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More on Organic Eating

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

So it's been about two months now since I started making a real effort to get us on a more healthy diet. I've written in the past about how happy I was to find quality, affordable organics at Meijer and at Giant Eagle. I also make a trek to Whole Foods every now and then to stalk up on some staples since their store brand is pretty cheap and they've got a wide variety of products that may not be organic, but at least have nothing artificial in them. (and NO transfats.)

I've succeeded in getting about half of our produce switched over to organic in the last two months and I've managed to do it without significantly increasing our grocery bill. How? Well, I still buy convention on the things that are drastically more expensive as organics. For instance, strawberries...they're INSANE to buy organic. (Though once May hits, I can buy them at my local farmers market for much more reasonable prices...also debating planting a strawberry patch here at the new house.) But carrots, celery, potatoes, lettuce, bananas, apples and oranges are all pretty reasonable. In fact, I've found that if I forgo convenience, I can buy a lot of organics.

For example, I buy a two pound bag of whole organic carrots (remember when you had to peel carrots?) instead of a two pound bag of peeled baby carrots. The organic carrots are actually less when I do this. (.99 cents a pound for the organics.) I buy full heads of organic lettuce (romaine, iceberg and bunches of unwashed spinach) instead of the washed and cut conventional. I end up with way more salad for less price and it stays good longer.

I'm not on organic meat yet and quite honestly, unless we find a good local source, I don't think it will happen. I just flat out cannot afford to buy organic meat from the grocery store. Whole Foods is the only place that has it anyway and I'd end up spending in meat what my entire weekly budget for ALL fresh foods is. (and that's with having cut back our meat consumption dramatically.) That said, Giant Eagle has a nice selection of "natural" meats. They aren't organic, but they are hormone free, antibiotic free, grain fed (no animal by products). The price on these is about halfway between conventional and organic, so I aim to buy them whenever possible.

Dairy...well, Greg and I have joined Elnora in drinking organic milk. This was a HUGE increase in cost for us since even store brand organic milk is $6 a gallon around here. We have cut down from two gallons to one gallon a week, but I can't see dropping any more than that. I now have milk only on my cereal and maybe one glass a week. (I used to drink a glass or more per day.) We're also on organic eggs now. Haven't switched cheese yet as the cost there would be HUGE. Same for butter. Organic yogurt's too expensive, but Dannon has a new "Natural" line that uses sugar instead of HFCS and has no artificial ingredients. Tastes darn good too. I even bought some kefir this week to try in my fruit smoothies. Not bad, but expensive.

Boxed and Canned goods...this is where it gets tough. Giant Eagle and Meijer both have pretty reasonable prices on their store brands of things like organic pasta, organic canned or frozen veggies, organic rice, organic flour, etc... When organic is too expensive, there are at least "natural" alternatives that help me cut out some HFCS, PHOs and artificial ingredients. That said, I've found that Whole Foods and Trader Joe's also has good prices on their house brands. I'm still building my strategy on this because Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are about 30 minutes away so I've got to make special treks to stock up. (For instance, I bought 4 boxes of Kashi GoLean Crunch and 6 boxes of Whole Kids Honey Nut Oats the last time I went there...but we'll go through that in a little more than a month.)

So, now that we're succeeding in our goals to eat more organics, I've decided to take the pledge at Mission Organic. (Hat tip to Jessie Hawkins over at Vintage Remedies.) Basically, you commit to making sure that 1 out of 10 items in your grocery cart or organic and/or that one out of ten meals will be organic.

Oh yeah...and that bread thing? I've tried the organic brands from three stores. They taste like cardboard. Thus, my choice so far seems to be accept HFCS bread or make my own. So, I'm trying to make it once or twice a week. I think I've had four slices of HFCS bread in the last 6 weeks.

Oh, and I've lost 8 or 9 pounds since I cut HFCS. ;)

Another benefit of shopping more naturally? I've bought some of the reusable grocery bags from Whole Foods and Giant Eagle (Love them! they hold so much and are easy to carry) and I stuff them in my diaper bag when I go grocery shopping. This past week I discovered that Meijer gives you a 50 cent store credit for every one of your own reusable bags that you bring. Since the bags only cost me $1 anyway, it obviously doesn't take long to start profiting. :)

How bout you? Any one else working on cutting things like HFCS or PHO's...or working to go toward organics or even just "natural" foods? What are your tips for saving money and eating organic affordably?


