Thursday

SOS Mom Saver: Affordable Healthy Eating

 
One of the best ways to eat healthy is to eat fresh fruits and veggies.  Um.  Duh, Amy. (Yes, I said "duh".) We kinda already knew that.  Do you KNOW how expensive that is, though? (Just ignore the Christmas tree in the pic.  This pic was taken a week before Christmas after we had just done our shopping for the week and had just gotten our co-op order from Azure.)

Honestly, if you're eating conventional produce, it's really not that expensive.  It's fairly cheap if you shop sales and shop seasonally.  A lot of people just don't have the time, energy, or desire to shop the sales every week, though.  Even if they can just price-match all of the other ads at Walmart.  (Which is, by the way, an excellent way to do one-stop shopping.)

An excellent way to eat the same regional, conventional produce you'd eat from the grocery store is to purchase your produce from a company like Bountiful Baskets.  The way they work is simple.  You pay them $16.50 a week ($15 + a $1.50 fee) for a basket of conventional produce.  They do all the work for you.  They find the best deals for the week, do your shopping, & put all of your produce together in a basket that you just go and pick up on Saturday morning.

The concept here is good.  They do the shopping for you saving you time and energy.  The get fairly good deals saving you money.  There are some potential "bads" to shopping this way, though.  You don't get to choose your produce.  If your family is  picky and only likes certain fruits and veggies and isn't willing to try new stuff...then you may not see the same savings as others.  On the other hand, a family who eats a wide variety of fruits and veggies or doesn't mind trying new foods would enjoy the convenience Bountiful Baskets can bring.

Is it really a cost savings?  Yes.  If you normally just go to the store and buy what you want that week and never shop sales then this will save you money.  If, however, you regularly shop sales or your family isn't adventurous food-wise then you'll likely do better shopping on your own.

What if you want organic produce?  Bountiful Baskets offers an organic basket as well.  They charge $26.50 ($25 plus a $1.50 fee) for that basket.  If you eat exclusively organic and only shop at local grocery stores, then you will likely save more money by going through Bountiful Baskets.  The downside of not being able to choose your own foods might hinder some and limit their savings, though.  If, however, you order your produce through a co-op (which I'll discuss in a bit), then you're likely to save more by going through the co-op.

Now...on to the organic options.

One of my favorite ways to get local, organic produce is through our local co-op, Azure Standard.  A There are three main co-ops in the US.  Of course, there's Azure.  There's also United Buying Clubs and Country Life Natural Foods.  I have personally used all three of them; depending on where we have lived and have been very pleased with all of them.  With Country Life, I actually went directly to their farm which was only 40 minutes from my home to pick up my foods.  They don't all offer fresh produce.  That will depend on whether they contract with a farmer in your area or not.  The only exception is Azure.  If you can get a co-op order from them, you can get produce.

I want to add here that some people have smaller health food stores in their area that are ALSO called "co-ops".  These are NOT the same as the co-ops about which I'm discussing.  In fact, the co-ops that I've mentioned are where most of those smaller health-food stores get their produce.  Some of them will also sell produce from local farmers, but often at a mark-up that's a good bit above what you'd pay directly from the farmer, at a farmer's market, or through a CSA.  Basically, these are just local health food stores.  They're the Mom & Pop version of Whole Foods.

My other favorite way of getting local, organic foods is through a CSA.  "CSA" stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  They generally offer a certain amount of "shares" for sale at the beginning of the season.  People front a certain amount of money (usually around $300-$500 for 3 months).  The farmer uses this investment to purchase seed and other supplies.  In return, each "investor" gets a share of the harvest; equally divided.  There is a risk here.  If there's a flood or other natural disaster that destroys the crop...you're out of luck.  You've spent the money and you won't get it back.  However, I have never had that happen in several years of buying through CSAs.

Remember those local health food stores (also called co-ops in some cases) that I discusses above?  Some of these local stores will also be the "hub" for farms that are further out of town.  You'll meet there to pick up your CSA shares.  However, if you're not picking your produce up directly from the farm, the cost will often be higher so keep an eye out for that when signing up for the CSA.

And of course, you have farmer's markets.  I love being able to talk to the farmer from whom I'm buying the produce.  A hint here:  If you don't mind non-perfect produce, wait until the end and offer to buy the "seconds" or ends from a farmer for a discounted price.

To find local or regional farms in your area, you can go to Local Harvest.  They'll give you the names of local farms in your area that either sell produce directly, through a farmer's market, or through a CSA.

Eating healthy (even organically) doesn't have to be expensive.

How do you save money on produce?

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