Do you buy your apples organic? A recent screening from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found pesticide residue in 98% of apples, the highest rate of all the produce it examined. The numbers are shocking! To us, it’s clear: organic is healthier, safer, and overall better for us, our families, and the environment. While we would prefer to feed our little ones apple slices that aren’t contaminated with pesticide residue, organic isn’t exactly the thriftiest option. However, there are ways to get organic for cheaper. You can still make cheap family meals with organic ingredients. All it takes is a little bit of brain power and prioritizing to make organic fit into your budget-friendly family meal plan.
Shop seasonal: Shopping seasonally will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to organic, and you can often find seasonal ingredients on sale, too!
Go for the off-brand: Both regular and all-organic supermarkets frequently provide organic versions of big-name organic products. When you’re at a supermarket, pick the store brand over big-name organic products.
Shop at farmer’s markets: Most of your buys will be cheaper and fresher at the farmer’s markets. If you don’t see a sign that says organic, be sure to ask. Most farmers at the markets are making the transition into organic farming, but haven’t earned the necessary funds to get officially certified. Just because they’re not considered organic by the USDA, doesn’t mean that they’re not farming using organic, sustainable, and healthy practices. The best thing about farmer’s markets? You can haggle! Try to land a deal with the farmer for misshapen produce, or for bulk purchases. With a little bit of swindling, you could land yourself a deal.
Buying clubs: A buying club is a great way to get the organic food you want for cheap. Buying-club members purchase food and other organic products in bulk and then split the stash. In a buying club, you may be able to get 30 percent to 40 percent off the retail price.
Grow it yourself: We may not all have a green thumb, but growing small herbs, fruits, and veggies could give you a little bunch of produce for a fraction of the retail price. Best of all? It’s right in your backyard! If you’re a beginner, try growing a small indoor garden with plants like spinach, carrot, kale, basil, and rosemary, which will give you plants all year round.
Know what you should and shouldn’t buy organic: You don’t have to buy everything organic, necessarily. Plants with a husk or thick rind often go unpolluted by pesticides because of their thicker skin. Produce that usually goes pesticide-free includes avocado, pineapples, cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon, grapefruit, and onions.
If you’re trying to keep your meals cheap but healthy, keep these tips in mind! When you buy organic you’ll taste and feel the difference, while feeling better about the meals that you’re serving your family.
Our salaries and rent are set, however, when it comes to food, studies show that we have a huge amount of decisions to make. Brian Wansink, the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University estimates we make 227 decisions about what to eat every day. These decisions include questions like, “Should we have leftovers tonight or just order takeout?” and “Should I buy the expensive, imported cocoa for the cake or the off-brand?” Research shows that these seemingly infinitesimal decisions add up. “The average American household spent $3,778 on groceries in 2009, and another $2,736 in restaurants and bars,” according to a study by Bundle.com. The truth is, we could do better. While we might use coupons or resist urges to eat out more than once a week, we could still save more. If you are looking for a challenge, try making satisfying dinners for only $10 a pop. You never know, it could be easier than you think. We’ve already thought of 10 meals for $10 and under that could kick off your budget family meals challenge:
Fresh Lemon Trout with Couscous: For only $9.74, this meal is both satisfying and delectable. Trout provides an amazing amount of healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help reduce symptoms of hypertension and depression, according to WebMD.
Mexican Night: Try hosting a Mexican night, cooking rice and beans with guacamole and salsa, which can easily come in at less than $10. Don’t be surprised if $10 is enough to give you a good hunk of leftovers, too!
Macaroni with Sausage and Bacon: You can’t go wrong with this American classic, and for $2 a serving, the price is right.
Chicken lettuce wraps with Peanut sauce: For anyone who likes Asian-inspired cuisine, chicken lettuce wraps are a healthy option. Season 1 lb of chicken tenders with chicken broth, soy sauce, lemon, ginger, and green onions and wrap in a large lettuce leaf for a crispy, filling dinner. Don’t forget the peanut sauce, which you can make out of peanut butter, chicken broth, lemon, brown sugar, and garlic. All of this will only cost you about $2.46 per serving.
Spicy Shredded Beef: Art Ginsberg of MrFood.com recommends slow cooking beef, seasoned with tomato sauce, chili powder, onion, and garlic, then serving it on rice or on a roll to make a meal that only costs about $2.40 a serving.
Lentil soup: While we may not think of soups as conventional meals, lentils are extremely filling and make for a hearty dinner. You can take this classic soup and for only $6 for 4 servings. Lentils provide you and your family with an incredible amount of fiber, iron, and vitamin C.
Quesadillas: No one can turn down a quesadilla and at only $9.57 for four servings, we’re starting to crave some warm, spicy cheese over a buttered and browned tortilla. Add salad, refried beans, and fajita-style chicken, all for under $10.
Spinach Salad with Chicken and White beans: Bagged spinach is one of the most affordable, healthy foods out there, at only $3 for a huge bag. Just add grilled chicken breast, a simple vinaigrette (combining olive oil with salt and pepper from the pantry) and a can of white beans, all for $9.03.
Spanish Chickpea Stew: Celebrity chef Jose Andres presented a meal for NPR’s “How Low Can You Go” family dinner challenge that brings a little bit of Spanish flavor to the table for only $9.71. Use dried chickpeas, which are cheaper than canned and taste better, too. Simmer your chickpeas (hydrated overnight) with saffron, paprika, spinach, ground cumin, olive oil, and garlic, and make a “bread paste” to give the stew some texture.
Frittata: While a frittata may sound a little fancy, you can easily make this open omelet with all of your leftovers in the fridge. You can do the same with a quiche Lorraine, which CNN notes as a great “recession recipe.” At $10 for 8 servings, a veggie quiche or frittata will give you plenty of food for less.
So, how low can you go? Just do two $10 dinners a week and you could save thousands of dollars over the course of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for budget grocery list ingredients at the grocery store and you’ll have a bit of savings for a rainy day.