I have a good friend who has always been a great cook and baker, but has recently become more interested in making and buying food for her family that is more natural, less preserved, and closer to the source. Last night she said, "Willo, I need you to teach me how to shop." I am not by nature a shopper-and I am certainly not an expert on grocery shopping or money savings-but there are some things you pick up after years of gradually trying to improve your diet, your footprint, and your budget. So today for my friend and anyone else it might help, some tips on how to shop for the healthiest food and not break the bank.
1. Get a good cookbook (or two). There are few facts as simple in life as the one that states if you cook your meals at home you will spend less money than going to a restaurant or buying pre-packaged meals. There is also something so loving about making good, healthy food for your family. As we have learned more about staying close to the source with our food and eating seasonally I have found a few cookbooks I love and use all the time. My favorites are the Clean Food and Clean Start cookbooks by Terry Walters. She tells you how to keep your cupboards stocked with healthy essentials and divides the recipes seasonally for easy reference.
2. Make a list. Once you have your recipes, make a list for weekly shopping. If you have your list in hand as you cruise the aisles you are far less likely to get overwhelmed or make impulse decisions.
3. Shop locally when possible. For fresh produce and eggs, we try to support our local farmer's markets as much as possible. In the summer we have a thriving market just a few miles away in our local village every week. Winter months we have to drive a little further, but can find an indoor winter market bi-weekly. Chances are, you can find something similar near you. There are also local health food and independent organic stores you can support. Ours is quite a drive for us, so we only go for the obscure ingredient we can't find closer.
4. Get a big box store membership. I know that for someone always shouting local from the rooftops, it seems odd that I am recommending a big box store like Costco. Taking another look though, many of these big stores now have organic grocery brands and are great for stocking up in bulk, which saves money, packaging, and gas. We make a trip once every 3 months or so and stock the pantry with items such as old-fashioned oat meal, organic peanut butter and jelly, organic applesauce, rice and soy milk, baking soda and vinegar.
5. Make a mental and financial commitment to yourself and your family. I will not lie to you. Eating healthy, local, and organic food costs more money right now. Until organic and permaculture farmers start getting subsidized and we develop a better system to transport food regionally, making the healthier choice means more money out of pocket. I know in these times of belt-tightening that it seems a lot to ask, but it is an investment. By paying more for food you are less likely to waste it and more likely to make a commitment to changing your lifestyle towards cooking, eating at home, and honoring your health. Michael Pollan in "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" talks about this very thing and makes the point that just as we pay for quality in other areas of shopping, so we must do to eat real food. That being said...
6. Take little steps. If you can only do one of two of these things, that is one or two more than you did prior. Each step you can take will bring you closer to a healthier lifestyle and our society closer to a sea change in the way we shop for, cook, and eat food. I know how overwhelming it seems to make changes, but each journey starts with the first step.
What steps have you taken so far? What steps do you still hope to take? What are your healthy food shopping tips?