Organics on a Budget: What Matters Most

Most of us don’t have an unlimited budget to buy organic foods. While some prices on organic products have come down, for a variety of reasons, organics still command a premium price. This is one of the reasons we decided to grow our own organic vegetable garden last year, and why we’ll do it again this summer. I’ve written before about where to find coupons on organic products. Recently, I’ve learned that Mambo Sprouts is a good place to try, too.

But, for day to day shopping, when you want to avoid as many pesticides and growth hormones and antibiotics as you can, where can you get the safest food for your dollar? Based on my own research, not scientific fact, the list below is where I’ve decided to concentrate my own organic dollars. I hope it’s helpful to some of you.


For produce, I stick with the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. They list the “Dirty Dozen” and suggest buying these organic:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears

These particular fruits and vegetables are subjected to the highest levels of pesticides if traditionally farmed. You’ll get the fewest pesticides for your dollar if you focus on these. EWG provides a handy printable pocket-sized guide that you can keep in your wallet. You can read about their Shopper’s Guide and print it out here.


I’ll say upfront that I don’t skimp on meat. If that means I have to buy less of it, or bulk up meat-based meals with beans or other ingredients, I will. I believe it’s best to know where your meat comes from. If you can buy it locally, from a farmer in your area, all the better. The easiest way to locate sources is through farmers markets and visiting to find local farms and CSAs.


I buy organic, free-range chicken which means that the feed the chickens eat is free from pesticides and the chickens themselves are given no antibiotics. Farmers are not allowed to give chickens growth hormones, so while some packaging claims “hormone-free” chicken, that really is a given. I buy organic eggs for the same reasons.


Aside from the animal cruelty associated with CAFOs (watch Food, Inc. for more information), and the negative environmental impacts they create, I’m extremely concerned about the hormones and antibiotics given to cows and then eaten by us.

I buy only grass-fed/grass-finished beef that is hormone and antibiotic free. I used to watch for it to go on sale in the store, or cook beef less often to help with the budget. This year, we bought a bulk order of grass-fed beef from a local farm which really saved us a lot of money.


We drink cow’s milk and just like the beef from cows, milk is loaded with hormones and antibiotics. To avoid these, I buy only organic milk and dairy products. This is one that’s very important to me.

Canned Goods

I’m working to avoid these whenever possible. Soon I’ll be writing about BPA and why it’s a problem, but for now, be aware that nearly all cans are lined with it and it’s not good for you. The worst product to buy in cans, because of their acidity, is tomatoes. Unfortunately, there are few alternatives. Some companies (Trader Joe’s, for one) are starting to sell tomato products in Tetra Paks, which are a safe alternative, but they can be difficult to find.

One benefit of buying fewer canned goods is that alternatives can be less expensive. I buy many of our vegetables frozen if I can’t find them fresh. I stock up when there are sales and use coupons when I can. We also eat a lot of beans and there’s almost nothing less expensive than dried beans. It just takes a little bit more planning on my part to remember to soak the beans the night before I want to cook them.

It’s a work in progress, though. As was evident in the photos of my pantry, I do have quite a few canned goods (even tomatoes). But as I’ve become more aware of BPA, I’m slowly but surely working to reduce the number of foods we eat from cans.

To wrap up, in a nifty little list, here are the things I focus on buying organic. I buy other things that are organic when I can, but I rarely compromise on these. It’s worth it to me to sacrifice some things in order to feel better about what we put in our bodies. For us, cutting back on sugary soft drinks and expensive packaged foods has left more room in our budget for organics.

Buy These Organic

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears
  • Milk & Dairy products
  • Meat (Chicken, Beef, Poultry)
  • Eggs
  • Canned goods (best if organic, but try to avoid canned goods altogether — buy frozen or dried)

And another benefit I’ll mention before I sign off: organics taste better. Truly. I can tell a real difference in good, fresh eggs. I can also tell a difference in the milk and meat that I buy. There’s mounting evidence that organics may be healthier for us, too. As Barbara Kingsolver questioned in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, why is it that we are so willing to spend money on all sorts of things, but the main place we want to cut corners is on the food we put in our mouths?

Photo Credit: jekrub

How to Cook a Grass-fed Steak

First, my apologies to the vegetarians among us.

Many of you know that we purchased a bulk order of grass-fed beef in November. Last weekend I thawed two of the New York strip steaks and set out to cook them. The result was excellent and I thought I’d share with you all what I did.

I should mention that because grass-fed beef is leaner than corn-fed beef, it needs to be cooked more slowly so it won’t dry out. Cooking the steaks was a really simple process. As someone who’s always just grilled her steaks, I did some investigating online to try to find the best method for cooking these steaks. I combined a few different sets of instructions I found for grass-fed beef and this is what I came up with:

1. I patted the steaks dry and sprinkled them with pepper and kosher salt, which I then rubbed into the steaks.

2. I set my cast iron skillet on the stove over medium/medium high heat until it just began to smoke, then I added a heaping spoonful of excellent butter. (My butter is made by the same company that makes our organic milk. There are two ingredients: cream and salt, and it tastes divine.)

