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Healthy & Environmentally-Friendly Shopping in the Recession: What gives?

It was almost a year ago when we started talking about our weekly grocery bill, finding ways to trim.  Now, with our local unemployment as one of the nation's highest and with many of our families in the throes of the recession, cutting costs is more important than ever.

With the economic downturn, I'm wondering how mamas and families are weighing shopping for healthy and sustainable food on a budget. I used to buy the organic milk, no question. However, our family often can't drink a half-gallon before it goes bad, and I haven't found organic milk in half-gallons. So now that I'm on a budget, I'm buying the quarts of local, hormone-free but non-organic milk. Same with eggs. The enviro side of me says go for the organic, but the thrifty side says the cage-free eggs are a good compromise. (Yes, backyard chickens are a good solution, and we're working on it, but that isn't for everyone.)

Do others have the same conflict? And if anyone has good leads where the two meet I'd love to hear. For example, I found the whole-wheat organic bread made at New Seasons is good stuff for $2.99 a loaf, cheaper than other organic breads and locally made. And if they happen to have some cooling in the back before they put it in bags, I can reuse the bag from the last loaf (if I remembered to bring it). You have to keep it in the freezer or it gets moldy fast.

Are you buying less organics due to the cost?  Are you finding organic products are increasingly available as affordable options?  Or, is the point moot because you find yourself shopping at discount supermarkets anyway, where organic goods are hard to find?  Are there economical ways to find healthful, minimally-processed food options?


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My husband and I have this debate about milk. I like organic, he likes Alpenrose and says it's all RBST free. To him, that's just as good. I haven't done the research to find out, but I will say it's half the price and I feel torn sometimes. Maybe someone here knows the facts?

Last week's Oregonian had a Food Day article about coupon use. The woman they interviewed had some pretty good ideas about using coupons. She also recommended checking manufacturer's websites for coupons, and there was a website mentioned that tracked national coupons. This would help you buy organic, but not necessarily local.

I still have to check out the websites they mentioned. Did anyone else read that article and have you tried to really use coupons for buying local/organic (aside from the Chinook ook, which is great)?

Nature Bake Outlet you can get 12 loaves of Dave's Killer Bread for $24 bucks. That's 2 bucks a loaf of delicious, organic bread.

We also started a garden area at our work for residents. I am on waiting lists for CSAs in my area. Check out one in your area at portlandcsa.org and click on lists of CSAs (community supported agriculture)

We are also shopping more local, sometimes Winco with my hubby but I usually try to find good deals on nut and soy milks and healthier options at the grocery outlet in Oregon City (the one with all the organic stuff) It's a drive but you can get great deals.

Good food is still important to us, and it makes us more creative in using what's outside our backdoor.

We are pretty busy folks but we just decided to spend 1 hour every other day or so to make our own bread. Flour can be as little as 17 cents a pound. And, we have been incorporating our leftovers into the loafs (bacon fat, soup leftovers, etc.) as we have become more sucessful with our loaves. We buy everything in bulk; beans, flour, ceral, nuts, etc. We also save all of our meat and veggie scraps to make stocks. So by setting aside one hour every day we can make very wholesome meals for very little money. This gives us a bit more wiggle room when it comes to purchasing organic milk or those things we cannot grow ourselves. We are pretty busy folks, and this time allowance definitely takes some getting used to but once you make the committment, it really is not that much at all. The tricounty farms site also has an email alett list where you get notified when farms are having seasonal sales. We purchased 10 lbs of organic hazelnuts and walnuts last fall for 7 dollars. It means making a weekend outing one day to get the products but that is just part of the fun. Our kids now know where our nuts come from!

buying in large quantities is difficult for us, as we live in an apartment /townhouse and there are 5 of us (one teenage boy and one preteen boy, and an always hungry 5 year old girl!)... buying healthy whole food is important, first, and organic, second. that said, much of our diet is still organic-it is basic, but still tasty. i shop once a week, at usually 1-3 stores. i try to keep a log of how much everything is at different stores. every once in a while i will use coupons, if there is one in a product i already use or new seasons has a coupon book at the register, even. if i find something on sale, and also have a coupon, it is really fun for me LOL we don't buy a lot of snacks (besides wasa crackers or similar) or soda, etc. we pop popcorn, eat fruits & veggies. i found a bag of lemons at limbo for either a dollar or two and we enjoyed lemonade a lot that week. whoa i almost wrote a book. this is interesting, i am enjoying reading about what you mamas are accomplishing!

