5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

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An Excellent Article: “Food is not your God”

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I do my best to feed my family healthy meals, but I am not an extreme health nut – by that I mean:
* I don’t buy strictly organic.
*I don’t follow any gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, sugar-free, pesticide-free or meat-free strict diet
*I buy fresh produce whenever possible, and organic when it’s in our budget.
*I eat as much whole wheat as possible.
*I buy generic milk, eggs, cheese, and other grocery items.
*I also buy frozen vegetables (it’s actually supposed to preserve the nutrients better)
*I can’t wait for the day (hopefully this spring!) when I have the time & money to buy from the local farmer’s market instead of making only one trip to the store per week.
*I use butter & margarine, non-organic milk, and I feed my kids fruit snacks (that are not organic!)
*I drink beer and wine.

There’s a lot of research out there, and for every argument there is supportive evidence why something is good or bad for you. If you get caught up in it (like I did!) you will feel guilty EVERY. TIME. you put something in your mouth. I felt trapped. Like nothing I ate was healthy, so why bother even trying? BRING ON THE GREASY SPOON!!

I finally had to just let it go, and do my very best to feed my family as healthily as I could while staying within our budget. I pray over our meals. This article puts it in perspective even more though, because God does give us everything richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) – including our food!!! Our Senior Pastor Bill Hybels taught on Self-Control this weekend. He made a great point: that self-control and delayed gratification are important for success in any endeavor, but if you don’t reward yourself occasionally or celebrate when you reach your goals, you will end up hating your life. (Or, in my opinion, become proud and haughty, and reliant on your own skills instead of relying on GOD.) And that’s not the kind of life God wants for us – because He came that we might have and enjoy our life, in abundance, to the full, until it overflows (John 10:10).

Read the article here, and let me know what you think — Have you struggled in regards to  food choices? What did you struggle with specifically, and how did you overcome that struggle?

Quick Tip – Introducing Vegetables to Kids (Or, how to get them to eat healthier!)

I unconsciously developed this, shall we say, method for introducing new foods to my kids, particularly vegetables. If you know me you know that I try my best to make healthy meals for my family, but I am not an extreme health nut. I like to try to strike a balance. “Everything in moderation” as my mom always says.

So whenever I’m introducing something new to my young kids, I give myself a little leeway in the health department. I’ll choose a preparation that I think they will like, even if it’s not the healthiest. For example, a recipe that uses butter or cheese. Or maybe BBQ sauce. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A DIPPING SAUCE to get kids to eat, well, just about anything!

Then once I establish it as a friendly food that they enjoy, I will put it in a soup, or a sauce, or mix it into a pasta, and then try healthier cooking preparations. My 5 year old regularly asks, “What’s in this Mom?” I stopped trying to hide things from her a long time ago. She was too smart for that. So at this point I’ll say, “Zucchini! Remember how much you liked zucchini last week?” Usually the response is, “Oh yeah! Yum!”

One other tip: let the kids be around you while you’re prepping a meal. Even better yet, let them help in whatever way is safe and doesn’t make an enormous mess. This is how I learned which raw veggies my kids will eat (Aubrey loves broccoli, Brendan loves bell peppers and tomatoes, Camille loves tomatoes). Once they’re old enough, you can also include them in the actual planning part. Give them some pre-approved dinner or side options and let them choose. The more they feel they’ve contributed, the more they’ll take ownership and be willing to try things.

You can follow my blog to see some different ways I’ve done this and adapt them to your family. Good luck! Have fun experimenting!!

Quick Tip: “Multiple Meal” opportunities

One of the things I’ve learned to do to save myself time and money is to re-purpose a grocery item for more than one meal. I almost always buy family packs of meat and break it into 2-3 dinners. Most times I’ll even take leftovers from those dinners and make an entirely different meal. I suppose if I had a motto in the kitchen, it would be, “Use what you have”. And along with that, “Save everything!” (until it goes bad of course) You never know what could come in handy!

So when I am meal planning and grocery shopping for the week, I always ask myself if I can re-purpose either the leftovers, or the other half of the protein that I don’t use. Actually, more often than not I do plan my meals with leftovers in mind. That’s what I call a “First Meal”: one in which you purposefully make more than enough, with a plan to use the leftovers for another meal – whether that be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a side.

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