3. Once the butter started to bubble, I added the steaks and seared them on all sides. Overall, this took about 5 minutes.

4. I put the steaks (still in the skillet) in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes. You’ll need to keep checking to get them to the level of done-ness you prefer. It’s best to let them rest for about 10 minutes after taking them out of the oven.

I told you it was simple, but incredibly delicious. Let me know if you try it.

For more information on cooking with grass-fed beef, be sure to take a look at Shannon Hayes’ book, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook: Healthy Cooking & Good Living with Pasture Raised Foods.

Grass-Fed Beef

Our bulk order of grass-fed beef came in this week. We now have approximately 70 pounds of ground beef, various roasts, and steaks.

I’m excited about this bulk order and am hoping it works out as well as I think it will. There are several reasons we decided to buy the beef in bulk.

1. To save money. It turned out to be less expensive per pound to pay a flat rate for all of the cuts.

2. To help with meal planning. With a freezer full of beef, it should be a lot easier to plan our meals each week.

3. To reduce trips to the grocery store. Obviously, a bulk order of beef won’t cut out my trips to the store altogether, but I’m hoping that by having all of this meat “in stock,” I’ll plan better and cut down on my visits to the store. We’ll see how this works out.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of eating grass-fed beef, you can check out my earlier post on the topic. Also, I came across an interesting article today on Kat Eden’s Body Incredible about grass-fed beef being higher in Omega 3’s than grain-fed.

Our beef order came from Polyface Farms of Food, Inc.
and The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame. Unfortunately for those outside of our area, Polyface does not ship their products. There is a lot a great information on their website, though, about grass-fed beef and pastured pork and poultry products.

I’ll provide updates on how our first bulk-beef purchase is working out. Have you ever bought beef in bulk? How did it work for you?

Under the Weather. Time for Soup!

Something’s gotten me. I don’t think it’s swine flu, but I’m feeling pretty miserable. I’m tired and achy and congested . . . you get the idea. It’s a little cold out and it’s been drizzling all day. I’m cuddled up with a soft blanket and am about you warm myself up with some of my favorite soup mix.

It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in the soup mix, so you’ll find the recipe below. I mix it up in big batches and store it in glass jars (Ball jars, leftover pasta sauce jars, etc.). That way it’s always at the ready when I want something warm. I like knowing what’s in it (unlike many canned soups from the grocery store that have ingredients I can’t pronounce), it’s economical, can even be vegan depending on what you add to it. Without further ado:

Soup Mix Recipe

1 16 oz bag pearled barley
1 16 oz bag split peas
1 16 oz bag lentils
2 cups brown rice or pasta (like macaroni or rotini)
1 cup dried onion flakes
1/2 cup celery flakes
1/2 cup parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsps. thyme
1 1/2 tsps. white pepper

Mix all ingredients together and store in airtight jars. Makes 10 cups.

To cook: Add 4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) for every 1 cup of soup mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 45-60 minutes.

The beauty of this soup is that you can eat it as is, or add in anything else you want. I’ve used chopped tomatoes, carrots, basil, spinach and mushrooms in various combinations. You can also add cooked meat if you have some on hand — I’ve eaten this once with chicken and once with sausage.

I hope you’ve been able to escape some of the nastiness of this flu season, but if it’s cold and rainy where you are, this soup may be just the thing.

What frugal food do you like to eat when it’s cold out?

Photo Credit: JD’na

Bring Your Own Waste-Free Lunch

I’ve found myself in the middle of a fairly large project, so for the next few days I’ll be running some posts that appeared in the early days of this blog — I think only about 5 of you were reading back then. :)

This post first appeared here on February 2, 2009.

Schools around the nation are implementing Waste-Free Lunch days. The idea is for parents to pack a lunch for their kids that is 100% waste-free. Whether or not you have kids, you can save some serious cash by bringing your own lunch to work everyday and you can make it healthier for you and healthier for the planet by packing waste-free. What goes into a waste-free lunch?

  • Reusable lunch bag. Make sure it’s not made of PVC. More on why PVC is bad in another post.
  • Reusable water bottle. These can be found in many places, but watch out for BPA. You’ll want to get a bottle that is either made of stainless steel or one that is clearly marked “BPA free.”
  • Sturdy containers to hold sandwiches and snacks.
  • Cloth napkin.
  • Reusable silverware.

Once you get in the habit of packing your own stuff, it’s really no more trouble than packing disposables. You’ll also save money in the long run by cutting back on the amount of disposables you’re using (and buying). There are lots of places to buy these items for both you and your kids. A few places to start looking are The Soft Landing, Nubius Organics, I’m Organic and

Now that you’ve got the goods, what goes in a healthy lunch? The easiest and most cost effective option is leftovers. The next best bet is fruit (no packaging), a whole grain (either bread or crackers), protein (beans, turkey, lean beef or chicken). There are plenty of sources for healthy lunch combinations. Those listed below are just a start.

Good luck with your Waste-Free Lunch!