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Shopping Healthy On A Budget

By Crystal Wakoa

With our savings slashed, utility bills rising, and no end in sight to our economy’s downward spiral, how we spend our food dollars matters more than ever. I have fed my family well through many lean times, and I’m here to tell you, necessity really is the mother of invention. An attitude of creative pragmatism is key to shopping within your means while staying true to your fundamental values of sustainability, organics and support for local businesses. You don’t have to give your precious dollars to the big box stores to be thrifty. The following are a few tips I’ve learned to get the most for my money while shopping at New Leaf Market and feeding my family well.

BUY IN BULK. New Leaf Market’s recently renovated bulk section is superb, bursting with beans, grains, nuts, seeds, flours, dried fruits, coffees, candies, spices and honey. You won’t find anything close to comparable anywhere else in town. Stocking up on staples like rice and oats is essential to shopping on a budget. For breakfast, my family eats oats combined with either an egg, or yogurt and nuts—saving us a bundle over expensive boxed cereals. Rice, quinoa or barley figures into more than half of our evening meals. Keeping your food simple means less packaging, sparing the Earth her resources, too.

SHOP THE SALES. New Leaf Market has terrific sales. Co-op Advantage sales are for everyone. But for the biggest savings, check out the Owner Advantage sales, printed in this magazine, for owners only. Stocking up on these sale items will pay back your $100 ownership fee in a hurry. When my favorite green tea (a roasted variety not available in bulk) goes on sale, I buy five or six boxes. Ditto for my favorite brand of peanut butter and the dark chocolate bar I can’t live without. You needn’t necessarily deprive yourself of a limited number of treats just because you’re on a budget. You only have to know what they are, and stick to them. Seniors save an extra five percent just by shopping on Tuesdays; college students save the same amount on Wednesdays.

BUY LOCAL. For your family’s health, buy organic whenever possible, but don’t rule out non-organic when it comes from local farmers. Many small farmers can’t afford the cost of organic certification, but are committed to healthy practices like pesticide-free vegetable gardening and allowing their animals free range. I recently (mid-March) bought New Leaf Market’s pesticide-free tomatoes from a local grower for $2.29 per pound. The fruit was deep red, juicy and the flavor robust. The local chain grocery’s pale, chemical-laden tasteless tomatoes were $3.19 per pound at the time. Buying local minimizes transportation costs, too, going easier on the Earth as well as your wallet.

LEARN TO COOK BEANS. They’re nutritious and delicious, and when combined with rice, the cheapest protein around. Most of the world’s indigenous cuisines rely on some form of bean and grain. I recently purchased a pressure cooker which cooks our beans in 15 minutes or less. Beans are versatile. Use them in soups, burritos, curries, chili and salads, or just seasoned over rice. They also make great leftovers.

START A CONTAINER GARDEN. It’s easy, cheap, and there’s no better way to ensure that your food was grown locally and without pesticides than to tend your favorite vegetables yourself. My family grows tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers and squash in large pots in the summer; collards, kale, lettuce and strawberries in fall, winter and/or spring.

Be creative and practical. Learn to cook real food with basic ingredients that are locally grown and/or purchased in bulk. Keep it simple. Save money. Stay healthy. Bon appetit!

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