Friday, April 5, 2019

"I can't afford to eat organic"

Regular readers of this blog might know that our family eats 95% organic. This is not driven by religious conviction, nor a case of being food snobs, but the knowledge that garbage in = garbage out, and that every dollar saved on food that is not just inferior, but toxic, translates into many more dollars spent in doctors' offices.

Oftentimes, the objection is raised that organic food is too expensive to afford, because organic ingredients cost four times as much on average as conventional. I am here to propose that most people could afford to eat all organic, if they wanted it enough to make sacrifices in other areas to afford the increased food expense. 

Now again, this is not a question of "right or wrong," so if your priorities are different than ours, more power to you! But if eating organic is a high priority to you, I am here to assure you that chances are, you could make it work, at least gradually and more and more over time. As the saying goes, "When you find a destination, you find a way." 

The three biggest ways to afford eating organic are:

- Stop eating out
- Cook from scratch
- Save in other areas

1. Stop eating out

By this, I literally mean stop eating out altogether. This is a radical idea to most Americans, where eating out is a regular staple, and drive-thru is a critical component of feeding the family. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be this way? The whole rest of the world functions just fine eating every meal at home. Growing up, it was a very rare occurrence for us to eat out. We packed a snack for school, and got out of school in time every day (1 p.m.) to have lunch at home. If we went on a trip, we packed a sack lunch or picnic. On vacation, my mom cooked. I didn't feel like I was missing out, because I wasn't. 

Obviously, any home-cooked organic meal is going to be a lot cheaper than any food purchased at any sit-down restaurant. But I am here to prove that even the cheapest drive-thru off the Dollar Menu costs more than cooking from scratch with organic ingredients (see end of this post, where I do a price breakdown).

How do you prevent eating out? Plan to be home for mealtimes, teach kids not to expect to eat between meals (no snacking), make a weekly menu so you have a plan for every meal of the day, and remind yourself of the financial and health costs of eating out.

For me, there is zero temptation to quickly drive through somewhere when our errands took longer than expected, and hungry kids are growing impatient. When you eat well at home, eating out has far less appeal, and McDonald's and the like has zero appeal. We have not eaten there (or any other junky fast food place like Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, etc.) in at least a dozen years, and short of a survival situation, I have no plans to ever go there again. I wouldn't even eat there if they offered free food. It's not just expensive, but also tastes gross and is incredibly unhealthy. 

Recently, while we were displaced from our home for 4 months, we were forced to eat out far more than usual, and by the end of it all of our health was suffering. After just a month back home, we are all feeling much better again. The quality of what you eat really does make a noticeable difference. 

But what about those special occasions, when you just want to eat out to make it more special? Well, chances are, there are times when you receive gift cards for restaurants, especially if others know you prefer quality family time over more stuff and clutter. When we eat out, it is virtually always from such gift cards. You can look forward to those times as even more special when they are less frequent, and you won't feel like you are being wasteful since it was a gift. 

2. Cook from scratch

By "from scratch," I mean with as basic of ingredients as possible. That means as few boxed, canned, and jarred ingredients as possible, such as making your own spaghetti sauce instead of buying it ready, buying large blocks of cheese instead of pre-shredded and sliced, etc. 

Along with this goes shopping sales, buying in season, stocking up on bulk items when they are at their lowest price, and off-setting recipes that are more expensive with those that use cheaper ingredients. There are many posts on this blog with ideas how to save money by shopping sales, through co-ops, online such as Azure Standard, etc. Basically, you want to cut out as many middlemen as you can, each of whom adds their own profit margin. 

