The following is a new weekly feature brought to us by my friend Charlotte Lee. She has been a wealth of information both here on The Frugal Find and personally when it comes to eating healthful organic foods on a budget. I’ve asked her to share tips and how-to’s that show us ways to replace the quick and processed foods we’d typically buy at the grocery store with organic and all natural options. Our goal is show you that you CAN EAT WELL for LESS! Take it away Charlotte…
Hopefully over the past few weeks you’ve been inspired to take a look at the boxed staples or grocery store dependent items you purchase and consider farm sourced or homemade! When I decided that I wanted to make as much of my own organic food as possible it meant two things: I would know everything that was going into our bodies and I would have to give up on premade foods. I did this for our budget as much as our health. As I’ve discovered ways of making alternatives to our once steadfast pantry staples it’s become a fun way to start stocking my pantry with raw materials to make food from.
For simplicity I’ll break this up into 4 parts: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I plan each of these categories through the week and shop for the week’s needs. Breaking it down to all the ingredients also means that when I run out of something, I get creative! I understand way more about food now than I did buying organic boxed versions of our daily meals which is empowering! I don’t feel dependent on food companies to feed me.
*Cereal vs. homemade granola – cereal is quick and easy and fun! The kids love the characters on a cereal box and the flavors are usually sweet and yummy. The problem? That 11 oz. 3-serving box costs a TON. For the cost of one box of cereal I make granola instead and can give all four of us at least 3 servings as cold cereal and even topping for yogurt!
*Instant oatmeal vs. steel cut oats – I used to buy instant organic oatmeal from Costco with all the fun flavors (it was actually rated the best for lowest sugar content at one point) but it gets pricey! Now, I make steel cut oats in the crockpot over night and it’s hot and ready for us the next morning. It doesn’t get much more instant than that! You can flavor the whole batch or leave it plain so everyone can pick their own flavors. My kids LOVE a few chocolate chips sprinkled in! Not only are steel cut oats better for you but their texture really holds up to that overnight cooking so you really do nothing in the morning. Not even boil the water.
*Frozen waffles vs. frozen waffles – wait…is that a typo? Nope. Making your own waffles is so easy to do with a great recipe and if you double the batch, or triple it, you can make extras from Sunday brunch and freeze them for the toaster during the week. It works GREAT! I also freeze extras of pancakes and heat them all up in the oven. What makes this better is that the oven allows for enough pancakes or waffles to get heated through at once that everyone is served together. No one’s pancakes are cold by the time they’re all made. The frozen waffles also make fun breakfast sandwiches. You can put the waffles with eggs and sausage in the freezer for a grab and go breakfast as well. Or sweeten it up with peanut butter and jam! This tip is especially helpful since I am gluten free and gluten free waffles are even more expensive than organic waffles!
*Juice vs. water – My husband was not on board with this one to start. He loves orange juice. Who doesn’t? You know who doesn’t? This Mama. And I’ll even tell you why. Juice sends the body into a sugar spike making it one of the worst beverages to start your day because what comes up, must come down. Within 30 minutes my children were insane maniacs. Worse than the normal insane. On one of those foodie, workout shows I remember the trainer saying, “don’t drink your calories” and that’s exactly what juice is! It’s liquid calories too! Except they’re not good calories that feed and energize the body. They are pasteurized fruit juices so all the micronutrients are destroyed in the heating process and they’re full of sugar without the pulp and fiber of the actual fruit to stabilize blood sugar. Our alternative is milk or water with the whole fruit on the side. I also make my own kombucha and at our house those are the three beverage options. Fruit flavored kombucha is a great alternative to juice and soda. And NEVER buy soda.
The drinks follow the same guidelines as juice for breakfast. Lunch is usually pretty standard, I try to give the kids as little premade, prepackaged options as possible.
*Jam vs. homemade jam – this may not be for everyone but I make my own jam. PB&J is a childhood right. I’ll even throw in SB(sunbutter)&J. Traditional jam can be made so yummy right in your own kitchen and when you pick your own fruit the cost savings are tremendous. Jars of organic jam at TJ’s are $3 for 12 oz. or less. I have a full gallon of jam sitting on my shelf right now that I made for $5. I picked my berries myself then jammed them. Nothing will taste better than in season, fresh, ripe jam made at home. When you run out mid-January you’ll start planning to pick the whole farm next summer.
*School lunch vs. leftovers – In this case I’m not sending my kids to school yet but my husband goes to work and takes our leftovers from dinner…when he remembers. Growing up, I got lots of microwavable, premade lunch options OR the option to get something at school. Later in high school I was getting homemade lunches and there really isn’t anything better. My kids eat homemade lunches nearly everyday. Occasionally I plan for us to eat out if we’re on a trip or have too many errands to come home in time. Otherwise I’ll plan ahead and bring something or we go home to eat.
- peanut butter and honey/jam with a side of fruit
- quesadillas with a side of peas
- apple and peanut butter sandwiches (sprinkle dried coconut for extra yum)
- Grilled chicken and carrot sticks
- Tuna salad with crackers and cheese
- and as always, leftovers from dinner
- Sides are typically nuts, granola bars, kind bars, lara bars, dried fruit and kefir.
*Premade sauce vs. homemade sauce – all sauces can be made. Spaghetti sauce, bbq sauce, marinades, peanut sauce, dipping sauce…all of it can be made. If I find a sauce I love, I will start figuring out how to make it or search the web until I find exactly what I want. Once you find a recipe you love, make it in bulk and freeze it! Then you’ll even have dinner partially ready the next time you make it. This also includes salsa, hummus, and yes, I make my own mayonnaise as well on occasion.
