Affording Wholesome Foods

This year's garden!

We are giving gardening another try this year…

As our children grow, it is becoming more and more expensive to buy organic and/or wholesome foods for our family. We just had to raise our food/grocery budget again and we are already trying to plan how we are going to afford eating wholesome foods next year. We are a part of two different CSA’s. One is a meat CSA and the other is a vegetable CSA. We save a lot of money by paying for our meats and veggies a year ahead of time. We pay for our share of meat and veggies once per year and then get the items directly from our farmer on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the type of share.

Even with the money we save by being a part of a CSA, it is still difficult to afford wholesome foods. We buy a lot of items in bulk online. This requires a fair amount of planning. We did not start out buying everything in bulk, but gradually over the past few years, we buy just about everything in bulk, aside from a few perishable items. It does take some time to research the best prices, but the savings are well worth it.

We recently added a resources page where we list some of our favorite online sites for purchasing items online, as well as for information. Be sure to check it out here when you can. We would also love to hear some of your favorite places for deals.

In the summer, we try to stock up and preserve seasonal items since it is when these items are cheapest. Typically, we take our girls berry picking and come home with enough berries to make jam to last us till next season. In addition to doing some canning, we also freeze many items. We puree and chop tomatoes for use throughout the winter. We roast and puree pumpkins in two-cup increments to use in smoothies and for pumpkin bread. We make a few jars of lacto-fermented vegetables, which are an excellent source of probiotics, enzymes, and other nutrients.

This year we are trying to grow our own garden…again. If you remember, we tried to have a garden three years ago. It failed miserably. Now, three years later, we have finally worked up enough courage to try it again. This time around, we are using raised beds and have planted cauliflower, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and cantaloupe. We have also arranged for someone to come water our garden while we are gone on vacation this year. Three years ago our only harvest was a single tomato. We are hoping to at least surpass that meager crop. If we can figure out gardening, it would definitely help our food budget, as we are finding we eat more vegetables than our CSA provides.

Even though we just had to raise our food budget, it is interesting to note we still fall below what the national average is for a thrifty family. According to the USDA (2013), the average “thrifty” monthly cost for a family of four (two adults and two children ages 2-3 and 4-5) is $551.60. We now spend roughly $520 a month and that includes both our CSA shares (veggies and meat) and buying wholesome foods (organic fruits and miscellaneous other organic foods, whole grain flour, Rapadura, grass-fed butter, little to no processed foods, etc.). If you are curious where your family falls in the USDA rankings of thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal family food budgets, you can find their chart here. They also have food budget charts available here for past years as well.

I was surprised where our budget fell on the USDA chart. I often think we spend an exorbitant amount of money on food. I am always looking for ways to cut our costs while still buying wholesome foods. There are things we could have in our home or things we could do as a family that we do not. Our family simply values what we eat over other things. Every family has priorities and when we look at where money is being spent, it is a clear indicator of what is valued in a home.

It can certainly be difficult to afford wholesome foods. Even if one can afford to plan ahead, buy in bulk, etc., often the significant savings comes from doing things from scratch. Not everyone has that kind of time or desire. For families in which the adults work full-time, it is tough to find time to cook or preserve wholesome foods. It is hard to maintain a garden, make every meal from scratch or go to a farmer’s market, which may only be open once a week to buy in season fruits and vegetables. More and more grocery stores are offering more wholesome processed food alternatives, but those options are typically more expensive than making meals from scratch. Every family is unique and needs to work together to find a balance of food choices that fits within their budget and desires for wholesome eating.

What about you? How do you make buying wholesome foods more affordable? Do you try to make everything from scratch? How do you fit wholesome foods into your lifestyle? Is it do-able?

*This post is shared at Cultured Palate.