Resources vary greatly depending where you live. In Arizona, "99 cents only" stores always carry organic produce, some more than others. Alpine Valley Bakery sells direct to the public in a little outlet store in Mesa, where loaves of organic breads that sell for $6 at Whole Foods are anywhere from $.50 to $1.50 each. Superstition Ranch Farmers Market in the east valley has some of the lowest prices on produce in the area, including on organic items. There is a produce program operated by Borderlands Foods Bank where they sell 60 lbs of rescued produce for $12 at locations throughout the Valley, which funds are then used to operate their food banks. Sprouts has double-ad days on Wednesdays, which means both the previous as well as the upcoming week's sales are valid. Costco is the largest seller of organic foods nationwide, with prices that often rival conventional at supermarkets. On and on - to find resources in your area, you might want to join a local "crunchy" Facebook group. Each area has these resources, you just have to find them, rather than shopping over the counter for everything at a supermarket like Whole Foods. Not to knock Whole Foods, as they do have some great prices and sales in their stores, but it's the exception not the norm. 

Purchased this week at Superstition Ranch Farmer's Market in Mesa for $26.88 total - 6 x 3 lbs gold potatoes ($1.49 each), 4 x cherry tomatoes ($.99 each), 2 lbs mini peppers ($1.99 each), 8 orange bell peppers ($.79 each), bean sprouts ($1.79), Romaine hearts ($1.89)

Proper planning will prevent much frustration. If you are shopping with kids, the best time to go to the store is after breakfast on a weekday. Stores are at their emptiest, kids are fed and rested, traffic is a breeze - basically, you are setting yourself up for maximum success at minimal risk of frustration. Better yet, if you live in an area that has Instacart or a similar grocery delivery service, use it! In our area, for most stores, prices are the same as in-store. You will save time, effort, gas, and not run the risk of impulse shopping. 

Another area of planning is menu planning. Menu planning and shopping accordingly will prevent trying to figure out at 5 p.m. what to serve for dinner, only to make a run for pizza (again). Of course I am biased, but I LOVE my "Busy Family Menu Planning" cookbook I published a few months ago. I myself use those exact menus and recipes every week. It saves time, mental energy, and money. I have received nothing but rave reviews. You can now even purchase a printable version of the weekly menus and shopping lists (not the recipes), which makes it a snap to add ingredients or notes, and to pin each week's menu to the fridge for easy reference. In the back, the cookbook contains a long section of staples that can be purchased ready, or made yourself for a fraction of the cost, such as homemade bone broth. 

Finally, not buying foods that offer only "fun factor" and zero nutritional value can save a lot more money. This includes all soda, juices, and other "diabetes in a bottle" beverages (alternatives: water, unsweetened fruit and herbal teas, kombucha, etc.), unhealthy snack foods such as chips, crackers, ice cream, cookies, etc. (alternatives: no snacking, fruit, cheese sticks, yogurt, etc.), and last minute impulse-purchases to appease tantrums and bribe kids.

3. Save in other areas

Many frugal families already cut costs in all possible areas, such as not having cable TV, having an affordable home and vehicles, etc. so I won't belabor those points here. 

The only area I would like to point to, because it is directly related to the quality of food, is healthcare costs. Every penny saved by eating inferior foods will be spent (and then some) on higher doctor bills, whether that be for chronic health conditions, allergies, cancer, behavioral issues, etc. that are triggered by toxins in conventional food.

Most families, if they took the total cost of what they spend on all food (eating out included) and health care (health insurance plus bills not covered) would find they spend at least as much per capita as we do in our family. We have been members of Samaritan Ministries for years, and absolutely love it. Due to our family size and coverage level, we are in the most expensive tier, at $495 per month. Add to that about $2,500.00 per month for food, for a total of $3,000.00 per month for a family of 12, or about $250 per month per person. I am certain that factoring in all food and healthcare costs, the average family spends as much or more than we do per capita each month. 

(Side note: our dental insurance is covered through my husband's job. Checkups and cleanings are free, and while we have a copay for additional work done, we have not had to have any fillings in any of the kids in years since cutting out whole grains, so dental insurance is not an additional expense.)

