Organic food isn’t only for hippies any more. More and more families are trying to include organic food in their diets wherever possible. Who wants to risk the long term effects of synthetic pesticides, genetic modification, antibiotics or growth hormones?
We just don’t know enough about the effects these things can have in the long term. While very few can continue to dispute the value of eating organic foods, very few of us can afford as much as we would like.
Organic produce, meats and dairy are widely available at Woolworths and increasingly at Pick n Pay, but all too often they are far more pricey than their non organic counterparts.
So what’s a regular South African family to do? We all want the best for our families but we have to be practical… Here are a few no nonsense tips for feeding your family organic foods without breaking the budget:
1. Prioritise: Sure you would love to be able to buy all organic, free range, grass fed foods, but it just isn’t possible. The key is deciding on a few categories of items that are most important and consumed in the largest quantities by your family. Meat and dairy products that are organic and free from antibiotics and growth hormones are important. If you can’t afford the organic meats, try local game or ostrich as a cheaper alternative. Milk and dairy products that are organic are more nutritious and worth splurging on.
2. Plan meals carefully: One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to plan beforehand. Work out meals, snacks and drinks before you get to the store, draw up a menu and a shopping list. Plan around what is in season currently. Organic produce isn’t available all year round because farmers can’t artificially extend growing seasons, with carefully crafted meal plans you can make the most of what is in season and widely available in organic form.
3. Design meals to use cheaper (organic) protein sources: Protein is often the most expensive food item in any meal. Especially if you have been trying to cut down the amount of non free range organic meats in your family’s diet. But there are cheaper ways to give your growing family their protein fix without resorting to extreme measures.
Legumes are a fantastic choice and you can even find organic versions at the major supermarkets for next to nothing. Quinoa is another fantastic source of protein, as are beans and other legumes. Have a meat free meal once a week or more and enjoy the savings and peace of mind that you are minimizing exposure to the harmful medications in non free range meats.
4. Take advantage of loyalty cards: Woolworths and Pick n Pay both have loyalty cards that offer added savings to the consumer. While it might not seem like much, it all adds up and you can use the savings to put towards making healthier organic food choices more often. If you’re with Discovery, the Vitality program can add more savings with the cash back on healthy foods, most organic free range products count and you can get up to 25% cash back.
5. Explore options online: There are many online outlets offering organic products in every major city and include delivery. Some are notably cheaper too! Many of these services offer mixed boxes of fresh produce weekly for as much as regular (non organic) produce. Once you know what produce you’ll be receiving in your box for the week, you can plan your meals accordingly.
Even using the online Woolworths shopping facility can save you some cash as you are far less likely to be tempted into impulse buys, you can take your time meticulously selecting each item without your screeching toddler in tow and you can compare prices between Woolworths organic products and Pick n pay organic products very easily. Often it’s worth the minimal delivery costs. You can also sign up for newsletters and join Facebook groups of your favourite suppliers and have direct access to news about current and upcoming specials.
6. Visit farmers markets: As South Africans we are very blessed to have access to some of the best fresh produce and meat in the world. There are fantastic markets within driving distance of every major city in South Africa. Many farmers take their organic produce to these markets and often great deals can be found. Why not set aside a Saturday to go and cut out the middleman and pocket the savings yourself. Check around online for your nearest market and their opening hours. As an added bonus, go towards the end of the day and enjoy further discounted produce as farmers often mark down whatever is left at the end of the day.
7. Bulk buying: It’s true for most food items and organic food is no exception, if you find something at a fantastic price, buy a lot of it. Woolworths often has 2 for one specials that include organic foods for example. With veggies you can lightly precook them and freeze them to ensure you have a good supply for the dinners to come. There are many places selling meat of a fantastic quality and they offer great discounts if you buy the whole animal. Have it portioned and frozen and you could be feeding your family free range, antibiotic free Karoo lamb (for example) for a fraction of the cost for the rest of the month.
8. Grow your own: Without a doubt the most cost effective way to supply your family with organic produce is to grow your own. You don’t need a massive garden to do so either. Some plants are remarkably well suited to window boxes or growing in pots. If you are lucky enough to have a large garden, create a beautiful veggie garden with your children and enjoy watching it grow and savouring the fruits of your labour. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and herbs are all remarkably easy to grow and it is very rewarding to enjoy a meal from your own garden.
If you absolutely cannot afford any organic produce, at least ensure that your fruits and vegetables are thoroughly washed before serving them up. We may not be able to get rid of all the pesticides that have soaked up into the flesh of the produce, but you can remove a fair amount from the surface. According to Robin Stewart’s book “Chemical Free Home” (2002) vegetables can be soaked in a bit of vinegar and water combined for a few minutes and then brushed clean to remove some of the pesticides, bacteria, mould and mildew.
Use some of these ideas to sneak a bit more organic produce and free range, antibiotic free food into your trolley and enjoy the benefits of knowing you are doing the very best for your family.