SOFIA: Tell me more about NATURE BAKE OUTLET!!!
Where is it and do they really sell Dave's Killer in addition to their own brand? I am in love with Dave's Killer Bread, not so in love with the price of course. Its just so good though. Thanks for the tip!!!

From their website (sounds like an outlet):

NatureBake Location

Our bakery features a small thrift store where customers can
purchase bread directly at the source. Come on in and check
our amazing deals on day old, factory imperfect, and frozen bread!

Day Old (2-3 days old)/Factory Imperfects: 1/3 off!

Freezer Bread (3-4 days old when frozen): 1/2 off!

5209 SE International Way
Milwaukie, OR 97222


Store Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am - 6pm.
Sat: 8am - 5pm.
Sun: 10am - 5pm.

NatureBake is closed on
most major holidays.

I believe it is right across the street from Bob's Red Mill Store.

We're still buying organic produce but we're looking at what's local and on sale. We've cut back on how much meat we eat and increased other, less expensive proteins like nuts and beans.

Since we buy two different types of milk, we can't go thru a gallon before it expires so we're now buying Sunshine which is local & hormone-free.

We already make more meals from scratch, and we're going to start baking our own bread once we're out of what we have.

Last summer we built raised-beds for veggies and are expanding this year. We lost a lot of plants this winter so we're replacing everything with something edible and hopefully adding a fruit tree.

We rarely find coupons for the items we buy so when we do, we'll stock up if it makes sense. I'm going to sign up for the TriCounty Farm alert now too!

EWG just released its shoppers guide to pesticides in produce, so if you want to buy organic strategically to avoid pesticides but not break the bank, it's a handy tool. You can check it out and get a wallet guide here: http://www.foodnews.org.

From the original post it is unclear if the trouble is finding half-gallons or smaller than half-gallon, but I am assuming smaller than. I have purchased quarts of Organic Valley milk at Whole Foods before (2% and whole milk). New Seasons lists quarts of Organic Valley 2% on their website so they must carry them in the store. I realize this doesn't help anyone who can't easily get to these stores but I figured it was worth sharing.

nopo, where can you get flour for 17 cents a pound?

I know Costco isn't local by any means (and hardly brings about visions of healthy eating habits), but since my brother-in-law works there, we end up going once a month or so because they have some good deals on the organic foods they carry. For example, Dave's Killer Bread is $3.50 a loaf, but the Costco organic bread wheat bread is 2 loaves for only $4. They carry organic milk for $3.30 a half gallon, the Bandon organic cheddar is $5 for 2 lbs, and a gallon of Odwalla OJ is $4.99. I'm alwyas surprised by the number of organic foods they sel.

Costco has also added organic apple sauce and Annie's organic mac/cheese. These are always on my list so if costco has it - we get it there. We are going to split a CSA with my mom for the summer and see how that works out. I have moved to more "local" over organic, but it depends on the product and price. The bread deals sound great.

Surprisingly, I've found lots of good deals at QFC on local or organic items, + they carry beef w/o hormones/antibiotics that is often 1/2 off. It's pretty relaxing to shop there too. For produce I go to Paul's on SE Hawthorne or Limbo's. We'll also be first-time vegetable gardeners this year.

To answer simply: yes, after being laid off, we seriously limited our organic purchases and stopped shopping at New Seasons. Organic milk only -- something about where it lands in the food chain makes that feel necessary to me. Very little organic produce, especially if it could be peeled. It made a huge difference in our grocery bill -- that combined with a lot more cooking in batches halved our food expenses. Sad but true.

Indeed, the best way to save money (and food) is to cook in batches. What we do now is 1 dish for lunch and dinner. Oh well, that's life.

We buy bulk meat from a local farms ($5.50/lb for 1/4 steer, $3.80/lb for 1/2 hog, $2.20/lb for whole pastured chickens) because toxins tend to get concentrated higher up on the food chain, making cheap meat non-negotiable. We also buy most of our groceries in bulk, thru Azure Standard, and a buying club I coordinate. Our *average* food bill for our family of four over the last year has been about $530/month, though I think in fact it's a bit less than that as we are spending even less now on groceries than we were six months ago. Most of what we eat is organic, local or fair trade. I splurge on some things, like raw milk, which I use to make cream cheese and yogurt (that still winds up costing me less than store-bought organic). I bake our bread, bagels, cookies...pretty much everything. I don't spend my whole life in my kitchen though. I cook meat once a week and stretch it, cook big batches of grains and use those in a variety of ways--saving myself a lot of time in the process. Also, since I don't shop at the grocery store, I have a couple more hours in my week that I can devote to food prep.