*Salad dressing in bottles vs. olive oil and vinegar – Okay, so there are more options than just balsamic vinaigrette but even those can be made on your own! A good rule of thumb is 2 parts oil with 1 part vinegar plus spices, herbs, etc. then you shake it in a small jar until it’s well incorporated. Using different oils like sesame oil and rice vinegar with a touch of honey for sweetness gives you a great Asian flavored dressing, Avocado and lemon juice blends up nicely as an oil free dressing as well; just season to your liking. Many of the oils in organic dressings aren’t good for you anyway and contain thickeners as well. You’ll be better off taking the 30 seconds to shake a jar than taking the trip to the store. Better yet, let the kids do it!
*Precooked meats vs. fresh meats – this typically includes meatballs, burgers, chicken tenders, pot roasts, grilled chicken or even just pre-marinated. Whatever you can do yourself will save you money. And don’t underestimate the crock-pot! It can take care of a ton of cook time over the stove if you set it up before you leave for work or school. Get a good slow cooker cookbook with recipes specifically designed with that in mind.
*Canned beans vs. dry beans – It’s so easy to make your own cooked beans and you’ll take up less pantry space by getting the dry beans in bulk rather than the canned beans. You’ll be saving money and paying for beans, not beans and water! This goes for chickpeas too.
This is probably the hardest category for us. I have a house full of hungry men and that means that snacks must be present. I also didn’t want to spend the money on organic snacks in boxes because we’d fly through them in 24 hours. I’d get so frustrated with having stocked the shelves after a long grocery trip just to find empty boxes the next day. Now that I’ve made some switches, things have been much better off for us.
*Fruit snacks vs. dried fruit – I love fruit snacks just as much as the next 5 year old. But the truth of the matter is that these snacks should be better called candy. Even with fruit juice, they’re still not quality foods to thrive on. So ditch the fruit snacks and get the original by eating dried fruit. Some options are pound for pound MUCH cheaper if not close to the same price. Cut it up into little pieces for the smaller kids and mix a variety for the same effect. Get quality fruit and the kids won’t feel like they’re missing out.
*Granola bars vs. homemade kind bars, lara bars or granola bars – again, packaged granola bars are EASY. I get that. But knowing how much sugar is in them, and even the organic ones that are more sugar than nutrient dense food is enough to swear me off. I’ve been making my own version of Lara bars and my own Kind bars and they’re delicious, customizable and much, much, much cheaper. Everyone loves them! And when I run out, I throw stuff together to make more. Always keep the raw goods in the pantry. You’ll just have new pantry staples.
*String cheese vs. cut your own cheese slices – It’s so easy to cut cheese slices and stick them in the lunch box or hand them off as snacks. Not only will you save money doing it yourself but all those individual string cheeses are wrapped in plastic. Such a waste. You’ll be better off cutting your own.
*Chips vs. popcorn – this one is HUGE. Not only are chips not that great for you anyway but you can sit down and eat a bag without blinking. And you know what? So can my kids. But one day I had been feeding them all day long without an end to their “hunger” in sight when I decided to stove pop some corn. This has changed my life. 1/3 c. of popping corn turned into a full mixing bowl of popped corn. I did it on the stove and used coconut oil with Himalayan salt and the boys sat and happily ate their snack and they were satisfied. I think it’s the duration of chewing that actually gives you some sensation of being full as well because popcorn isn’t all that dense but they were full! Done! You can even make your own kettle corn. Popcorn is even an excellent source of antioxidants and with no butter, just a little oil and salt, it’s better for you than chips, crackers, or cookies.
*Cookies vs. muffins – I make muffins from coconut flour. They’re high in fiber, also dairy free, contains great protein and huge amounts of fruit. They are also lower in sugar than cookies and the kids love a muffin as a snack. Making them takes me 10 minutes to mix in a bowl and stick in the oven. Make them for breakfasts or snacks but make them instead of cookies for snacks and sides. I also make cookies, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t buy cookies. Except for one brand but it’s local, gluten free and my husband’s co-worker makes them for our local natural foods grocer. I’ll buy his cookies.
*Ice cream vs. smoothies – here again, there is the sugar element vs. whole fruit element. Plus, ice cream is super expensive. Thankfully the vitamix does a pretty awesome job of attacking that frozen fruit so I can make sorbets for the boys. They love them! Smoothies are ice cream to them and they don’t mind one bit. Also freeze them for popsicles! No need to buy it from the store. And it’s a fabulous way to use up ripe fruit!
*Nuts – okay, these stand on their own but we eat nuts a lot. They’re a great snack for growing bodies and minds and we purchase them raw, soak them and dry them for the whole month. My kiddos love nuts and since I use them in about half of the foods I make, we’ve always got some lying around. Just don’t pay for the silly preseasoned ones. It’s just as easy to roast your own with olive oil or coconut oil and fresh seasonings.
Some other great snacks are hard boiled eggs, yogurt and homemade granola, veggies and hummus, toast and avocado, fruit, celery and peanutbutter, almond butter (make your own) or sunbutter.
Remember: get creative with the alternatives. Chances are, you and your kids will like them better and your wallet will love you. It just takes a moment to step out of the routine and safety of status quo to find the gems that can move you towards better food choices without costing a fortune.