A HEALTHY DOSE
If you have ever felt stretched when it comes to your food budget, you are not alone. Over the years, my family has developed some tips on how to afford the food that we know is healthy for our bodies, minds and souls. Luckily, my husband has a vegetable farm. But even if you don’t have homegrown vegetables, it is possible to eat really well on a limited budget.
Here are some tips for increasing the nutrition in your diet while keeping your spending down.
When you buy local products, there are fewer middlemen who you are essentially paying to get the food you eat — think processors, packagers, transportation and wholesale distributors. Instead, all or most of your money goes directly to your neighboring local farmer. As a vegetable farmer, I regularly go into the grocery stores during the growing season to check prices and often see that people are paying similar prices for local, organically grown lettuce from the farmers market as they do for conventional (grown with chemicals) lettuce from the supermarket. Plus, the supermarket veggies have a much shorter shelf-life and lower quality than the locally grown produce. Local food is very often more nutritious than supermarket products, so you may be saving money on doctor’s visits when you buy those bags of leafy greens or grass-fed meat.
Buy in season
As with many goods and services, food often costs less when it is abundant. Instead of buying the first peas or zucchini, wait a couple weeks until there is a glut of the crop and the price is lower. It’s also fine to ask farmers if they think the price will be lower in future weeks. Generally, we are all willing to share that sort of information with interested customers.
Look for “seconds”
Many farmers are willing to sell their less-than-perfect crops, often called “seconds,” at a reduced price. The easiest way to find out is simply to ask! Remember that some advance notice is best. If you want to make tomato sauce to freeze or can, ask around at the farmers’ market a week or two prior so that farmers can bring their seconds for you when you need them.
Stretch out the expensive foods
Yes, some local foods like meat and berries can feel expensive. Remember that most farmers are not profiting majorly from what they sell — some may even be losing money to keep the prices low. Begin to think of those items as treats to be enjoyed in small quantities or only as often as your budget allows. I always like to think of items of similar price: My eight dollars could be spent on a quart of organic berries, packed with antioxidants and vitamins, or a few boxes of processed crackers, with little to no nutrition. For me, the berries are worth it. I think of meat similarly. If I spend $6 per pound on grass-fed ground beef, I can either make four hamburgers for $1.50 each (well worth it, in my opinion), or I can make tacos or a casserole, and stretch the meat out for many meals.
Pick wild foods
It is turning out to be a superb berry year, and many patches of blackberries and raspberries can be seen along the country roads. Of course, be sure that you know how to identify berries before picking, as some can be poisonous. Similar to berries, wild apples are often tasty, if not for fresh eating, then for pies or applesauce. Keep your eyes out for fruit trees loaded with ripe pears or plums that a neighbor may not take advantage of, knock on a door, and ask if you can harvest the sweet fruit that is brimming with nutrition.
Find homemade alternatives
Like most people, I buy some processed foods, which are generally more expensive than their whole-food counterparts. If your kids like breakfast cereals, try making a batch of homemade granola. Need a crunchy, salty snack? Try a bowl of Yoder Farm popcorn. Salad dressings are another food “product” that eat away at a small budget. If you can invest in a good bottle of olive oil and some vinegar, you can make healthy, tasty salad dressings all season long and avoid strange chemical ingredients.
It’s true that you do need to know the basics of cooking to work with fresh ingredients from local farms. But the great thing about my peers at the farmers market is that we all love to talk about easy ways to prepare the food we raise. Often, we eat very, very simply in the summer because that is all we have time for. Take advantage of our thriving local-food scene and friendly farmers to transform your health through nutritious eating.
Lindsay Courcelle, CMT is a myofascial release therapist, part-time vegetable farmer, and natural-health advocate. Email her at alchemyMFR@gmail.com.