While our food cost might seem astronomical to those with smaller families, even including all our healthcare spending, it works out to just under $50 per person, per week, which is slightly less than the national per capita average of $51 per week for food alone (source), and that's in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people eat conventional food and spend far more than we do on healthcare.

Consider also that back when our family size was the norm, in 1900, people on average spent 40% of their income on food, vs. just 6-10% now. The same is true for our family. The largest budget item by far is our food spending. Income-wise, considering that the "National Poverty Guidelines" for a family our size is shockingly a whopping $65,530 per year, we would definitely not be considered well off or even above average income. We save a lot of money each month by living in a modest home (about 1,600 sq ft) at rock-bottom interest thanks to impeccable credit. (Side note: We do not, nor have ever, used any government welfare programs.)

During this same time frame (1900 to today), the percentage for healthcare spending has skyrocketed, right along with rates of chronic conditions and cancer. You get what you pay for. Modern pesticides, fertilizers, and GMO foods have drastically reduced food costs, but the quality of such food is greatly diminished, and this "savings" shows up in the form of medical bills. We for one would rather spend the money on groceries than doctor bills. 

And now, just for grins, let me break down tonight's dinner, homemade Chick-Fil-A sandwiches with fresh fries.

The picture dwarfs it, but this is a 10" dinner plate with standard-size hamburger buns. In other words, A LOT of food. 

This is a pretty typical meal at our house and definitely not one of my "budget meals" because it's heavy on two expensive ingredients (chicken breast and palm oil). Also, I always make enough food for dinner one night, and lunch the next day, so the ingredients listed here will feed all 12 of us two meals, for a total of 24 servings. Every single ingredient was organic, expect for the tomatoes which were free (I had ordered organic on Instacart, they delivered conventional by mistake, and refunded the purchase price.)

6 lbs chicken breast ($5.50/lb) - $33
1 lb Einkorn flour - $3
seasonings and spices - $1
4 eggs - $.60
3 packs hamburger buns ($1.50 each) - $4.50
1 head romaine - $.63
1 lb tomatoes - free
12 lbs potatoes - $6
4 lbs palm shortening for frying - $7.24
condiments (ketchup, honey mustard) - $4

Total cost: $59.97 or $2.50 per person, per meal 

Please consider that this includes one grown man (my husband) and three teenage boys (who each eat twice as much as my husband does - literally, no joke), which more than averages out the fact that the little kids eat less. 

(If you liked this price comparison, I did another one a few years ago that you can read here, with a follow-up here.)

Now tell me, could you feed a family of 12 for $30, even at McDonald's? Who can fill their family members with $2.50 worth of items off the Dollar Menu? 

As the old saying goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way." Like I said, eating healthy is not a matter of right or wrong (unless you are grossly gluttonous), so this is more of a personal conviction. This post is intended to inspire you to find ways to make it work if eating healthy and organic is a high priority of yours. We can't imagine eating any other way. It's just too expensive not to. 

Caveat: I know there are countless families out there who already observe all tips mentioned above, and their budget is maxed out buying conventional. If that's you, please don't feel bad. You can only do what you can do with what you have been given. God can bless you with excellent health if you are good steward of the things you have been provided, no matter your circumstances. This post is intended for the average American, who spends twice as much money each month on fun drinks and snacks than they do on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

P.S. No hating on the paper plate. I can only run the dishwasher so many times per day. Dixie paper goods are what Amazon now labels "attractive modern romance." So in our house now, we eat a lot of food off the "romantic," rather than the "real" dishes. I mean, what's more romantic than not having to do dishes, right??!?


  1. My healthy husband of 36 years old had a seizure back in October last year. All the results that the doctor did were ok. We came to the conslusion that the food he was eating was affecting his neuro system (he used to eat a lot of ice cream, coca cola, starch, corn syrup). He then realize that all this was literally killing him (the doctors didn't want to believe this neither him because he was the only one eating like this at home). Anyways, thanks to that he cut all sugar and processed food. He lost weight and now has more energy and health than before.
    I cook everything from scratch (we only drink water and when we snack is fruits). I only spend $80 per week (I used to spend $120 with all that junk he used to liked) for a family of 3, but now we are paying the consequences of the past with all those medical bills. Thanks for your post Mrs. Anderson.

