Buying healthy, organic food can be expensive, but there are ways to save money when grocery shopping. From joining a CSA to choosing the right cut of beef, find out how to keep your kitchen stocked with healthy, local, and organic foods while staying well within your food budget!
Join a CSA
Becoming a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is an easy way to save money on organic produce. If you're unfamiliar with CSAs, think of them as a farmers market in a box. For a monthly (or, in some cases, seasonal) fee paid directly to a local farm, you'll receive a weekly box of fresh organic produce. Besides fruit and vegetables, many CSAs offer grass-fed meats, organic poultry and dairy products, as well as a host of other organic, local, and Fair Trade items like coffee, olive oil, and homemade jams. I pay much less for my CSA-box subscription, than I would if I bought the same (nonorganic!) fruits and veggies from the grocery store. Visit the Local Harvest website to find a CSA near you. (If you don't want to commit to a CSA, shop for organic fruits and veggies at a farmers market. Prices on organic produce are generally lower at a farmers market than the grocery store.)
While you may not be able to shop organic 100 percent of the time, there are tools that can help you decide when it's best. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide to know what seafood is the most sustainable in your area. For fruits and veggies, The Environmental Working Group has two handy lists to use while shopping. The "clean 15" list is conventional produce that tested low in pesticides and contamination, and the "dirty dozen" is a list of fruits and vegetables that you should always buy organic. When it comes to meat, look for less popular cuts of beef since they are usually much cheaper. I love using both grass-fed organic flank and skirt steak in my cooking; both of these cuts are much more affordable than even what a nonorganic rib-eye steak will run me.
Many organic food brands post coupons on their websites you can print out; all you have to do is check the savings or coupons section of the company's site. You may need to install a program, sign up for a newsletter, or answer a short survey, but if you're looking to save some dough, it's worth the time and effort. Also check the websites of your favorite health grocers; very often markets and grocery stores will have in-store coupons available on their site (or in their stores). Never underestimate the power of double coupon day or the amount of money you can save by joining a store's membership rewards program.
Use Social Media
Following your local grocery store on Twitter or Facebook is an easy way to learn about weekly and daily specials. In addition to the smaller health and grocery stores in my area, I also follow larger chains like Whole Foods and Safeway on Twitter, all of which alert customers to sales, price drops, and other specials and events taking place in its stores. Recently I bought five pints of organic blueberries from Whole Foods that were priced at 99 cents per basket; I learned about this sale thanks to the Whole Foods Twitter stream.
The more things you can make from scratch, the better it is for your wallet. Purchase seasonal produce in bulk and you can, pickle, or freeze fruits and veggies to use later. Go a step further by making homemade preserves, marinades, and cooking sauces. Instead of buying pre-made dry mixes, which are often full of preservatives, stock up on different types of flour and grains to create your own. Make your own spice mixes, trail mixes, and soup stock, and try making your own granola, muesli, and cereal. And when it comes to lunch, roast your own sandwich meat and skip bagged salad mixes by chopping up lettuce instead. The possibilities are endless.
Store Food Properly
Forty percent of food waste occurs in the home — alarming, right? Make sure your food doesn't go to waste by storing it properly. Meal planning is an excellent way to ensure that you only buy what you need for the week, which can be a huge help in keeping fruits and veggies from spoiling (it also helps keep your grocery bill down). If you really went overboard on your fruit and veggie shopping, blanch or freeze your produce; these techniques help lock in the flavor and nutrients of veggies, while also helping them last longer. Be diligent about using meat, poultry, and seafood shortly after you buy it, or, make sure to freeze these items before they can spoil. Lastly, keep on top of the expiration dates of any dried goods you have.