For anyone's who's interested, I teach cooking classes in NE Portland for people who not only want learn to find, prepare, and store wholesome, real food on a budget, but how to maximize one's efforts in the kitchen. With some re-arranging of how we spend our time, planning, and letting nature work for us, it's possible to get a lot done. You can sign up for my free e-newsletter for cooking tips, sustainable food news, seasonal recipes, etc., on my web site.

If you really want to save money, stop eating meat. And then take it the next step and cut out dairy and eggs as well. The vegan diet is not only delicious (really! look into it!), it's a real cost-saver. Also, tap into the bulk aisle at New Seasons or any other healthy food store. With the savings, you can still eat organic and local. And you feel more energetic too.

If you are looking for half gallons of organic milk, Fred Meyer Organic brand, Horizon ( at Whole Foods) and we use Alpenrose. I have cut way back on some orgains too. But soft produce is a must for us to buy organic ( berries, peaches, etc) Anything we peel, I buy conventional and wash first with that produce soap from Trader Joes.

I've found discounted organic food in two unlikely places - Winco and The Grocery Outlet. Winco has organic food in the bulk bins now. I recently purchased organic sugar and organic wheat spaghetti. The Grocery Outlet has a lot of organic food, especially cereals, snacks and frozen meals. I go there once a month and stock up.

I'm curious about the 17 cent flour, too.

I've found that the bulk aisle isn't always the cheapest option. For example, say organic flour is a priority. New Seasons charges $1.29/lb for its bulk organic flour. But over on the packaged flour aisle, you can get a sack of Bob's Red Mill organic flour for $1.20/lb. Not a humongous savings, I realize, but it pays to poke around.

I have started to eat less meat. While I used to make a big batch of spaghetti with a pound of ground beef (that we got from a farmer), i now only use half the meat and double up on veggies. No one in my family notices, and it saves some $$$.

My rule:
produce, milk, eggs meat: buy organic.
If you buy produce in season, its still pretty cheap.

canned goods, dry goods, etc: buy regular for cheaper. Many of these things do not differ in quality and some are already processed so the organic flavors are somewhat lost in that process.

I make a few exceptions to the rule on either side, but it helps me to feel good about the food I buy and eat as well as my finances.

We also eat a lot less meat we used to--about 1/3 the American average. I find I can get three or four meals out of one roast chicken and that not only is it more economical, but it makes getting dinner on the table a lot easier.

Organic is not something I can compromise on - I do steer clear of organic fruits that are costly and from faraway places (pineapples, mangoes, strawberries) unless they are on sale.

Other than that, we buy bulk grains and beans, and definitely organic eggs and organic raw cheese in VERY small quantities. that is the most expensive thing, but the chemicals in foods are terrible and i would rather feed my family mostly vegan ORGANIC than any bit conventional. we humans can exist on less food than we think, anyway.

Let's see
Costco - Meat - Freeze Dried Fruit (it is just fruit nothing added) - Milk - Eggs - Organic frozen organic green beans - frozen vegetable medley

Organics 2 U
Produce family 1 bx of organic produce. It takes me 2 weeks to use all the veggies. I make sure to use every scrap!

Bread- Franz bakery no high fructose corn syrup

We are really trying to not purchase foods in plastic packaging. We buy our grains, beans, flours from Azure Standard (we get 25 to 50 pound bags of things)- yeast in bulk from the local co-op. We make our own bread (check out "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day" from the library or the New York Times no-knead bread recipes), crackers & pasta, and our own yogurt & kifer. Steel Cut Oats for breakfast. We have a big garden, but enjoyed a CSA years ago when we were renters. We stick to local produce as much as possible, though did buy California oranges this winter. We also like to buy fruit in season and freeze- we're still eating blueberries (u-pick for 75cents/lb) and peaches from last summer. We also make freezer jam and eat that all year.

Okay that was all jumbled together, but there are a lot of things that can be made easily, with local products and organic ingredients. It really helps that we have a chest freezer, but hoping to learn to can this year!

Love the thread and appreciate all of the suggestions. Where I'm stuck is the actual cooking part. What are some of your favorite delicious but simple recession recipes or cookbooks? I find that many of my cookbooks require one too many steps for a house full of toddlers or recipes with more ingredients than my recession cupboard holds. Where do you find your cooking inspiration for simple ingredients?