  1. Anonymous Sara | 9:37 AM |  

    I cut out HFCS and trans-fats when I was pregnant 5 years ago. Now, some foods that contain those ingredients actually taste horrible to me. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I no longer loved Cheezits! But, I've found a yummy, trans-fat-free, organic substitute (Back to Nature Crispy Cheddars). I guess living in San Diego probably makes it easier for me to find alternatives.

    The Trader Joe's stores here carry a brand of bread called Milton's, which isn't organic but doesn't have any crappy ingredients. And, it's yummy! It's locally made, though, so I don't know if you could find it nationally.

    There is list of foods that are heavily sprayed. If you are trying to be organic on a budget, it's recommended that you concentrate on the list when looking for pesticide-free foods. Here's the list:

  2. Blogger plain(s)feminist | 10:42 AM |  

    Sorry - this is going in the wrong place, but I thought you and your readers would be interested in this:
    The New Bedford immigration sting has separated families, including nursing infants from their mothers, who are to be deported. The site has links for donations, letters to the editor, etc.

  3. Blogger -E | 10:52 AM |  

    hi, i just started reading yesterday when i was trolling around about the supernanny brouhaha. like your site so far and i'm still chuckling over the t-shirts. i also appreciate the recent "about me" post.

    (certified) organic produce is hard to get here (south louisiana) at reasonable prices. we just got a whole foods (can be expensive) and there are a few other options like co-ops (but then i have to get chard and kale... who eats chard and kale?!? and yummy things like strawberries and pecans cost extra).
    my alternative has been to buy local: farmer's market, produce stands, the local dairy, etc... we even have a local bakery that does organic breads and such. i also put in a garden to grow the vegies i eat most: bell peppers and squash.

  4. Blogger Jennifer | 11:12 AM |  

    Thanks for the link plain(s)feminist, I covered that story here and I imagine some of my readers will be interested in getting more info from that site.

  5. Anonymous Debby | 11:36 AM |  

    Oh how I love it when Columbus is back to the warm seasons and we can actually find locally grown food...I so envy the people who can get local produce year round. I've found a farmer close by my house that raises their own chickens. They aren't certfied organic, but I've been to their farm and they are close enough. And wow, the difference in taste was amazing.
    Two years ago I cut out all trans fats and stopped drinking my calories, and I lost about 25 pounds just from that alone. (Two - now three - kids, no time to add dedicated exercise.) Of course after losing that weight I promptly became pregnant for the third time, and much of that came back...sigh...this time I'll add exercise, really I will...really.

  6. Blogger Cairo Mama | 11:41 AM |  

    Kale is wonderful, cheap way to add nutritional value. Throw some in chicken soup right before serving.

    At Whole Foods, buy "whole foods" not their packaged or prepared foods. Use their prepared foods for inspiration to make yourself, like hummous (dip made from chick peas, garlic, tahini paste and lemon juice but you can add other things like roasted red peppers to change the flavor). It is a great protein condiment on sandwiches, or filling for a veg sandwich. Good for snacking with pita bread or raw vegetables as well.

    Trader Joes has good, cheap prepared foods like spaghetti sauce and nut butters (peanut, almond, hazelnut, etc.) They also have some reasonably priced frozen fish, but fresh is better, of course. You are very lucky to be near a Trader Joes!

    Farmer's markets are great as well for lower cost organics. If not organic, at least it is fresh and has more nutritional value.

    Use tofu in addition to, or instead of meat to cut your meat budget. The best way to start with tofu is to put it in things like chili, soups currries and stir fry where it blends in. It will add protein to make your meal more satisfying than if it was just vegetables. As your family accepts it in things, you can start experimenting with it more. I just use it in things, but many people make tofu loaf, tofu sour cream, etc.

  7. Blogger Judy | 11:45 AM |  

    You know I'm a spelling freak and I had to point this out...

    I also make a trek to Whole Foods every now and then to stalk up on some staples

    I think that means you would sneak up on them and watch them and follow them around. It's "stock". Sorry I love you.

    You need to tell me about the bag thing at Meijer and Giant Eagle. As long as I haven't offended you :)

  8. Blogger Jennifer | 12:14 PM |  

    Maybe I DO chase the produce around the store. :-P

    Isn't it ironic that my title at my real job as the word "editor" in it?


