Here’s part two of how to eat well on a dime.
If you didn’t see it, here’s part one of how to eat better for less.
7. Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
In a CSA you pre-pay at the beginning of the season for a share of the harvest throughout the growing season. By paying ahead you provide the farmer with income at a time when she might have to otherwise borrow money. Any added security we can provide our farmer is good for us and good for the resiliency of our local foodshed.
Some CSA’s only run during the spring through early fall, but it’s increasingly possible to find winter CSA’s as well. Depending on the farm, you might enjoy a variety of fresh veggies and even eggs, cheese, milk, meat, honey and preserves.
There are lots of benefits of CSA’s – you get to support the farmer directly, which usually means more of your dollar ends up in her pocket. Always a good thing. I’ve even heard of farms offering discounts if you volunteer to lend a hand during busy times. You’ll eat great, save a ton of cash and learn some new skills while getting to know your food and your farmer.
Here in Vancouver, we even have a CSAs from urban farms! How cool is that? Urban Digs Farm is one example of creative, industrious folks building food security right here in the city.
If you’re not already eating a ton of veggies, your CSA box will probably reveal some weird and wonderful new veggies. Nourished Kitchen has a great post on what to do with the strange veggies in your CSA box, if you’re ever stumped.
You can also find CSA’s for specific products – meat shares, milk shares, seafood, even wheat!
8. Join an organic grocery buying club
A grocery buying club is kind of like an online farmer’s market. You place your order and pick up your groceries at a neighbour’s, instead of the grocery store. They make it easy to find local, sustainable products from small producers. One stop shop instead of driving all over town to different specialty shops and markets.
Kind of neat, hey?
NOW BC is our local co-operative and features all sorts of yummy goodies. Their subscription programs and bulk buying options are great opportunities to eat well without breaking the bank.
9. Shop farmer-direct
Buying directly from your farmer is one of the loveliest ways to get your groceries.
Our family purchases our organic pastured pork and beef from Big Bear Ranch in Horsefly, BC. They aren’t exactly in our backyard, but I don’t sweat it too much. They have outstanding farming practices and make it super easy to keep the freezer stocked with delicious, quality meat. We place our orders online and they make a number of stops here in the city where we can meet them to pick up our meat.
Big Bear offers specials on “family packs” of meat. You’ll get a selection of pork, for example, that will include a variety of cuts, bacon, sausages etc. You’re not guaranteed to get specific products, but you’ll get a certain percentage roast, chops, specialty items etc. We often split a pack with family – everyone enjoys the discount while still maintaining some spare room in the freezer!
10. Shop seasonally
Shopping seasonally is part of the locovore culture that gets poked fun at a lot. Critics tease that we think we’re saving the world by eating parsnips.
I duno about you, but it seems to me if everyone ate with a focus on seasonality, I think we’d all eat better, save money and walk lighter on the planet . . . That’s a debate for another day.
To talk in terms of economics, seasonality takes advantage of the rules of supply and demand. If you buy when supply is higher than demand, prices will be lower. Not exactly rocket science.
11. Shop in bulk
If you shop in season AND in bulk, you’ll really start to see some savings.
Even though I grow my own, I invariably get nervous that I haven’t put enough food by for the coming winter. There is nothing worse than running out of stewed tomatoes in February. It gives me the shakes just thinking about it!
So I go to my favourite local farm stand and load up. I mean LOAD UP. I once filled an entire shopping cart with local tomatoes. They were 69 cents a pound! I mean, come ON!
Before you go – make sure you’ll be ready to put the food by and that you’ve taken the time to . . .
12. Learn to can
For all you canning virgins out there let me tell you – You CAN can! It is not scary (ok maybe a little, the first time) and it is way easier than you think.
I did not grow up canning. Until I met my hubby, canning food at home was some magical, mysterious process that might kill me with strange bugs whose names I can’t pronounce. My mum didn’t can, neither did my grammas.
Canning has so many benefits and is key if you really want to save money on food. It also addresses the “I don’t have time to cook” whine I hear so often. Canning is hot work, and is much more enjoyable if done in the company of friends at an old school canning bee. If you’re more comfortable, take a class first, but give it a try, for heaven’s sakes!
Personally, I think tomatoes are one of the easiest places to start. You can get the basics on canning tomatoes here.
Once you master water-bath canning, I strongly recommend you try to get your hands on a pressure canner. It will take a larger investment (or you can be like me and ask for one for Christmas) but it is well worth it. With a pressure canner you can put by soups, spaghetti sauce, fish, meat, stocks and more. Pressure Canning 101 has basic instructions and my recipe for canning chicken stock.
13. Explore new foods
Sometimes, things that you wouldn’t think about as normal dinner fare can be both delicious and inexpensive.