Regarding cookbooks...we love Better Baby Food by Daina Kalnins (there's a kids' version too). This has baby recipes, yes, but many family lunch and dinner ideas as well. All manageable with few ingredients, healthy and fun for kids to eat. We also love Simply In Season by Mary Beth Lind. It goes hand in hand with More-With-Less, both commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee and AMAZING resources for easy meals that are lighter on the planet, your wallet and on time in the kitchen.

Yes, Organics to You. Oh, how I love Mondays now--every other Monday, we get 1 large bin delivered. It takes about 2 weeks to eat it all; they also deliver New Seasons organic bread and organic eggs.

We usually buy some tofu, veggie crumbles, veggie sausages, etc., to stir-fry with the veggies. We do a lot of roasted vegetables (cut them up, drizzle with olive oil, and maybe some salt/pepper/sugar, if you want, cook until veggies are tender). I buy rice, beans and pastas when I need to, stocking up when possible. They help stretch out the veggies, so the bin will last 2 weeks.

I've been using Organics to You since December. For our family of five, our grocery bill before O2Y was close to $200/week. We now spend average $125/week, including the organic vegetables.

So, to answer the OPs question, even though my husband is now only part-time employed, we are actually eating more organics than when he had two jobs. Go figure.

hi there, we find the 17 cent flour occasionally at the Wincos way out in NE (136th or so, I can never remember the cross streets!) but just so you know before you go, it is NOT organic.

I'm much like most of the posters here; I make my own bread and do organic thick-cut oats for breakfast most days (I bought 25 pounds from bob's red mill -- $28 -- and it's going FAST), I recycle the old oatmeal into the bread, I am eating a lot less meat and a lot more beans and carrots and cabbage. (I mean to do a post on cabbage. more later.) I go with the raw milk because animal products, I figure, are where the best and worst can be. toxins concentrate in fat, so if your animals aren't treated well, they'll end up in your animal fats. and I do like cream and bacon ;)

I buy meat from the farmer's market, not necessarily organic but, sustainably raised. and after tons of recent research I've done, it's all about the antibiotics for me. no prophylactic antibiotics = much higher likelihood that the rest of the animal's life was good, proper diet and space to roam and plenty of time in the out of doors. this means I'm eating a lot of bacon ends ($2 a package from Sweet Briar Farms!) and cooking one or two big luxurious pieces of meat a week, which my family pounces on like, well, carnivores.

after reading through the EWG's dirty dozen and finding most of my favorite veggies and fruits in the top 12, I've decided that it's a huge priority to feed my children organic, or something close to it (many farmer's market vendors don't have organic certification, but use very few chemicals, and I'm ok with that). I shop at Limbo, People's Co-op, and the farmer's market, and I only buy in season and just seem to always eke by with whatever's cheap. this winter, we've eaten a lot of organic russet potatoes and hood river apples and enormous onions, all for $1 per pound or less. the $2/lb carrots from Prairie Creek are so delicious and craggy that Truman is trying to learn to use the peeler himself so he can self-serve carrot sticks (you've gotta watch those boys).

as for recipes, I do plan to be linking to lots of them here, but my favorite cookbooks are these:
--'Bistro Cooking' and 'Trattoria' by Patricia Wells
--'Sweet Basil, Garlic, Tomatoes and Chives' by Diana Shaw, which is sadly out of print but I'll start reproducing her great recipes
--'Wild Fermentation' by Sandor Elix Katz
--'How to Cook Everything' by Mark Bittman, which doesn't really tell you how to cook everything, but makes things pretty approachable
--'The Paley's Place Cookbook' which is really expensive (I got given a promo copy, yay!) but has nice basic recipes in between the eye-popping french stuff

I'll be linking to lots of other recipes in my semi-weekly pieces.

I just watched one of the morning shows and they were talking about genetically modified foods. The woman on the show said that corn and soy products, unless they're organic, are most likely genetically modified. Almost all processed foods contain corn or soy so I've decided if I'm going to buy processed food- it's going to have to be organic. I also stick to the outside aisles as much as possible, buy organic eggs, milk, and grow as many veggies as I can. I'm going to get a food dehydrator and I freeze everything possible during peak season times.
you save a lot of cash just by not buying all that prepared crap, all the cheap snacky foods. we spend less then $100 a week on groceries. family of 3 and a dog and cat.

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