Seasons of Joy

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Seasons of Joy seeks to empower families to create peaceful rhythms and routines and joyful celebrations that follow the circle of the year. The blog also chronicles our adventures in living simply, loving exuberantly, and Waldorf inspired homeschooling.

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Whole Foods Journey: When the questions change

Last Friday, I planned two weeks worth of menus. After shopping my stockpile and freezer, I took the remainder of my list and went to the store.

Well, stores. My grocery budget for the 8 of us has just been raised to a high rolling $225 every two weeks. I can make it work, too, with careful planning, shopping multiple stores, and loading my pantry with bargains as I find them. My budget doesn’t include household goods or toiletries, which also helps. We use WIC as well, although rather selectively, and we don’t get everything on the checks because there are some things that we simply can’t get as whole foods. For example, my only choices for peanut butter involve high fructose corn syrup. I do get Cabot cheese, whole milk (BHG free), fruits and veggies, eggs, dry beans, oats, and brown rice.

My first stop is the Amish dairy, where they sell raw milk for half the price the natural food store down the street charges. They also have homemade chips, delicious cheese, butter from pastured cows, ice cream, and handmade yogurt and kefir. They also have chocolate milk that’s so thick you practically have to chew it, which is as much of a treat for my husband as it is for my kids. They have meat which is kind of spendy, but the soup bones are priced really well and have enough meat on them that I can use them for soup and then make broth later.

Next to the dairy is a produce stand, also Amish run. They’re not certified organic, but they don’t spray and their prices are great. Right now they don’t have much– cabbage mostly– but come spring, I’ll get a good bit of our produce there.

I have a friend who sells me beautiful eggs for $1.50 a dozen, so I make a stop there for 4 dozen eggs.

Then it’s back to town, where I stopped at the natural foods store. I bought a bushel of apples for $6, locally grown without spray, some organic produce, and some bulk goods– sugar, whole wheat couscous, and some beans.

We have a “surplus outlet” run by Mennonites locally. These seem to springing up everywhere; maybe you have one too. They get quite a few organics, and their prices are rock bottom, so I am usually able to make a good dent in my shopping list for very little money. I also stock my pantry up front and buy in bulk when they have a good deal on organics. Then I plan my menu around what I’ve already bought.

I have two local stores I shop at. One has better deals on produce, the other has better deals on meat. Since I’m at two stores anyway, I can look for the best deals.

One of the items on my list was lasagna. Another was relish. I shopped the natural aisle first. The whole wheat organic lasagna was around $3.50. The relish was $4.50. This was way above my usual pre-whole foods price point on these items. Last year I probably would have spent $1 on relish with a coupon and gotten the pasta for free, also with a coupon. Paying those prices was going to be hard for me.

I put the items in the front of the cart where a baby usually rides and went to check the price out in the “regular section” of the store. First pasta. Whole wheat lasagna noodles from a well-known name brand were only $1.50. Now that was more like it! Then I looked at the ingredients– whole wheat flour, wheat fiber, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. The ingredients in the organic brand? Simply flour and water. Sighing, I returned the non-organic noodles.

Next came the relish. The store brand of relish was only 99 cents. It also had high fructose corn syrup and a truckload of chemical ingredients. The organic brand? No high fructose corn syrup and a significantly shorter ingredient list. But still… over a $3 difference! Could I do it?

And right at that moment, something in my brain clicked. The question was no longer “Why should I pay more for organic foods?” but “Why should I pay any money at all for junk?” It wasn’t a matter of spending more for super special organic food, but of spending any money at all for what Michael Pollen calls “edible foodlike substances.” It wasn’t a choice between good enough and best, but between food and not-food. Even though it hurts to pinch the pennies, I’m going to choose food.

The price of organic whole foods is definitely going to be one of the hardest parts of this journey. I am a naturally frugal person. I get a sort of rush from saving money, and there just aren’t as many opportunities to bargain shop when cooking this way. But I keep telling myself that it’s worth the money. My family is worth the money.

And how blessed am I that I have the choice to buy real food, the resources to learn about it,  the time to prepare it? I realize how incredibly fortunate I am, even if it means giving up wants like chocolate milk at the dairy to make my food dollar stretch a little more.

8 comments to Whole Foods Journey: When the questions change

  • Michelle

    I can totally relate. I could have written this post. We had a tight week and I did the majority of my shopping at a discount chain and spent half the money I usually do. It was still “whole” foods (meats, dairy, veggies, fruits)…just not organic or pastured or grass fed. When we finished, I was kind of on a high for spending so little and getting so much. I absolutely adore saving money. But my husband asked me which I preferred…saving half off groceries, or buying the best…and of course it’s buying the best. I’m feeding my FAMILY, as you said. Their little bodies are growing and deserve the best, and it makes me feel good to feed them well. I just wish my pocketbook didn’t take such a hit.

    • Annette

      True, true, true. When I feel exasperated by having to make all the right choices, I remind myself how blessed I am to have choices! But it’s hard.

  • Amber

    I totally need to go shopping with you! Do you go to the dairy weekly or do you freeze milk? Do you buy organic meat? You should post a sample two week menu, I’d be interested. So proud of you!

    • Annette

      I tend to buy organic marked down meat at Weis and Giant and then I just throw it in the freezer. Sometimes I buy fresh at Tony’s. Sometimes the store in Mifflinburg has organic meat in the freezer. I’ve posted a few menus here but need to keep up with it! And thank you!

  • [...] I really enjoyed Season of Joy’s post regarding eating whole foods on a budget (for a family of eight!).  You can read that post here:  http://ourseasonsofjoy.com/musings/whole-foods-journey-when-the-questions-change/ [...]

  • Janet

    I appreciate this, though my family is not as large, nor my budget as small. I make compromises when we need to, though. The pasta? All those “extra” ingredients are just vitamins, what is in any “enriched” wheat flour–though maybe they are synthetic vitamins, I don’t claim to know anything about that, but I wouldn’t feel too bad about buying it. There is also a great shopping card at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ that helps you choose which are the worst offenders pesticide-wise if you can’t buy 100% organic. That kind of thing has been so helpful to me. Love to hear how other families are making organic and local work within their budget! You have some great resources. Maybe if I look harder in my area, I can save more $ too! Thanks!

  • But those extra ingrediants in the “regular” are just iron and b vitamins added for nutrition aren’t they? And isn’t it the law that they need to be added to the flour in the US? So maybe the organic stuff has them too but they don’t list them as they are just a component of fortified flour. Maybe you can buy the cheaper stuff sometimes?

    • Annette

      I would much prefer to eat foods that haven’t been stripped of their nutrients to make them more shelf-stable and then have chemical versions of those same nutrients added back in. They occur naturally in the organic/whole foods version, which is why they aren’t listed in the ingredients.