Living here on the coast, we have access to lots of gorgeous seafood. Mussels are cheap as chips, quick and easy to cook and crazy tasty.
My hubby recently introduced me to heart. (It took a lot of convincing.) He lightly breaded it and pan fried it in a bit of butter. Oh. My. God. SOOOO good. You don’t always see these sorts of options in the grocery store, but if you’re buying direct from your farmer, you’ll have a lot more opportunity to try new flavours.
What’s cheap in your neck of the woods totally depends on where you are. Get to know your local foodshed and find out!
14. Don’t buy food in boxes
I’ve never understood why people buy boxed mixes for things like biscuits or pancakes. How hard is it to stir some flour? Really.
15. Grow your own
I duno about you, but I can’t afford $5 heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Or 3 bucks for a tiny handful of fresh herbs. Or $10 per pound for garlic.
Luckily, I don’t have to.
Growing food is easy and inexpensive and can happen year round. All it takes is a curious spirit and a willingness to get some dirt under your nails. Cold beer always seems to help, too. (See #16)
There are a few important things to remember if you’re just starting out to grow your own.
- GROW WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT: For heaven sakes, if you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t grow brussel sprouts! (Although, keep in mind everything, even brussel sprouts, taste better when you grow them yourself.)
- GROW PLANTS SUITED TO YOUR SPACE: Take the time to get to know your yard / windowsill / community garden. Learn a bit about the needs of the plants you want to grow. Try to get them to match as best as possible. You can always provide encouragement by way of row covers, small greenhouses, and the like, but the best bet is to get it right the first time. (Especially if it’s YOUR first time.)
- GROW THINGS THAT COST AN ARM & A LEG AT THE STORE: Garlic is stupid easy to grow. Stupid easy. You can learn how to grow garlic here. Tomatoes, herbs, peppers, berries and salad greens are also easy-peasy. This way, if you only have a tiny space, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Bonus – most of these things will taste immeasurably better having been homegrown.
16. Brew your own beer and wine
If you like a cold one at the end of a long day, you should try brewing your own. It is ridiculously easy and disgustingly cheap.
We got a full equipment kit at the grocery store for 50 bucks. I’m sure if you looked around you could find use equipment for way cheaper. Our local home brew store sells bulk ingredients so you can make your favourite brew at home.
We made a cream ale our first time and it blew our minds. 45 beer for 25 bucks. Golden.
If you like baking bread you’ll love brewing beer. Same kind of creative process – once you understand the basics, you can go bananas.
Added bonus : no empties to cart back to the liquor store. We bought a bunch of old bottles with resealable caps. We talked to one guy at the beer store who said he’s been using the same bottles for over 20 years. He’s only had to replace the rubber seals once. Talk about reduce and reuse!
And don’t think it’s too much work, either. My hubby did most of the work for our first batch with a five month old on his hip.
17. Bake your own bread
I have no idea why store-bought bread is so expensive these days. Who can afford $3-$5 per loaf?? That’s just crazy. And half the time it’s crap with an ingredient list as long as your arm.
Bread is one of those things that is too easy not to make. You can easily make bread with next to no tools, other than your muscles, but having a bread maker or a mixer with a dough hook will make it easier to fit homemade bread into your daily life.
If you’re at home during the day, the dough hook is a good bet. If you work, get a bread maker. You can fill it at night, set the timer and wake up to the smell of heaven. How easy is that?
Once you get going, you’ll find it addictive. Bread is an incredibly creative process, and its relaxing, to boot. A world of shapes, textures and flavours await you. Mark my words, get started and next thing you know you’ll be growing wild yeast on your countertop.
Homemade bread is also a gateway drug to homemade pasta.
18. Make your own pasta
Another one of those things that takes a bit of effort and equipment, but is well worth the time.
Personally, unless it’s a special occasion, I don’t make my own spaghetti or linguini, stuff like that. Good quality dried whole wheat pasta is easy enough to find for a good price.
Stuffed pasta? That’s a whole other story.
Especially if you have kids, this is worth your time for the sheer convenience factor later on. It takes me a couple of hours, but I love to make ravioli for the freezer.
Bang out a batch of pasta, cook up some filling, freeze it and you have a nutritious, ridiculously quick lunch or dinner waiting at a moment’s notice.
19. Keep chickens
If you’re able, chickens are a wise choice to stretch your food budget. We kept enough hens to keep our own (very hungry) family in eggs and support my baking habit with enough left over to sell to ensure that our chickens and our eggs didn’t cost us a dime.
Unlimited organic, free-range eggs for free? Um, yes please.
20. Splurge smart
Make your splurges count!
We go bonkers from time to time – really good (really expensive) cheese, lobster, steak . . . You have to live a little! When you splurge, splurge on things you can’t do for yourself. Make it special. Savour it.