’t worth the cost. You should research that information and decide for yourself. Organic butter is often found in supermarkets. If your budget doesn’t allow (or you can’t find) one of these choices then at least look for butter that says that the cows are not given hormones. The price point on this kind of butter (hormone free) is usually about the same as regular butter. If you get raw or non-homogenized milk you can make your own butter, that’s what we often do.
Just like with finding high quality meats you will most likely find the best quality animal fats from your local farmer or rancher. I would avoid buying these products in a grocery store. You may see ‘lard’ on the shelf in your market but it is processed and not something you want to be using.
I believe that concentrating your food dollars on good, healthy fats followed by high quality protein items will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck. Do your best to not skimp in these areas.
This is another area that I think is worth spending a little extra. I do put it below meats and fats but it is still important. Unpasteurized cheese from pastured animals is best. You could learn to make this yourself with raw milk from cows, goats, or sheep. You can also order raw cheeses over the internet. You can find some raw cheese in local health food stores or even grocery stores (read the labels, many of these are not truly raw).
If you can’t afford raw cheese then look for cheese from cows that have not been given hormones. Never buy ‘cheese products’ or low/reduced fat cheeses or fat free cheeses. Those aren’t really cheese and do not have a place in a real food diet.
The goal here would be 100% organic produce. I can’t reach that goal. Where I live, I don’t have access to as many organics as I would like. You may live somewhere that you can get organics (either certified or not) at a reasonable price. We spent a winter in Northern California and enjoyed the weekly farmers market. While not everything was certified organic, I asked questions about the sellers’ spray practices and most followed organic practices. Living in Wyoming, we have a farmers market for only 6 weeks during the summer. We do have two separate markets on separate days. One tends to have slightly more produce than the other but it is good to get to both as early as possible.
I buy the produce on the Dirty Dozen list in organic form. This is the top 12 most heavily sprayed items. The list changes each year (at least slightly) so it is important to stay up on it. The list also offers the Clean 15. These are the 15 items that have the least spray. I don’t worry, as much, about buying these organic. If there is something that is not on either list, then I use my judgment. Is it something we just eat occasionally? I usually buy this conventional unless the price is comparative. Do we eat this item often? Then I’ll buy that organic.
Buying produce in season will allow you the greatest cost savings. We often forget that produce (and other things) have seasons since we can go to our local market and have rows of anything we want. Want strawberries for Christmas? No problem. Of course, you will pay a premium for those strawberries. Learn the seasons of produce and buy what is in season as much as you can.
Grains and Legumes
I put these at the bottom of my list, except I do try to pay attention to GMO issues in these items. GMO is spreading like wildfire so that becomes more and more challenging. Again, I try to look at how often we eat an item. More often and I will try to move to organic as my budget allows. I’ll admit this is not always possible. Buying in bulk works best for us to be able to afford these items in organic. I use Azure Standard to find most of my items and they are considerably less expensive than I can find them in the stores. I have also contacted a farmer a few hours from me about getting wheat from him when he has his next crop. His is even less expensive than anywhere else I’ve found. It pays to make friends with your farmers!
Grow Your Own
One great way to be able to get products that you are 100% sure of the quality of is to grow it yourself. You may be able to have a garden in your back yard or on your balcony. You may be able to have a few chickens for eggs and/or meat (many towns/cities allow poultry). If you eat rabbit, you may be able to raise them yourself. You may be surprised what you can do with a little ingenuity!
What about Coupons?
I admit I rarely find coupons that work for the way we eat. Sometimes my Natural Grocers will offer coupons I can use. Sometimes I’ll find coupons for butter. You may have better results with this especially if you already have a source for coupons. Avoid processed foods. You will want to purchase plain (brown) rice instead of rice with seasonings. You will want to purchase oatmeal instead of boxes of cereal.
I have to admit that in the beginning it did take some time to find sources for things. I think that the results are well worth the time investment! Once you have your sources built up you may find that you rarely need to go to a ‘conventional’ grocery store. In fact, depending on your location you might be able to almost completely eliminate large chain markets. While that is not really an option for us in our location we do go to the supermarket a lot less often now. We’ve actually challenged ourselves to not go to the supermarket at all for the month of August. Instead we’re eating from our (well-stocked) pantry, the farmers market, our garden, local farms/ranches and a few small specialty type stores (for items like fermenting/cheese making supplies). I’m actually loving avoiding the grocery store! You can follow along each Monday to see how we are doing with our No Grocery Store Challenge.
What are your tips or suggestions for finding real, nutrient-dense foods while staying on budget?