    Apparently, if you take cloth grocery bags (like those sold at Giant Eagle and Whole Foods) to Meijer and use them to bag your groceries, they will give you a 50 cent "bag credit" for each bag that you use. I saved $1.50 on my last trip.

    Cairo Mama, Umm...tofu = yuck. Sorry, I've tried it. Only thing worse is TVP. :) We're meat people. :) Now, I have managed to switch from ground beef to ground turkey, which helps a lot. Ground turkey is cheaper and healthier and tastes every bit as good. Tofu just isn't going to happen though. :)

    Re: prepared foods, I never buy them. I buy boxed goods sometimes (I'll make homemade Mac n Cheese for dinner, but if Nora wants it for lunch it's coming from a box) but never the "prepared" stuff. Too expensive.

    Debby, any chance of hooking me up with that farmer or at least dropping me an email and letting me know what they run price wise? Any interest in going in with Judy and I on some organic beef from a small farm up here?

  9. Blogger Elizabeth | 12:19 PM |  

    I was shocked (SHOCKED I tell you) to find that Costco is now carrying a store brand of whole wheat bread that has NO HFCS! And it's good!

  10. Blogger Jennifer | 12:32 PM |  

    I hear Costco has some good prices on organics too...


  11. Blogger MamaBean | 1:08 PM |  

    I am desperately trying to find decent tasting bread that isn't white and that doesn't have HFCS at Costco. Before I met my husband all he and his two boys would eat was white. I'm a wheat person and so the compromise is Healthy Valley's Oatnut bread which is chock full of the dreaded HFCS. I need something that isn't "too wheaty", is soft, and has all natural ingredients. Organic would be best but I'm willing to forgo that for something my family will eat that comes in large quantities.

    I agree that local farms are the way to go. They may treat their livestock/veggies very well but are not yet "certified" organic. And by buying local you can feel good that your food did not have to travel far using fossil fuels to get to you.

    Going in on a quantity of meat with other families is also a great idea.

    As for tofu - I used to eat it a lot but moving in with a house full of meat eating boys majorly reduced our stock in the tofu company. That said, I still try to sneak it into things purely for nutrition and protein. You can get the silken or soft variety and whip it in a blender. Then add to spaghetti sauce or stew. It's a great thickener too for creamy soups. I also blend it with ricotta cheese and sauteed veggies (spinach, onion, garlic, and mushrooms) and slip it into my lasagne. No one ever tastes it because tofu has no taste.

    I also have an awesome chocolate pudding recipe that is nothing but silken tofu, cocoa powder and honey. You can also make a chocolate cream pie by adding it to a graham cracker crust. It is so rich and creamy that no one ever guesses it is tofu. I can also make a great key lime pie. I have a friend that makes a cheesecake with it and its fantastic.

    So there are ways to consume tofu without eating chunks of it. ;-)

    I am so glad you started writing about your eating habits. I am lucky enough to live in a place where the options are there and are reasonably prices (Portland, OR) and there are lots of local farms that are supported by local stores.

    But you certainly drew my attention to HFCS and now I find myself reading labels on everything. I recently bought some Newmans Own lemonade. It says right on the carton "all natural ingredients". The first ingredient was water. The second ingredient was HFCS. Imagine my shock and disappointment! Inspired me to write a letter to the company, the first time I have ever done such a thing.

  12. Blogger Jennifer | 1:12 PM |  

    did someone say chocolate pudding?

    chocolate pudding with tofu?

    That might be a tad bit healthier?

    Share MamaBean! Share!!!

  13. Blogger Cairo Mama | 1:22 PM |  

    Just like MamaBean said, sneak tofu in for nutrition. You can't even taste it in chili, it just blends right in.

  14. Blogger Jessie Hawkins, MH | 1:49 PM |  

    yay! you read my blog :)
    We also get organics thru CSAs and co-ops with other local families. I can't really help with the tofu thing as we dont do tofu either, but I can tell you all about Costco.
    Let's see.. organics they typically have: milk (1%), soymilk, butter, peanut butter, frozen: green beans, blueberries, waffles, fresh: cheeses, salad mix lettuces, apple wedges (yep, already sliced and in little packages), snack pack baby carrots, chips, granola, Fruita Bu (my fave, organic fruit by the foot.. even on unbleached wax paper instad of plastic), orange juice and boxed juices. I know there's more; I just can't remember.
    Oh, and what they lack in organic, they usually have in natural also, like ready made pesto and cheeses made from hormone free milks.
    I need to go to the grocery store :)

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:02 PM |  

    A friend of mine who owns a daily was trying to become certified as an organic food supplier, but gave up due to the sky-high cost and the many, many hoops he was having to jump through. His products are now labeled as "all natural" - he said these products are essentially identical to organic but without the official organic certification. The all natural products are generally much less expensive than their organic couterparts.