  2. I have eaten organic for the past year and a half, and it has changed my life! This is a great article.
    Shopping for organic can feel like a treasure hunt sometimes,
    I have not seen organic hamburger buns. Where did you find them?


    1. I've seen organic hamburger buns at Sprouts and Whole Foods. I think some health food stores carry them as well c: They are pretty good. But also really easy to make by scratch. It's good to give it a shot

  3. It's usually the case that people can "afford" what is important to them! I'm somewhat inspired by this post so I will be making this tomorrow for my breakfast:

  4. Good article, inspires me to try harder although I went through a phase where I tried doing everything from scratch and buying organic. I was watching what my kids ate like a complete control freak to the point where all my friends and family thought I was an utter conspiratorial all-knowing nut. In the end I could not sustain this type of living.
    Was I healthier? No. In fact my whole family had colds, influenza, gastritis, viral illnesses and stress. It's only now that I completely backed off the organic/made from scratch, weird and wonderful food fad that we are healthier. The kids haven't been to the doctor in over a year. It was incredibly time-consuming too finding suppliers of organic produce, and then making things from scratch all the time too. I found a burden lifted off when I stopped thinking about it all.
    Because I came to realize that Jesus was right. He said not to worry about the kinds of food that we eat- as this is what the Gentiles seek after.
    Isn't that funny? Was He imagining a future time where we would be flooded with Paleo/Keto/Weston A price/fasting diets/whole-food plant based/Auto-immune protocols etc etc. Sometimes I think He was.
    He also said that our bodies are capable of purging all meats. They go in and come out.

    So instead of worrying, I just receive everything I get from the store with thanks.
    When I go to people's houses, I just eat whatever they offer me with thanks.
    If people make me a meal, I don't question where they purchased their meat from.

    I think if we just eat in moderation, and don't over-indulge, eat a variety of foods as close to nature as possible and stay away from conspiracy theories that plant seeds of doubt and worry in our heads, we will be ok.

    When I eat a burger on the run with the kids with a small soda, I just thank the Lord for the modern conveniences, and thank Him for ensuring our cups are always running over and allowing this treat. I don't allow the guilt to set in. I know it's a treat and not a regular meal occurrence.

    If I don't have the time to make the bread myself, or the budget to buy organic, the generic white bread gets eaten with thanks without a second thought.

    This article has definitely encouraged me though.


  5. Were you always able to cook from scratch when you only had little ones?

    I like cooking but it feels so overwhelming with a 4 yr old 1 yr old and my energy draining 3rd trimester. Which isn't even alot of kids.

    Any tips on buying organic meats /eggs?

    Usually I do the best quality I can. so I'll buy according to the clean 15 / dirty 12 list for fruits and veges as for meats I'll buy brands that CLAIM not to have hormones or antibiotics (tyson) lol.

    Mainly this is because we only have 1 car which my husband uses for work. Making Wal-Mart extremely convenient, through their order online and pickup service and Costco cause it's so close to our home.

  6. Lots of good information here, Thank you!

  7. Reading from Europe, I have the feeling that your (sensible) advice would be less necessary here. Over here the size of your home is, as you very well know, just perfectly normal. I still can't believe how large living spaces are supposed to be in America. As for eating out, most people cook and have breakfast and/or lunch and/or dinner at home. Same for cooking from scratch. Life is hectic nowadays, but most people still cook with basic ingredients, and our aisles of superprocessed products (eg. breakfast cereal, soda) are objectively shorter. My point is that your advice is not only sensible and healthy, but doable and actually the norm in different countries.


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