  16. Blogger clone mommy | 2:31 PM |  

    for staples, like cereals, pastas, flour etc, i shop at amazon.com's natural & organic grocery section. most items ship "super saver" for free with orders over $25 (although i splurged on amazon prime for $79/yr to get free 2nd day shipping). i LOVE having food delivered to our home. i also just signed up for paradiseO.com for fresh organic, locally grown produce shipped to our door.

  17. Blogger Shylah | 4:13 PM |  

    You may be interested to know that kefir is actually VERY easy to make yourself. You can spend about $15 on enough grains to make two cups, and those grains can be used over and over again. Definitely a worthwhile investment, IMO. :)


  18. Blogger MamaBean | 5:30 PM |  

    lol, here's a couple of different recipes. Silken tofu is the kind that comes in a box that you don't have to refrigerate.

    1 box silken tofu soft
    1 tablespoon of powdered baking chocolate, unsweetened
    add honey and vanilla to taste

    mix in blender and put in little ramekins or bowls and chill

    Chocolate Cream Pie:
    2 boxes of lite, firm silken tofu
    1 bag of chocolate chips (can use less, I find one whole bag to be a bit rich)

    Put chips and two tablespoons of water into microwave for one minute or until soft (I don't have a microwave so on the stovetop is also fine). Blend in blender until smooth

    Pour into pre-baked pie shell or graham cracker crust and let chill.

    I like to top with whipped cream (as in real whipped cream, not the cool whip kind) to balance out the sweetness and add creaminess.

    More recipes available upon request.


  19. Anonymous robinmama | 8:20 PM |  

    Trader Joes (www.traderjoes.com) is a GREAT place to find cheap, healthy foods.

    Also costco has some things that are better in bulk that are organic.

  20. Blogger plain(s)feminist | 10:32 PM |  

    Sorry - I didn't see that post. Thanks for linking back to it.

    And re. tofu: Chocolate silk tofu pie. It will make a believer out of you. (No, sadly, I don't have a recipe. It's essentially chocolate mousse, but healthier and equally delicious.)

  21. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:20 AM |  

    In Columbus, you can get great deals on organics at Marc's. There is one in Westerville and one in Northwest Columbus on Henderson rd. They have a fair amount of organic produce and cheese and always have great canned items, snacks, and baking stuff. Once they had Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes for 25 cents a can!

  22. Blogger MamaBean | 9:22 AM |  

    plain(s)feminist - see my recipe above. ;-)

    It's delicious!

  23. Anonymous maria | 8:48 AM |  

    Hi there Jennifer,

    Well, if you are looking into healthier eating, check out the Weston Price Foundation at www.westonaprice.org

    If you can get locally raised meet, eggs and dairy, from animals raised on pasture, even if you would get even less of it a week, you would be better off.

    Also, read up on drinking raw milk on www.realmilk.com :-)

    I would also look into local produce an products instead of chains to support the local economy.

    Real crunchy moma here :-)

    It is more expensive to be totally organic but doable, you just end up eating differently. Breakfast cereals for instance are expensive. Making my own breakfast saves tremendously each morning!

    Good luck with your endeavors.

    ps: I meant to reply to the UC discussion but just haven't had the time yet!

  24. Blogger Jennifer | 8:54 AM |  


    I've been hunting down some local organic meat options. Looks like I can get organic beef, pork and chicken around here, just working on finding some folks to split the meat with. You've got to buy in high enough quantities that we couldn't possibly eat it all within 6 months.

    Re: eggs...our Giant Eagle and Whole foods both sell locally grown organic eggs. I have two kids and run two businesses, I don't have time to travel to buy eggs from a farm each week when I could just get them from the grocery store. I don't mind Giant Eagle or Whole foods earning some mark-up on them. ;)

    Re the produce...

    I live in Ohio. I can get GREAT fresh produce at my local farmers market from May-Sept but unless I want to give up fresh produce from Oct-April, I HAVE to buy from grocery stores.

    Can't grow veggies in Ohio in the winter. ;)

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